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

Learning to Speak Love

Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35b

It was, well, amazing.  I like to receive presents.  I love to receive presents.  Some guy wrote a book about the five love languages and basically, he said that everyone has at least one love language.  If you want to “ring someone’s bell” or “top off their love tank”, you do it by speaking their love language.  Well, my two primary love languages are gifts and words of affirmation.  Every time one of you leaves a kind comment about Grits, the nozzle goes in my love tank and fills it up.  How about that?

Well, my other love language is this gift thing.  When someone gives me something, it just rings my bell.  Several years ago, a friend visited Gettysburg and brought me back a set of coasters.  It was totally unexpected, and it just rang my bell.  He probably thought, “What’s the deal, dude?  It is only a set of coasters.” But no, it was more.  It said, “I thought of you.”  And, several years later it still brings a smile to my face.  We have a couple of good friends that like to travel and they often bring me a souvenir of their travels and it is always blesses me. Boom—a full love tank.

Well, something happened recently that was pretty awesome.  We have a family who is part of our church family and they are just a special group of people.  It is hard to put a finger on it but words like authentic and caring come to mind.  Well, a couple of weeks ago after our morning service, the mom in this family came up to me and was just beaming—and I mean beaming with joy and excitement. Her entire countenance said, “Something good had happened.”  I wasn’t sure what it was, but I couldn’t wait to hear what it was.  I was in for a surprise.

Here is what tumbled out of her mouth.  “We bought you something and I couldn’t wait to tell you.  I know I was supposed to wait but I just couldn’t.  I saw this on Facebook and said, “We have to buy this for Bro. Dewayne.”  She bubbled and bubbled, and I was in awe.  The gift was the “Fingerprint” of God.  It was a print in the shape of a fingerprint and the fingerprint was made from a scripture from each book in the Bible.  It sounded amazing and when it came in and they gave it to me, it was.  It will soon have a home in my church office, and it will have a story…this story.

You see, the gift really was amazing, but the unseen gift was equally so.  What was the unseen gift?  It was their—her—unbridled, unlimited joy and enthusiasm in not “getting” a gift but “giving” one.  Her joy in giving this special print to me, her friend, and her pastor, touched me and taught me.  It touched me that this special family made a sacrifice and bought me this gift.  It taught me that just like Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  I have heard that verse for many, many years and have seen it on display at different levels.  But this time…this act of love taught me what it really means.

I have to wonder if this is what it is like when a person comes to follow Jesus for the first time.  I mean the Bible says God throws a party. The Bible says that all heaven breaks loose when someone comes home.  I can just imagine the smile on Jesus’ face when a person He loves and died for finally gets it and trusts Him.  I bet it looks at least something like the face of this family and especially my friend who shared the news with me, “We bought you something.”  We want to..wait for it…not get, but give.  Amazing.

Though I love to travel and try and go to Africa once a year, I have always struggled with learning a new language.  But I wonder if that might need to change?  Maybe today, maybe this week, maybe I, maybe you, need to learn a new language.  No, I’m not talking Swahili—I’m talking about someone’s love language.  Someone in your world, your spouse, your kids, your neighbor ,or maybe someone else.  Learn what tops their love tank and do it.

The guy who wrote the book says the love languages are gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, and quality time. Why not learn and practice someone’s love language today?  If you are like me and struggle with learning (I can barely speak English), just ask the Father for a little help.  He will be more than glad to help you.  He loves it when His kids can speak love.  Yup…He’s got that too.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, wisdom

Their Best

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12

It was our second trip to West Africa.  We were back on the dry sandy desert fringes of Niger doing a food distribution.  It was such a barren land made worse by an ongoing drought.  The people would do just about anything for food.  While we had prepared to feed many of the people, truthfully, we couldn’t feed them all.  So, families with the greatest need were chosen.  We would go to their villages the day before the food distribution and meet with them and do some registration work before the distribution.

It is hard to describe the poverty there.  Simply put, most of the people had nothing.  They had little food and little water but something amazing happened everywhere we went.  We would gather with the leaders and the people in their village.  We would give them a word of greeting and then they would greet us.  All of this, of course, was done with the help of interpreters.  After a while, we would complete the necessary paperwork and finalize details for them to come to main village the next day.  And then, it would be time to say goodbye for the day.

