Posted in Family, food, life, loving others, Scripture, Trials

I Finally Won!

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.” Galatians 6:4-5

Deep inside I was kinda, sorta…glad.  Several years ago, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  Now, it was one of those good news, bad news things.  The bad news of course was that I had the stinking thing.  The good news was that compared to some folks and their struggle with it…well, I was pretty, blessed.  With medicine and by watching what I eat, it was quickly under control.  Of course, the only problem was the “watching what I eat” thing. It was a matter of definition.  To me watching what I ate meant as my fork hit my plate, I watched carefully to make sure nothing fell off. Trust me…it had very little to do with being healthy.  Of course, to my wife Judy, watching what I ate meant…watching what I ate. Watch your carbs, eat your greens, portion control and…well, you get the idea.

I have always been one of the guys who wrestled with food stuff. Because of that, weight and things like diabetes are a pretty constant struggle.  Judy, on the other hand, hasn’t had much of a weight struggle at all.  It seems she can eat carbs till the cows come home and it just doesn’t seem to impact her.  It just didn’t seem fair.  And then, if that wasn’t enough, she also seems to be better at things than me.  She sins less, she reads her Bible more, and I bet St. Peter in heaven even gives her rave reviews on her prayers.  She’s no Mother Teresa, but I think most of the time she must be a first cousin or something.

Well, I finally found something that I can beat her in…and I’m enjoying it way too much. Smile.  So earlier this year Judy was preparing for her annual checkup with the doctor (she beats me at that, too) and so she had the doctor order a panel of blood tests to prepare for the visit.  All of us, including the doctor, were very surprised to learn that she was diabetic.  It is most certainly a gene thing…though she does like her bread.  At any rate, her sugar level was much higher than mine and her A1C…well, I smoked her.  So, when she was diagnosed, I thought it would be a great time to get serious with my own demon and before long I was regularly waxing her.  I loved it—I love it.

I was never so glad to stick my finger.  “Good morning, honey.” “Did you sleep well, honey?”  “Did you check your sugar yet, honey?”  “It was what, honey?  Oh my…that’s too bad. Mine was…” I just love it.  Now I am sure somewhere in the Bible it says that being glad your wife has diabetes is a sin.  In fact, I’m not glad she is diabetic…I’m just glad to beat her at something.  I mean, on the rare occasion that I get to be right and she is wrong, it is like one of those Christmas mornings when you get everything you wanted.

While I enjoy my little diabetic victory, and I think Judy at least tolerates it, we all really must be careful when we start comparing ourselves to others.  Comparatitis (yup, made that one up) can be very damaging and maybe even dangerous.  If you are the one always struggling, it can leave you feeling less than and if you are always on the winning side it can lead to a bad case of pride. Regardless, it is something that we have to keep an eye on.  It probably isn’t surprising, but this isn’t a new deal at all.  It has been around since the beginning of time.  I mean it was comparatitis that caused Cain to take out Abel.  Bummer.

Paul, the guy from the New Testament, gives some great advice.  He says, “Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.”  Boom…right on Paul.  When I watch what I eat (that’s a win) and when I see good results (that’s a win), I don’t need for someone else to fail for me to feel good. How about that?  Well, truth be known, it is a struggle to not compare ourselves with others, but I just happen to know someone who can help.  God loves to help struggling pilgrims and He wants to help us.  Just ask, and you will find Him ready, willing, and able to walk with you along your journey.  He loves us regardless of what the meter says and no matter what, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, sovereignty of God, Trials

Watch Out Below

Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Matthew 25:13

The clock was ticking…and I didn’t even know it.  Getting older is, well, interesting.  It certainly has its perks…like you mess up and people just give you that knowing nod, you know, the one that says, “We’re gonna give you a pass on that because you are old(er).  Of course, sometimes they are not understanding, and they give you the “what for”.  One of the things that is just a bit difficult are the things that you lose.  You know sometimes you lose your mind, sometimes you lose your hair, sometimes you lose your teeth, sometimes you lose your vision and sometimes you lose your hearing.  Wait, what did you say?

Well, I can speak from personal experience on a couple of those things.  My hair is in full retreat and my hearing, in a least one ear, is well, less than.  One of favorite hearing tests is the fact that I can cover my “bad” ear and still hear our clock ticking at 25 feet.  If I cover my good ear…not matter how close I get…I can’t hear a thing.  One time I put my face up to the face of the clock and still couldn’t hear a thing.  But here’s what is kinda strange—it’s not every sound, but only certain frequencies.  I can hear most voices (except for some reason my wife’s), most music, and most other sounds.  Of course, some things you just can’t hear—or see coming. That happened a couple of years ago.  A clock was ticking, and I had no idea.

