Posted in Family, fear, life, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel

Incognito

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Psalm 23:5

I could relate to King David. Judy and I decided to make a return visit to North Georgia recently.  We discovered this gem of a place in July on our way to spend a few days with our family in Florida.  We picked this area as a stopover on the way and it was just a tremendous area to explore.  We enjoyed some great hiking, waterfalls, and other beautiful places where God just showed off His creation. It was so good…we decided on a return visit.  We made reservations for November because we knew we would be spending some time with family again—this time in Pigeon Forge.  Toccoa, the town where we stay, was just three hours south of there so it was a great opportunity to return.

Once again we found the area just full of great places to visit.  Incredible trails and waterfalls seemed to be around every curve.  Amazing.  Another novelty of the area is the fact that it is close to a couple of other states.  It is very close to one in particular.  That would be South Carolina. In fact, it wasn’t just close to South Carolina, it just happened to be very close to Clemson…home of, you guessed it, Clemson University.

To most, Clemson is just another fine southern university.  But for me, and for many, it is something else.  Clemson is famous for its football team, famous for winning the national championship (January 2020) and finally, famous for beginning and remaining number one in the national ranks for the 20-21 football season.  That is, until they met Notre Dame.  If you read my stories, you probably know that this is one Baptist preacher who likes, no, loves Notre Dame football.  Some things transcend denominations!

A couple of weeks before our trip to North Georgia, Notre Dame and Clemson collided on the gridiron.  After two overtimes the game ended with the Fighting Irish defeating Clemson. How sweet it was.  So, when I found myself right next door to South Carolina, and despite the fact that it was close to the home of Clemson University, we decided it would be a great place to take a hike. I did however decide it wouldn’t be wise to wear my Notre Dame hoodie. You know, just to be safe. Wisdom. We went hiking in a place called Brasstown Falls and the falls were amazing.  How can something that beautiful be so close to Clemson?

Since it was past lunch time, we decided to go ahead and eat while we were in the area.   We drove a little closer and found ourselves about ten minutes from their campus.  We were literally in their backyard. I was incognito—you know, undercover, but I wanted so bad to tell our server that I was a Notre Dame fan.  I wanted to kinda, sorta, pour some salt in her football wound but I did resist.  I wasn’t being humble, I was just afraid she might sabotage my food.  You see, football is serious business in this neck of the woods. Turns out, she was a great server and we had a delicious meal, which, in spite of the “danger” of being in enemy territory, we greatly enjoyed.  We finished and then we escaped back across the border.

So, that’s why I kinda felt like King David in the Bible.  You see, he was the arch enemy of the guy who was currently king, and who wanted to do him in.  The deal was that God had anointed David to be King while Saul, the other guy, was still in office.  It was pretty dicey. But David knew one thing…God was greater than Saul or anyone else for that matter.  He was so sure of it he would later write something that became pretty famous—the 23rd Psalm.  In that Psalm, David talked about how God had prepared a table for him to eat right in the presence of his enemies.  How could that be? I mean I would have indigestion knowing my enemy was right there.  But not David.  Do you know why? The bottom line is that David was sure that he was safe anywhere because God was in control.  God.Was.In.Control.

Now I know I was in absolutely no danger in Clemson’s backyard, but I am also sure I would have gotten some stares if I had worn my Notre Dame colors. But what about other times?  What about unemployment times? What about COVID times? What about high stress times? What about “I’m sorry to tell you but…” times? Well, let me tell you what I know.  God would be there and God will be there. We don’t have to worry—we don’t have to fret.

I don’t know if God prefers Notre Dame over Clemson or if He even likes football, but I do know that He loves me and He loves you.  He has this incredible plan for His kids and when we are within the will of His plan…well, it is a great, safe place to be. We can sit down in the presence of those who would harm us or things that could destroy us and rest and know that He watches over us.  I like that. I know that whatever tomorrow holds, He is already there.  I can sit down and eat a big old meal right across from the Clemson football team in my blue and gold and rest in Him because I know, “He’s got this.” 

Posted in Family, life, priorities, sovereignty of God

It Ain’t Over

I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2

Siri gave me the bad news.  I am a pastor. I’m not sure what you do on Saturday nights, but I know what is on my schedule.  Forever, well almost forever, my Saturday nights have been reserved for doing the final studying for the message I am to deliver the next morning.  My wife and I don’t generally accept any kind of engagements on that special night because, well, it is a big priority.  Now, there is one kinda, sorta, exception.  Notre Dame football.

