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, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

Watch Your Step

Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.”  Ephesians 5:16

There are certain times you just need to watch your step.  For example, there are at least two things to watch out for when you are walking through a cow pasture.  First, you need to make sure that it is fact a cow pasture and not a bull pasture.  If it is a bull pasture you need to head to the nearest fence…immediately. Bulls are not cows, and most of the time the reason they call them bulls is because they are bullies.  The second thing you need to watch out for when walking through a cow pasture are cow patties.  You will just have to trust me on this one.

There are lots of other times and places you need to watch your step and one that I recently experienced was while hiking down by Bell Smith Springs.  My wife Judy and I have grown quite fond of hiking.  It is great exercise, and it is a great opportunity to get out and enjoy nature.  So, last week we headed down to Bell Smith Springs to take on the Sentry Ridge Trail.  It is a three-mile loop trail that follows a ridge (no surprise there) and looks down on a small canyon with a creek.  The problem is a pleasure.  It is just beautiful.  There is so much to see, you want to look and look. But that is also the problem.

You see, the trail, in more than several places, is quite rocky.  There are places when the trail is “paved” with large slabs of native stone.  In other places, though, it is as if someone had come along and strewn stones everywhere.  While they are mostly firmly embedded in the ground, they are still uneven.  The bottom line is watch where you are stepping, or one of three things is bound to happen.  One, you will twist your ankle.  Two, you will fall and bust something you don’t want busted.  Three, you will find yourself on the way down a long wooded cliff or bluff.

Now for the pleasurable problem.  So, as we were hiking one of us believes in the destination.  In other words, the goal is to make it, to do it, to get it done.  The other one is in it for the journey.  They actually believe the journey is primary to the destination.  Can you guess who is who in this scenario?  Yup.  I, as the man, the conqueror, believes that the primary purpose of this trip is to finish and put another notch in my “hiking” belt.  Judy, as the lady of the trail, wants to stop and take pictures of the trees—every tree; the rocks—every rock.  Her conversation is dotted with “Look, Dewayne…” and other phrases that conquerors don’t use, or necessarily want to hear.

Now, because I love her so much, I will actually try and look but there is a problem.  I have discovered that while you are looking around, you can’t be looking down and if you aren’t looking down you aren’t seeing rocks and if you aren’t seeing rocks you are in trouble.  Whew.  Now that was one long sentence.  But do you get my point?  I suppose you could actually stop, and look around, but that is just not what conquerors do.  We conquerors conqueror and you can’t conqueror much standing still.

So, what is a conqueror to do?  Well, the truth is, we should stop (all you conquerors forgive me) and smell the roses.  Judy is in fact right.  The joy is in the journey.  The joy is pausing and seeing what there is to see…to enjoy what is there to enjoy.  Now that doesn’t mean I need a picture of every rock and tree, but I do need to see what my Dearest Daddy has made.  We need to learn to hit pause, every once in a while and then soon enough, hit play again.

What happens if you don’t?  Well, actually,  two things.  You are going to miss the best part of the trip or maybe the day.  As I am writing, there is a big, and I do mean big, full moon.  They said it was a “Wolf Moon.”  I’m not sure why it is called that besides the fact that the conqueror in me kinda wanted to stop and let out a howl.  Earlier I was driving when Judy said those two words, “Dewayne, look…”. This time I got it right.  I stole a quick glance to my right and there it was…and it was magnificent.  I could have made some comment about I was driving but I discovered you can carefully sneak a look at the moon and drive too.  That is true on trails, and in many other sights and sounds.

Paul, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament in the Christian Bible said that we should take the time and redeem the time.  What he was saying is that we should make the most of the time we have.  But we need to realize that while that includes working and doing life…it should also include time to enjoy the journey.  I’m glad I’m married to someone who knows how to do that.  Does it drive me nuts sometimes?  Absolutely, but even that is part of the joy of the journey.  So, be careful and watch where you step but be sure and take a few minutes to enjoy life around you.  Think you can’t?  Sure you can, with the Creator’s help! After all, He’s got this.

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.”