My wife called me one Wednesday afternoon.  She sounded a bit frustrated—you know like that tone wives have when they ask their husbands to take the trash out for three days…well, it was kinda like that.  Just a little edgy.  But this had nothing to do with the trash.  Instead, she said, “Dewayne the ceiling in the middle bedroom has fallen.”  I said, “What?” She repeated what she said, yes—I had heard her right.  It turns out that over half of the plaster ceiling in the spare room was now laying on the bed and floor.  I said I was on my way! When I got home, I found out that she was not kidding or even exaggerating.  Water-soaked plaster and blown insulation covered the bed and the entire floor.  What a mess! How do you even begin to clean it up?

As it turns out…it was not a fluke. We have an air conditioning unit in our attic for the upstairs. When the company installed it, they build a small platform where the overflow pan would sit.  The pan was there in case the primary drain clogged. So, unknown to me the main drain clogged, and the pan began to fill. The pan also had a drain but in this case, it just wasn’t enough to handle the excess water. As it filled with water the platform slowly, ever so slowly, began to tilt.  As it tilted, the water in the pan spilled over the edge and onto the attic floor, seeping into the ceiling.  Slowly, surely, over a few days, and believe it or not, without a drip, the ceiling continued to absorb the water until it had enough… and the insulation and plaster fell…big time.

It was a sloppy, no fun, you’ve got to be kidding me, mess.  And then, of course, we had to repair the ceiling.  It took us a couple of hours to clean up the mess and a good friend helped me repair the ceiling. We also had someone come in and properly rebuild the platform so it would not give way again.  In two or three weeks the whole thing was a memory.  It was a learning experience for sure.  One lesson I learned, is to make a trip to the attic on a regular basis and make sure everything is working.  Pour some bleach in the drain to kill any algae and make sure the drain isn’t clogged. Two, understand that there are clocks ticking that we don’t hear…can’t hear and when the straw breaks the camel’s back—you’ve got yourself a dead camel.

Life is filled with surprises and with some of them, all the preparation and all the good intentions in the world, can’t help you avoid them.  But we can do what we can.  It never occurred to me to ask God why He allowed that ceiling to fall.  I mean, I know He loves me and I’m sure on that day He wasn’t mad at me.  The bottom line is… I didn’t do my part.  My part was to make a trip to the attic every once in a while and check things out.  His part was to help me not lose my cool in the midst of the mess.  And, amazingly, even though I didn’t do my thing…He did His.  He sent friends to help and now in the summer when the air is running I make an occasional trip to the attic.  You know, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—or several pounds of wet insulation and plaster. So, thank you Father for helping me grow in patience and shrink a little in frustration.  Thank you for being faithful and for always being there.  I know You’ve got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials, wisdom

A Morning Nightmare

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4

It was the thing that nightmares are made of.  I wasn’t there for this, but trust me I have lived it over and over again with my wife, Judy. Let me tell you the story.  When she was four or five years old, her father and mother went to work and so she had a babysitter that lived close by. It was a regular routine. Simple.  Simple and routine till one day it wasn’t.

On the first day of school, the babysitter and her friend were taking the kids to school. The kids were entering first grade, there was no kindergarten. After they had dropped the kids off, it was back to her house again.  If you’ve ever been to Valdosta, Georgia you need to know multiple times at multiple locations train tracks would cross the roads and highways.  Just a few miles from the grade school was a pulpwood plant and often trains would drop off logs to be made into paper.  On that particular morning, after leaving the school, the car approached this train crossing.  In the early 60’s, many of the crossings didn’t have lights or gates and this was one of those.  As the car approached the crossing, that’s when it happened.

It was not unusual for trains to just stop short of the crossing and sit there.  As the car approached the crossing there was a train and the young lady who was driving assumed it was just waiting as they often did.  Unfortunately, she was wrong.  As the car neared the crossing and proceeded onto the tracks, she realized that the train was in fact moving—slowly—but moving.  In a panic she thought she was pressing the gas pedal, when in fact she pressed the brake—stopping the car dead on the track. As if in slow motion, the train hit the car and slowly, methodically pushed it down the tracks.  Even at such a slow speed, it took a while for the train to stop. The damage was extensive.

The collision was not without consequences and injuries.  The lady in the front passenger seat where the train hit received two broken arms.  The girl behind the passenger seat had a broken leg.  The driver literally had a nervous breakdown.  Thankfully, four-year-old Judy was only knocked to the floorboard where she tried her best to hold on to the “hump.”  While everyone was taken to the hospital, gratefully the injuries, though serious, were not life threatening. As often is the case in situations like this, not all the injuries were physical.

When I met Judy in 1974, she was sixteen and full of fun and life.  Because she lived on the other side of most of the tracks, we would often have to cross them.  While never in a dangerous way, if I heard a training coming, I would speed up to make it across the crossing.  I still remember the fear that came across her face.  Each time it happened, she was reliving what happened.  The accident still deeply affected her emotionally. Even if there was a crossing guard with lights, she would tense up, even though I was slowing down to a stop.  What happened that morning 12 years earlier left lifelong scars.