I am not sure how it all started, but a long time ago I became a Notre Dame football fan. It really is the only thing in the sports world that I consistently follow.  I’m not a huge sports fan, however, college football and Notre Dame football in particular, ranks pretty high with me.  If I know there is a Notre Dame game schedule for Saturday night I will try and study earlier in the day to free up some time to watch the game that night.  This past Saturday, despite all my good intentions, that just didn’t happen.  That meant that the Irish would have to play largely without me.  Now what made that particularly difficult was the Irish, ranked number four in the nation, was playing Clemson who was ranked number one.  It was going to be a good game.

So what is a pastor/Notre Dame fan supposed to do?  Well, I watched bits and pieces of the game and occasionally would ask Siri on my Apple watch what the score was.  The Irish started off strong with a touchdown and by halftime had a pretty comfortable lead.  I was ecstatic.  I tuned in and out for most of the evening.  I checked in somewhere and the lead had shrunk to four points.  I figured I best not check in anymore or else the crowd at church was going to get a half-baked sermon.  So I studied, and wrote and wrote and studied.  Finally, about 9:45 pm or so I couldn’t resist the urge any longer.  I asked Siri, “Hey Siri, what’s the score in the Notre Dame football game?”  Her response was discouraging. No, it was devastating.

In her chirpy, Siri voice, totally indifferent to the pain she was about to cause, she said, “Notre Dame is losing to Clemson by a score of 26 to 33 with two minutes remaining.”  What?  I was studying about joy and mine plummeted like a roller coaster on a greased track.  I muttered under my breath (never mind what I muttered) and studied a bit more before calling it quits.  I went to bed.  Notre Dame hadn’t lost a home game in forever and tonight that streak was going to end.  Bummer.

The next morning, after some coffee, I picked up the sermon to give it the final look over.  After a while, I went over to the computer to look something up and my email app was open.  I took a moment to scan the list of emails that had come over night.  Halfway down the list my glaze came to a screeching halt.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  I get a regular email from a company that sells sports stuff.  I especially like their fan gear like Notre Dame hoodies.  If the Irish win, they will send out an email that declares their victory and then offer a special discount to celebrate.  And…there it was.

The brief summary in the email list said it all, “Irish Beat Clemson.” Whoa…what?  As fast as a rabbit running from a bobcat, I opened the email and saw that the Irish had indeed beat Clemson in a double overtime thriller by a score of 47 to 40.  Fortunately, my Hopper thing from Dish records primetime and it had recorded the game.  As fast as I could I turned on the television, went to the DVR and clicked the button and there was the game in all its glory.  I cheated and watched the final two minutes but saved the rest for later. I got to watch the thriller ending after all…and it was incredible.  Go Irish.  Baptist or not—I love Notre Dame football.

Here is the amazing part.  I went to bed Saturday night assuming that my team had lost. Down seven with two minutes to play—no way.  But I should have known better because the Irish are famous for thrilling finishes but most of them don’t involve the number one team who had a 37 game winning streak…the reigning national champs.  Yup, I went to bed a loser and woke up a winner.  You just never know what is going to happen. It is true with Notre Dame football, but better yet it is true in life—especially when God is the head coach.

Life can be pretty difficult…especially these days.  We have never seen so many uncertainties from so many directions and all at the same time.  It is easy to think that we’ve lost the game.  It is easy to go to bed thinking all is lost, game over.  But God has an amazing way of turning it all around.  An old quote says, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” Well, I don’t know who this lady is and you shouldn’t call people fat anyway, but let me tell—with God in the mix she isn’t even humming her first bar of music.  I’m trying to say, don’t give up…don’t be discouraged. You, or it, may seem like a lost cause but never, never is that true with God on your side.

I’ve heard some people say they like to read the end of a book first to see how things turn out.  Well, I have read the end of His Book—and He wins in the end.  Job, who knew all about hot mess circumstances said, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”  Wow. You see, as I watched my recorded version of the game—even knowing the outcome—I winced at some missteps and cheered for every score.  And the best part—I rested knowing that nothing I was about to see could change that outcome.  The Irish were going to win.  If you are a Jesus follower, no matter how crazy life gets, no matter how it seems God can’t pull it out—just rest in knowing He can. Nothing can change His planned outcome in this game called life.  With Jesus you can rest assured, He’s got this.