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

Turn the Mic Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Family, food, forgiveness, life, loving others, Scripture, Southern born

Spilt Milk

I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37

It gets really hot in North Florida.  When I write these stories I try and remember things that happened in my youth and sometimes they are just funny.  When I was about eight years old, my mom and dad were always looking for ways to save a little money.  I didn’t know if we were rich or poor and most of the time, I didn’t care.  Sometimes it was obvious but most of the time, it was just normal.

I’m not sure how we started, but we began to buy our milk from a family that lived about a mile from us.  It wasn’t really a dairy farm, it was more like they had three or four cows. We would go over twice a week and buy a gallon in big half-gallon glass jugs.  And let me tell you…this wasn’t that pasteurized stuff we drink today.  It was straight from the cow.  And one more thing, it wasn’t 2%, or 1%, or skim milk.  No sir, this stuff came fully loaded with milk fat.  It was good.  We had an old ice cream churn, the kind you had to crank, and this milk made the best ice cream you have ever tasted.  It was always a special day when we went and got milk.  And then one day it wasn’t.

We were still driving that old 1957 Plymouth and it was time to get milk.  I think Mama was driving and one of my sisters was in the front seat and the other in the back with me.  Those were the days before seat belts and rules about kids not sitting up front.  In fact, in those days dashboards were made out of metal.  Anyway, we got to the home where they sold the milk. Mama paid the lady and I was to carry the milk to the car and carefully put it on the floorboard in the backseat.  It was a good plan…almost.

The milk jugs had little handles on the top near the neck of the jug.  I picked up the jugs, one in each hand and headed to the car.  I put the jugs down on the ground and opened the back door.  I turned around and picked up one of the jugs and set it on the floorboard.  Then I turned around to get the second jug and put it next to the other.  You know, next is a nice word.  It means close to.  Well, I swung that ole jug through the door and well, you might say I got it just a little too close to the other one.  There was a sound of glass hitting glass and one of the jugs busted wide open and that nice fresh milk spilled all over the carpeted (remember that) floorboard.  Bummer.

Mama came over and of course was upset about the wasted milk.  I was too, but you know what they say, “There’s no use crying over spilt milk.” That is true, however, things were going to get worse before they got better.  I suppose we bought another half-gallon of milk and headed for the house.  Once there I did my best to clean up the spilt milk. The problem was twofold, there was carpet and then, like they did back then, there was also a thick pad underneath that carpet.  You could do what you wanted to, but there was no way all that milk was coming out of that carpet and pad.

Remember, I told you that it was really hot in North Florida.  Well, by the next morning there was a strange odor in the whole car and it got worse and worse.  By the end of the first day the smell of sour milk made it just about impossible to sit in the car.  We already had the windows down because there was no air conditioning, but even that didn’t stop the odor.  The breeze from the open windows made it better, but when Mama or Daddy hit a stop light, Katie bar the door…it smelled awful. For days and days our 1957 Plymouth smelled horrible. I’m pretty sure I was not winning any family member popularity contests for the next couple of weeks. The smell lasted long after the accident…oh boy did it.

Have you ever broken a jug of milk in your car before?  Well, probably not, but let me ask you this.  Have you ever done something wrong, something that hurt someone, something that broke someone’s heart?  If so, you probably know what this story is about.  You see when we get all fired up and make bad choices with big regrets, it doesn’t just go away…oh no…it lingers and lingers and lingers.  And you know and I know, sometimes the scar just stays forever.  I know we shouldn’t cry over spilt milk, but maybe we should shed a few tears over broken hearts, hearts broken by our hands or voices.

I sure wish I had been more careful that day.  I know I was just a kid, but I was old enough to be careful.  My careless behavior caused a big stink and it was a stink we all had to endure.  Maybe, like me,  we should be more careful with our actions and our words each day.  If we would, it might save a few hearts and a few big stinks.  The Bible says that we will have to give an account for every word and every action that we say or do.  Do you know what?  If I would have asked, my big sister would have helped me that day…Mama would have too.  But, I thought I could handle it.  Sometimes, we think that way in life too.  Why not ask for a little help from your Heavenly Father before the milk gets spilt? Ask and He will help you the rest of the way.  You can count on Him.   He’s got this.

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, Grace, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, wisdom

A Little Misunderstanding

Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” Colossians 4:6

It was just a little misunderstanding.  The story is told of a pastor who visited a man in the hospital.  As he stood by the bed, the man began to be in deep distress.  Unable to speak he quickly wrote the pastor a note, handed it to him and then just died.  In all the confusion of the moment, the pastor slid the note into his pocket and forgot about it. Several days later the pastor was conducting the memorial service for the man.  The pastor was describing the man…his life, his good heart and his service for others.  Then it happened.

The pastor suddenly remembered that he had the note in his suit pocket.  He told the audience, “I have just remembered the day Joe died I was visiting him in the hospital and he slipped me a note right before he passed away. I failed to read it and have just now remembered it is in my pocket. How special it would be if we can share his final thoughts together now.  So the pastor reached into his pocket, pulled out the note and read, “You’re standing on my oxygen hose.” Smile.

As a pastor you can bet I’ve got some pretty crazy stories and a lot of them revolve around little misunderstandings and lack of communication.  One day I was visiting one of our members in the hospital and she was quite ill.  When I make a visit I naturally slip into my “let me make you feel better mode.”  For me there are two great fix-alls—humor and food. But sometimes, many times, a person just needs compassion and kindness.  This was one of those times.

I walked into the room and she was lying in the bed softly moaning.  I moved over by the bed and whispered her name.  She opened her eyes, slightly smiled and said, “Pastor, thank you for coming by.” We shared for just a few minutes and it was obvious she was very sick.  And then she said, “I just want to go home.”  I softy said, “I know.” And she said it again and then another time. Each time I responded with some simple words of understanding.  After the third time I upped my game.  I said, “I know you want to go home and when God is ready, He will take you.”

Well, imagine my surprise, and embarrassment, when she said, “NOT that home, pastor, my home.”  Oh…oops. I was ready to ship her off to heaven and she was just wanting to go back to her house.  Like I said, sometimes there is just a lack of understanding and communication. When that happens we need to admit that we missed it and if necessary ask for a little grace or perhaps give a little grace.  I quickly apologized for the misunderstanding, she did get better and indeed went to her home. We even had the chance to laugh about it later.

In the world we find ourselves these days there are multiple opportunities for misunderstandings.  When we find ourselves in too close of quarters for too long, when we have differing opinions about everything from the corona virus to what’s wrong with our country—misunderstandings are bound to happen.  In the regular world the normal response would be to get mad and often get even.  In the regular world the normal response would be more anger and more division.  But for Jesus followers that is just not an option.

The Bible tells us over and again that if we follow Jesus we are to act like Jesus.  We often get that when it comes to moral responses—and rightfully so.  But we too often miss the biggest application—how we respond when we bump into other people…or they bump into us.  Paul, one of the major writers in the Bible says, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.”  I like that.  Gracious and attractive.  Mama used to say this, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.  I wonder if Mama knew Paul?

Well, the bottom line is there will always be plenty of opportunities to bump into people.  There will always be plenty of opportunities to respond in a “not so Jesus way.”  But what if we hit the pause button right before we speak and ask ourselves, “Is this gracious or attractive?  Is this nice?” I wonder how things would change?  In these dark days the world needs “Jesus lights.” It needs us to shine for Him even when we get a little tired and a little weary.  We need to recognize that is just a setup for regretful words.  Let’s choose option “B.”  Let’s just rest in Him and choose to think before we speak.  After all, He’s got this.