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

Houston… We Have a Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got Squirrels?

I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

I just can’t seem to win. It seems we have a continuing wildlife saga in our backyard. I know I have told you about the difficult time I have been having trying to feed the birds in our backyard.  You see my friends the birds left when the food ran out.  It kinda hurt my feelings.  Well, I apologized and went and bought some food and a couple of new feeders and they are slowly coming back! Boy, are they fair weather friends!  But that isn’t the only problem.

I also have squirrel issues.  With winter coming on they are visiting the back yard, the side yard, and every other part of the yard—frequently.  They eat Judy’s flower bulbs, they dig holes everywhere burying nuts for the winter, and then for fun they eat the bird food.  That wouldn’t be a big deal but they want to eat all the bird food—every expensive morsel.  Now there are a couple of options here.  On the one hand we can use some friendly means to dissuade them from visiting—you know, perhaps a 12 gauge shotgun.  The other is to embrace them—remember the Bible says “if you enemy is hungry…feed them.”

Now if the truth were known, I think sometimes (like when they eat her tulip bulbs) Judy would lean toward the 12 gauge…I’m not sure if the intent would be to scare them off or make squirrel stew.  Somehow, though, that just doesn’t seem like the right option. It’s not that I am not that merciful–it’s just that they are so cotton-picking cute and you have to admire their persistence. So, I was prepared to at least help them coexist with us.  And then they ate my bird feeder—literally.

As I said I went to a local store and bought a new finch feeder—the kind that is supposed to discourage anything but a finch from feeding there.  Well, the designers hadn’t taken into account these squirrels.  In one day, they chewed it up, spit it out and consumed the bird food.  I decided it had to be a design flaw so I took it back to the store to see if they would give me a new one—they laughed.

So, why not use the 12 gauge and save the money? Well, first I live in the city limits and they frown on discharging a firearm.  But the truth is they are God’s creation and they have those big brown eyes…the ones that make them look so pitiful…you know, hungry and everything.  As you know, we’ve been learning to “love thy neighborhood” and I suppose that could include squirrels.  We’ve also been learning about how we should “be merciful just like God is merciful.” Do you remember why? “Because He forgives the ungrateful and wicked.” I am certain these squirrels fit both categories.

So, I am working through this.  Tracking with Romans 12, I’m going down the “love thy enemy” checklist. Feeding—check!  Water—Check! Merciful—check! Forgiving—check!  I believe before long the squirrels and I will be best buds.  In fact, maybe this is just practice for loving others who, like the squirrels, are a bit difficult. You see, the scripture isn’t talking about squirrels anyway; it is talking about our family, our friends, our neighbors—and yes, our enemies.  Let me clue you in—loving them is sometimes a whole lot tougher than loving that cute little squirrel.

But do you know what?  We can do it.  Remember that verse in the Bible we all love…the one that says we can do anything with God’s help? Well, it’s time we move from memorizing it and begin applying it.  With His help we can love and care for the most difficult of those who live around us and impact our lives. And do you know what else?  We are never more like Jesus than when we are kind and loving to those who deserve it the least.  I know…I know, we think we are the most like Jesus when we don our Sunday best and head to church.  The truth is we are most like Jesus when we act like Jesus. And, when we truly act like Jesus, all the people around us take notice. They stop “eating our lunch” and begin wanting what we have…Him. Amazing. So, got squirrels?  Just give in and go to the store and buy some corn.  They will still eat your bird food but maybe, just maybe, they’ll be so full of corn they will eat less of the bird food. Got some folks tough to love?  Apply the Word, invite God into the situation and get ready for some work (on your part) and perhaps a miracle (on His part).  Hey, none of us are perfect.  We all have our warts and we all have our weak spots.  Just remember how God goes to great lengths to show you His love every day. He will never grow weary of loving us.  Never has, never will.  When you get all worked up over an overeating squirrel or an unkind or difficult neighbor—just take a break and rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, wisdom

Gator Mania

One Lord,  one faith,  one baptism, one God  and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:5-6

It was Gator mania.  To say that Aunt Maryjo was a Gator fan is to say that the Pope is Catholic. Through and through, she loved everything that was University of Florida Gators.  I am pretty sure if she had a blood transfusion the blood type would have to be UF.  I also am certain that if she was bilingual she would speak Southern English and Gator.  When she went to heaven about a week ago, the Gator’s lost their number one 94 year old cheerleader.

