Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, New Year, Southern born, thankful

New Year’s Eve Eve

And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” Ezra 3:11

We weren’t famous but we had fun.  I was fortunate to have what a lot of kids never did. First, I know that not everybody did or does the church thing…and certainly not all teenagers but when I was growing up it seemed a lot more kids did.  I went to the same church from the time I was about 10 until I joined the Air Force at age 18.  We had the most incredible youth group you could imagine.  We were all good friends and it seemed we did everything together.  Almost every Friday or Saturday night we had a party at someone’s house.  It was some kind of cookout and always involved some kind of crazy game. Personally, I was partial to spin-the-bottle.  Smile.

Music was a huge part of our teen years.  Again, it was a different time but I believe our group was special.  We would rush through our Sunday night Bible study just so we could sit in a room and sing four-part harmony.  We weren’t the Tabernacle Choir but we sounded pretty good and better than that—we loved it.  After church it would be a trip to Frosty’s or one of the local pizza places.  I believe that a lot of who I am today came from that group and the awesome leaders who poured into our lives.  Musically that would be Lloyd and Jane.  She was the church pianist and he was the music director.  They loved Jesus, loved music and loved kids—in that order.  And that is how it all started.

It had to be Lloyd and Jane that came up with the idea of forming a four part quartet.  Now you have to understand in the late sixties and very early seventies, two things were huge: church softball and gospel music.  So, it probably seemed more natural than not.  Four of us young men, Doug, David, Steve and myself, formed a quartet with Melody on the piano.  After a contest to find a name we became…drumroll please, “The Youngmun”. Lloyd and Jane took us under their wing and taught us how to sing parts, add tone and balance and after a while we sounded decent.  Then, we started getting gigs—opportunities to sing.  Sometimes it was Friday nights, sometimes Saturday nights and sometimes Sunday afternoons with a sprinkling of times in-between.

We just had a great time. We loved to sing and were really good friends.  One of the Bible guys said that we should sing responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” And do you know what?  We tried to do exactly that. Well, eventually we went our separate ways, but the memories still live in my heart.  And that is the reason for this story.

You see, back then there were things called “all night singings”.  You can guess what it was by the title.  While they were held at different times the all-time favorite was New Year’s Eve.  Churches or groups of churches would book groups and they would literally sing all night long.  More than once we sang very late or very early—depending on your perspective.  And amazingly, people came and people stayed.

Well, times have changed.  I rarely hear of gospel concerts like the ones from days gone by.  I know there are some but not to the level of those days.  I don’t miss staying up all night—these days if I make it to 10:00pm I am doing really good.  The ball may fall in Times Square but it does it without me!  But I do miss the way we started out the New Year.  Being with a bunch of people who loved Jesus and loved music was pretty cool.  Song after song spoke in poetic ways of God’s incredible love for us and the hope of tomorrow and the day after that “Because He Lives.”

You know, it probably wouldn’t work today to try and have an all-night singing, but do you know what would work?  This New Year’s Eve maybe we could, maybe we should, take some time to thank God for all the blessings He sent in 2020.  Now, don’t make the mistake of thinking He went on strike.  Oh no, His blessings, His love notes were everywhere.  They always say the most powerful person in the room is the guy with the microphone.  Well, we all know too often that person didn’t shout the most encouraging news in 2020.  In fact, I’m not sure they could spell encouraging. 

But I do know this.  No matter what 2021 holds, if we choose to follow the God who made it all, if we will trust and believe, no matter what—I think we will find that it’s gonna be a great year.  We may not always get exactly what we want from God, but we always get what is exactly right for us.  Someone said He is too wise to make a mistake and too good to be unkind.  I know, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but He loves us—a lot.  How much—enough to plan Christmas and Easter—and that is a lot. So, I don’t know your plans for New Year’s Eve but I hope it includes Him…the God who wants to be your Father—your Dearest Daddy.  I hope it will include some quiet time so that you two can chat as the Whisper whispers His love in your ear. Listen as He speaks those three precious words, “I’ve got this.” 

Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, priorities, thankful

Happy

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy.” Psalm 30:11

Just a heads up. Christmas trees. They all have their own time to be setup. They all have their own design and style.  They all have their time when they are trashed or stowed.  There is a common denominator.  Those three things are determined by the creators, the admirers of the trees.  That is what makes every tree special. At our house, we do something just a bit different.  We have four trees that make a small, enchanted forest of sorts.  The tallest is about six foot and the smallest is about 30 inches.  It was an idea that I came up with several years ago and we love it.  They are decorated with a wide variety of ornaments and keepsakes from over the decades…and we love that too.

