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

Destiny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn the Mic Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bait and Hook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life from Ashes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Chimney Tops 2 Fire. Incident Management Team photo

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

A Penny and a Nickel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, thankful

Mama and Politics

Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” 1 John 5:4-5

He was running for county commissioner.  A long time ago when I was about ten years old I had my first and only encounter with political campaigns.  Somehow, and I have no idea how, my mama got involved with the campaign to elect a guy named Bill Basford as county commissioner.  And, when mama jumped in—she jumped in all the way.  That meant a couple of things.

First, and totally embarrassing, was this thing they put on our car.  We were pretty much not rich, in fact, I’m sure we weren’t even middle class.  We drove a 1957 Plymouth and let’s just say 1957 was a long way in the rearview mirror.  Anyway, back in those days if a person was running for office, they had these triangle shaped signs that people strapped to the top of their cars.  Now if it had been a little triangle that wouldn’t have been nearly as embarrassing, but this thing belonged on the sands of Egypt with the rest of the Pyramids.  It was HUGE.  It loudly proclaimed, “BILL BASFORD FOR COUNTY COMMISSIONER.” We would drive around and advertise for Bill.

That wasn’t all.  We also had to go door to door asking people to vote for Bill.  We covered our neighborhood like the plague of locusts that cleaned out Egypt.  I am certain people saw us coming and quickly closed their blinds and pretended they weren’t home.  It turns out that was just practice for when I became a preacher.  By the way…I know you are in there.  We also had a big supply of bumper stickers which we would gladly stick on your car.  When you’re ten, you like to stick things on things so I liked that part—a lot.

Well, election day came and mama waited for the big news.  Either by television or by telephone we got the word that Bill had won and they invited mama to come downtown to the headquarters to celebrate. Like Ma and Pa Kettle we (as in daddy, mama, my two young sisters and I) got in the 1957 Plymouth and off we went.  I only remember a couple of things about the celebration.  There was loud music, there was free food and there was a bar.  My daddy went over and I saw him get something to drink and I don’t think it was sweet tea.  The reason I remember that is because if daddy wasn’t a teetotaler, mama was.

So that was it.  Mama was excited because her guy won.  She didn’t get a political appointment or anything, but we did have a bunch of bumper stickers leftover to stick on things.  But the best part of all was that our guy won.  Winning is always a good feeling.  Everyone wants to be on the winning side. I don’t know how you came out in the election, but generally everyone has winners and losers.  Like the song says, “Some gotta win, some gotta lose.  Good time Charlie’s got the blues.”  Well, your name might not be Charlie, but maybe you’ve got the blues.  And I’m not talking about the election results.

If the truth be known, life can be pretty blue, can’t it?  And sometimes, it is because we lose…our health, our job, our family, our house, well, lots of things.  But I want to tell you something that is really important.  There is Someone who never loses and His name is Jesus.  If it was an election…He would win every time. If it was a game…He would win every time.  If it was a war…He would win every time. If it was a debate…yup, He would win every time.  Do you want to know the best part?  Keep reading.

Remember how mama got invited to the big celebration downtown?  Well, if we are willing to place our faith and trust in Jesus and follow Him, two amazing things happen.  First, because He wins, we win.  In a way, when Bill Basford won—mama won.  And when we choose to follow Jesus, because He wins—we win too.  The Bible says, “Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  Then, the party starts.  Sometimes people think heaven is going to be one long boring church service.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is going to a celebration like no other…like a party without end.  And while we won’t be the center of attention—that’s Jesus’ place—we will be guests of honor.  How about that?

I don’t really know how things turned out for Bill Basford, but I suppose he was a good commissioner.  I also know it made my mama feel pretty special to be a part of his campaign.  She felt included—we felt included.  We may have driven an old 1957 Plymouth but on that night with Bill’s name on the top, it felt like a Cadillac.  Jesus invites you to be a part of His campaign team too.  He’s not running for anything—He is already King of Kings. But there’s one thing for sure, He loves to invite people to come along for the ride.  He hopes, and so do I, that you will join Him.  When this campaign is over, we are going to rest in Him forever.  Until then, He’s got this.

