Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, priorities, Scripture, thankful, Trials

I’m All Shook Up

The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” Proverbs 27:12

I grabbed it and couldn’t let go.  I’ve said it before but growing up, times were pretty hard.  My Daddy worked very hard to provide a good home for us and we always had plenty of good food.  Sure, sometimes there was more “loaf than meat” but hey it was still good.  One of my favorite food memories from when I was nine or ten was a fried potato sandwich.  When there wasn’t any meat for sandwiches, Mama would slice some potatoes and fry them up.  We would slap those things between two pieces of bread with some mayo and instant heaven.  I mean who doesn’t like home fries anyway?

We lived in an old World War II barracks that had been converted into a two bedroom house with a breezeway that led to a closed in garage that served as a third bedroom.  We also had two acres of land which was great for playing but not so great for mowing.  We didn’t have a riding mower until I was in my teens so the two acres had to be mowed by hand. To get it done we had an old push mower.  Just trust me that was a lot to mow with a push mower.  Anyway, this mower had two unique qualities.  First, it didn’t have a throttle.  It had one speed—wide open.  It was one of those deals where you wrapped a rope around the top and gave it a yank.  If you said your prayers and held your tongue just right—it would crank.  And like I said, when it started…it started.

The other quirk with our lawnmower was that it didn’t have a kill switch either.  There were two ways to turn it off.  First, you could take a screwdriver and ground the spark plug to a metal part on the mower.  The second was a lot more risky.  You could attempt to pull the spark plug wire off the spark plug.  Now, keep in mind I was pretty young and didn’t understand all the dynamics of a spark plug, the coil and touching the wrong thing at the wrong time.  I was a setup for a shocking experience.

So one day…you can see it coming can’t you? Well, one day, I was done mowing and the lawnmower was running wide open.  I had to kill the beast—slay the dragon if you will.  I was a good piece from the shed and didn’t have a screw driver so that left only option 2—pulling off the spark plug wire.  Running wide open, shaking like a hula dance (that would be me and not the lawnmower) I reached down and grabbed a hold.  I still don’t know if I grabbed the wrong part or if the current came though the brittle insulation on the wire but it got me.

I’m not sure if I can describe the sensation that I experienced. I can vividly remember two things.  My  whole arm shaking and the fact that I couldn’t get loose.  I’m sure I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.  Like the Ray Stevens song about the Mississippi Squirrel, I was sure “something had a hold of me.”  I don’t know how I got loose.  It may have been mercy from above or pure desperation but I did get loose. The lawnmower was still running and my arm was still shaking.  If you ever see this strange twitch in my left arm—well, it still hasn’t got over the sensation.

I’m supposing I got a LONG screwdriver and killed the engine and I am also sure I never, and I mean never, went out again without it again.  You only need to grab the wrong thing one time and you will never do it again.  I know that is true with quirky old lawnmowers but I also know it is true with bad decisions.  I suppose everyone of us has a bad decision somewhere in our past—and I am not talking about spicy pizza as a midnight snack.

There are certain things, and a lot of times they are lawbreakers, that you shouldn’t do once much less twice.  If we would just hit the pause button and think about it we could eliminate a lot of our regrets and consequences.  Do I really want to do that? Do I really want to keep that date? Is that a call I really want to make? Is that a relationship I really want to maintain?  Think about it.  I have never done this before but I just need to use that verse we wrote about recently.  It is from Proverbs (which is like wise sayings) and it tells us the prudent (or wise) person will see danger and take refuge.  The simple (inexperienced) person will see the danger and keep right on going.

Let me tell you.  I grabbed that wire once and once was enough.  The only thing that would have been better was if I would have walked to the shed and got the screwdriver. It wasn’t that far.  But, I thought I would be the exception.  I thought I could pull it off…no pun intended…and I was wrong. I.Was.Wrong.  I don’t know if there is anything in your life right now that is a bad idea or maybe you’re making plans.  Take some advice from a former “wire grabber.”  Don’t.  Just do the right thing and you won’t regret it.  Oh, and if you don’t, there is a God who loves and cares for you.  And if you ask, He will help.  He’s got this. 