This was a repeat of the greeting we had done when we arrived.  They would graciously thank us for coming and we would graciously thank them for allowing us to come.  Then it happened…every time.  These incredibly poor people would present us with gifts.  Often it was some sort of leather craft decorated according to their customs and their people group.  It was such a gracious act of kindness and we always left feeling incredibly blessed.  They who had so little gave to us who had so much.

It was the last appointment of the day.  We drove and drove—it was more than several kilometers.  When we arrived at the site, we realized it wasn’t a village it was just a meeting place.  The people we were to meet were truly nomads.  Someone had set up a large tent made from skins and rugs to offer some shade from the searing Saharan Desert sun.  When we arrived, there was one or two people there but soon many more arrived and the area under the tent was filled with five white guys and a bunch of men whose skin was tough like leather and tanned a deep brown.  Then we really saw it.

In the middle of the tent and now surrounded by people sat a medium sized metal bowl.  In the bowl was what can only be described as dirty, brown water.  As I looked at the bowl you could see something swimming.  It was the larva from some sort of insect native to Niger. I assumed that perhaps this was for us to wash our hands though I was quite certain my hands were cleaner than the water in the bowl.  I would soon find out that the water wasn’t for washing.

Soon the greeting started.  We thanked them for letting us come and they thanked us for coming.  Then someone in their group made the presentation.  It wasn’t a brightly colored trinket…it was the gift of water.  And the brown water in the bowl wasn’t for washing hands soiled by the West African dust.  No, it was a portion of their precious drinking water. That brown water with larva swimming it in was what they drank every day, and they were offering something very precious to them—something they could ill afford to give.

Ordinarily, we would try and eat or drink what they offered, but our missionary knew, and we knew, that one drink of this water would make us very seriously ill.  So, through the interpreter our missionary explained that while we deeply appreciated their kindness and generosity, we could not partake in the water for that reason.  They certainly understood so the water remained throughout our visit. At the end we reversed the greeting process and climbed aboard our four-wheel drive for the long drive back to where we were staying.

The ride was quieter than normal.  Each one of us was clearly aware of what had just happened.  We all were pierced to our hearts over this act of immense generosity and the immense blessings that God had graciously poured on our lives.  Mission trips tend to do this to anyone who travels to a third world country.  There is always some kind of guilt over having so much while those you serve have so little.  But understanding God’s grace and humbly serving others at least helps.  But it always changes you.  It always marks your life.

In my mind’s eye I can clearly see the bowl of water all these years later.  I can still see the people coming through the gate after walking kilometers to get their food.  I can still see them trying to manage the heavy bags of rice and millet.  But something was missing.  Not one person complained about the lack of a vehicle to carry their load.  Each was just grateful to be able to eat that night.  And, yes, we were changed again.  I would like to think that a little of their gratitude rubbed off on us and that it still remains.  I know we will never forget those eleven or twelve days in Niger.

You don’t have to go to Africa, or Haiti, or Nicaragua, or London, or China, or Bulgaria, or the Philippines or wherever to serve.  Each of us are missionaries on a mission field and each of us can serve others…just like Jesus did.  One day He was sitting on a hillside teaching the people and He said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” It really is that simple. It won’t get you to heaven…God’s grace and faith in what Jesus did on the cross does that. But it is an opportunity to be like Him…to love like Him.  It’s a tall order but don’t worry, you know that He’s got this too. 

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, Scripture, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

The Rock

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” James 1:17

The Rock.  If you talk to someone that has done “hard time” they will probably think you are talking about Alcatraz.  If you talk to someone who likes action movies, they will probably think you are talking about Dewayne “The Rock” Johnson.  But if you are talking to me or my wife Judy, then we will know you are talking about “the rock.”  It’s a long story.

Judy and I met and fell in love in short order.  I walked into her church one Wednesday night. I asked her out the next week and ever since then we have been a “we”.  We were together as much as possible—we wanted to be together as much as possible. Since my Daddy had passed away that summer, Mama decided to spend Thanksgiving with my brother Joe up in the mountains, and I was invited to come join them.  It was a deal because I really wanted to be with Judy, but I knew my place was with family and my Mama especially.  So, I went.  I told Judy I would miss her and I would bring her something back from the mountains.

Now I’m known for doing crazy things—it’s just me. While in the mountains I tried to think of something to take to Judy.  It didn’t seem appropriate to take her a typical souvenir, so I got an idea.  I would take her part of the mountains. I went out and found a rock. It was about the size of a pumpkin roll…elongated and was even orange with white stripes. As Thanksgiving rocks go…it was a pretty, good one.  I washed it up and put it in the car.  Game. Set. Match.