The family asked me to do a chunk of her memorial service and I was pleased to do so.  The service was all about Maryjo, the Gators and Jesus.  We stayed at a hotel in Gainesville and something almost immediately caught my eye.  Virtually everything, and I do mean everything, was Gatorized.  The primary decorating colors were blue and orange and Gator flags, Gator plaques, Gator pictures, and Gator knick knacks filled the main lobby and sitting area.  They even had a ping pong table and the net was not a net at all but a solid wall of sorts painted orange with a Gator carved in the middle.

Everyone knows you wear black to funerals and many folks did.  But there was also a large number of blue and orange ties, shirts, dresses, and scarves scattered throughout the crowd. I noticed though several members of my family were not wearing blue and orange.  I was kinda surprised.  So I asked one of my brother-in-laws, “Why aren’t you wearing blue and orange?” About the time I said it, I regretted it.  He boldly said, “I ain’t no Gator.”  Yup, there were several there who were Florida State fans and aunt or no aunt, they were not going to wear those stinking Gator colors.  Life…go figure.

As Judy and I were sitting in the hotel lobby visiting and drinking coffee and observing everything Gator, she said, “Isn’t it amazing what can happen when we are all pulling in the same direction?”  And do you know what?  She was absolutely right.  If I were to guess, probably 99% of the population around Gainesville were avid Gator fans.  The lived it, they believed it, and they were ready to fight for it.  They might be different social and economic classes, they might be different skin colors, they might even speak a different language, but one thing, one thing, pulled them together.  One thing managed to hold them together—they were fans of the Gators.  That singular thing overcame everything else.  Amazing.

I wonder what would happen if in a different world other than football if the same thing happened.  What if all the different denominations that say they believe in Jesus got together and pulled in the same direction?  What if all the churches in a town laid aside their insignificant differences and decided that they were going to pull together for the common cause of Jesus? I wonder how our community, or state could and would change, if we all decided to agree on what mattered—the Jesus essentials—and laid the rest aside long enough to live and share the Good News.  Why must we be like the football fans who attend rival schools and absolutely refuse to associate?  I wonder.

Well, there is one thing I can tell you for certain.  There is one who absolutely loves our division over the things that in ten years won’t matter and that is the devil.  Oh how he applauds our pettiness and while he is smiling, Jesus is grieving.  I know He grieves because the Bible says we are not to grieve Him.  If we are not careful, we are going to lose…and I’m not talking about a football game.  I am talking about our communities, our cities, our counties and our country.  I am not talking about losing a battle, I am talking about the war for the heart and soul of men, women, children—and the places they—we live.

Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe I’m overreacting.  Maybe somehow our holy huddles and frail fellowships can pull it off individually.  But that’s not how the Bible describes how our relationships should be.  There is one body and that is body of Christ.  I believe it says, “One faith, one Lord, and one baptism.”  One…there is real power when all the ones come together for the One and His soul (don’t worry…intentionally spelled that way) purpose.  Jesus came to seek and saved that which was lost and it was something that He was willing to die for.  What about you?  What about us? Can we, will we, don the colors of the cross—red for His blood, white for our forgiveness and blue for our loyalty, not to a pastor, a church, or a denomination, but to the One who matters—Jesus!

Well, I was raised not too far from Gainesville and my daddy and most of my family were Gator fans, but somehow I went rogue—I pull for Notre Dame.  Go figure—a Baptist pastor pulling for a Catholic team.  What’s up with that?  It’s simply really—I love tradition and I love college football and those two override the other.  I am hoping our common denominator—Jesus will do the same.  I am banking on the fact that we may lose a battle or two, but in the end—Jesus wins and I’m gonna rest in that.  After all, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, forgiveness, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, wisdom

Scars

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. Philippians 3:13

Gnarled trees stood twisted and broken along the road.  Judy and I had to make a trip to Florida to participate in my Aunt’s funeral.  She was my Daddy’s baby sister and the last of that generation.  It was a long trip but worth the journey.  I saw it as a way to honor my father while also honoring my aunt.  Like every person her life had its ups and downs and bumps and bruises.  And  like every person, there were a few scars left along the road.