At first I didn’t really understand and thought perhaps, just perhaps, she was overreacting.  But it didn’t take years, or months or even more than a couple of weeks, for me to realize that for her…this was a big deal.  I also quickly realized that I owed it to her, this young woman I loved, to be very careful around train tracks.  It didn’t scare me one bit, but it did scare the one I loved, the one I cared for.

So, can I ask you a question?  Is there someone in your life, in your world that you care about that might need a bit of special consideration? Is there someone who has a life experience that has left them scarred or wounded?  Divorce? Tragedy? Abuse? Death? Illness? Prejudice? You see, in our very imperfect world, you don’t have to travel far to find the wounded and the broken.  And what isn’t a big deal to you, might be a tsunami of emotions and difficult memories for someone else.  And honestly, we need to be sensitive.  We need to care. Jesus did that so well.  The Bible tells how God cares and comforts us in our trouble so we can care and comfort those we meet in our daily walkabout life.

So, if you bump into someone’s world and they seem to act differently in a certain situation, why not precede with caution?  Why not be the one that brings comfort and understanding to their fractured moment? You could be the one that finally brings healing and peace in their world.  Judy is much better now.  But if there is an unguarded crossing and a train whistle in the distance, you can bet I still slow down and check the situation out.  Judy, well, she knows this guy loves her enough to do exactly that. And, by the way, there is a Dearest Daddy who loves His kids even more than that.  And no matter how your world is scarred or rocked…rest assured, He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, Trials, wisdom

A Memorable Funeral

Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not.” 2 Timothy 4:2

It was years ago and something that I will never forget.  I am a pastor and that often gives me the opportunity to help people at some of their hardest moments.  Over the last 38 years I have officiated at hundreds of funerals.  Some of them were tragic and some of them were celebrations of life.  Regardless…they were all difficult.  I believe that every service should be as personal as I can make it. I heard a story once of a pastor who was asked to do a service for a man he didn’t know well.  Unfortunately, he kept calling the gentleman by the wrong name.  Finally, in sheer desperation, his wife shouted out, “John, his name is John.” Gratefully, I have managed to avoid something like that thus far.  But there was one funeral I will never forget.

I said earlier that I am a preacher…a pastor.  Well, I happen to be a singing pastor.  You see, long before I started preaching, I was singing.  I’m certainly no Frank Sinatra, but I can carry a tune.  That led to opportunities to serve families in another way.  When the funeral home needed a vocalist, I would sometimes get a call.  One day…the call came.  I was to sing a couple of songs…one at the beginning and one midway through the service.  So, my time came…no pun intended…and I sang my first song and then the second.  An older pastor was speaking and he was really into the sermon.  As the vocalist, I was sitting in a side room where I couldn’t see him, but I could see the audience. And then…it happened.

As I said he was preaching hard, and all of a sudden two things happened in a split second.  First, a moment of silence.  It went from “Katie bar the door” to dead silence.  Then, in a moment of time, there was something that sounded like a clap of thunder—literally. And finally, there was the sound of chaos—-people screaming and crying.  It was a very frightening moment.  Immediately I stood up and looked into the room where the preacher was lying on the floor.  It seems as he was preaching, he suffered a massive heart attack, fell on top of the folding pulpit which then caused it to collapse. That was the clap of thunder.

The funeral home folks called 911 and they quickly arrived and carried him out.  I’m not sure if he passed right there on the floor or in the ambulance, but he didn’t make it.  When they had left with him, I wondered what in the world do you do now?  The funeral director came over and said, “Dewayne, can you finish the service?” I told him I could if he would get me a Bible.  The preacher’s Bible was still laying there so he picked it up and gave it to me and we finished the service.  It was one of the strangest things I have ever witnessed—especially at a funeral.  As a side note, in a day or so, the funeral home called and asked me to do the service for the pastor who had died, and it was my privilege to do so.

I would suppose that there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from this but the big one is—we need to be ready.  We need to be ready to step into any situation that might arise. There is a verse in the Bible that says we should be prepared whether the time is favorable or not.  That is good advice.  We never know when we will have an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life.  I don’t know exactly how well I did finishing the funeral that day, but I hope I was able to bring some peace into a crazy chaotic moment.

There’s also another lesson—another truth—from this story.  We should be prepared to step into eternity.  When we think of death, we often think we will all live well and long, die easy, and go to heaven.  The truth is we just don’t know how long we will live, but we can all be prepared.  I like what a friend of mine said one time.  He said, “I’m prepared to go to heaven, I’m just not ready to go.”  He was just saying that he was prepared to go to heaven he just wasn’t ready to get on the next bus. I’m sure the pastor who was speaking that day was prepared, but he probably didn’t have any idea that he would board the bus right then.