Posted in gratitude, life, loving others, missions, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel

Don’t Drink the Water

For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5

It was my first real mission trip.  In 2003, I was given the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Bulgaria.  In case you don’t know what a mission trip is, it is when you go to a different part of the world and do Jesus stuff.  It might be medical, it might be teaching, it might be giving food away or most anything else that Jesus might do. Bulgaria is up by the Black Sea and snack dab in the middle of the old Soviet block.  It was a different world.  Imagine stepping back in time to the late fifties or early sixties and that’s where we landed.

When we arrived, it was instant culture shock.  The food was different, the language was different, the people were different…everything was different. And there was one big rule—don’t ever drink the water. I was a little nervous and a whole lot excited.  Get ready, boys, this is the great adventure.  We were given an assignment and my new friend Mike, and I were sent to work a couple of hours from the rest of the group. We were up by the Blue Danube River and not far from the North Sea. We would be working with the Roma people.  These folks, also known as Gypsies, were the outcasts of their society…the poorest of the poor and broken.

When we arrived, we were shown a nice apartment where we would stay.  It was very recently remodeled and look almost American. We began working right away and starting going to remote villages.  Through an interpreter we would talk to folks, I would sing and then one, or both of us, would teach about Jesus.  The people were so kind.  I remember I was introduced to Turkish coffee for the first time in my life. As you might know with Turkish coffee, they simply dump the grounds in the pot and boil them.  They poured me a cup and I took a slug.  First response—I almost choked on the grounds.  Second response—I didn’t know what to do with the grounds, so I chewed them.  Yup…the best part of waking up is with coffee grounds in your cup.

 Later in the week, and near the end of our time with the people, we were given the opportunity to do some preaching down on the city square.  It was pretty awesome.  I sang a song and then preached…and let me tell you I preached.  They might not have understood everything I said, but they knew I was excited about it.  After I finished it was hot and I was thirsty.  A nice street vendor offered me some red Kool Aid. I was so grateful.  He filled up a glass and I drank the whole cup in one swig.  Man, it was so good, so fruity, and so made with the water… I was not supposed to drink.  I never gave it a second thought…until later that night.

After we got back to the apartment, we had supper and went to bed.  About 11:00 pm we heard this awful noise and it came from the bathroom.  Well, it turns out, a majority of the new plaster ceiling in the bathroom had fallen—filling the sink, the toilet and the floor with plaster pieces.  We quickly decided we could clean it up in the morning.  There is a great verse in the Bible that says, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Well, that verse took on new meaning for me that night.

About 2:00 am I was suddenly awakened by what can only described as the worse cramping and nausea I have ever felt.  Remember the red Kool Aid? Well, it was revenge time.  I quickly went to the bathroom only to rediscover the sink and toilet totally filled with fallen plaster.  It wasn’t a pretty picture.  I can only remember trying to clean out the sink and the toilet before the impending disaster hit.  I barely made it.  Long story short, I was a regular attender to the bathroom all night and into the next day.  Sure enough, there was weeping thought the night and joy was scarce.  The only “joy” in the morning was when the guys went to the local pharmacy and bought me a Depends.  HaHa. Thanks guys.

Well, I was sick for the next day or so, but before we got on the plane for home, I was better. Someone let my wife Judy know that I was really sick and that she should look for the insurance policy. Ok, it wasn’t that bad, but I thought it was.  I did learn a couple of really good lessons.  One…when you do something that God wants you to do…it doesn’t mean that everything is going to be rosy.  In fact, you may end up with a bouquet of weeds.  But, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.  Second…when the rule book says “don’t drink the water, DON’T drink the water.  Write it on your hand, write it in your Bible, put duct tape over your mouth, but DON’T drink the water.  And by the way, when God says don’t do something, there is also a reason why.  He’s not being mean…He is being loving.

