Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, Southern born, thankful

Forty-Five Years Ago

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

It was forty-five years ago today.  My life has always been steeped in church, God, and stuff.  I think my older brother had something to do with that.  Dad tended to be a CEO attender—you know—Christmas and Easter only.  But even with that said there were other ways that he clearly showed that he and God were on good speaking terms.  Two of my favorite memories are of him praying.  One time he was down on his knees leading us as a family in prayer.  He never stood taller.  The other happened when I came home late from a date and found him talking to our Dearest Father, hands clasped and head bowed.

Now, mama was more faithful at church except when she hit a bump or two. She liked to attend and she would take us with her.  No questions asked.  She sang, she led one of the girl’s classes, and she too was on good terms with Jesus.  But there were a couple of times when her heart got hurt and she would sit out for a little while.  It was then my oldest brother would take over the taxiing job and make sure I got to church.  To this day I am grateful that he did that.  Because of him habitually taking me, there has never been a time when I didn’t go to church.  That was good but what happened forty-five years ago was far better.

Right out of high school I joined the Air Force and ended up stationed in Valdosta, Georgia at Moody Air Force Base.  Since church was such a regular part of my calendar I made it a point to go—a lot.  One Wednesday night I decided to go to one of the local churches.  So I got there, opened the side door and right across the room was Judy Allen.  She was beautiful and right there and then I decided I liked that church—a lot.

I started attending regularly for two reasons.  It was what I was used to doing and Judy was there.  We started dating right away and before too long we were engaged. She was probably too young and I was probably too old but, hey, that is sometimes the way of love.  Well, in June of 1975 she met someone else—another guy.  Fortunately for me it was Jesus.  She, like me, was raised in church but she discovered that going to church and knowing Jesus were two entirely different things.  Jesus waltzed into her life and she was like a new person—an even better person—better than I deserved for sure.

Well, a few months went by and at church one morning, October 26 to be exact, I bumped into the same Man she had met.  Unexpectedly the pastor told a story about a man who had gone to church all his life and then realized he had never met Jesus.  You might say he was religious, but not a Jesus follower.  When I heard about him, I realized that was me—I was the same way—way too religious and way short on knowing Jesus as my best friend. That morning in Valdosta, Georgia at about 10:45 in the morning I met Jesus and my life changed forever.  Jesus didn’t make me perfect that day but He sure made me forgiven.  He put me on a new road and well, it has been amazing.

So, for forty-five years I have walked with Jesus and here I sit today, a pastor for thirty-eight  of those years and writing stories.  And Judy, well, in June of 1976, we decided to walk together and we just never stopped.  Me, Judy, and Jesus—it has been quite the journey. For the past forty-five years, every year, I have celebrated two birthdays.  The first is January 6, the day I was physically born.  But I also celebrate October 26, the day I met Jesus and was spiritually born.

Every time I write a story I love to put a big truth in it about God.  Well this story is a bit different—this time the story is Jesus and what He did for me and wants to do for you.  Remember, don’t make the mistake I did—confusing religion and church with Jesus.  They are not the same—He is a lot better.  He said that we could know the truth and the truth would set us free.  Well, the truth is He loves you, no matter what, more than you can imagine.  The truth is, He wants you to trust Him, to rest in Him.  The truth is He’s got this.  Trust me, I know.

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

Faith and the Next Step

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

There’s hard…and there is really hard.  You know, sometimes faith is easy.  The way is clear, the path is obvious and you just do it.  Sometimes, it just isn’t that way.  Sometimes, all the time, faith requires…faith. So back in 2000, my family and I were living in Cobden where I was pastoring at Cobden First Baptist.  We had been there over 14 years and it was one of those pastor/church relationships that don’t happen too often.  We were in love with each other.  It wasn’t a job…it was family. And then the phone rang.

It was a call from Don Billman wanting to know if I would be interested in pastoring in Harrisburg at Dorrisville Baptist.  I had received calls like this before and the answer was always, “No thank you.  We are really happy here.”  This time, though, for some reason I said I would think about it—pray about it.  It was almost frightening but I could hear the Whisperer whispering and I was pretty sure He was calling us to step out on faith. I tried to dismiss it, I tried to ignore it, but He kept whispering until I finally knew that it was a choice to obey or disobey.

After several weeks we arranged a date to go and preach a message, meet the folks at Dorrisville and to see if we should join our lives together.  I had asked God for a pretty big favor.  If this was in fact His will would He give me a 100% vote.  Now in case you don’t know that was a pretty big deal, especially since we were talking about a couple of hundred people.  Well, we met each other and they voted.  It was 100%.  I was taken aback as I realized it was time to step out on faith.

Pastors usually leave churches in one of two ways: readily or reluctantly.  I was a reluctant prophet.  I knew going was the right thing, but it wasn’t the easy thing.  It was probably one of the HARDEST things I have ever done.  We were excited about Dorrisville, but I knew I was leaving family in the process.  Were there doubts? Yes.  Were there assurances?  Yes. And that is the point of this story.

A week or so after the vote and in the middle of the process of saying goodbye to Cobden, I was sitting outside of Target in Marion.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was having a talk with God that included two questions.  “God, is this really you?” “God, what have I done?”  There I sat with those two questions rolling around in my head.  And then they showed up.  It wasn’t two angels named Micheal or Gabriel but it was a couple of messengers from my Dearest Daddy.  Their names were Tom and Leanne.