On one tree, we have a styrofoam snowman’s head that was made by my sister when she was in the third grade…and trust me…that was a really, long time ago.  There is a glitter covered cross from when my wife Judy was in the fourth grade.  Of course, there are three “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments—one for each of our daughters.  There is a 3×5 index card with two buttons on it.  Written, by my oldest granddaughter when she was about 5 years old, is her name over one button and Papa written over the other.  It is priceless.  We were buddies…we are buddies. And on and on it goes…families, friends, and special memories all gathered in one place.

So, by now you are wondering, “Why are you writing about Christmas trees after Christmas has past?”  It’s a bit of a story. When we were in Germany in 1979 we lived in base housing.  They were large, four story apartment buildings, with three stairwells—all full of military families.  We were on the top floor and we had one neighbor across the hall and they actually had a phone in their home.  One year, near Easter, I needed to use the phone so I knocked on the door and his wife came to the door.  I asked if I could use their phone and she was kind enough to say yes.

As I entered their apartment, I noticed one thing right away.  Sitting in their living room was their Christmas tree in all of its splendor.  Now, keep in mind it was right before Easter.  I made my call and just had to ask the obvious question.  I politely said, “So why do you still have your Christmas tree up?”  And, without missing a beat, she said, “It makes me happy.”  I never forgot that simple answer and the great truth it taught me.  It.Makes.Me.Happy.

I love the fact that this sweet lady made a decision not based on popular opinion, not on what the masses did, not the usual.  She made a decision based on what was good for her—for her mental health.  I didn’t think her odd at all—rather, I thought her strong and wise.  I wonder how many decisions we make every day that are not based on what may be good for us but based on what the Smiths or Jones might think of us? I wonder how many things we wear, or eat, or watch, or do, that are based on the opinion of others?  I wonder how many of our faith decisions are based on the same?  Church—no church. Kindness—no kindness. Love—no love. Jesus—no Jesus. Hmmmm. I just wonder.

Well anyway, if you live around Harrisburg, Illinois you need to know something.  For the next few weeks or so, you are going to see a small, enchanted forest in our front bay window.  It will be four trees starting at about six feet tall and going down to 30 inches.  If you could get close enough you would see the trees covered with special ornaments—and almost everyone would represent a special memory or event.  And why will it be there?  Well, Miss Judy said, “Dewayne, it makes me happy” and I have to agree.  So this year, we are doing something counter-cultural and leaving them up past Christmas, when most folks will have theirs stowed or tossed.

In these coming days, we will drink coffee and do our Jesus things like reading the Bible or praying and occasionally we will look up and be happy—happy for all the blessings that God has sent our way.  Someone writing about God in His Book said that God had turned their mourning into joyful dancing. He had taken away their clothes of mourning and clothed them with joy. I couldn’t agree more.  Even in this COVID-19 hot mess, even in a year that did not live up to its name—2020—and even when a future is still not very certain, we will have happy moments.  We will pause and thank God that in the past He always showed up and today and all the today’s yet to come…He’s got this. 

Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, priorities, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials

Post-Christmas Blues

But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

There is a blue Christmas and then there are the post-Christmas blues.  Elvis made the first one famous with his smooth, crooning voice.  It spoke of someone who had lost their sweetie and all the lights, music, and decorations in the world couldn’t overcome their blue world.  In reality, there are lots of things that can make Christmas a little blue. But just a glance at the calendar can bring on the post-Christmas blues.  This is a real deal.  It is that feeling that you have when you wake up the day after Christmas and realize the thing you had looked forward to for weeks is fading fast in the rearview mirror.

I was sitting on the couch with one of my grandsons and he made a comment about the fact that he was going to be a sad tomorrow (the day after Christmas).  So, of course, I had to ask him why.  He told me it was because it was going to be such a long time till Christmas came back again.  Well, with all my Papa wisdom, I tried to explain how time seemed to go by faster when you get older, so it seemed that Christmas came all the time.  I’m pretty sure he gave me one of those, “you’ve got to be kidding me” looks. At any rate, I know one thing.  The post-Christmas blues aren’t as severe the older you get.

I can well remember when I was younger and our kids were younger and the hype for Christmas was somewhere off the scale and the day after Christmas was almost tragic.  Well, actually it probably didn’t kick in for a day or two later because you had the excitement of returning all the things that “didn’t work.”  That usually included clothes from loved ones who obviously didn’t know how much you weigh.  But sooner or later, the blues would come.