Well, we made it home and that trip led to many more…not to Bulgaria but rather to Africa. And guess what?  We definitely couldn’t drink the water there either!  Guess what again?  I didn’t drink the water, because I remembered a lesson that I had learned a couple of years earlier. It just one way that God can take the worst things and teach us something good.  Yay God.  So, as we journey through these “Bulgarian” days and should we forget and “drink the water,” you will find a loving Heavenly Father who will walk you through the hardest times. He won’t walk out on you, ever. You will find that you can always rest in Him because He’s got this.

Posted in Family, food, gratitude, life, Scripture, wisdom

I’ve “Bean” Educated

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant.” Galatians 6:7

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.  Oh wait–that opening line is already taken. Well, it was just over ten years ago now but I well remember the night. Judy was out of town and I was at the church.  We were sponsoring a dinner for the football team.  I wanted to help but, well, it didn’t go to well.  It is a known fact that I can’t be trusted with a power tool of any sorts.  It just doesn’t go well.  Apparently you can add kitchen appliances to that list.

I love being a fixer.  When one of my grandkid’s toys would break, they would bring it to Papa—they fixer.  I love being the hero. And, I love to help. It’s in my DNA. WelI, that night I volunteered to help the head cooker person get a large pan of baked beans out of the convection oven at church.  It was in one of those pans made out of formed aluminum.  When I volunteered, I could see the concern in the head cooker person’s eyes—for an expert this was no deal.  For a preacher who wasn’t allowed to use power tools—it was death valley.

“Dewayne”, she said, watch the bottom of the pan—it can collapse if you aren’t careful.”  She went on, “You might want to put a sheet pan under it for support.” Well, Mister “I -Know-It-All” said, “No deal, I can handle it.” So, I reached up, I lifted it and in a moment of time…a moment that will live in infinity…the pan collapsed and my lower left arm was baptized in a tsunami of scalding, hot baked beans.  The pain was instantaneous and it was intense. Can someone say “ouch?”

Well, I immediately used my other hand to wipe some of the beans off (not too smart since I burned that hand too) and ran to the sink and started running water over it.  The bottom line is I ended up with second degree burns, a working knowledge of how not to take beans out of the oven and several other good life lessons added to my repertoire of knowledge. You might say I have “bean” educated.”

Perhaps the first lesson is this.  No matter how well you do something the wrong way, it probably isn’t going to work out for your benefit.  When King David and his crew were moving the ark in the Old Testament, they decided to use a cart instead of doing it God’s way.  The result was the oxen stumbled and a man reached out to steady the ark and was instantly struck dead by God.  Now don’t blame God—the rule was you don’t touch the ark.  Period.  But when you do something in a wrong way you open yourself up to a whole bunch of circumstances.

Second, listen to the experts.  The head cooker person I was helping was a professional cook.  She knew the danger–I didn’t.  I was a he-man, bean toting pastor–that is until “I spilt the beans” (no pun intended!) I thought I could handle it—and I could not. I’m not sure why we wrestle this around but isn’t it funny how God, the ultimate expert, offers us advice–and we tend to ignore it.  And the pain that it causes can rival or exceed second degree burns. Listen to God.  He knows best.

Finally, get ready for the lasting effects of the consequences.  I burned my arm on a Tuesday and it took days, lots of days, to even begin to feel normal. Oh, and did I mention that I didn’t go to the doctor because I was going to tough it out? You see, pride is a bad deal.  I guess I was embarrassed enough and I just didn’t want to explain to the doctor about how unwise I was.  So, I just dealt with it.  Fortunately I did bump into him later and he saw the bandage, checked it out, asked the inevitable questions, and gave me some awesome medicine for burns. It did heal and left only minimal scarring to gently remind me to listen before I act. It taught me that whatever you sow…you reap. It taught me that—every bad choice we make carries some sort of consequences.  Choose wisely, my son, choose wisely.