It was while traveling West in Florida that I began seeing the gnarled trees.  Mile after mile of trees that were either broken in two, forever bent over or simply lifeless, like dead men standing. I knew the area had been brushed by a recent storm or two but this damage was caused by something far worse—and not so recently.  Suddenly it occurred to me.  I had seen this before about two years ago.  It was the result of a storm, a terrible storm called Michael.

If you remember in 2018 a compact yet incredibly powerful storm came ashore at Mexico Beach, a small down on the Florida panhandle.  It was so devastating that it literally destroyed that small town and the path of the storm with its destruction moved well inland.  That is where we saw the scars.  When we were here a couple of months after the storm and miles and miles inland there was debris piled everywhere along the highway.  What wasn’t broken off or blown over looked like it had been given a perm—twisted and turned.  That was two years ago. 

The scars of that harsh and horrible day remain today and will remain for many years to come.  Only time is going to slow erase the damage as trees re-grow and underbrush hides what has fallen.  It looked devastating two years ago when I saw it and today, somehow, it looked even more so.  Sometimes the scars are almost as bad as the wounds.  Sometimes the memories are worse than what caused the pain.

Many of us have caused scars and most of us bear them.  Some are still healing while others, like the gnarled trees, will remain.  We are left to wonder what to do…how to heal.  The answer I believe lies with creator God.  It is He who can give us the strength to forgive and it is He who can lead us down the path to healing.  Like a good recipe, it will include a measure of grace, a measure of mercy, and a measure of choice.  Forgiveness is really never about the one who caused the scar rather it is about the one who was hurt. When we forgive we truly begin to heal.

Forgiveness also involves forgetting…but not the kind you are thinking.  This forgetting simply means that we choose to not allow the past to control our present.  We choose to let go, so we can be set free.  When we determine that the past won’t reach into our present…we find a freedom.  While the scar will remain, slowly but surely the pain eases and we are evently left whole.

This, of course, is a faith path.  We have to believe that God can and will heal us.  We have to believe that God can forgive us if we were the one who caused the scar.  We have to believe either way that His grace is sufficient and do you know what?  It is.  The scars I saw today along the highway spoke of a devastating storm but it also spoke of hope.  You see, at the base of the gnarled trees stood dozens and dozens of new growth trees.  One day, someday in the future, they will rise to overcome the past with its scars.  That is our hope.

As I stood before that group of people today and spoke of mistakes and regrets. I also spoke of forgiveness and grace which was and is a game changer.  No matter how difficult your past and no matter how uncertain your future, His grace will see you through.  I hope you will keep trusting Him day by day.  I hope you will look up for hope, look around to see that you aren’t by yourself and look down, yes down, but only to see the new life surrounding you.  Hey, you can trust Him, you can rest in Him because no matter how hard the wind blows or how long it howls…He’s got this. 

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

The Lone Ranger

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.” Luke 10:33

Who was that masked man?  Well, back in the old days…no wait…I mean the really old days when the first two numbers of the year were 19, there was a television show called “The Lone Ranger.”  He was a really good guy and had an Indian (maybe that should be Native American) sidekick named Tonto.  The Lone Ranger also had a horse named Silver. It was a great show—even in black and white.  The show had two famous lines.  The first was when the Lone Ranger was about to take off on his trusty horse Silver.  He would command, “Hi-yo Silver, Away.”  Invariably, the horse would rear up and off they would go.  The second famous line occurred when the Lone Ranger did his job and did away with a bad guy.  Also invariably the bad guy would say, “Who was that masked man?”  It was of course…the Lone Ranger.

Well, these days, history has started repeating itself only we don’t have one masked man…we have millions.  Oh but wait, we not only have masked men we have masked women…and boys…and girls…and babies.  Thanks to the COVID, we have all become Lone Rangers and we find ourselves asking, “Who was the masked man?”  I am absolutely certain I have ignored several church members at the store simply because I didn’t recognize them.  Equally as bad I have carried on 15 minute conversations with complete strangers thinking they were someone I knew.  I am totally confused.

Today though the Lone Ranger—the ultimate good guy—took on a new meaning. It wasn’t the Lone Ranger—it was the Road Ranger! We were traveling down to Gainesville, Florida to officiate at my Aunt Maryjo’s service.  She was my daddy’s baby sister and the last of that generation.  As we crossed into Florida, we eventually hit Interstate 10 heading East.  We stopped at a rest stop because we needed to rest.  It is a long way to Gainesville, Florida.  My wife and I were stretching our legs and we walked by this really cool truck.  It was some kind of official vehicle and had caution lights, big bumpers, a special receptacle on the front of the truck for jumping cars and all kinds of stuff in the back. It was a man truck only a man wasn’t driving it.