One of the newest rages in outdoor Christmas decorating says it best.  You have probably seen the giant blowup characters that people put in their yards these days.  There is every kind of blowup you can imagine.  Giant Santas, reindeer, elves, candy canes, snow globes, and everything in between will fill the yards in the neighborhood. But have you ever noticed those same decorations in the daylight?  To save energy and extend the life of the decorations, most of them are on a timer.  During the day what is brightly lit and full of life (ok, air) at night are deflated and lying on the ground. Deflated and flat.

Well, that is sometimes how the post-Christmas blues feel.  But there is an answer. So what if we concentrate on what Christmas is all about anyway?  What if instead of focusing on what is going to the attic, we focus on what doesn’t?  Things like family.  The same family you loved on December 24th or 25th will still need your love in the days that follow.  The same things that made you smile before Christmas may give you a reason to smile later.  The beautiful lights may be gone but what about that beautiful sunset last night? Sounds like a fair trade to me!  In fact, God says in His Book, “But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” Sounds good to me.

And, if you just happen to be a Jesus follower, well, the same Jesus that you celebrated Christmas Day is still going to be there.  The same church service that made you feel so warm on Christmas Eve will happen in one form or another in the weeks to come.  You see, if you think about it, the parts we love best about Christmas don’t need to go to the attic.  They can live on in our lives today and every day.  It all has to do with perspective. As we journey in the days to come, make it a point to look and to see, for so many of the things all around us seem to say, “Joy to the world, the Lord has some.” Oh, to be sure, there are plenty of things around that can deflate you faster than pulling the plug on one of those yard decorations.  But we get to choose what we focus on.

At our Christmas Eve service I said that we get to choose which bells we are going to listen to—the tolling bells of despair or the pealing bells of joy.  While we don’t get to choose our circumstances, we do get to choose how we respond to them. Someone said that 2020 might be just a dress rehearsal for 2021.  Well, maybe, but I don’t believe it.  But if it is…well, we are going to be better prepared and we are going to do better at hearing the right bells and seeing the sights and sounds of a God that is bigger than our circumstances. As we leave this Christmas in the rearview mirror, let’s get ready for the hope of what’s ahead.  After all, He’s got this.

Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, Military memories, priorities, Southern born, thankful, USA

Care Packages

Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!”
2 Corinthians 9:15

You never knew when they were coming.  When God and the Air Force decided to send us to Germany—well, it was an exciting adventure that we just thoroughly enjoyed.  But there was a downside…we were a long way from home…a real long way.  We were there from 1977 to 1980, we were young, and we were newlyweds.  Back then there were no cell phones and a landline call to the States was hugely expensive, so that just didn’t happen.  There was no internet.  The world moved at the speed of ship or a plane if you were lucky. The only option was snail mail and well, that could take a while.

Sometimes during the year, our parents would send us a box through the mail.  We called them “care packages.”  The reason was that when one came it was clear that someone back in the United States loved us and they cared—about us.  That was important because as much as we loved being there—there wasn’t home—or anywhere close to home.

There were two times a year that you could almost always count on a care package—that was somewhere around your birthday and then Christmas.  I can still feel the excitement as the days clicked by.  We didn’t know when, but we just knew that my Mama or Judy’s Mama would spend the money and equally as important take the time to say, “I love you.”  We would go to the Post Office every day, looking for the yellow slip in our mailbox that said, “You have a package.”  Instantly it was like Christmas Day.

We would open the box that day—that hour if possible.  There would be wrapped presents and those we would save till the special day.  But there would always be just stuff—candy, trinkets, small things that could only be gotten in America.  Sometimes there were home baked goodies and even if they were stale by then—they were still from home and we gladly ate them.

The care packages were an important link to home for us.  Like I said, it told us that someone was thinking of us—that we had not been forgotten.  What we need to realize, especially this morning, is that God is the greatest sender of care packages.  His ultimate gift, His Son, made the way so broken people like us could not only come into the presence of Holy God but that we could call Him Father.  The Jewish people could never understand that.  To them God was a far off, unapproachable deity that they worshiped.  But for Jesus followers—well we know Him as Dearest Daddy and that is not a term of disrespect or looseness—it is a term of His love for us and our love for Him.

Even in the midst of this incredibly difficult year, God has continued to send His care packages along the way.  The Bible tells us this day, and every day, is a day that He made.  He makes the air that we breathe. Everything…everything…that we eat, enjoy or own is a care package from Him.  Every sunrise and sunset, every perfectly different snowflake is a care package from Him.  And every single night that I lay my head down on my pillow in the peace He provides—well, that’s a care package too.

Now to be honest, sometimes we would get things in our care packages from home and wonder “what in the world they were thinking”.  I’m sure Judy and I laughed at more than few.  But do you know what?  Those things were notes of love too.  And the things that God allows and sends our way that we don’t understand—well, each one in its own way is a care package.