So, ten years later, there is still a twinge of regret over that fateful Tuesday night.   I still shake my head and wonder how in the world I could do something so, so, stupid. Everyone once in a while when we are having a dinner at church, I will say, “Hey, head cooker person, do you remember…” and before I can finish the sentence we both nod knowingly.  I was afraid I was going to swear off bake beans forever but that that didn’t happen but I will never look at a pan of beans the same way.  And I will forever have a greater respect for a convention oven set on 350 degrees.

As you journey along and you are faced with decisions and crossroads and someone suggests maybe going this way or that or doing it this way or that—take a moment, pause and listen to their advice—especially if it involves baked beans.  And if that voice is a gentle whisper from the Whisper, definitely stop and listen.  He will probably be helping you avoid some needless pain or letting you know you can rest in Him.  He will be whispering, “I’ve got this.”

Posted in Family, life, priorities, Scripture, wisdom

Out of Alignment

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

What’s next?  It’s a question that I find myself asking just about everyday as I prepare to write and share with you a short story with a big truth.  As I was sharing yesterday at church, to introduce the message I used an illustration.  After I had written Monday’s story, Judy told me, “when you told that story in the sermon I said to myself, that is tomorrow’s story.”  Well, my wife is rarely wrong so here we go a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short.

A couple of years ago we bought a “new to us” car.  It was a 2014 Volkswagen Jetta.  I drove all the way up near St. Louis to look at their lot full of Jetta cars.  Volkswagen had gotten in trouble about emissions and recalled all their diesel cars.  It took them a couple of years to get them fixed and rerelease them to the market.  Judy and I decided to dive into the diesel market and get one.

So, off I went to St. Louis.  When I arrived, I saw dozens and dozens of VW Jettas.  However, the problem was most of them were in pretty rough shape.  Apparently as the owners turned them in, they decided to treat them like an unloved dog.  Even after they cleaned them up it was pretty apparent they had lived a hard-knock life.  So with my trusty salesman by my side, I went from car to car to car—with no luck.  I’m pretty particular about cars and these were not making the cut.

Finally, after checking almost every car in my price range, we found one that was not as perfect as I wanted, but it was the best one available.  I drove it and liked it and before long it was ours.  Driving it home I noticed that the VW emblem on the steering wheel was not pointing straight up.  Hmmmm.  But trying to control my perfectionism I chose to ignore it—for a while.

So, even though it was “Judy’s car”, it had to go.  I asked my super mechanic, Chris, if we could pull the steering wheel and straighten it up.  He said, “You don’t have a steering wheel problem, you have a front end problem. You need a front end alignment.”  Well, what about that. I had noticed the car was not wanting to stay straight on the highway but I didn’t think too much about it.  I should have.

After we got the front end aligned and sure enough there is was—the VW emblem was straight up and down.  Yay—I said. Problem solved…and it was.  However, the problem was, I had waited too late.  Then, I was looking at my front tires and realized that the outside tread was virtually gone…outta there. My choice to ignore and live with a problem ended up costing me nearly $500.00 dollars for new tires.  Bummer.  Big bummer. Oftentimes procrastination can be very expensive.

Life can be like a car out of alignment. It got me thinking, what in our lives might be a little misaligned, out of balance?  What habit, what misplaced priority, what sins are we hiding, ignoring, or choosing to not take care of? I know, it seems easier not to worry about it, but truth be known, the longer we wait the more it costs. The longer we wait the bigger the consequences and the greater the regrets.  It has been said that if you aim for the moon and are less than one degree off you will end up somewhere, but it won’t be the moon…it might be Mars.

Solomon, one of the smartest guys in Bible, said it best. He said that we should learn to trust in the Lord with everything we’ve got, and don’t try to figure it out on our own. He goes on to say that in all our ways check with Him and He will make our paths straight. Make. Our. Paths. Straight.  In other words, if the steering wheel on our life is crooked, He can give us the realignment that we need.  He can make our lives straight.