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

Stinky Feet

Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.” 2 Corinthians 2:15

I smelled it as soon as I opened the door.  When God made us, He did a really good job.  In one place His Word says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  In another it says that we are made just a little lower than the angels.  And then at the beginning He says that we are made in His image. Wow…that is all pretty impressive. When God was working on our blueprint, He decided to give us five senses—five ways to interact with our world around us.  Those five senses are touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste.  All five of them are incredible and it is almost impossible to pick one over the other.  For a foodie like me, it would seem that taste would be my number one, but I’m just not sure.

If smell isn’t number one, it certainly is a close second.  Smell enhances our taste and can trigger so many different emotions. Smell can change what is going on in a whole room.  Many years ago, I went through a period when I had—oh, I hate to admit it—stinky feet.  It was bad.  We had some good friends and we were frequently at their house.  To this day, I am in the habit of taking off my shoes when I am in the house.  I think it is a throwback to my Southern genes.  Anyway, when I got to these folks’ house, I would kick my shoes off and what was in the shoes suddenly spread throughout the room.  It wasn’t pretty.  I’m trying to say, it was really bad.

Within minutes, perhaps seconds, moans and groans filled the air along with the atrocious odor. There was an immediate rebellion and demands to stuff my stinky feet back into my shoes.  I had no choice.  The good news is that it turns out there was something about my walk-around, everyday shoes that caused the odor.  When I changed shoes, the offensive odor went with them.  But to this day, I (and maybe you) should be aware that certain things can cause certain reactions—and they are not always good.  But, fortunately sometimes they are.

Enter Bath and Body “Leaves” candles.  You probably know that Bath and Body is famous for several things but their three wick candles are—well, wicked.  And one of our favorite scents is “Leaves.”  It is just the essence of fall.  During this time of the year I can walk into my house after a long day and as soon as I open the door a sense of calm and “all-things-good” just washes over me.  I love it. Try as I may, I can’t describe it—it is just good.  And then it happens.

Slowly, the longer I stay in the area where the candle is, the rich aroma of fall suddenly disappears.  That smell that made me feel so relaxed seems to mysteriously disappear. But wait—don’t lose hope.  If I go back outside, if I go upstairs and come back—it comes back.  Once again, the rich aroma of fall invades my senses and I am changed.  This cycle goes on hour after hour and day after day.  In the mornings, I like another candle in my home office.  It is called Teakwood Mahogany.  It is a man candle. After a few minutes…I smell nothing.  Judy opens the door and comes into my office and is instantly overwhelmed—almost offended—by the strong smell.  Amazing.

The truth is, it can be dangerous.  It isn’t dangerous if it is the scent of a candle, but what if it is the scent of love in your marriage?  What if it is the scent of faith in your Dearest Daddy?  What if it is the scent of contentment—in all things being well? If and when that happens—it becomes dangerous.  When the aroma of life becomes like stinky feet or as bland as an unscented candle—well, it can and will lead down paths that we don’t want or need to take.  Marriages go south, faith downs in fear, and discontentment creeps into every corner of our lives.  At best we become unhappy, but worse, we began to throw away the things most precious to us.  I am certain that in this COVID hot mess some of the things most precious to us have been cast aside like leftover food.  Last night’s spaghetti becomes today’s stinky garbage.  We must beware.

I think, like leaving the room refreshes the aroma, we need to keep moving.  We must avoid becoming stagnate.  You know what happens to a stream that stops flowing don’t you?  It becomes a slimy pit.  So, we need to find ways to keep our marriages, our faith, our contentment, fresh, by stirring our lives with His grace—with His presence. We have to make sure the aroma we are giving off is pleasant and not “stinky feet.”

Paul, one of the Bible writer guys, says, “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.” Well said, Paul, well said. What kind of aroma are you sharing with your family, your church, your workplace, your neighborhood?  Is it the sweet smell of love, faith and contentment, or is it the atrocious odor of self and sin?  I know one of the best things I ever did was ditch those shoes.  Bye, bye stinky feet.  What do we need to get rid of so we won’t be offensive but rather be welcoming?  Nothing smells as sweet in our lives like the aroma of Jesus.  So, sit down, pull off your shoes and rest with Him.  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, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

Nothing is Impossible

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:34-35, 37

It was almost unbelievable.  My wife, Judy, runs an Airbnb.  Airbnb was founded in California by a couple of guys who needed to make some cash.  Since there was a shortage of places to stay in the city where they lived, they decided to rent a spare space they had as a nightly rental.  They threw an air mattress on the floor and ran an ad.  What happened next was just amazing.  The room was booked all the time and well, the rest is history.  Today it is a multi-billion dollar corporation that works as a clearing house for people who have property they want to rent on a nightly basis.  One of those is us.