Well, the days of care packages are gone for us though we occasionally get one via UPS or Amazon Prime.  But they are rarely the same as days gone by.  But the care packages from God never change—He still sends them—every day—sometimes every minute.  He just loves us so much.  I hope regardless of your circumstances that you will make the choice to trust Him and to wait expectantly for His care packages.  Keep looking, keep waiting because each one tells us, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, priorities, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

Christmas Morning Wake-Up Call

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Romans 13:11

We were the three little ones.  Mama and Daddy either by plan or accident ended up with a big family.  They had five reasonably close together and then took a break before finishing up the family with three more.  The three little ones consisted of two girls and one boy.  I was the boy and as the baby in the family, I was the best.  They called me “Precious”, because I was.  Smile.

The story isn’t about that, but I love stirring the pot.  The way it worked out at Christmas, the five older kids entered the world of nonbelievers long before we three.  I’m sure because one of my sister-in-laws said she changed my diapers.  But for the three little ones, Christmas was a magical world of believing and receiving.

On Christmas Eve night, we three were put into one bedroom.  The main part of the house only had two, so it seemed logical.  About 8:00 pm, Mama and Daddy would put us in the bedroom to “go to sleep” but of course that never happened.  We would lie in bed, whispering and giggling.  At some point, we would begin hearing strange noises coming from the living room.  I remember one year my sister asked for a “chord organ.” Imagine our excitement when, as we were “asleep,” we begin to hear musical sounds coming through the thin walls.  We couldn’t wait.  We would holler out and tell lies.  We would say, “We have to go to the bathroom.”  Of course, we didn’t, but we would do anything to “sneak a peek.”

Eventually, and it varied from year to year, we would doze off to sleep.  And yes, there were visions of sugar plums dancing in our head. I am sure we woke up several times throughout the night to check the clock and it was always too early.  But we would know when it was time to get up.  The “410” would tell us.  You see my Daddy owned an old single shot 410 shotgun and every year that became our alarm clock.  Daddy, or one of the old brothers, would open the backdoor of the breezeway, stick the gun out and let her go.  The window where we were sleeping was right beside that door, so we had no problem hearing old Bessie when the time came. And, trust me, when the gun went off, we were up and running.

The door would fly open and we would turn right into the living room and there would be a wonderland of toys and presents.  Our stockings would be stuffed to overflowing and we, well, we were amazed.  As we sifted through the piles of gifts and as the piles of used wrapping paper grew taller, it was heaven—at least to the three little ones.  I remember my sister-in-law, the same one that changed my diapers, took on the responsibility of going through all that paper to make sure some tiny, but important, part didn’t get accidentally thrown out.

The “410” became an heirloom in the family and I’m not sure who ended up with her. She had killed her fair share of squirrels but the most important thing, in my opinion, was that she let us know it was time for Christmas.  It was time to get up. I think that is one thing I have learned through this COVID-19 hot mess.  You might say it was a 410 of sorts.  When it started in-mass to impact us, it sent a message loud and clear that it was time for some changes.  It was time for new priorities.  It was time to make time for the things that matter, like family, and time to let go of a lot of stuff. It was time to make every day matter because for too many—there wouldn’t be another day.

Hopefully, and I think the jury is still out, it will be remembered as a time when a lot of people discovered or rediscovered God. A time that, for the first time, many could call Him Father.  Hopefully, and I also think the jury is still out, it will be remembered as a time that the church rediscovered what it was supposed to be and do.  Maybe it will be known as a time when the church stopped being a building at a certain address and became a people who still met in a building but then left to touch the lives of hurting people.  A “410” of sorts that heralded the Good News of God’s love.

The old “410” let us three little ones know it was time to wake up and the Bible says it is time for the church to do the same thing.  It says that we Jesus followers should know the time, that the hour has come for us to wake from sleep. The reason? Our salvation is nearer to us now then when we first believed. In other words—wake up sleepy head—it is Christmas morning—time to rise and shine.  Rise and shine—that sometimes is easier said than done but I have a suspicion that with His help—we can shine for Him—letting others know loud and clear that, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, prayer, priorities, thankful

Christmas Eve

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2:15

What are you doing Christmas Eve?  It really is a great question.  All of my life, Christmas Eve has been as much a celebration as Christmas Day itself.  The family would come over, there would be food, lots of food, Mama and the bigger sisters would gather in one of the bedrooms to wrap presents…lots of presents.  I can remember that the three youngest of Mama and Daddy’s eight, dubbed the three little ones, would anxiously wait outside that bedroom door dying to see the name tags on the boxes.  Would it be mine?