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, Scripture, wisdom

The Clearance Aisle

So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing.” 1 Corinthians 9:26

It was a whale of a deal—I think.  Three or four months ago my wife Judy and I were at HomeGoods.  She was shopping and I was sitting.  HomeGoods is a great store if you are looking for things for your house.  After checking my email and winning several hands of Solitaire, I decided to at least take a look around.  If you know anything about me you know there is a word that draws me like iron to a magnet, like a moth drawn to the flame, like water seeking lower ground—well, you get the idea.  And what is that word? CLEARANCE.

Different stores use different colors of signs announcing their clearance, but I can spot any of them a mile away.  That particular night it was in a pretty obvious place, so I decided to check out the clearance aisle.  Now I need to be candid and let you know I see clearance stuff like I see Dairy Queen.  You see there is nothing I need at Dairy Queen but DQ isn’t about needing, it is about wanting.  I want ice cream…I don’t need ice cream.  Yes, I know it feels like a need, but it isn’t. Ice cream isn’t like air…we can live without it…I think. Anyway, when it comes to the clearance aisle it isn’t about needing it—it is about being a good deal.  Who can pass up something that is like 90% off?  Well, apparently, I can’t.

I wandered back to the clearance aisle and started poking around.  Nothing really caught my eye until right before I was about to walk away.  There was a flat box about fifteen inches square and it looked intriguing. Something was stacked on top of it which is probably why it was still there.  On the cover it showed a round circle with about 34 red balls sitting in small indentions.  It was beautiful…I think.  It was imported from Italy and made of beautiful, and I am not exaggerating, alabaster. It felt expensive, it looked expensive and the original price was rather pricey.  It was marked $39.99.  Nice.

As I looked around on the box I found the clearance price.  It was…get ready…$3.99.  “What?” I said.  “Can it be?”  I said.  “Ninety percent off?” I said.  I mean I was amazed.  I couldn’t wait to show it to Judy.  So, I covered it back up and went to find her.  She was already in line but I pulled her out to show her my prize.  When we got to the aisle, I showed it to her.  She was impressed and then she popped the question, “What is it?”  I told her I wasn’t sure, but I thought it was some sort of game.  There were no rules and no indications that’s what it was but hey, it was $3.99. We bought it.

We proudly set it up first on a table and then in our bay window.  I checked the internet but couldn’t find any information on the item.  I did find the company and they were sellers of fine alabaster but our treasure remained a mystery.  Enter the grandkids.  Judy made the mistake of showing this treasure to Will, one of our grandsons. She explained it was sorta like checkers (really?) and you would jump the balls like you do in checkers.  However, since the “board” was round there were logistical problems.  So, they started to “play” and then he popped the question.  He asked, “How do you win?”  And Judy said, “I don’t know.”

I thought that was great because so often in life we play the game and have no idea how to win.  And, truth be known, it affects all kinds of areas in our life.  How do you win in your career? How do you win in your marriage? How do you win in choosing your potential mate? How do you win with church? With Jesus?  You see, without knowing how to win you are sure to either get bored or get lost.  As much as I believe there is joy in the journey, I also know that there has to be goal, a measuring stick, a finish line.  Success needs to be measured.  If it isn’t, you might find yourself stuck in a rut and as someone said, “A rut is a grave with the ends knocked out.”  So, what are we to do?

It seems to me that we should approach life with a goal—what do I want to see happen today?  Regardless of the arena, try and define what would be a win for that day.  And the best part?  You can start stringing those days together and before long you have a life of wins.  Now when you are defining a win, I believe you should set the definition in line with an authority and I can think of no better authority than the Word of God. Even if you aren’t a God-follower you will find that the Bible is a Book worth reading, knowing, and following.  Go ahead and give it a read.  And if you are a God-follower, well, you probably already knew that—we just need to do it.