Well, I don’t know about you but I think I will save the $500.00 next time and head to the alignment place as soon as I notice something’s going wrong.  I think I’m gonna do the same thing with life.  When my “VW emblem” is a little crooked or I find myself pulling away from the One who loves me most—I’m gonna head to the Master mechanic and let Him check me out.  I can trust Him.  The Creator always knows the creation best.  I’ll rest in the waiting room while He works.  I know He’s got this.

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

The “I Want You to Die” Tick

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Romans 13:14

You know there are one or two things that are good about a really cold winter.  And number one is the fact that it kills all the bugs. As you remember, last winter wasn’t very cold. I’m not sure what you thought about last winter’s weather, but apparently the local tick population thought it was just fine.  Even around my house—and I live on the main drag in Harrisburg—we have had to check every once in a while to make sure we didn’t pick up any unwanted hitchhikers.

Several weeks ago Judy and I went hiking in a wooded area.  The trail we were on was plenty wide but I guess ticks are good jumpers. Later in the week, I was working at my desk at home and I felt just a little itch on my leg.  You know, nothing major—just a “hi—I might need you to scratch me later” itch.  I ignored it.

After a bit, it developed into more.  It went from a “you might need to scratch me” to more of a “hey, now would be a good time to scratch me” itch.  So I did—and when I did, I felt a small bump.  At first I thought it was a small bite and whoever had done it had moved on to greener pastures.  I was wrong.  It was a dirty, rotten, no good, “I want you to die”… tick.  Oh, he wasn’t big—in fact he looked quite innocent. He was only the size of a writing pen head.  Well, I try to be a friendly guy—just not with ticks and especially not with one having dinner—and I’m the meal.  So we departed company and I did my best to make sure he went to the tick afterlife. So long friend…adios. No prayer, no service…just you’re out of here.

So, I thought it was not big deal—but I guess big is relative.  You see, by the next day that little bite site had turned red and was about twice as big as before—and it was still itching—only more.  Now fortunately it was NOT the kind of dirty rotten, no good, “I want you to die” ticks that give us weird diseases. But even so, the spot where he bit me itched for several weeks.  Even a couple of months later while the itch is gone the scar remained.  It hard to imagine that one little tick can cause so much trouble.  Write that one down:  little things can have bigger consequences.

Yep, that’s right.  Some small habit, some little action or inaction, a few seconds of a wandering mind, a few misspoken, unkind words—can have large and lasting consequences. And the worse part is that it doesn’t just affect us—it can and does affect those around us. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because it starts small it stays small. It rarely does.  It really isn’t practical to totally avoid the outdoors so there has to be another way.  A good insect repellent is a good start.

A guy in the Bible named Paul wrote gives us some good advice on how to avoid pesky sins.  He said, “but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to it’s lusts.”  So Paul said the best way to avoid the aggravation and consequences of sin is to give yourself a good smattering of Jesus and then avoid sin wherever and whenever it is likely to jump on.  The truth is the more we read the Bible and apply it and the more we act like Jesus the less likely we will find ourselves infested with pesky, troublesome sin.  Trust me…life is just better.

Well, the site where the friendly little tick decided to visit is finally about gone but it was a journey to get here.  The bottom line is it would just be better to avoid it in the first place. The old saying an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is so true.  That is also true in avoiding ticks and it is true in avoiding sin. One thing is for sure.  It is good to know that God is more than willing to help us know when there’s a pesky sin close by.  All we have to do is ask, and He will help.  Mark it down…we can rest assured with Him close by.  He’s got this.

Posted in Military memories, Scripture

Minot Memories – Walking on Ice

Do not love the world [its ways, it principles] or the things in the world. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions—is not from the Father, but is from the world.” 1 John 2:15-16

You know, some folks are just slow learners.  My time in Minot was short—from October to April—but filled with memories.  The base was about 20 miles from town and only a couple of guys had cars. We would load up and drive into town at negative twenty degrees with all the windows down to play “freeze out.” We would see how long we could stand the cold.   The radio would be blaring John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads.”  Hey, there wasn’t a lot to do—especially in Minot in the dead of winter.

