Posted in forgiveness, friends, Grace, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, Trials

That Love Your Neighbor Thing

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45

“You’re nothing but a little Hitler.”  The life of a pastor is always interesting.  You really never know what is going to come your way.  I’ve been doing this pastor thing for 40 years now and I know two things.  First, generally speaking, the sun will come up tomorrow.  There is no guarantee, but it has a pretty good track record.  Second, you (pastor or not) are going to step in someone’s mess today.

Her name was Karen. Her mother attended our church and she and her two boys would occasionally visit.  I decided one day to go by and just let her know that we enjoyed having her visit.  I mean it sounded like a good thing, it sounded like the right thing.  What could possibly go wrong, right?  Well, I pulled into her driveway and went up to the door.  I did my gentle, nonthreatening knock and she came to the door.  I gave the standard, “Hi Cindy, I just wanted to come by and let you know we are so glad you are visiting with us” spill.  It was pleasant…it was sincere.

I don’t remember everything she said that day.  It could be “pastoral amnesia.”  That is a defense mechanism that pastors must use to guard their hearts when someone decides it is their spiritual gift to break them. It might be PTSS (Pastor Traumatic Stress Syndrome) where the event was so traumatic that you block it out.  Anyway…she cut loose and the two things I do remember included something about me running a cult and brain washing people.  The last thing I remember was when she said, in all seriousness, “You are nothing but a little Hitler.”

Well, that hurt—a lot.  It hurt so much that 30 years later I can still hear her voice, still feel her words, and still wish I had never knocked on that door.  Not too long ago I was asked to do her stepfather’s funeral and when I saw her all the hurt came flooding back. The anger was long gone but the scar ran deep. There is an old saying that is a lie.  It says, “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Really?  I wonder who came up with that one.  They must have been deaf and blind.  Words are an incredibly powerful tool or weapon—depending on the sender.

I am still amazed at the emotional energy that chance encounter had for me that day.  But it wasn’t chance…it was somehow prescribed by my Dearest Daddy to help me grow to be more like Jesus.  He knew (and He was right) that there would be many more awkward moments in the days ahead and I needed to learn about how to handle them…like Jesus.  One morning, I listened to a devotional by one of my favorite writers, Bob Goff.  He was talking about loving your enemies…or maybe folks who act like your enemies. He quoted Jesus and here’s what Jesus said, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.”

Wow…that is way powerful.  Bob’s day job is being a lawyer. He told a story about a witch doctor in Uganda that he took to trial.  This witch doctor believed in child sacrifice and practiced it.  No one before had had the courage to take on these bad guys.  Well, Bob did, and he won.  Later, he decided to go visit this guy on death row.  The former witch doctor, who had become a Christ follower, told Bob that he forgave him.  That confused Bob because the other guy was the bad guy.  But what is important is the former witch doctor was extending grace because he wanted to be like Jesus…like his Father.  How about that?

This two year and running mess has been a breeding ground for more than germs…it has been a breeding ground for division, unkindness, judging, and hurting.  I know it and you know. And, unfortunately, God’s kids have not been exempt.  This world is watching and seeing and wondering if this God thing is real or a hoax.  One way we can show them that Jesus is the real deal is by loving one another.  Just because the evening news is filled with hate and bitterness doesn’t mean it should infect our Jesus world.  Remember He said that the world would know we are Christians by our love…not our dogmatism.

I put something on the church sign a while back. It said, Jesus First. Before. Everything. Else. Period.  I believe that.  He is more important than COVID, masks, politics, and everything else.  He is first and when we allow Him to be first…we all do better.  Our world does better. Our marriages do better. Our churches do better.

Our challenge, as we continue this journey called life, if you are a Jesus follower, is to make sure you are following closely.  Mimic His every Word and every step.  And if you are not yet a follower, I hope you soon will be.  I know sometimes we Jesus followers don’t get it right—but trust me He never gets it wrong.  You can rest in Him.  He’s got this. Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, friends, gratitude, Integrity, life, love, loving others, priorities, thankful, wisdom

Baits, Hooks and Bill

A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Proverbs 17:17

His name was Bill, and he was an investor—in people.  When Judy and I landed in Warrensburg, Missouri via God, and the Air Force we began attending First Baptist Church.  For us God and the church thing was an all-in deal so soon we were singing in the choir, attending church, and going to Sunday School. Our Bible Study teachers were Bill and Edith Hensley, and they were a class act.  The time we spend in their class was rich in every way imaginable.  We build friendships and did life together.  It seemed that whether you were in the Air Force like I was or a professor at the local university or a lawyer, it just didn’t matter.  We were pilgrims journeying with each other and with Jesus and it was good.