You see, on the side of the truck were the words, FDOT Road Ranger.  Beneath that it said, “A free (did you get that FREE) service sponsored by State Farm.  Standing next to the truck was a lady in a uniform.  From the signage I kinda thought I knew what it they did, but I decided to ask.  “Ma’am, so do you go and help people that are broken down on the road?”  She replied they did.  If someone has a flat tire, they will help them change it.  If they have a dead battery…they will jump them.  And I suppose if you run out of gas, they have some on board to get you to the next station.  Well, I told her I thought that was pretty awesome and thanked her for her kindness.  She once again told me it was sponsored by State Farm but I thanked her for her service to others.

I think that it is awesome that a company would sponsor a program like this.  When a traveler was at great need and when a company could take advantage of that—they offer free help.  Can you even imagine the comfort when “The Lone Ranger” showed up to help?  Can you imagine when the driver asked, “How much?” and the answer was “no charge?”  I’m telling you that is a breath of fresh air in what can be considered a pretty stale world.

Well, Judy said, “You know, I think that would make a good story.”  I think she was absolutely right.  I mean we live in a world where so many folks are broken down beside the road of life.  They are hot, bothered, discouraged, battered and beaten.  What if we were to become the Road Rangers along life’s road and began helping people…loving people.  Imagine the look on their faces when they realize we helped not to get paid, but rather just to help.  And, what if we were careful to make sure that they knew it was all because of what God had done for us.  Can you imagine?

I think I would like to be a Road Ranger…I mean really.  I don’t have the skill set but I do like helping people.  Well, truthfully, I better stick to preaching but I can, I should be a Road Ranger on the road of life.  We all should.  You know that story in the Bible where the least likely guy helps the guy who had been beat up and robbed.  Remember how he went over the top to help?  Well, he was being a Road Ranger—for Jesus and that is exactly what we should do.

So keep this little fact tucked away in your travel log, if you breakdown on any major road in Florida, somewhere not too far away will be a Road Ranger to help you.  It is a real comfort to know that they are close by…ready and willing to help.  It’s even better knowing that Jesus is always there waiting and wanting to help all those broken down on the road of life.  Go ahead and place the call—or pray the prayer.  Let Him know you need Him and He will be right there.  Until He arrives, just sit back and rest in the assurance that help is on the way.  Remember, He’s got this.

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

Master of the Winds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robbed by Mr. Urgency

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  John 3:16

I was robbed.  This is one of those stories I really don’t want to write but I believe at the same time it’s gonna help someone…besides me.  I have been writing stories five days a week now since March.  It has been an incredible journey.  I’ve said this before, but it all started on a whim.  The COVID hot mess was just gaining steam and I felt led to write a story to encourage some folks.  I am not a Facebook person but that was the only avenue I had.  So, I wrote it and posted it on my page.  Amazingly, more than several dozen people read it and most wrote a comment. Those comments were what stirred me on to keep writing.  I decided to answer every comment.

Like utility poles whisking by on a fast moving train, the days went by.  I would write, many of you would write and I would read and write back.  It was so encouraging. It was like a drink of spring water on a hot day.  And then it happened.  In the rush to write, I forgot to take the time to read.  I got busier, and busier and it seemed all I had time to do was write and then write some more.  I would occasionally grab a comment here or there but that was about all I could manage. I had run smack-dab into Mr. Urgent. Judy would help out and read a couple to me, but the bottom line is I let the urgency of the moment rob me of that drink of cold water.  I felt like I had failed you…but just as importantly, I had failed myself.  You see, I was needing what you were saying…desperately.

A week or so ago I determined to go back a week to read what you all had said.  I was gonna do better.  So, I did.  I read, I wrote, and I was encouraged.  But then, thanks to Mr. Urgent I found myself so far behind that I said, “There’s no use trying.”  The good news, and boy do I need some, the good news, is that those precious jewels are safely stored on Facebook and soon I will journey back and read your notes of encouragement and I will be refreshed.  I will smile and I will remember why I do what I do.