Paul, one of the writers of a chunk of the New Testament said that we should run with a purpose and not be like a shadow boxer.  We shouldn’t run like Forest Gump, aimlessly, but rather like Jesse Owens.  We should box like a man in the ring making every punch count.  Run with a purpose, fight like it matters…because it does.  Anyway, Judy and I discovered the game is called “Solitaire” and are going to keep it even though we don’t know yet, how to play or win.  But tomorrow, I think I’ll wakeup and have a chat with my Dearest Daddy, my Trainer, my Coach and get His opinion on how to win in life. After all, He never loses, and He’s always got this.

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

Our Longest Day

Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.” Galatians 6:9

It was a long day.  I can’t tell you how many times I have said it.  My wife, Judy, often greets me at the end of the workday as I come home.  She will say, “How was your day today?”  And sometimes I will respond, “It was one long day.”  Then there are other times, often on a Friday or Saturday, when the day seems to stretch on forever.  I get so much done around the house and yard and at the end, I tell Judy, “What a great long day today.”  Often the circumstances of the day seem to dictate how the day will be remembered and perceived.

Perhaps you are familiar with the date, June 6th.  No?  What if I were to add the year 1944 to the equation?  Well, if you have studied your history you probably made the connection with World War II and you might have even remembered that was the day of the Allied invasion of Normandy, France—the beginning of the end of that great conflict.  It was a massive under-taking and the outcome was never a sure thing.  But at the end of the day, and with great cost, the Allies gained a foothold on the European continent.  Someone there that day called it, “the longest day.” And it was.

All of us have “longest days” and yes, I know that 2020 may have seemed like 366 of them.  Sometimes those “longest days” cause us to mourn, but sometimes they are a reason to celebrate. For my wife and me, January 24th was one of those.  You see, on that day, forty years ago this year, our first daughter was born, and it was a long and exciting day.

Late Thursday evening Judy started having some consistent labor pains and when they didn’t stop, we knew it was time to head to the hospital.  When we arrived, they decided to keep her and the journey began in earnest.  Judy had decided to have Rebecca without much intervention from medicine, so it was a challenging process.  By the way, if it had been me, I would have had every drug available to modern man.  We all know if populating the world was left in the hands of men—it would be a very, small world.

At any rate, the hours began to pass.  As the clock ticked the seconds, minutes and hours by, it soon became apparent that this was not going to be a sprint but rather a marathon. All day Friday, I (her faithful husband) stayed by her side, encouraging her each step of the way.  Well, okay, maybe there were a couple of exceptions.  A friend of mine brought me a huge burger and fries which I dutifully ate while Judy watched—no, make that glared.  What was I thinking?  Oh, that’s right…I wasn’t.

The hours continued to tick by and soon it was evening and while things were progressing, Rebecca was determined to delay her grand arrival. Finally, at about midnight, Dr. Dickerson, came in to check on Judy and announced it was about time. I had the television on and one of those ultra-low budget Japanese monster movies was on.  Before long, the doctor and I were enthralled with the movie. So, while Judy was groaning in labor, the doctor and I watched as Godzilla ate up the known world.

Finally, the movie was over, and Dr. Dickerson announced it was time to head to the delivery room.  Coincidence?  I was allowed to go in and not much later, Rebecca made her grand appearance.  The baby was crying, Judy was more than relieved and crying, and I was more than excited and crying.  As it turned out, Judy had endured 23 hours of labor before Rebecca was born.  Oh, and when she arrived, she weighed 8 lbs. 15.5 ounces. What a prize!

For years and every once -in-a-while, even today we still talk of our longest day.  Well, actually, it was Judy’s longest day.  For me it was burgers, fries and a cheesy monster movie. But for both of us it was a day we will never forget—the day God blessed us with our first daughter.  And before it was all said and done—He would bless us two more times with two more daughters and later with eight grandchildren.  That is incredible. And what’s more incredible?  The next day, the pastor asked me to speak on the radio and give my testimony for Baptist Men’s Day.  I’m sure that longest day was part of what I said that day and God used that to launch me—us— into the ministry of pastoring.

So, when you have your longest day, keep in mind a couple of thoughts.  First, every day is created by the Creator God.  His Word says tells us that this day, every day, is a gift that He created just for us.  How about that? And if we will allow God to direct our steps in that day, we will not only endure—we can thrive.  I know it seems sometimes that the finish line—the prize, is always just out of reach—but it will come if we keep on.

