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

Facing Down Mortality

Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in Me and believes in Me will never ever die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

I look and see my mortality.  Now don’t think for a moment this is one of those “Debbie Downer” stories.  In fact, in a way, it might be the best news you will hear all day, all week, well, for always.  So, I am sixty-six years old.  I know, I can’t believe it either. And all around me are signs that I am mortal.  Remember that—all of us are mortal. I have been at my present position as a pastor for 20 years.  I came to the church I serve in 2000 when I was 46 years old.  I must have dozed off because just like that 20 years of life have ticked off the calendar.  My children are married, I have eight grandchildren and Judy and I have now been married 44 years.  And the best part?  It has been, and is, a great ride.

But then I did the math.  When, and if, the next 20 years tick off the clock called life, I will be 86 years old.  I find that astounding.  We Taylor boys don’t have a real good track record when it comes to longevity.  Three of my four brothers, all older than me, have already moved to heaven.  Our clock is ticking and we don’t know when the last tick will come.  It is a sobering thought.  But stay with me.

I live my life by the calendar.  I speak to my church every Wednesday and every Sunday. It seems I no more finish one message before it is time to deliver the next.  The weeks fly by.  Every first of the month I speak on the radio on a local program called “The Baptist Hour.”  My tag line is, “Can you believe another month has come and gone?” And the answer each month is, “No, I really can’t.” I remember on the first of February, after a speedy January, I made a joke about it being Christmas before we know it.  Well, next week is the first of October and Christmas is indeed just around the corner. Time flies by.  It is a sobering thought.  But stay with me.

Part of “The Baptist Hour” is the reading of the funeral arrangements of those who recently died.  Invariably there are several, often more than a few.  I’m learning that too often the names being read belong to people my age or younger.  Recently an acquaintance in our small town suddenly died—a massive heart attack.  He was younger than me.  That really caused me to stop and ponder.  It was a sobering thought.  But stay with me.

Here’s what I am learning.  Time is relative.  We are eternal beings made and destined to spend forever somewhere.  That destination doesn’t depend on good or bad, church or no church, religion or not.  Does that surprise you?  You see, heaven isn’t for good people and hell isn’t for bad people. No, where we spend eternity is about forgiveness of sin and that forgiveness is a free gift from God to anyone…anyone…who asks.  I believe faith in Jesus is the only way to heaven. I know that sounds narrow but when you consider that God invites everyone to the party—well, it is really pretty broad. We read in the Bible that the payment for sin is death and radically Jesus came for one purpose—to willingly die and pay that price.

So, if we are eternal beings and if we place our trust, our faith in this one of a kind, God-man named Jesus, that means that when we die we can spend eternity in this place called heaven.  When Jesus said that if anyone would believe in Him they would never die—that’s what He meant. And then He closes with that all important question, “Do you believe this?”

With Jesus in the equation, death isn’t the end, it is a beginning.  That might sound wacky to you.  However, before you chuck it out I challenge you to check it out.  Get a copy of the Bible and read the four different accounts or stories about Jesus—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You might find yourself intrigued and amazed.

I read a true story yesterday about a man’s perception of his mortality. This guy happened to be a minister and he went to the doctor and got some sobering news.  He was terminally ill with no chance of recovery. The doctor told him he had about a year to live.  He left the doctor’s office and went to one of his favorite spots—you know, to kinda take it in. Now, allow me to let the man tell his story. “I looked at the river in which I rejoice, and I looked at the stately trees that are always God’s own poetry to my soul. And I said, ‘I may not see you many more times, but mountain, I shall be alive when you are gone; and river, I shall be alive when you cease running toward the sea.’”

Wow…what wonderfully strong words.  If this whole God story is true, and I honestly believe it is, then people who trust that Jesus is the path to God and heaven, will outlive the mountains and the rivers. We may change addresses but we will live forever.  I know this is probably a different kind of story than we usually share together, but I hope it will make us think about what happens next. For myself and so many others, it makes all the sense in the world—and beyond.  I’m grateful for the eternal part but I also love the part of the story that says He is with me now—COVID mess and all.  I can rest in Him and trust in Him because, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, thankful

Funeral at Nain

I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
John 10:25-26

It was an ordinary day.  Jesus was on the move traveling from one small village to another doing what He did–making a difference.  As He was approaching Nain, a stop in the road, He ran into a funeral procession.  We recognize funeral processions by the flashing lights on the hearse followed by cars with headlights on.  He recognized it by the mourning–the funeral wail.  The closer He got, the louder it got.  It was the sound of broken hearts and lives.

In Luke 7:12, we get the details.  It says, “Just as He neared the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was also with her.”  What a tragedy.  A mother had lost her only son to death.  And, according to scripture, he was young. The cause isn’t listed nor does it matter.  Death comes in many forms and is no respecter of persons.  But it was her only son and he died too young. It gets worse.

Luke also shares that she is a widow.  She is facing this dark time alone.  There is no husband to share the grief–it is all hers.  And when the grieving is over she faces a very difficult world.  No source of income, no safety net, no unemployment, no social security–nothing. It’s a bad deal from top to bottom.  And then it happens.

Jesus sees the situation and orders the mourning column of brokenness to stop.  Why?  He has compassion on her.  He knows her story before He is told and He tells her, “Don’t weep.”  It could be an unkind statement akin to “hey, get over it” or “it will be better tomorrow.”  Instead it was a statement of power–the kind of power to change everything.