As I am writing this, I realize that for me, and perhaps many of you, this isn’t the only time this has happened.  There is something else that Mr. Urgent can keep us from reading, something else that is of even greater importance—God’s Word.  I don’t know your background, but even if it doesn’t include a lot of God, this Book is nothing short of incredible.  Written over several millennia by about 40 authors, this Book is God’s love letter to us.  It is as multifaceted as the most brilliant diamond.  It is amazing.

What I find so impressive is that when you open it at the front and till you close it at the back, it has one theme—that God so loved this broken and imperfect world that He gave His only Son that anybody—let that soak in—anybody that believes in Him can have eternal life.  It really is amazing and it really is true.  As you journey through it you find stories of imperfect people loved and rescued by this infinitely powerful God.  And honestly, the story doesn’t always end like we would want.  But it always ends with one undeniable truth:  God is good, God is faithful, and God can be trusted.

Thank you for reading and writing those encouraging comments.  I may be slow getting there but I hope none of them will be wasted.  And also, watch out for Mr. Urgent. His “tyranny of the urgent” can and will keep you from what really matters. Whether it is time with family or time in God’s Word, he will rob you and leave you beside the road of life wondering what happened.  Be sure and take time, make time to read His amazing story.  Been awhile since you’ve read? Start with the stories about Jesus found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  I am sure you will be impressed and intrigued.  And shortly, you will discover that this God is the God you can trust—you can lean into—you can rest in.  And yes, you will soon discover that no matter what…He’s got this.

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

“This Is God”

Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”  Matthew 7:5

I got to play God once…no really.  One evening, and it has to be at least 15 years ago I got to play God…or at least the voice of God.  It was one of those evenings when you didn’t need air conditioning. I was about 10:30 at night and I was lying in bed.  Next to the bed was a window and since it was such a nice evening it was open. It was so close that I could reach out and touch it.  Because we live basically downtown in our small town, night noises are common.  I hadn’t yet fallen asleep so I was just laying and listening to the night sounds.  Then I heard it.

The alley that runs right next to our property and our house is paved with oil and chip…a covering of small pieces of rock that gives a nice crunching sound when a car drives over.  It is not an uncommon sound unless it is late at night and the car stops right next to your house. As soon as the car stopped, I could hear the sound of giggles that can only belong to young, teenage girls.  I eased out of bed and knelt next to the open window.  From my second-floor window I had bird’s eye view of what was unfolding belong me.

Like the poem, The Night Before Christmas, I looked and “what to my wondering eyes did appear” but not one but two young teen girls gleefully covering my back yard in toilet paper. The young ladies attended the church where I pastor and one of their moms was driving the get-away car.  I smiled a slow smile just wondering what to do with this.  And then, it occurred to me.  Since I kinda work for God, why not speak for Him?  So, I did.

From the raised window, and in my best God voice, I said, “This is God.  What are you two girls doing?”  Oh my goodness…it was incredible.  In an instant, both girls went into total panic mode.  Paper rolls went flying, arms were flailing in the air and mom was racing the motor in the car.  In total choas, they both tried to get into the car at the same time.  It was priceless.  After several attempts they finally made it and off they went speeding down the alley.  I was rolling on the floor.

Well, if I remember right, that was a Saturday night and the next morning at church I said something like, “Good morning, ladies.  How are you today?”  Their response was a combination of eyes wide open, eyebrows raised and a mischievous smile.  I don’t remember saying anything more…except maybe in a sermon several weeks down the road.  I mean, who could pass up an opportunity like that?

I think it was ok that night to do a kind of “impersonation” of God.  My voice really isn’t deep enough, but I gave it my best shot.  Actually, impersonating God is a very common occurrence…too many of us do it all the time.  It usually isn’t a voice from a second story window but rather the voice of a judge speaking from the bench…pronouncing some sort of judgment on another poor soul.  It seems we get some kind of pleasure from judging others.  I think it might make us feel bigger, while making them feel smaller.

It’s certainly not a new thing.  The Bible is full of words and warnings about playing judge in place of God.  My favorite is when Jesus uses an illustration about some guy who has a big log sticking out of his eye.  That guys walks over to his buddy and says, “Hey dude…you need to get the splinter out of your eye.”  Jesus was certainly the master storyteller and in this case His point was clear.  Who are we to judge anybody when our faults are often bigger than theirs?  And besides that, aren’t we supposed to leave the judging to the Judge?  Uh, that would be a yes.