Paul was one of the writers in the New Testament and he knew a whole lot about long days.  He may not have known about the labor pains that produce babies, but he did know a lot about the kind of “labor pains” life can sometimes send our way. He said, “Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.” The bottom-line is don’t give up—don’t quit.  And by the way, even if you are not a Jesus follower, that is still good advice.  The farmer gets the harvest if he keeps working the field.  The good news is that God is just waiting to help you through every day, including your longest day.  He is right there and mark it down, “He’s got this.” 

Posted in Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, wisdom

Their Best

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12

It was our second trip to West Africa.  We were back on the dry sandy desert fringes of Niger doing a food distribution.  It was such a barren land made worse by an ongoing drought.  The people would do just about anything for food.  While we had prepared to feed many of the people, truthfully, we couldn’t feed them all.  So, families with the greatest need were chosen.  We would go to their villages the day before the food distribution and meet with them and do some registration work before the distribution.

It is hard to describe the poverty there.  Simply put, most of the people had nothing.  They had little food and little water but something amazing happened everywhere we went.  We would gather with the leaders and the people in their village.  We would give them a word of greeting and then they would greet us.  All of this, of course, was done with the help of interpreters.  After a while, we would complete the necessary paperwork and finalize details for them to come to main village the next day.  And then, it would be time to say goodbye for the day.

This was a repeat of the greeting we had done when we arrived.  They would graciously thank us for coming and we would graciously thank them for allowing us to come.  Then it happened…every time.  These incredibly poor people would present us with gifts.  Often it was some sort of leather craft decorated according to their customs and their people group.  It was such a gracious act of kindness and we always left feeling incredibly blessed.  They who had so little gave to us who had so much.

It was the last appointment of the day.  We drove and drove—it was more than several kilometers.  When we arrived at the site, we realized it wasn’t a village it was just a meeting place.  The people we were to meet were truly nomads.  Someone had set up a large tent made from skins and rugs to offer some shade from the searing Saharan Desert sun.  When we arrived, there was one or two people there but soon many more arrived and the area under the tent was filled with five white guys and a bunch of men whose skin was tough like leather and tanned a deep brown.  Then we really saw it.

In the middle of the tent and now surrounded by people sat a medium sized metal bowl.  In the bowl was what can only be described as dirty, brown water.  As I looked at the bowl you could see something swimming.  It was the larva from some sort of insect native to Niger. I assumed that perhaps this was for us to wash our hands though I was quite certain my hands were cleaner than the water in the bowl.  I would soon find out that the water wasn’t for washing.

Soon the greeting started.  We thanked them for letting us come and they thanked us for coming.  Then someone in their group made the presentation.  It wasn’t a brightly colored trinket…it was the gift of water.  And the brown water in the bowl wasn’t for washing hands soiled by the West African dust.  No, it was a portion of their precious drinking water. That brown water with larva swimming it in was what they drank every day, and they were offering something very precious to them—something they could ill afford to give.

Ordinarily, we would try and eat or drink what they offered, but our missionary knew, and we knew, that one drink of this water would make us very seriously ill.  So, through the interpreter our missionary explained that while we deeply appreciated their kindness and generosity, we could not partake in the water for that reason.  They certainly understood so the water remained throughout our visit. At the end we reversed the greeting process and climbed aboard our four-wheel drive for the long drive back to where we were staying.

The ride was quieter than normal.  Each one of us was clearly aware of what had just happened.  We all were pierced to our hearts over this act of immense generosity and the immense blessings that God had graciously poured on our lives.  Mission trips tend to do this to anyone who travels to a third world country.  There is always some kind of guilt over having so much while those you serve have so little.  But understanding God’s grace and humbly serving others at least helps.  But it always changes you.  It always marks your life.

In my mind’s eye I can clearly see the bowl of water all these years later.  I can still see the people coming through the gate after walking kilometers to get their food.  I can still see them trying to manage the heavy bags of rice and millet.  But something was missing.  Not one person complained about the lack of a vehicle to carry their load.  Each was just grateful to be able to eat that night.  And, yes, we were changed again.  I would like to think that a little of their gratitude rubbed off on us and that it still remains.  I know we will never forget those eleven or twelve days in Niger.