The good news is that because of the Good News, we can all be prepared.  Because of what Jesus did on a Roman cross two thousand years ago, we can know that we are going to heaven.  It’s not about religion or church—it is about faith in Him dying and coming back to life three days later.  It is about believing that He was who He said He was, that He would do what He said He would do, and about repenting and trusting in Jesus as the Way to eternal life with God. If you haven’t made that commitment, I’m hoping you will. Google it and check it out—check Him out.  The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared” and I hope you are.  When it comes time for us to board the bus, we can have the confident assurance that He will be there.  He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in forgiveness, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Trials

Drop the Rocks

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7

It kinda made me mad.  I know there are a multitude of things in the world that make us mad and there are also degrees of madness—boy is that a play on words. There is a little mad, some mad, half mad and downright mad.  Well, anyway, I was just a little mad.  Back on the first Monday in January, I started walking again for exercise.  Since the weather is so unpredictable, I decided to just use the treadmill.  It isn’t as good as the outdoors but you sure can work up a sweat.  So, five or six days a week I have my date with “the mill.”  I have a television mounted right in front of me to keep my mind busy while I walk. With all the new streaming services there is a lot to watch.

One of my favorite things is something called “Aerial America.”  They take a particular state and with a drone and/or helicopter they fly all over the state and shoot video.  It is very interesting and stunning but there was a problem. Because it was filmed from the air, I had a hard time staying on the treadmill.  They would go up and down, left and right and I was all over the place with them. You know…where you stare you steer. Maybe I needed to find something else to watch while walking on the treadmill.  I decided it would be a great opportunity to get some good Bible teaching, so I started watching services from some of the guys I like.  It has been very profitable.

Different guys have different styles and I always try and pick speakers that stay close to the Bible and there are a couple that have large ministries and by and large do a great job teaching.  Now, I never agree with everything that every speaker says.  In fact, I teach every Sunday and guess what? I don’t always agree with me. It’s just a fact of life so if you teach publicly get ready for someone to say something.  I get that.  But then there was this morning.

As I was looking for something to watch from one of the guys I follow, I saw something that just about made me mad.  Some no-name guy, a pastor, teacher posted a video calling this nationally known speaker a “false teacher.”  Well, I didn’t watch his video because it wasn’t worth my time.  But I wondered exactly what caused him to say that this guy wasn’t the real deal.  Now again, I don’t always agree with everything this teacher says nor how he says it but “false teacher?”  I don’t think so.  He leads one of the largest evangelical churches in America.  He teaches the Bible and at the end of every service he has a time for people to act on what they heard and specially, to act on an invitation to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow Him.  He gives an old-fashioned altar call.

Oh, and one other amazing thing.  Everything this church produces, sermons, curriculum, music, you name it—they give it all away for free.  His church could make a zillion dollars but instead with incredible generosity they just give it away.  I find that amazing.  So, what’s up with the dude who made himself judge and jury?  If I were to take a guess it would probably be jealousy.  When someone is successful some people just assume that they are fake or false.  It seems the more successful a ministry is, the more people cast stones.  Cast stones…hmmm.  It seems like Jesus had something to say about that.  Remember?

There was a woman in the Bible taken in the very act of adultery.  The Pharisees (we won’t go there) dragged her out in public in front of Jesus and declared, “Moses said we should stone this woman.  What do you say?”  First, and always, don’t mess with Jesus.  You will lose.  But Jesus stooped down and wrote something in the sand, (we don’t know what), and then said, “Okay.”  Well, that wasn’t all He said.  The rest rattled their bones.  He said, “Okay, but the person without sin needs to cast the first stone.”  You could hear a pin drop, but then you would have heard something else—the sound of rocks falling to the ground.  And, beginning with the oldest to the youngest, they left—all of them.  Jesus looked at the woman and said, “Where are your accusers?”  They had skedaddled. And here’s the best part.  The One who was left, Jesus, the One who could condemn her—didn’t.  Amazing.

I know it is our natural tendency to chuck rocks but don’t you think maybe it is time to let the rocks fall.  Whether you are a Jesus follower or not, chucking rocks is a dangerous game.  Those rocks can act like boomerangs—and that will definitely leave a mark.  Should we practice a discerning spirit?  Absolutely.  But rock chucking has nothing to do with discerning—it has to do with a judgmental spirit.  I know, those rocks can be hard to drop sometimes but I know someone who is good at dislodging them from our sticky hands.  His name is Jesus, and you can take it to the bank, He’s got that too.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, Southern born, Trials

Cross Country

Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24

They called it a physical fitness test.  I called it Hades.  It happened every nine weeks.  That was the length of the grading period at the high school I attended.  Every male who attended Nathan Bedford Forest High School and was breathing was required to take a physical fitness test at the end of the grading period.  It involved several things…pushups, pull-ups and my personal favorite, throwing up.  What was ironic about this, is for all the time before the test we didn’t train for it. We might play softball or volleyball or some other team sport, but we didn’t train for “the test.”  We also played something called battle ball where we gathered in the gym and played a sadistic form of dodge ball. There was a guy named Johnny who had abnormally long arms and could hurl the ball at incredible speeds.  The last thing on earth you wanted was to be the last victim on one side and Johnny on the other.  It wasn’t pretty.