Well, if you are ever given the opportunity to use your God voice to scare a couple of young teens, aw, go for it.  It was a blast.  But the next time you are tempted to cast a stone or take a seat on the Judge’s seat…you might want to resist the urge.  The same Bible that talks about leaving the judging to the Judge talks about if you judge others…you might just find yourself being judged by your peers.  And some of them aren’t too kind.  And if you’ve been judged, tried, and convicted by one of those unlawful judges don’t worry about it.  There is only one Judge that matters, and He is on your side.  So, rest easy…He’s got this.

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

“There’s No Place Like Home”

A horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory comes from the Lord.” Proverbs 21.31

Dorothy was right.  When I was a kid one of the highlights of the year was when the Wizard of Oz would show on television.  Normally I attended church on Sunday nights with my brother and his family. On that night, church took a back seat to Dorothy, the tornado and those annoying munchkins.  I have to admit I was partial to the part where the wicked witch got what was coming to her.  “I’m melting, I’m melting.” Too bad, wicked witch, too bad.

The whole thing started because Dorothy was driven by fear away from home.  Some mean old lady was going to do away with her dog and Dorothy goes on the run taking Toto with her.  The famous tornado shows up, she is knocked on the noggin and wakes up in Oz…or at least she thinks she does.  To make a long story short, in the end she misses home…a lot.  The good witch tells her the secret.  Just tap her ruby red slippers together and repeat, “There is no place like home.”  Next thing we know she is back in Kansas with all her family and friends and she tells everyone, “There is indeed no place like home.”  End of story, have a nice day.  Thanks for reading.

No, wait…I’m just kidding.  That may be the end of that story, but it is just the beginning of this one.  You see there are more than a few similarities between Dorothy’s trip to Oz and our journey in and through this COVID time.  Like her, many find themselves in a place they never thought they would be…physically separated from their friends.  It might be on the golf course, at the park, your favorite restaurant or maybe, and perhaps most significantly, at your church.  And like her, they might not be sure exactly how to come back together…to come back home.  Do you sometimes feel that way?  I understand.

For Dorothy it was as simple as tapping her shoes together and whispering a few words.  For some, maybe you, it just isn’t that easy.  The justifiable fear might have us isolated, separated from friends.  Like Dorothy you long for home, but the circumstances that we live in has you in its jaws.  I stumbled onto a verse that just might help.  It is tucked away in Proverbs 21:31 and it says, “A horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory comes from the Lord.”  Nice…very nice.

The author is saying a good soldier will train and prepare his horse for the battle.  That is the common sense thing…the wise thing to do. But the author also knows a secret—and it is a big one.  Ultimately the victory does not come from a well-trained horse, but rather from an incredibly powerful God.  That is crucial in our return back to normalcy—including our return to church.  We should use good common sense…you know, take precautions that you feel are wise.  But never, ever forget that your health and safety rest in the hands of a very power, very sovereign God.  You are literally sheltered in the arms of God.  So, be careful, be wise, but don’t be paralyzed.

By the way, General McArthur got it right too.  He was ordered from the Philippines and to Australia at the onslaught of World War II as the Japanese swept across the Pacific. He was forced to leave behind tens of thousands of troops…all about to be captured by a very fierce and merciless enemy.  As he left, he made a promise.  He boldly declared, “I shall return.”  At that particular point, he didn’t know exactly what that looked like, but he knew what it meant.  He was determined that his feet would once again walk on Philippine soil.  Well, it took almost four years, but he did indeed return and when he did, he changed the “shall” to “I have…I have returned.”  In the heat of the battle, he could be forced away, but nothing was going to keep him away forever.  Nothing.

So, what is your “I shall return” game plan.  Have you plotted your victorious return to normalcy…to worship and to church fellowship?  Again, we need to be cautious but that doesn’t necessarily mean the total absence of COVID.  Like McArthur it could mean that the tide of war has changed enough so that it is safe enough to return…safe enough to worship. Regardless of what church or what denomination, I hope you are plotting your return.

As you journey through your Oz, I hope, like Dorothy, that your faith in God and the hope of returning home will be greater than your fear.  Can it happen? Should it happen.  Absolutely is the answer to both questions. After all, the victory doesn’t rest in you, it rests in the hands of the Whisperer.  Listen carefully for His soft voice and you might hear Him saying, “There’s no place like home.”  Go ahead.  He’s got this. 