You don’t have to go to Africa, or Haiti, or Nicaragua, or London, or China, or Bulgaria, or the Philippines or wherever to serve.  Each of us are missionaries on a mission field and each of us can serve others…just like Jesus did.  One day He was sitting on a hillside teaching the people and He said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” It really is that simple. It won’t get you to heaven…God’s grace and faith in what Jesus did on the cross does that. But it is an opportunity to be like Him…to love like Him.  It’s a tall order but don’t worry, you know that He’s got this too. 

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

Wrong Pew-Wrong Girl

Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Proverbs 11:2

It was an oops…a big oops.  I was in my early twenties and life was good.  I was enjoying my first enlistment in the Air Force, I was stationed not far from my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida but more importantly, smack-dab in the middle of the land of grits.  I was engaged to the prettiest girl in town and we were both Jesus followers and involved in a local church.  And that’s where it happened.

I have always loved music and most would say that I have a pretty good singing voice. It started when my Mama forced my oldest sister to let me sing “I Love You, Truly” in her wedding, I have had multiple opportunities to sing publicly—at least in my limited world.  Later I would be a part of a couple of singing groups and so it probably isn’t surprising that I would provide special music at our church.  So, here’s how it played out.  Things are always pretty predictable in the services of Baptist churches.  There would an opening song, someone would give a welcome and make some announcements, we would sing two more songs, take the offering (and sometimes the word “take” was very literal), there would be a special song and then the preacher would preach.  After he got done (which could take a while) there would be a closing song and prayer. These things were so set in stone, they were printed every Sunday in the bulletin.  You didn’t mess with the “order of worship.” If it wasn’t in there—we didn’t do it.

Sometimes, I would be the one who sang right before the message.  I was usually pretty comfortable in front of people and that turned out to be a good thing because later on I would become the guy who talked for a long while.  Now even though I was comfortable singing in front of people, each time it was still a little nerve racking. While I definitely can be the life of the party, I sure didn’t want to embarrass myself in from of a couple of hundred people.  Well, one day I did…but not like you think.

On that particular Sunday, at the appropriate time, I went up to the stage and sang my song. I don’t remember the name of the song but I do know it went well.  I know because it was one of those times I left the stage smiling.  The people had enjoyed the presentation and I had enjoyed presenting it.  All was well.  So off the stage I bounded. Truth be known, I was probably feeling just a little cocky.  I should have remembered that the Bible says, “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”  But I didn’t.

My fiancée Judy and I always sat over by the wall and about halfway back in the pews. We were as predicable as the sunrise. So that is where I headed.  It was a “zippy do dah” moment and when I got to the place, I sat right down and through my arm around the girl I loved.  Only it wasn’t. I sat there for about four-seconds and realized something didn’t feel just right.  I glanced over to my right expecting to see the face of my fiancée but instead I saw the face of the preacher’s daughter. Her face was a doing two things at once.  First, she was smiling and second it said, “Why are you here and why do you have your arm around me.”  Oops. I had missed my landing zone by one pew.  There’s an old saying, “Right church, wrong pew.”  It means you had the right general area but not the right exact spot. Well, in my case I had the wrong row and the wrong girl. I sheepishly stood and moved back one row.  Right row, right girl.

So I bet you’re wondering what happened? Well, gratefully Judy wasn’t mad.  I mean she could have given me the “what for” but she didn’t.  The crowd, well, as you can imagine they were laughing and if I remember correctly, it all warranted a comment from the pastor who happened to be the father of the girl. Well, it all turned out fine, but it was definitely one of those times you don’t forget.  As I think about it—I have had lots of those moments which means I have had lots of learning opportunities.