As we grew older things changed some but not really.  I think as we became non-believers some of the excitement faded, but it was still special, it was still family, it was still Christmas Eve.  One thing that was not part of our Christmas Eve celebration was church.  I think, though I am not sure, that Baptist Jesus followers didn’t do the church thing on Christmas Eve.  I mean it was ok because we made up for it on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights.  While the Lutherans, Methodists, and Catholics were home watching Bonanza and the Wonderful World of Disney…we had to go to church.  So, it probably worked out okay. I’m sure it didn’t matter to God either way.

Back in 1986, I had the privilege of serving at the First Baptist Church of Cobden, Illinois.  After I had been there a few years I got the crazy idea of having a Christmas Eve Service.  No churches in town were doing one, at least not Protestant ones, and it just seemed like a good idea.  I mean, the shepherds, said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” And, hey, if they went to see Jesus…we should go to worship Jesus!

I remember when I shared my idea with my friends who happened to be deacons, they were at least partially sure I had sprung a leak somewhere.  We batted it around for a few hours (just kidding, a few minutes) and they agreed to give it a try.  Some said, “Now pastor, don’t be surprised if nobody comes.”  Well, we were all surprised not because no one came, but it seemed everyone came.

From the first Christmas Eve the building was full or almost full every year.  Many wonderful traditions were born during those years…traditions involving family and friends.  It was pretty wonderful.  I’ve been gone from Cobden for twenty years now and unless something has changed, they still gather on Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of Redemption’s Child.  I suppose my friend Austin is still playing, “Mary Did You Know” on his old six string.

Well, in 2000, God thought it was time for a new chapter, so we moved to Harrisburg to pastor at Dorrisville Baptist Church.  Well, guess what?  They didn’t have a Christmas Eve service either.  Again, I got this crazy idea.  Why not start one here too?  At that time, I believe there was not a Baptist doing a Christmas Eve service so it was definitely, shall we say, innovative.  Well, I talked to my friends who happened to be deacons, they were at least partially sure I had sprung a leak somewhere.  We batted it around for a few hours (just kidding, only one or two) and they agreed to give it a try.  The general consensus was that it probably wouldn’t work.  The music guy said he could only do it if we did it at 5pm…so 5pm it was.

Well, guess what?  Yup, from the first service, it was a full or almost full house.  We  sang carols, read the Bible, lit candles, and softly sang Silent Night.  I think some people came to see if I could really preach about 15 minutes.  Smile. But the bottom line is that it has become the favorite service of most of our members.  Families come and pack a row of chairs or two.  It is genuinely, sincerely, very special.  At least one time, it was snowing to beat the band with four or five inches on the ground by the time our service started.  I thought, “Surely they won’t come out in this.”  But I was wrong…they came.

So, what are you doing Christmas Eve?  Can I give you a special invitation to find a service somewhere and attend?  We all know how rough this year has been…it is almost beyond words.  And yes, I know we will need to be careful—but somehow, we need to worship.  Honestly, if we can go to Walmart, we can go to church. I know our church is blessed with a large facility that will allow us to socially distance. We are also going to stream the service live online.  Why? I want as many people as possible to experience this wonderful part of Christmas…the part where we corporately thank God for Redemption’s Child.  That night, that Silent Night, I believe we will take home a special gift.  It will be the gift of a promise kept…that a Child, Jesus was born and because of that, we have the assurance that no matter what, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Christmas, Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, Military memories, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials, wisdom

Hard Christmas

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands.” Deuteronomy 7:9

Not every Christmas is merry and bright.  I suppose if we live long enough all of us will experience a Christmas that is not so merry.  Life can be difficult and when those difficulties occur around the holidays, it can be difficult indeed.  I remember 1972 which was my first Christmas in the Air Force. I managed to get leave and fly home from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.  When I arrived home, the house was dark and empty.  There were no decorations, no tree.  My father had suffered yet another big heart attack and he was in the hospital recovering.  It was hard.

Another time that Christmas had a dark shadow was December 1978.  Judy and I were stationed in Sembach, Germany.  It was a great place to live and it seemed that every day was an adventure.  We were living off base in an apartment, a short drive from the base.  Just living in a German village was an adventure in itself. The heat did not come on until October 1 of each year, no matter how cold it was and the heat didn’t go off until May 1, no matter how warm it was. There was no air conditioning, which we didn’t need anyway. In one of our apartments, I especially remember the small two gallon hot water heater.  It called for a very quick shower.  Judy had long hair in those days and it was a race to get her and her hair washed before her two gallons of warm water were up.