Anyway, we were not prepared but that didn’t seem to matter.  We had to take “the test.”  The worst part of this Gladiator style arena of horror was the cross-country run.  Let me see if I can set the stage.  Imagine you are in North Florida and it is late May.  The temperatures regularly climb into the lower and upper nineties. The humidity is at ninety percent or higher.  Remember they call Florida the Sunshine State and that is for a reason…the sun is beating down unmercifully.  And, by luck of the draw, you have P.E. right after lunch. The day before, the coach announces that we would be running “cross country” tomorrow.  It was too late to train…it was too late for anything but a few prayers.

In an attempt not to throw-up, you eat a light lunch and then report to P.E.  You pray to stumble and break your leg on the way to class, but that prayer goes unanswered.  You change clothes and anxiously meet outside.  They call the roll and then give the command to report to the starting line.  What lies ahead is two and a half miles of running in the heat of a hot, late Spring day. Like “sheep led to the slaughter” you line up waiting for the whistle.  Soon, too soon, it blows and off you go.

Now you really need to understand that cross country for those who have trained for it is a challenging, but somewhat enjoyable sport.  I’ve even heard reports of a runner’s high.  I never experienced that, but I did experience a runner’s low.  It happened about a hundred yards into the course when I realized that I was going to die—or wish I could.  I can still remember the course to this day.  It was two and a half times around the perimeter of the school property.  If you ever wonder what eternity is like, talk to me…I ran it.  Actually, to say I ran might be a stretch. I sorta ran it.  Not soon enough and it was over. As you cross the finish line you hear people saying, “Don’t run toward the light…don’t run toward the light.” After about 15 minutes your heart rates goes below 600 and you can breathe again.  I hated that test.  A lot.

I never really understood the point of asking someone to do something but not preparing them for it.  We ran that distance and more in basic training in the Air Force but we slowly prepared for it.  Again, it was challenging but doable because of the training. I think this is not just a lesson about running, but about life.  I’ve heard that life is a race and unless you are incredibly unfortunate, it is not a sprint, but rather a marathon.  If you are going to succeed in life then you need to prepare, you need to train and pace yourself.  Fail in that and you might well fail in everything you attempt.

Paul, a man from the Bible, wrote a letter to a bunch of Jesus followers in Corinth.  They had their own set of games and there were prizes to be won.  It was an open deal so anyone could sign up, but if you were wise, you trained first and you ran with commitment.  In that letter to the church at Corinth he says, “Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.” In other words…train like you want to win and run like you want to win and guess what?  You just might do it.  Regardless, you can finish the race knowing you gave it your very, best shot.

I went through three years of high school and had four nine-week periods per year.  If my math is right that equates to sixteen times that I had to line up to get ready to throw-up.  Guess how many times I trained?  That would be zero.  Sixteen times I knew it was coming and sixteen times I thought the next time would be different.  Hey, plant corn and you’re gonna get corn.  Every.Single.Time.  So why not start today to run for the gold—to live like no one else?  Why not start today to make the best of everyday and when race day comes…you’ll be ready.  There’s a great Coach who will help you train and run.  His name is Jesus, and He is on your side.  He’ll even run beside you…all the way, shouting words of encouragement.  Listen as He shouts, “You’ve got this, Dewayne.” “How?” I ask?  “Because I’ve got it for you,” He responds.  I like that.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, Grace, life, prayer, Scripture, thankful, travel, Trials, wisdom

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in Me will no longer remain in the dark.” John 12:46

There’s light at the end of the tunnel.  I have heard that saying all my life (well, at least a chunk of it).  But the truth is the light at the end of the tunnel just might not be enough.  You see, about 20 miles from where we live, there is a bike trail with a tunnel that is 543 feet long.  It’s located in beautiful Southern Illinois.  Oh, I know, I say beautiful and Illinois in the same sentence and all people can think of is flat corn fields and Chicago.  But tucked away in what we call the “real” Southern Illinois are many trails with beautiful hills and rock bluffs in the Shawnee National Forest.

Tunnel Hill Trail is a gem in our area and perhaps the highpoint of the trail is its tunnel. Our church has an annual bike ride that begins at the tunnel.  At its peak we would have over a hundred riders—big and little, young, and old. What makes it even better, the small town of Vienna (where we have our picnic) is only ten miles or so from the tunnel and that part of the trail is either flat or slightly downhill.  I told the church riders that, but I’m sure after riding it they thought I might have stretched the truth.  Well, maybe a little.  But the truth is—ten miles on a bike seat is still ten miles on a bike seat.