The lesson that day was, “be sure you know where you are supposed to land.”  In my “zippy-do-dah” moment I had landed at the wrong airport.  It was no deal because it was an honest mistake.  No harm—no foul.  But that’s not always the case.  Sometimes our oops, especially the intentional or semi-intentional ones, can leave a mark or two.  When you are a life of the party kind of guy it is too easy to have a laugh at someone’s expense.  I’ve learned that in life it is easy to do something on the spur of a moment that can have a long lasting “oops”.  Can someone say, “I bought a new car.”  Can someone say, “Seven years of payments.” Smile.

Well, Judy and I have been married coming up on forty-five years and when she reads this she will remember and odds are, she will smile.  I am grateful we have lots of days that cause us to smile and far fewer of the kind that cause us to wince in pain.  That is called grace—extended and received.  So, as you navigate through life and you’re preparing to land at your selected airport—make sure it is the right one.  You might want to contact “the tower” and confirm His opinion of your intended landing site.  It might save you some embarrassment and pain.  You can always count on Him…He’s got this.

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

Patrol Boy

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

It was a dream come true.  Growing up when I did was a blast.  I was born in 1954 (and yes that was a long time ago) and things were just different.  Life was slower, people mattered more, things mattered less, and respect was a big deal.  I was raised to call people older than me, sir and ma’am.  It’s kinda humorous, but now I am the senior adult and I still call everybody and their brother, “sir.”  It was just ingrained in me from my earliest memories.

Back in those days, when you were in the sixth grade you were the king of the mountain.  You see in Florida in the early sixties elementary school went from first  thru sixth grade.  There was no kindergarten.  Part of being the king of the mountain was the prospect of being selected to be a “patrol boy.”  Now, the first thing you need to know is the term “patrol boy” was a term of respect.  Today I think they still have crossing guards but back then…patrol boys were the state police of the day.  They had a belt that went around their waist and over their shoulder and of course, the flag.  It was a two-piece design that was about five foot long when put together.  Oh, I almost forgot.  They had a safety helmet too.  They definitely- looked the part.

At the end of each school day, these brave traffic warriors would be dismissed from class a little early, depending on how far their post was. They would put on their belt and helmet, grab their flag, and head out for duty.  Now this was the real deal.  A teacher or aide didn’t accompany them.  The lives of their peers were in their hands—and they were granted authority to stop traffic.  Again, it was an honor and a dream to get that belt, helmet, and flag.  The selection process was done at the end of the school year of our fifth grade.  I’m not sure what the criteria was, but I do know not everyone got selected.

Ok, let’s be honest.  I wanted…I really wanted to be a patrol boy.  It was like I was born for it.  It was like my destiny.  I could tell you that I wanted to help save lives.  I could tell you that the safety of every kid who crossed at my post was what drove me but that wouldn’t be true.  No, I’m afraid it wasn’t quite that noble.  I’m afraid it had nothing to do with safety…it had to do with…the belt, the helmet, and the flag.  Now don’t laugh, it was a big deal. The uniform has led a lot of guys to sign up for the Marines.  I was no different.  I wanted people to look at me and say, “There goes a patrol boy.  Leader of peers and a hero to boot.”

Well, it happened.  I was selected and honestly, it was just about everything I thought it was going to be—at least through my eyes.  No one ever called me a hero, nor  did I outright save anyone’s life, but there was something about the way it made me…feel. Looking back, I think there is a word for it…pride.  You know there is a good pride…the kind that lets you know you did your best.  There is also the kind that says, “I’’m a patrol boy and you’re not.”  It’s closely related to the kind that says, “I have power and you don’t. You have to listen to me…obey me.”  Bummer.

As far as I know, at least from the outside, I did a pretty good job.  I received and proudly wore my little pin, which I got to keep at the end of the year that marked my service.  No one got ran over on my watch and I think I only got in trouble once.  That was when one of my fellow patrol boys made me mad and I whacked him with my flag.  Not very hero like.  But the deal was while it looked good from the outside, it didn’t look that good on the inside.  Trust me it wasn’t as pretty.  I realize now that all of us have a tendency to play that game—pretty good on the outside and pretty dingy on the inside.  Someone once said you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

There should be another saying, “you can’t fool God any of the time.”  You see, God’s got this “vision thing” that allows Him to see right past the skin and right into our heart.  He sees our real thoughts, our real motives, our real selves.  It’s been kind of a “go to” verse for me recently but here’s what it says, “The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at Eliab’s appearance or stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” Wow…that is one scary thought.  God sees what matters.  I wonder if it would be a good idea to talk to ourselves sometimes and just ask the question, “Hey, how’s your heart?  Is everything ok?” If we would be willing to do that, it would be a game changer.