Tom and Leanne were members at Dorrisville—my new family.  They walked up to the bench outside of Target and politely introduced themselves.  “Hi we are Tom and LeAnne. We are members at Dorrisville and when we saw you sitting here we just HAD to stop and tell you how glad we are that you are coming to Dorrisville.  We can’t wait for you to come.”  I can’t tell you the emotion of that moment.  It was a clear and confident assurance from the Whisperer.  From that moment on I knew I was right where God wanted me and that was what mattered.

So we finished saying goodbye to our Cobden family and said hello to our new family at Dorrisville.  On July 16, 2000 we had our first service there.  I wish I could tell you how marvelously I led and how confidently I took the field but the truth is this rookie fumbled the ball a few times.  But gratefully my new family was gracious and patient and suddenly here we are twenty years later.  It has been a wonderful journey for me of learning and growing, serving, and sharing.  Over the past two decades we have had so many times of celebration together.  We have learned grace together. Someday, one day, the Whisperer will whisper again but until that time I am having the time of my life.

So if you find yourself at the edge of a cliff and you are not sure what to do next.  If all the light is gone from your world and you are stuck…go ahead and take the next step.  As Patrick Overton wrote, “When you have come to the edge of all light that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.” Whether it is the uncertainly of the corona virus, the unrest of our Country or the upcoming elections this Fall…we can rest in Him…for He surely has this.

Posted in Family, Scripture

Larry, Barry, Harry, Terry, Ralph and Bubba

If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as he wanted.” (1 Corinthians 12:17-18)

Ok, I was just so confused that I needed to tell someone.  I know you must think I am goose crazy but yesterday morning was so weird in goose-land at the park or better, maybe it was something beautiful.  So, let’s just say the geese were very prolific this year.  There are lots, and I mean lots, of baby geese.  There are two kinds of geese in the park.  Almost all of them are the standard, brownish geese.  Then there are also four or five white snow geese.  Now trust me on this.  In the past the snow geese and the regular geese just didn’t like each other.  But something must have happened.

So let me tell you about yesterday.  First, there were several of the standard brownish geese families.  They were teaching the kids about swimming, eating, how to potty on the walking path…you know the standard things.  But then there was something else happening.  There were four white geese and they had like five babies and they were one big happy family. I’m sure there was a mom and a dad but there was also at least an aunt and an uncle.  They were all doing their family thing.  But hang on.

There was also a pair of the standard brownish geese and they had babies.  What was different was they had two brown babies and a baby that obviously came from the snow geese. No really.  I’m think they adopted one.  And you know what?  They treated him just like the rest.  But that wasn’t quite the end of the story either.  So, there was a pair of standard brownish geese and they had five brown babies.  They were so cute.  I think their names were probably like Larry, Barry, Harry, Terry and Ralph.  Anyway, there’s one more thing.

There was one of the big snow geese in the family mix.  He obviously had to be a distant, and I mean distant, relative.  But he was one tough dude.  The little babies were on the sidewalk and mom and dad were standing there.  Usually, when I would walk by a family, the dad would hiss at me and I would act afraid.  I wasn’t but I was hoping it made him feel better.  Anyway, mom and dad were like casual—no deal.

But then there was the snow goose named Bubba.  I mean when I got close he puffed his chest out, stretched his neck, glared at me and gave me his best manly hiss.  You know the kind those big cobra snakes do in India. The hair stood up on the back of my neck and on my arms and I kept moving.  I don’t know who Bubba was but he likes his family—brown or not—a lot.

You know, the more I thought about it… the more I thought it wasn’t weird at all.  I thought maybe that’s exactly how it is supposed to be.  The geese, regardless of their feather color, came together, formed a family and a community and were doing life.  Everyone seemed pretty happy to me.  Well, all except Bubba.  He had an attitude but I think even that was because he loved and cared for the others.

Someone once said it takes a village to raise a child.  It takes all kinds of people to make life work.  And do you know what?  It takes all kinds to make God’s family work too. If you go to church you know sometimes it can get just a little bumpy. Someone doesn’t like this or doesn’t like that.  Someone wears the wrong thing or not enough of the right thing.  Someone thinks things are too loud or too soft or too hot or too cold. Well, I think we need to take a lesson from the guys and gals at the park.

In the Bible Paul wrote that things would be pretty weird if a body was one giant ear or one giant eye.  If we were all the same we would just be in a hot mess.  It takes every part—ever person—being themselves and doing what God designed them to do.  And do you know what else it says?  It says in 1 Corinthians 12:18 “But as it is, God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as He wanted.”  As.He.wanted.  That means that the person that you just love at church was put there by God.  And it also means the person who irritates you the most was put there too.  And perhaps they are there just for you. Of all God’s creations the church, His body, is one of His most beautiful.  A flower garden is made beautiful not in its sameness but in its variety. The body of Christ is made beautiful the very same way.  So, in these trying days, these crazy days, these days when it is so important that the church be the church, be sure and remember that the body is a bouquet of people and personalities selected and arranged by God himself.  We need the Bubbas and we need Larry, Barry, Harry, Terry and Ralph too.  We need the younger and we need the older.  We need each other.  Sound too difficult? Sound a little overwhelming?  Don’t worry about it.  God’s good at helping His rowdy, sometimes difficult kids grow.  So, take a rest in Him. He’s got this. Just ask Bubba.