We also didn’t have a phone.  Of course, cell phones were a long way in the future and land lines were very expensive.  In December of 1978 we were sound asleep when we heard a sharp knock on the door.  It must have been about 1:00 am in the morning.  I went to the door to find the officer of the day for my squadron.  He was there to let me know I had a call from the Red Cross and I needed to call them immediately. He followed me to the base and from my office I made the call.  The Red Cross made arrangements for me to call my brother and sister-in-law in Florida.  The message was short and to the point.  My sister-in-law Sonia said, “Dewayne, honey, if you want to see your Mama while she is still alive, you need to come home right away.”  I was shocked.  I had no idea that she was sick—especially not that sick.

Well, when you are thousands of miles from home across the Atlantic nothing happens quickly.  But as fast as the wheels could turn and with a lot of help from the Red Cross and the Air Force, Judy and I were able to catch a transport aircraft back to the States.  It landed at Dover Air Force Base on Sunday, December 3rd. My brother, who lived in New Jersey, was able to pick us up and together we drove south to Jacksonville. It was a long day’s journey and we got there Monday afternoon.  We went straight to the hospital and were able to see Mama for a few minutes. We then went to my brother’s house to get some rest.

That evening we gathered together, visited, and prayed.  We told God that whatever He wanted was ok.  If He chose to heal Mama of that cancer, that was great but if He chose to heal her by taking her home…that was ok too.  The next day He answered our prayer.  Mama went to heaven—less than 24 hours after we got there.  It was Tuesday, December 5th and she was 62 and I was only 24.  Well, we planned the service and celebrated her life and worshiped her God and our God.  We had some family business to take care of and when that was finished, so were we.  Judy and I had enough leave approved to stay for Christmas, but the truth was there was no reason to stay.  There was not a home place any more, so we decided to go back to our home—in Germany.  In a few days, we were back and celebrated Christmas knowing that it would never really be the same again.

I can’t tell you it wasn’t hard because it was.  I was grateful we had a couple of weeks before Christmas, but it was still the season.  It felt strange to leave a home that wasn’t home anymore. As much as we loved Germany, we realized when we got back to the States 18 months later, there would be no going home for Christmas.  And then God, via the Air Force, planted us in Missouri for a few years and then a whole lot of years in Illinois.  He also called me to pastor so that meant Christmas was here every year.  And do you know what?  That was ok because God gave us a new family to love and care for us.  That family was His people wherever He placed us to serve.

No, every Christmas is not merry and bright and we (who have some sense of normal this Christmas) need to remember those whose life is anything but normal this year.  It may be the loss of a loved one, it may be loss of health or a job, or it just may be this COVID-19 mess.  But like the Bible says, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands.”

So these days and especially in these days, we need to love one another.  And, just like that night in December when my brothers and sisters came together and told God whatever He wanted for Mama was ok…we need to come together and tell Him whatever the future looks like, we will trust Him with that, too.  I’m so grateful that He is faithful, that He is good, and that He can be trusted.  And because of that, He’s got this.

Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, Southern born, thankful

Santa Claus Came to Town

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

It was a Christmas to remember.  I wish I could tell you the lengths that my Daddy and Mama would go to make sure we had a wonderful Christmas.  Daddy had a good job, but with a bunch of kids, money was always tight.  If I were guessing, we were probably at the bottom of the middle class.  But somehow, they always managed to make sure our Christmases were fairytale. One year stands out.

I was in the sixth grade and by now I had moved into the world of “nonbelievers”—if you get my drift.  I remember that year Mama had told me I could stay up later with the adults.  I guess you could say that I graduated.  That night, we visited, talked, and ate.  I’m sure Mama and some of the girls were in the kitchen preparing for Christmas Day.  At about 11:00 pm, I remember Mama telling me that perhaps I should go ahead and go to bed.  Maybe, she said, Santa Claus might still be coming to town.  Ho, Ho, Ho.

Since it was so late, I didn’t put up much of a fight.  I never was much of a person to stay up late—until I started dating that is.  Smile.  So, off to bed I went.  There were no visions of sugar drops dancing in my head—like I said, I was a “non-believer”.  Our house was an old, former World War II barracks and was long and narrow.  On one end was the kitchen, then a small dining room, next a living room with the bathroom and two small bedrooms, a breezeway and finally a garage turned bedroom.  That is where I slept.

The next morning sometime early, I got up.  I’m not sure if someone woke me up or it was just time.  I wandered through the breezeway into the living room where several of the family were sitting.  I backed up to the old two burner oil stove and warmed up a little. After just a few minutes, Daddy said, “Dewayne, go get me a cup of coffee.”  Coffee was a big deal around the Taylor house, so it certainly was not an unusual request.  I lingered just a moment more, savoring the warmth of the stove before heading to the kitchen.