I have learned over the years to respect every foot of the tunnel there.   As you enter the tunnel, two things are apparent.  One, there is plenty of light. So, it is easy to assume that there will be plenty of light all the way through.  That would be a mistake.  Second, you might assume that since you can see the “light at the end of tunnel” that would be enough to get you through.  Uh, that would be a mistake too.  Let me describe it…though words really can’t do the job.  You have to experience it.

Whether you are riding your bike or walking, as you enter the tunnel you really do think, “Oh this isn’t too bad.”  There is plenty of light and of course, you can clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Slowly, very slowly, almost without noticing, the light fades away and suddenly, just shy of halfway, you find yourself in total, eerie, darkness.  What seemed so easy now seems increasingly difficult.  Even with the light at the end of tunnel, you can’t tell where you are going.  You think you are in the middle of the trail when in fact you can easily be heading straight for the walls.  Over the years, everyone who has ridden with our group has made it through the tunnel.  It’s just that some of them came out with a few bruises and scrapes…courtesy of “the walls.”

Well, after about a hundred feet, light slowly starts appearing around you and before long the light pouring in from the end of the tunnel envelopes you…and you are glad. I’ve even ridden in the tunnel with a flashlight and it still seems difficult.  You see, light at the end of the tunnel or not, darkness is difficult.  You simply lose all sense of where you are.  That is true in tunnels…and it is true in life.  Too often we are faced with choices and decide that we can handle what our common sense tells us is a bad idea.  We enter the tunnel with plenty of light and assume we have escaped the blight of our choice.  Only later do we see what we couldn’t see—the consequences of our decision.  Only when we “hit the wall” do we understand the pain of our decision.  It is only after we emerge back into the light that we can see the wounds from the walls and realize the scars that we will bear.

Life will have its valleys and not all tunnels in life are caused by our misguided choices, but the good news is regardless—we can find help.  Imagine what it would be like to take sunlight with us into the valleys—into the tunnels of life. What if the deepest valley and the darkest tunnel could be lit as noon is on a sunny day.  Well, it can.  You see, there is a light that defies darkness and is brighter than the sun—in fact, it is the Son.  Two thousand years ago a Man was born that claimed…and proved…that He was the Son of God and His name is Jesus.  Have you ever wondered why this simple carpenter from an obscure village in the Middle East commands center stage on the stage of history?  The reason why?  He is the real deal. The Bible describes Him as the Light of the world…and He is.  And when a person follows Him, he walks in His light.

Jesus said, “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in Me will no longer remain in the dark.” That is a claim, a promise, worth checking out.  When we were kids a lot of us were afraid of the dark. As adults most of us have outgrown that fear, but we still have reason to fear the phantoms of the dark…things that are bigger than us.  Jesus drives the darkness and phantoms away when we chose to follow Him.  He’s waiting right now to bring light into your life…your tunnels.  When we find ourselves in our darkest moment, you will hear the Whisperer whisper, “Fear not…I’ve got this.  And He does.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, Trials, wisdom

My Cussing Summer

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

It was the summer of my rebellion.  I know, some people are born compliant and some are born a little on the rebellious side.  I was born compliant.  I have always been a rule keeper—well, at least most of the time.  I suppose that is why I took to religion so well.  You see religion is all about keeping the rules.  The idea is if you keep enough of the rules then people will like you and most importantly, God will like you.  And sure enough, it worked—well, at least part one worked.  In my younger years, most of the adults thought I was a good boy.  Church? Got it.  Drinking? Not a drop.  Drugs?  Nope. I can hear them saying it now, “That Dewayne is such a nice boy.”  And, I suppose outwardly I looked pretty good, but pretty good won’t get you to heaven.

You see the second part of the religion mantra is that you can make God happy by performing—by keeping the rules.  That one is 100% false.  There is no one, except Jesus, that was good enough to go to heaven.  Yet it seems so many church people say they believe that rules won’t get you to heaven, but act as if they will. They carefully do this and that and boy, if you happened to be one of the ones who didn’t keep the rules, you were tried, convicted and sentenced.  That’s why I had to keep my cussing summer quiet.

I think maybe all the rule keeping must have finally got to me.  The bottom line is during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school—I started cussing.  I had a job at an apartment complex down the road from our house and I worked with the son of the head maintenance man.  He was not a Jesus person and he did like to cuss.  So, one day, I just started cussing too.  I had heard enough cuss words at school to know most of them, so I didn’t have to have any lessons…though I did have to work on my voice inflections.

It was a very tricky time in my life because I had to turn the cussing on at 8:00 am and I had to be sure and turn it off at 5:00pm.  That’s what you have to do when you are living a double life.  Under no circumstances did I want to spoil my good boy image at church or with my Mama and Daddy. I do remember one time I let a small one slip and Mama looked at me with eyes that said, “Where did that come from?” Of course, I didn’t, I couldn’t let her know that her baby son was a cusser.