Bill was a lawyer by trade and a disciple-maker by faith.  He believed in Jesus, believed the Bible, and believed in people—including me.  I’m not sure how it happened but he kinda adopted me and began investing in me by teaching me about fishing, hunting, and growing in my faith.  He loved to fish.  He would often call the house and say, “What time is it?”  Now it might be time to wash the car or time to mow the grass, but I knew what the answer was.  “It’s time to go fishing” I would reply and in about 30 minutes I would be in his pickup truck heading to some pond to see if we could catch a bass or two.

That was the case one late summer evening.  We had the boat out in a small pond.  Things had been slow, and the sun was just about to call it a day.  Bill suggested that I make a cast or two more toward the shore.  He pointed out a log that just broke the surface about three feet from land.  I gave the rod a swing and amazingly that ole hula-popper landed right up next to that log.  A hula-popper is a soft lure that sounds just like a wounded frog when you pull up on the rod.  I pulled up on the rod and heard the familiar gurgling sound.  Nothing happened.

I gave it another tug and two things happened.  First there was a small splashing sound and second the lure stopped dead in the water.  At first, I thought I had snagged the log, but I soon realized I had hooked a pretty good size bass.  Now since it was late summer the water was a bit cool so there wasn’t this epic battle—you know, man against whale.  Instead, it was like reeling in a big piece of wood.  Of course, there was a tug here or there but whatever was on the other end of the rod wasn’t up for much of a fight.

Before long the fish was beside the boat and Bill got the net and bought him on board.  It turned out to be a good-sized fish.  It was a 6.5-pound largemouth bass.  I couldn’t believe it, Bill couldn’t believe it and I am pretty sure the bass couldn’t believe it either.  Well, we snapped a couple of pictures and headed for shore with the bass safely in the fish well.  I asked Bill if I should have him mounted but he said no because I was sure to catch a bigger one someday in the future.  Well, I haven’t and honestly, I believe he knew (because I didn’t know) my Air Force salary couldn’t handle the cost.

Bill and I enjoyed many more fishing trips before I finally moved out of the area and over into Southern Illinois.  I slowly lost touch with Bill and Edith and now they are both in heaven.  I am sure they heard, “well done.”  I can only imagine how many lives they touched.  I do know that night I learned a couple of good lessons.

The first lesson came thanks to that old bass.  I wonder how many “almost” nights he had laid up by that log.  You don’t get to be 6.5 pounds in a few nights or by making bad decisions.  So many a night there he lay and each of those nights he was wise enough to say no when a fisherman came by with a tempting bait.  For some reason that night was different.  It wasn’t that I was an expert, and it wasn’t that the bait seemed that real.  More than likely he just let his guard down and bit the bait.  That night at the cost of his life he learned a valuable lesson.  As Bob Goff puts it, “It is always better to resist the bait than struggle on the hook.”  Now that is good advice. So, in these days that take way too much energy just to do life, don’t get too lax and make a really bad decision.  Resist the bait.

The other lesson was from Bill…the man who invested his time, his wisdom and even some of his resources in a young Air Force sergeant. Bill was simply a good man who loved Jesus.  He was busy but he wasn’t too busy to pour his life into mine.  The Bible says, “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Bill was that to me and I know that I am a better person for knowing him.

In days like these when it seems the chief topic is survival, don’t get so self-absorbed that you can’t invest in the folks in your world.  There are plenty of people like me who need someone a little wiser to speak into their lives.  Why not be that voice?  That voice may be whispering, “Don’t take the bait” or it might be encouraging someone to trust in the One who is worthy…to trust and rest in the God who made it all.  I think Bill was one of the ones who spoke into my life and helped me believe that I could trust God because, “He’s got this.”  Thanks, Bill.  Bro. Dewayne