Well, I enjoyed my year as a patrol boy.  The next year I went to junior high and went from the top of the heap to the bottom.  In fact, now that I think about there were a couple of guys who did their best to make junior high hard for me.  Today we call it bullying.  I wonder if it was payback for some misused authority.  Hmmmm.  What goes around…comes around.  Anyway, I’m glad I don’t have just  a “patrol boy” watching over me.  Nope, I have the King of Kings and that’s pretty awesome!  I don’t have a thing to worry about because “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, life, loving others, missions, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

Zone of Fire

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.” James 1:6a

It was over in a flash.  Well, most everyone has heard of Johnny Cash and most everyone has heard his number one hit, “Ring of Fire.”  Well, Johnny had his ring and I had my “zone of fire.” Twenty-five or so years ago my brother decided he would come up and visit with my wife and I.  It was a big deal because he is from the deep south and well, for him to cross the Mason-Dixon Line was pretty much a miracle.  When we were making plans, he mentioned that he wanted to go pheasant hunting.  Well, I checked into it and found that there was a “bird farm” about an hour from where we lived.

A “bird farm” is a business that owes a ton of land and then raises birds to be released into the wild for the purpose of hunting.  When the day came, we drove up to the bird farm.  When we got there, it was me, him and a couple of other guys, we checked in and the guy said that we would have a dog hunt with us.  That was strange since we didn’t pay for one but hey, ok.  We headed out with the dog and the guide. The way this works is you form a line, straight across, and about fifteen to twenty feet apart.  Then the dog works the area in front of you as you move forward.  If the dog goes on point (which means he found a bird) then the guide scares up the bird and someone, or a lot of someones, shoot.  So we hunted, and hunted and hunted. The bottom line? I was pretty sure there wasn’t a bird within a hundred miles of that place.  The dog never went on point.

From there things went downhill.  The owner came and said that he had accidentally given us the dog and we had to give him up…so we did.  That meant we were totally on our own.  We would walk through the weeds saying, “Here birdie, birdie.”  Ok, not really but we did walk through the field just trying to scare up a bird.  It was beginning to look like a continuation of the time with the dog when it happened.  As we walked through the field, and with no warning, we scared up a bird.  It was a beautiful male pheasant and he just exploded off the ground about thirty feet in front of me and slightly to my right.

I can’t tell you how fast this all happened.  He leapt into the air, I raised my bird gun and fired.  It really was over in a flash and it was a perfect shot.  Just like that the bird was down and everyone was excited.  I had shot pheasant once or twice before but honestly it was a great shot…all except one thing.  Not once, not for a millisecond did I think about my “zone of fire.” Basically, the zone of fire is the predetermined area where it is safe for you to fire your weapon.  It obviously includes where there aren’t any people.  Now, it all worked out just fine.  I was within my zone of fire, but it was not because I intentionally did it—it was just luck.

While I don’t personally believe in luck, I do believe in a God who takes care of us…even when we are just a little—careless.  Truth be known, if that bird was a little closer to the line of guys I could have wounded one of my friends and that would have been unbelievably tragic.  When you have a weapon, you need to be sharp, you need to be focused, and you need to be careful.  You must be always be aware of your zone of fire.

That truth doesn’t just apply to weapons, you know.  We need to apply it anytime we are with people.  You see, we carry a lethal weapon with us all the time.  That would be our mouth.  And if we are not careful, a situation may come up, and before even thinking, boom…someone is wounded or hurt.  And the crazy part? It can happen in a flash just like pheasant exploding off the ground in front of me.  In a moment of time, we can fire from the mouth that will leave a lasting, and sometimes permanent scar, on the heart of someone around us.  We just need to be careful.