So, as a southern boy, this cold weather stuff was all new to me.  Some things I just couldn’t get the hang of.  One of those was walking on ice.  Now I had been walking since I was about 18 months old.  The difference was up in Minot you have to learn to walk on ice.  The winter of 1972-73 was a great opportunity to do so. I was able to go home for Christmas. I was dreaming of a green and not white Christmas.  Up until that time it had been cold, but we had very little snow.  That was kinda unusual—especially for Minot.

Well, while I was home for Christmas they had a whopper snow —and I’m not talking about Burger King.  Something like two feet of snow fell.  But what happened after the snow was chilling—literally.  It melted…all of it.  Somehow it got well above freezing for a week or so which melted the snow and then it happened.  The temperature plunged to below zero and stayed there.  Forever.

What was left behind were vast sheets of ice.  Everywhere you looked or walked there was ice.  I didn’t have a car which meant I had to walk to and from work.  So I would put on my arctic parka, my arctic gloves, pull my arctic hood up and take a hike. I would walk one way going and another way coming.  Going to work was not a deal.  I managed to make it without falling…or at least not multiple times.  Going home?  Well, that’s a different story.

About halfway there I would have to walk around the corner of a building.  So, off I go.  I get to this corner and not paying attention, stepped onto a sheet of ice. Bam.  In two seconds flat- I was flat on my back.  Because of the parka nothing was damaged except my pride.  Score one for the ice.  Day two.  I’m walking home and come to the exact same spot.  I eye the ice and ever so carefully step on and in two seconds flat I am flat on my back.  Bummer.  I crawl back upright, making sure no one is watching, and press on.

Day three. I get to the corner for the third time.  I know the ice is there.  In fact, we’ve become close friends.  I gingerly step on the ice…nothing happens.  As I take my second step in two seconds flat -I am flat on my back.  Excuse me?  Is this Ground Hog Day or what?  Anyway, for the third time I crawl off the ice and head on back to the dorm.  By this time more than my pride was bruised.

I know what you are thinking. Why don’t you take a different path?  Why did you keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.  The answer is…I don’t have a clue.  Thought I could beat it? Thought it was closer? Thought if I fell enough I would break the ice before it broke me?  I don’t know.  I was stubborn. I was a slow learner. I was doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Isn’t that what we do in life?  Don’t we journey along and come to a decision point and fall flat? Don’t we sometimes do it again on Day 2? Day 3?  You know, walking on ice is one thing.  However, flirting with disaster, the kind that has big regrets and bigger consequences, that is another. God knows this and tells us not to fall in love with the world—its ways, its principles, its stuff.  Remember your mama saying, don’t date someone you don’t want to marry?  Same principle.  Flirt with the world, date the world and you’ll end up marrying the world.

John—the guy in the Bible—says in 1 John 2:16, “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions—is not from the Father, but is from the world.” When you say, “I do” with the world you end of with twins—regrets and consequences. Life is harder…a lot harder.  Harder than walking on ice.

So, I finally did take a different route. They say that three times is a charm.  It took me four but I did learn.  On day four…I didn’t fall. I didn’t fall on day five either. In fact, I don’t remember falling again.  Why? I didn’t go that way. I chose a different route and that route, that path, had different consequences—better consequences. They also say that three strikes and you are out.  True in baseball but fortunately it isn’t true with God. He keeps picking us up, dusting us off and helping us find the right path—one with less ice.  When I fell I would quickly look to make sure no one was watching.  When we fall in life we can rest assured someone is watching…our Abba Father.  He’s got is His eye on us. So, be careful out there it can be pretty icy but don’t worry you aren’t alone.  He’s always there. Rest in Him knowing He will be there to pick you up.  After all, He’s got this.