As I left the living room and entered the dining room, I literally almost stumbled on something.  There parked right in the middle of the walkway to the kitchen was the most incredible red, English-racer bicycle you have ever seen.  Now, keep in mind, this was back when bikes were all the rage.  Unlike today when if it doesn’t have batteries or require electricity it’s not even worth mentioning.  It was beautiful. The frame was bright, metallic red, the fenders were chrome, it had three speeds, hand brakes and, wait for it, a generator light.

I was amazed.  Not in all my years could I have ever imagined such an extravagant gift. Somewhere there is a home video that my brother shot of the grand moment.  I was like someone who had just won the lottery—and from my perspective—I had.  I petted it, hugged everyone one I could find, threw on some clothes and went off into the darkness with my new English racer.  And that generator—oh yes, it lit the way.  And if that wasn’t enough, keep in mind this was in North Florida, so it was warm enough to ride—even early in the morning.

Like I said, my parents went way out of their way to gift us at Christmas.  Things might have been lean during the year but at Christmas, they pulled out the stops.  I had an idea how they did it.  Saving was not practical on such a limited budget, but they would get one of those loans from a finance company and then pay it off throughout the year.  It was so sacrificial.  I know I have many things to be grateful for from my parents, but the lengths they went to, so we could have Christmas touches my heart to this day.  I know it probably didn’t make financial sense, but they loved us that much.

I have another parent who did something that didn’t make sense either…and interestingly enough it involved Christmas and Easter. That would be my Heavenly Father. Knowing the world needed a rescue, a redemption, He sent His only Son into this broken world as a baby just so He could grow up and then give Himself to a Roman cross—just for us.  Paul, the guy God used to write a bunch of the New Testament, said it this way, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still broken, still messed up, unloving and unappreciative, Jesus died for us.  Nope, it made no sense but that is what I love about God.  I know sometimes He allows things that I don’t understand…like when I pray for someone to be healed and it just doesn’t work out like I want. But to know that He loved me enough to create Christmas and Easter—well, that’s just amazing.

So as Christmas rolls around, be sure and be grateful for the sacrifices made on your behalf by family.  I know, for some that might be difficult.  But try and find the good that is lurking somewhere out there.  But be sure and thank God for the greatest gift ever—His own Son and His sacrifice, that we can be forgiven and look forward to being in heaven one day.  Of course, the great part too is that having God as your Dearest Daddy means you get the Gift that keeps on giving.  He walks with us every day and through everything, side by side, hand in hand, and we have the grand assurance that no matter what—He’s got this.

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

My Christmas Santa

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Santa Claus came to town.  I cannot describe the excitement that filled my small world as Christmas grew near.  I wish I could tell you it was all about Jesus, but in my boyhood world it was about presents and presents meant one thing—Santa Claus.  Just like we have now, we had an attic in our World War II barracks turned into a house.  And every year we would go into this magical place where special things lived and bring down the decorations.  We would start early and stay late.  While a white Christmas in Florida was never in the offing, a fun time was.

There were certain decorations that were staples in my world—I can see them in my mind’s eye like it was yesterday.  One of those was Santa Claus.  Now, we didn’t have the whole body but what we did have was his face.  Yup!  Our Santa face was about two feet tall and about 18 inches wide.  It was from molded plastic so it was three dimensional and to me—it was real.  When I got just a little older, I got to climb up on the roof (carefully for you concerned moms) and using some wire I would hang our Santa face on the front side of our chimney. But wait it gets better!  Our Santa face had a light bulb inside and would light up at night for all the world (at least so I thought) to see.  It was magical.

I remember the vibrant colors—the red hat falling down one side of his peachy face, his full white beard, rosy cheeks, and his eyes.  His eyes were bright blue and right in the middle of each pupil was a small hole so that brilliant white light could come peek out giving the illusion of just the right amount of twinkle.  It was as if I could hear his hearty “ho, ho, ho.”  It was more than a plastic face—for me it was the center of my Christmas world.

I’m not sure what happened to Santa.  By the time Mama moved out of the house, I was in the Air Force.  I’m hoping he is still living in someone’s attic, but probably he found his way to the trash pile…the victim of some relative that stopped believing.  But he will always live in my mind.  But in my grownup world, I stopped to question.  Why did Santa look just like me?  Why was his skin so peachy and his eyes so blue?  If he loved all the kids around the whole world, it didn’t seem quite right that my Santa looked so…white. What about the African American kids, or the Asian kids, or the Hispanic kids?  What about all the other kids?   It didn’t occur to me so much back then, but looking back…it does.