He walks over and touches the coffin–a big no, no in that culture but Jesus didn’t let rules stop Him from loving, from acting.  He says, “Party’s over death…you’re done.”  Ok, He really said, “young man, I tell you get up.”  And boom–just like that he did.  Now let me tell you when you are at a funeral and the dead person sits up and is alive, the funeral is over and the party begins.  Break out the fried chicken because death is done and Jesus is King.

I love this story…I really do.  I see it played out day, after day, after day.  No…not exactly like this but I, we, see God bringing spiritual dead people to life every day.  And when that happens John 10:25-26 becomes a reality.  There Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. 26. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Wow what power–what assurance. But is all hinges on the last four words, “do you believe this?” “Do we believe this?”

Ok, so these are difficult days.  You might feel like the widow of Nain.  It may feel like your world is imploding around you with all the safety nets gone.  Well, there’s One that will never leave you and His name is Jesus.  Oh, and knowing Him is a game changer. The future that matters–the eternal one–is a guaranteed better day.  In a word, it is heaven. So, as we journey these uncharted waters together remember we never have to be alone–ever.  Jesus wants us to experience His compassion and His salvation.  And listen, when Jesus shows up things change.  He is bigger than anything so rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Father's Day, Grace, gratitude, life

Daddy

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12

He didn’t wear a cape or an iron suit but he was a hero to me.  A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I was born.  It all happened on January 6, 1954 in Orange Park, Florida.  I was number eight in a family of eight. This can’t be confirmed but I think it went something like this.  My daddy was somewhat of a perfectionist and he and my mom had tried seven times to have the perfect child.  He went to my mom and said, “Well, honey, I know we have tried seven times to pull off this perfect child thing and I say we give it one more shot.  I really think eight is going to be our lucky number.”  So, ta-da here I am…living proof that persistence pays off.

My daddy was 42 years old when I was born.  He had plenty of experience at the Father thing and you know, I think he did a great job.  I don’t recall a lot of special events in my early and later childhood but that isn’t because they didn’t happen.  I can remember family camping trips to the beach as well as all night fishing trips to the same.  I can remember family vacations to see relatives in all the hot vacation spots like New Jersey and Texas.  I can remember trips to Silver Springs, Six Gun Territory and Doctor’s Inlet which was a great place to go for a lake swim.  But there are also several memories with just dad and me.

When I was about six, daddy took me fishing on Cedar Creek.  It was just me and him.  At this age, I wasn’t very good at fishing or paying attention.  Truth be known I had a hard time staying focused on anything for very long.  Anyway, the fish were biting that day but I had a hard time watching the bobber.  Over and again, daddy would ask, “Dewayne, where’s your bobber?”  I would look and it was gone.  We lost a lot of good worms that day.

Later, when I was about ten, daddy took me hunting.  The big deal was that he allowed me to take my BB gun.  I wasn’t allowed to carry a real gun; you will see why in a moment.  So, we were walking through the woods and I was about four feet behind dad.  Silent as a F5 tornado, I crept through the woods.  I was too noisy but dad was way patient.   And then, well, I shot him in the back.  Now wait, don’t panic.  It was only a BB gun and he did have his heavy hunting jacket on.  I had my finger on the trigger (oops) and every so slowly and without even realizing it, increased the pressure.  Just like that it went off and got dad square in the back. Bummer.

Do you know what?  He didn’t holler and in fact he didn’t say a single word.  He just looked over his shoulder and gave me that “I’m glad that wasn’t a 12 gauge” look.  I appreciated that and have never forgotten the fact that he could have made me feel “less than” but didn’t.  I’m sure we had a talk about gun safety and it must have worked out  because I never shot him again.

My two favorite memories of him don’t involve a fishing pole or a gun.  They involve God.  Honestly, daddy didn’t go to church a bunch but I know he was a Christian because of the way he lived. Two events, two memories are burned into my mind and heart.  The first is a time when we were having prayer time together as a family.  Some people call it family altar…at the time I probably called it too long.  I remember it was time to pray so we all got down on our knees around the room.  I got a little bored so I peeked and there across the room was my daddy, on his knees, talking to God.  It made a big impression on my young heart.

Later, when I was about 17 I caught daddy praying again.  I came home from a date late one night and there sitting at the kitchen table was my daddy—praying.  With his hands clasped together he was talking to God.  I don’t know what prompted the late night prayer meeting but I know it again made a big impression on me as a young man. And that is the point.  My daddy made an impression on me that impacted so many areas of my life.  Integrity, work ethic, caring and providing for your family and being a man were all part of the core curriculum.

I didn’t get to keep my daddy too much longer.  When I was in high school he had a massive heart attack.  He lived a couple of more years but when he was just 62 and I was 20, God decided to take him home.  Suddenly, on a Sunday morning he went to heaven.  It was hard and is hard to this day.  He never got to meet my wife, children or any of his eight great grandchildren. He never got see much of my career in the Air Force or hear me preach a sermon.  I hope in heaven they keep tabs on us down here and I hope I’ve made my hero proud.

Well, now that we are all sad and weepy let me throw this in.  Whether you are young or older, take the time this Father’s Day, and every day, to tell your dad (and mom) how much you appreciate them.  One of God’s big commands is that we honor our parents and when we do—we honor Him.  There’s no better way to do that than to tell them and show them that you love them. I know things don’t always work out with dads and if that is the case with you I am so sorry.  My dad wasn’t perfect…none are but his love outweighed his warts. If you are a Jesus follower, I hope you can extend some grace…just like God did to you.  And always remember, you have a Heavenly Father who is perfect, who always gets it right. He’s always waiting for you to crawl up in His lap and take a rest.  And the icing on the cake is He is stronger than a super hero…and because of that, He’s got this.