And, as quickly as it came, it passed.  At the end of the summer, I had to go back to school and therefore had to quit my job.  All I know is that the cussing stopped and my rule keeping world got a little easier.  I managed to please a lot of people, but I knew I was far from pleasing God.  It would be several more years before I finally figured out that rule keeping didn’t work and religion didn’t either.  When I was 21, I finally found grace and boy was that a game changer.  Honestly, it is taking me a long time to shake the deep roots of rule keeping and religion.  I’m still working on it.

You might ask, “How do you know if you are under the influence of religion and rule keeping?”  Well, its two main indicators are self-condemnation and a tendency to judge others.  Rule keepers are acutely aware when they or others around them break a rule.  Rule keepers (and religious people) like to point out other people’s sins and faults because it makes them feel better about themselves.  If they can make you feel bad, then it makes them feel better.  It’s a pretty twisted world.

God’s way is so much better than religion and rules.  Did you know His Book, the Bible, actually says that when someone believes in Jesus and becomes one of His followers that there is no condemnation—none—nada?  I mean when the prosecuting attorney and the judge both acquit you—the trial is over.  I’m slowly learning just how valuable that is.  There is an audience of One that Jesus followers have to live for and that is God…their Heavenly Father…their Abba Father…their Dearest Daddy.  I love what Toby Mac (a contemporary Christian singer) said, “I gave God a million reasons not to love me.  Not one of them changed His mind.”  I like that!

Well, I’m glad my cussing summer is ancient history.  I still look back at those two or three months and wonder what in the world was I was thinking?  The truth is…I probably wasn’t.  But now, by grace, that, and all my other failures, warts and sins are forgiven…all because of Jesus.  I’m so grateful for that. If you have never discovered grace and forgiveness, especially God’s kind, I hope you will check it out.  Don’t get confused with religion and rule keeping like I did.  God’s got something far, far, better than that.  Think you’ve messed up too much to be forgiven?  Nope…don’t give it a second thought.  Trust me…He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, thankful, travel, Trials

Praying Mantis

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—because I am God, your personal God, the Holy of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:2-3a

He was coming after me.  Over the years, my wife Judy and I have made many trips to Africa.  We have spent time in Niger, Mali, and Uganda.  All were unique in their own way and all were very special.  Our time in Mali was especially so.  We were working with one of our favorite missionaries.  She is the real deal kind—the kind that if you were to stick her finger…she would bleed Jesus.  Those trips were also highlighted because we worked with a group of One-Story girls.  These college age young ladies gave up the comforts of home to spend a couple of years living in the African bush telling people about Jesus.  They were incredible.

So, on one of these trips the team had one of those especially good days.  We were able to minister and share with a lot of folks.  We would start early and go the entire day.  We would do mostly medical missions and story-telling and encouraging.  When we got back to wherever we were staying we would have supper together.  Then, when the African sun had finally called it a day, we would gather under a large open air bamboo….uh, thing.  We would sing, share stories and have a brief devotion before joining the sun and calling it a day too.

These team times were very special moments.  As the days passed, we as a team became closer and closer together.  There were about twelve or fourteen of us…so not too large.  Of course, that didn’t include other guests.  Sometimes Africans from where we were staying would join us, and of course some or all of the interpreters.  And then there were the other guests.  Their names would make you think they were members of the team…but they weren’t.  Praying may have been part of their name but, it wasn’t on their agenda.  They were…praying mantis.

These large insects—about the size of a small eagle—would be drawn to the light as we sang and shared.  Slowly they would start circling, choosing their targets.  Now, I don’t know if they intended to bite someone—I don’t think so, or if they intended to carry someone off to their secret lair.  Regardless, it was just a little spooky.  Finally, and who knows why, I was picked by one of them.  Repeatedly, this fellow would dive and try to land on me—particularly my face. Ok…it was weird.  I was grateful when the prayer time was over. I confess I cheated and kept one eye open looking out for my new found friend.

Judy and I headed back to our hut and prepared for bed.  We had a mosquito net over our bed to keep out those pesky insects and their friends. Soon it was lights out and off to sleep.  Sometime later, we were awakened by the sound of something larger than a mosquito.  Lion? No. Tiger? No? Elephant? No. It was the…praying mantis.  Apparently, he followed me home and waited for the lights to go out before once again taunting me.  It turns out there was a small hole in the top of our mosquito net and he found his way in and then…it happened.

As Judy and I lay in the African night, from out of the darkness (no electricity) the praying mantis landed square on my face.  Now what happened next can’t be written because it goes beyond the 26 letters in the English alphabet. I jumped up and started clawing in the darkness trying to find my stalking insect.  I finally grabbed him (gross), wrestled him to the bed (remember they are the size of eagles…smile), raised the net and chucked him outside somewhere, anywhere but where he was.  And then I did some praying of my own.  “Lord, please don’t let him find the hole again.”  Thankfully, he didn’t, and thankfully that was the last I saw of him.