Well, having a peachy faced, blue eyed Santa is one thing but what about a peachy faced, blue eyed Jesus?  It’s so funny that when I look at a nativity set, there’s a fair skinned, often blue-eyed Jesus.  When I see a painting of Jesus in a church, (keeping in mind we don’t know what He looked like), He usually does have brown hair and eyes but His skin is unusually fair for a Middle Eastern man.  Honestly, perhaps this doesn’t matter too much unless we begin to think that Jesus is partial to us…no matter who “us” is.  You see, just like the kids’ song says, “Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world.”  Color never mattered to Him, or the side of town you lived in, or how rich or poor you were.  He just loves people.

I loved the Santa that hung on my chimney just the way He was.  He wasn’t making a statement…he was just saying, “Ho, ho, ho…Merry Christmas.”  But let’s make sure our Jesus, or at least how we perceive Him, isn’t making an unintended statement either.  There is a whole world out there who God loves and who Jesus died for. Paul, one of the guys who God used to write the New Testament, said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So, if we are a Jesus follower, let’s get the message out that Jesus loves people…period.  And just as important…let’s make sure we get the message out that because He loves people…we love people.

The mission for every Jesus follower is the same—love God, love people. That’s what the Bible teaches, and I figure if we are going to follow Him, we should follow it.  It’s not always easy to love people…especially in these crazy days but guess what?  With Him nothing is impossible.  That’s what the angel told the young, virgin Mary.  God can pull anything off—including helping us love others.  It’s just good to know that “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, food, gratitude, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, thankful

“Eat Mor Chikin”

The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.”  2 Peter 3:9

It should be every church’s goal.  Y’all know I am partial to food.  We have been friends for a long time.  I think I was probably one of those kids that was born with a craving for homemade mac and cheese with fried chicken.  “Hey mom, can we skip the milk and go straight for the grease and carbs?”  Yup, sounds like me.  One of my favorite fast-food places is Chick-fil-A. Have you ever noticed something unusual about this place?  Well, let me help you…there is always a line.  Period.

It seems that no matter what time you go by to grab your chicken fix, people are lined up and being served.  If you have ever been to one, you also know they are a very unusual place.  First, the food is really good.  Their chicken, mac and cheese, milk shakes, waffle fries—even their salads are off the scale.  Now about their salads…I have to take that on word of mouth since I avoid anything green. Every time I see the commercial for their creamy mac and cheese, I start drooling.  One day, when the line isn’t insanely long, I’m going to get some.  But the bottom line is that they make sure they have something to sell and they sell lots.

The big thing…even bigger than their food…is their service.  I have never seen a friendlier team of employees.  Every person who works for them seems to be genuinely glad to work there and genuinely glad that I stopped in.  Every time I have stopped, I have felt like I was the most important customer in the place.  One time at a Chick-fil-A at the airport the person who waited on me wasn’t quite up to par, but truth be known they were still far and above most places. And, it doesn’t stop there.

Remember I mentioned those long lines?  It is just amazing how organized they are in processing their customer’s orders. In the drive thru, they have employees out in the parking lot taking orders even before the customers get to the window.  They value their customer’s time and prove it by making sure they don’t have to wait any longer than absolutely necessary. By the way, it is a Christian based company and a lot of their business principles are straight from the Bible. People first. And, have you noticed that they choose to be closed on Sundays?  Do you know why?  God first.  Love God…love people.

All of this caused me to wonder something.  What if, we, the Church, did business like Chick-fil-A?  What if we “marketed” our message like they market their products?  What we have to offer is the best news ever—the Gospel or Good News that broken people can be healed—that forgiveness is available for any man, woman or child who is willing to place their trust in what Jesus has done.  I mean that is valuable.  Chick-fil-A believes in their product, but do we really believe in ours?  I think we should.

What if every person who came through our doors felt like they were the most important person in the building?  What is every person felt they were valued—both by God and by the church regulars?  You can take it to the bank that God indeed values every person regardless of race, social status, or sin list.  He is not willing that any should perish but that all should be redeemed.  It says it in the Book.  Perhaps the most important working team (think committee) in the church is the hospitality team.  Their job— is to make every person feel welcomed, accepted, and wanted.  Yup…that would work.

Well, I do like a good chicken sandwich and a good helping of mac and cheese, but I love the way these folks do business.  I do think it should be the goal of every local church to love God…love people and make it obvious that is what we are about. The God we serve is worthy of more than good enough…He deserves our very best. Why? Because He gave His very best for us.  He is for us and through Him anything and everything within His will and purpose is possible.  In this COVID mess we have an opportunity to show off our love for God and others.  It can happen…it should happen…because He’s got this.