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

All That Glitters…

I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content.” Philippians 4:12a

I woke up to find my neighbor’s yard covered with gold.  I am an early riser.  Well, actually, I am a crazy, early riser.  Normally, my bladder and I decide it is about time to get up at around 4:30…am.  If you want to see what a quiet world looks like…try it at 4:30 in the morning.  These days the sun isn’t even up yet.  He won’t make his appearance for another couple of hours.  I usually get up, make some coffee in my magic Keurig machine, watch the weather, and have some God time. Predictable…just the way I like it.

Part of that routine is to take a peek out one of the windows to see if the sun is peeking above the horizon.  Naturally that means looking to the East.  Saturday morning I did exactly that.  As I looked out the window, I noticed that my neighbor’s yard was covered with gold.  I couldn’t believe it.  What made this even more unusual was the fact that my neighbor at the end of our alley had struck it rich too.  This was incredible.  And, if that wasn’t enough, when I was walking a few days earlier, one of my friend’s hit the jackpot.  Gold was everywhere.  Now you might think that I was jealous…but I wasn’t—not this time. You see, their yards had been “papered” as in with toilet paper. It wasn’t pretty.

Now you are wondering, “I’m just a bit confused.” You said their yards were covered with gold. That doesn’t sound like gold to me.”  Well, you’ve got a point there.  But let’s step back just a few months ago.  COVID was all the rage.  People were doing all kinds of strange things.  When you went to the grocery store there were certain things, things that you would expect, out of stock.   Hand sanitizer was a pipe dream.  Bleach wipes were the things of legend.  Certain food items were long gone from the shelves.  It was a shoppers nightmare.  But there was one thing that topped them all.  Toilet paper.

For whatever reason, and it still remains a mystery, people began to hoard toilet paper.  It was like gold.  People were selling it on e-bay for unbelievable prices.  There were even people on the side of the road hawking their rolls of gold for ten, even fifteen times the ordinary price.  The nightly news would show people coming out of stores with rolls of the stuff.  It. Was. Crazy. Then as people realized that this probably wasn’t Armageddon, two things happened.  The rolled gold was back in stock and the price plummeted.  People that had bought tons of this stuff as an investment of sorts were stuck holding the bag. Haha…the joke…or rolls…was on them.

Now here is what is amazing.  I wake up only to discover my neighbor’s yard is covered in the very same thing that six months ago was gold.  And listen, it wasn’t the cheap stuff.  Since they weren’t home, Judy and I went over and picked up the mess…I know neighbor of the year right?  But when we did, I realized this was “Charmin Plus” or something. If toilet paper was gold this would be 24 karat and yet there it was, lying out in the yard.  Well, I guess all that glitters isn’t gold after all.

If there is one thing to take home from all of this it is the fact that if you look around you will discover pockets of hope—pockets of normalcy.  Maybe, just maybe, all this will calm down and life will be somewhat like it was back in January.  A few bumps, a few hiccups but basically a world where things are in stock and you don’t have to mask up to go out. But until then, what should we do?

That’s a great question and here are a couple of answers.  First, don’t lose hope.  If I watch too much of the evening bad news, I find myself being convinced that life as we know it is over.  I just don’t believe that is the case.  One day, one way or the other, Mr. COVID is going to pack up and leave town.  One day it will be old news.  Until then, just keep trusting…in God. One of the writers of Psalms in the Bible…someone just like you and me…wrote, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.” What that means is if we are willing to delight in Him, suddenly the things we desire look a whole lot like His.  And when that happens—hope explodes!

The second thing is learn, or maybe relearn, the magic of contentment.  While our old way of doing life has taken a vacation somewhere, a chunk of it will be back.  Just like toilet paper made a comeback—so will normalcy.  Now, until that time, just sit back and be content. I like what Paul, a guy in the Bible, said, “I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content.”  What makes that incredibly valuable is that he wrote that sitting in a stinking Roman prison.  Amazing.

Well, all that glitters is indeed not gold, but all around us are golden nuggets from our Dearest Daddy.  He whispers to us that He’s still around and still in control.  Each sunrise and sunset, each new baby that bursts on the scene, each tree covered in color and glory shouts to us that we can rest in Him. Each new day is indeed a gift from Him and that is golden. Remember this…each day committed to trusting Him is a step in the right direction.  Go ahead…trust Him…He’s got this.