Well, the next night I had a testimony to share at story time.  We all had a good laugh (and by the way…they really aren’t as big as …eagles but it sure seemed that way.) I remember telling my teammates how grateful I was for answered prayer…and honestly I was.  Until you’ve had something like that land on your face, in the dark, in Africa—well you just can’t appreciate a God who answers unusual prayers. But you know, that’s the kind of God that He is.  Nothing is too big…and nothing is too small for this Dearest Daddy who calls us His own.

One time God was talking to Israel through the prophet Isaiah and He said no matter what we face…when we are over our head in trouble, or maybe between a rock and a hard place or even the occasional fiery furnace—He will be with us. Why?  Because He is our Savior, our Lord, our God. Wow…what a great scripture and I can add to that list “face eating praying mantis.”  God is always there with us and for us and no matter what, He’s got this.  Take that, Mr. Mantis. 

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

Pardon Me, Your Slip is Showing

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” Luke 6:45

Pardon me, but your slip is showing.  Change is everywhere.  I can well remember my Mama getting dressed for church.  In those day she always wore a couple of extra “accessories.”  First, she was a big fan of what I guess was called girdles.  As I remember, these things were designed to hold things in place around a lady’s waist.  I never saw Mama put one on, but I know she wore one.  How?  When we were sitting in church, I would get bored and start doing “things.”  Things are anything to help pass the time.  So, I would poke my Mama in the side, only to find that it was hard as a rock.  As impenetrable as the Great Wall of China, there was something firming things up.  I suspect it was “the girdle.”

The other thing was something called a slip.  As best as I could tell it was worn under a lady’s dress to ensure that nothing was seen through.  Now I know more about this because my Mama always wanted to be sure her slip wasn’t showing.  It was important to have the slip shorter than your dress by a couple of inches.  Well, since she couldn’t see behind her (we didn’t have a full-length mirror), she would say, “Dewayne, is my slip showing?”  I would get behind her and give her the report.  I think in our early years of marriage, slips were still in vogue.  I’m pretty sure Judy asked me to give her the “slip” report too.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, wanted to get to church and have their slip showing.  How many times did we get somewhere public and there in front of us would be a lady with her slip showing, Mama would sadly shake her head and say, “Oh my, her slip is showing.  She should have someone check.”  Well, some time ago slips went out of vogue and so with it the way of the slip report.  No slip…no report.  But the saying still lingers.

When you hear someone say “your slip is showing” it means that something they intended, or perhaps should have intended, to be hidden is there for everyone to see. Well, here’s a news flash.  Someone needs to tell everyone that their “slip” is showing in social media.  Now I am not a Facebook person.  I use it to post Grits, to make a couple of church announcements and wish people happy birthday.  But beyond that, it just isn’t my thing.  But even with that limited exposure, and thanks to folks who sometimes tell me what they see, well, there are a lot of “slips” showing.

I’ve almost stopped being shocked at what people write on Facebook.  It seems people confuse the privacy of their journal with Facebook.  Things that should never be written or spoken spew on the pages like a bad case of the stomach flu.  Hurtful, painful words too often fill the screen of our devices.  I remember one time a lady who attended our church at the time wrote some very un-Jesus like words.  I asked her about it and she said, “Well, I didn’t know the whole world would see them.” “What? Uh?”

So, I think when we see someone being unkind and harsh in social media we should just say, “Pardon me, but your slip is showing.”  Now “showing your slip” with unkind words is never right.  You know your Mama taught you, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  Well, Jesus gives us another perspective and warning.  He tells us that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.  In other words, what comes out of our mouth is simply revealing what is in our hearts. And if hurtful, unkind, and sometimes untrue words flow from our mouths, or our fingers, according to Jesus, it is just revealing what is in our hearts.

I know, if you aren’t a Jesus follower that doesn’t make a lot of sense but hey, kindness is really in vogue these days even in the secular world.  It might be selective kindness, but it is there.  Now, if you are a Jesus follower, God gives us a word for this kind of word stomach flu.  It is called sin.  No matter the circumstances or the way we attempt to justify it, it is sin.  If you feel the need to express your displeasure with someone, why not try praying.  God is always up for an authentic prayer on behalf of someone and you also won’t be surprised to hear “your slip is showing.”

I happen to be one of those people who too often speak without thinking but I am learning to hit the pause button.  They say the older you get the more you lose your filter. You say things…and write things…that are just not right, or kind or both.  Then, you end up telling God you are sorry and experiencing that regret thing.  Of course, depending on your lack of filter, you may not have any remorse…and that is the worst thing of all.

So, what do you say?  Let’s start a “Pardon me, your slip is showing” campaign.  It is a gentle way of letting someone know that their communication is, shall we say, embarrassing. They may not thank you now but maybe, just maybe, they will later.  And if you are like me and sometimes wrestle with putting your mouth in gear when you shouldn’t, ask God to help.  He will, trust me.  This is a big deal to Him.  The good news is that like everything, “He’s got this.”