James, the half-brother of Jesus said that the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. We all know the stories of the wildfires in the west—the grave property damage and the tragic loss of life.  And James says in the same way the tongue can cause that kind of damage in the lives of people.  What can we do to prevent that?  The same thing when we are using our weapons around others.  We need to be sharp, we need to be focused, and we need to be careful.  Now, I have a friend who is a weapons expert and a great hunter. If he had been there that day, he would have given us a safety briefing which would have included our “zone of fire.”

We have an expert with our tongues too.  He is our Dearest Daddy and because He made us, He knows the destructive power of the tongue and can help us control it. As we walk through each day, He will be by our side and He will guide us and help us.  He will whisper the guidance we need to be safe and not hurt others.  He is a guide that can be trusted and depended on.  After all, He’s got this. 

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

Shoeless Service

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Luke 6:35

It was a dark and stormy night.  Well, it really wasn’t but I’ve always wanted to begin a story that way.  But for one man it was, and this is his story.  Years ago, my son-in-law, Blake, and daughter, Sarah, were talking a walk on Church Street—a road that runs about a block behind where we live.  It is just one of the many side streets in town but that night it was something more.  As they walked, they noticed a man coming toward them.  He was obviously having a tough time—like I said, it was a dark and stormy night—at least for this lonely man.

His head was low as he shuffled his feet and pushed his bike.  As he got closer, when some people would have crossed to the other side of the street, Blake and Sarah took the time to greet the man.  His eyes told the story.  He was an Army veteran who had fallen on hard times.  He told how he had been refused treatment at the Veteran’s Center. He shared how memories of a band of brothers who would have stood with him were fading fast.  His uniform that night was dirty and tattered, but his shoes told the story.

Blake, looked down, and while there were shoes on his soiled feet, not much of what used to be remained.  The shoes he had on were way too small but that didn’t matter for much of the toes were blown open.  He told a little more of his story and each word made it clear that it wasn’t just a stormy day for this veteran…it was days, weeks, months, and years.  It would have been easy for the young couple to listen and mumble some semblance of a “I’m sorry” or maybe a “God bless you.”  But they didn’t—more specifically Blake didn’t.

As Blake was looking down at his feet—he saw his own.  His feet were shod in one of his favorite pair of tennis shoes—in nearly new condition.  And then something amazing, something very Jesus like, happened. Without a word, he reached down and began to untie his shoes.  Then he slipped his shoes off and handed them to the tired, banged up veteran.  I’m not sure what he said—maybe nothing.  But perhaps the gift said it all.  Perhaps the gift said better than any words could, “I care.  I feel your pain.”

So, after the exchange they went their separate ways.  He continued down the block and they finished their walk.  I believe that both the tattered veteran and the young couple left different that night.  Perhaps the man’s day was not quite as stormy as it was before his encounter with love.  Perhaps he didn’t feel quite as hopeless—quite as alone.  I know Blake and Sarah were changed.  When they got back to our house after their walk, they shared their story.  It wasn’t, a “hey, look what I did” but rather a “look what God did” kind of moment.  We cried. Jesus encounters will do that to you.

As we take our walks in this thing called life, there will always be multiple opportunities to do the right thing, the extraordinary thing, the uncommon thing.  Sometimes they will be disguised but often, they are in plain sight.  A struggling single mom, a senior adult trying to manage one too many bags, a challenged adult or child who needs a smile and the list goes on and on.  Jesus, the God-man, did plenty of amazing, brazen things during His life here.  The part we know the most about only lasted just over 1,000 days. And in those days, He impacted His known world and in the days since then the entire world.

There used to be a saying that was tossed around in our everyday Jesus walk lives.  It simply said, “W.W.J.D.” or “What would Jesus do?”  It has long since been cast aside now but the truth of those four letters or four words still ring with power.  What.Would.Jesus.Do? One thing is for sure.  It would include a multitude of acts of kindness to the most unlikely of candidates and it would be done in the name of love. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”  What powerful words.  What life changing words.  The thought of doing this is counter-cultural and it might stretch you a bit but don’t worry— “He’s got this.”