We had a two bedroom apartment over our garage that was sitting empty.  Judy researched and worked hard, and now we have a business that is a supplement to our household income.  As a side benefit, we get to meet a lot of people from all over the United States and sometimes from overseas.  Judy loves to host people, so it is just a win all the way around.

As I said, we get to meet some pretty wonderful people.  One of our favorites bordered on almost incredible.  We’ve had lots of really good people stay with us and a lot of them are Christians.  But the first fall we were renting, we had a younger couple stay with us and they began to tell us a bit of their story.  I was chatting with the husband while Judy was chatting with the wife.  I thought I heard the word “grandfather” and the name “Kenneth Taylor.”  So, I pushed pause on my conversation with her husband and said, “Excuse me, did you say that Kenneth Taylor was your grandfather?”  And she replied, “Yes.”  We had read his children’s story books to our girls many times, so I had to know the story.

Kenneth Taylor was a regular walk around guy who loved Jesus—a lot.  He really wanted his children to know God like he did.  Sadly, there wasn’t a scripture translation available that they could understand.  Back in those days it was the King James Version (KJV) and it was written on a grade level way too high for kids.  He got the idea to paraphrase the Bible into a language that was easy to understand. He wanted his ten kids to understand God’s Word like he did. In 1954, he had to ride a commuter train about an hour each way to work in Chicago, so he came up with a plan to paraphrase the New Testament into modern English during his commute.

For seven years—seven years, he would put his Bible on the seat next to him and put a yellow tablet on his leg and he would literally read and then write—read and then write. He started with the gospels and went from there.  When he got finished he called his new paraphrase, “Living Letters” and it was released in 1962.  Well, he quickly found out that the Christian world was not ready for that—they were still struggling with anything besides KJV. No one was interested in publishing Living Letters.  So do you know what he did?

He and his wife took their limited savings and  begin publishing Living Letters.  The Living Letters would later be called “The Living Bible.” Slowly, ever so slowly, he began selling this paraphrase of the Bible and then something happened.  The Billy Graham Association called and asked if they could publish a special edition to give away at their crusades.  They wanted something that they could give to new Christians when they became Jesus followers and they thought the Living Bible would be just the thing. They ordered and purchased half a million copies. It was a huge success. Oh and along the way he started a new publishing company.  If you follow Christian publishing you just might recognize it—Tyndale House Publishing.  How amazing is that?

Just think—an ordinary, walk around guy who loved Jesus, decided to do something about something.  He was very intelligent and way committed, but really, he was just an ordinary man who loved Jesus.  And the paraphrase of the Bible he created on a yellow tablet strapped to his leg has helped millions get to know Jesus or know Him better.  It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fast, but he stuck with it and God used him in a big way.

So, what about you?  What niggle do you have?  What thing is there that God is maybe, just maybe, calling you, leading you, to do?  What ministry does He want you to lead or birth?  What way can you bring some light into this way too dark world?  One of the greatest miracles in the world involved a young Jewish girl who was maybe as young as 14 or 15 years old.  God chose her to give birth to His Son.  She was just an ordinary, walk around girl who said yes to God.  When she said, “How can this be since I’ve never been with a man?” God just said, “Hey, with Me anything is possible.”  Anything is possible. I know, in our day, everything seems impossible.  We can’t seem to get anything right. But that’s only because we are excluding the One who can make it happen.  Remember what God said…with Me anything is possible.  When we choose to put God back in the mix of our lives, well, there’s just no telling what can happen.  Hey, I’m writing stories and having the time of my life.  I’ve always been too busy and God just sorta, kinda slowed the world down.  There you go.  I hope you will never forget Kenneth Taylor’s story and I hope you will never forget that God wants to use us to do something big for Him.  Don’t let the unknown scare you—it’s just a new adventure about to start.  You can rest in Him.  He’s got this.