I’m sure in the book of love etiquette there is a chapter on what to bring your love when you go to the mountains.  I am also sure if I had read that chapter a rock would not have made the cut.  But hey, I was inexperienced.  So I get back to Valdosta where I was stationed in the Air Force and where Judy lived.  After the appropriate amount of hugs and kisses I presented her with her gift.  She seemed thrilled and seemed to appreciate my thoughtfulness.  Please note the word seemed.

Time goes by.  We were married a while later and the rock made the trip from her parent’s house to our new apartment.  We later received orders to Germany and the rock made the trip with us.  When we came home from Germany and moved to our new duty assignment in Warrensburg, Missouri, the rock came with us. And on and on it went.  To the home we built in Warrensburg, to the little parsonage in LaMonte, where I had my first full-time pastorate, to Cobden, Illinois where we pastored for 14 years.  Finally, it came with us to Harrisburg. It was part of the family. It was more than a pet rock it was “the rock.”

About ten years ago, around 2010, somehow the topic of the rock came up. I was sharing how endeared I was to the rock—how important it was and then it happened.  Judy told me she never liked the rock.  She told me that she wasn’t thrilled all those years ago. She only pretended to be thrilled to make me happy.  The bottom line was the rock was just a rock.  Oh, the agony.  Oh, the pain. Oh the “you’ve got to be kidding me.”  Here I’ve been hauling this rock all over the world for nothing.  I knew I should have gotten her one of those Smoky Mountain snow globes!

Well, like a pet who’s forgotten how to be potty trained, the rock was moved to the yard. It was still special to me, so it now sits on the grave of one of my favorite pets.  Somehow that just seemed appropriate and if I were to move tomorrow—yes, the rock would go.  If nothing else, it is a monument on what not to bring the girl you love from the mountains.  I’m glad that God is better at gifts than I am.  It seems—no, it more than seems, that He always gets it right.

He talks a lot about gifts in His Book.  He loads us up day after day.  Every sunrise and sunset is a gift.  Every breath is a gift.  Every fall leaf that floats to the ground full of color is a gift.  We just have to look and recognize all that He gives us.  James, one of Jesus’ half-brothers, wrote that every good gift, every perfect gift comes down from our Dearest Daddy.  He just loves to shower us with His best and He does it again and again.

Well, it was no accident that I brought a souvenir rock home that year, it was no accident it was orange with white stripes, and it was no accident that it is still with us. In fact, the word souvenir is from the French, meaning “a memento, keepsake, or a token of remembrance  which a person acquires for the memories the owner associates with it.” How about that! Still I guess it wasn’t the right gift for her on that day. Today though, it is the right motivation to remind us this year, above all years, to be grateful for a God, a Heavenly Father, who is oh so generous to His kids.  Why not sit down today and make a list of all the things God has provided?  Take your time…take a rest and when you are done…read the list to Him and say “thank-you, Father.”  And then for all the things that are oh-so much bigger than you—for the things that just look like rocks, give them to Him because He’s got this.

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, Military memories, prayer, Scripture, thankful, travel

Welcome to Knob Noster

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

We had to have the wrong address. Judy and I came home after living three years in Germany and headed to our new duty assignment. We stopped in Georgia to visit with family for a couple of weeks and then headed to Missouri.  We were assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Missouri.  Yes, friend, there is a Knob Noster.  We arrived there only to find out that the State Fair was being held about twenty miles away.  There were no hotel rooms. Nada. None. Period.

Knob Noster only had a couple of small hotels and both said they were full.  Judy was expecting and I was starting to feel like the Bible story of Mary and Joseph.  You know, the whole no room deal.  Well, the one place said try back that afternoon and maybe someone will check out.  They did and we had a room.

First, you need to understand this was back in 1980 so there was no internet to check ratings and all of that.  Second, the bottom line it was the only room in town.  Third, it was bad—as in not good.  Bad as in bugs.  Bad as in bad.  But still, we were grateful.  It was a place to sleep.  God is good. Probably though, I need to be more specific next time when I ask for a place to stay. I needed to learn from Judy.

The very next day we start looking for a place to live.  There was a town called Warrensburg about ten miles from the base.  It had a small university and was a nice midwestern small town.  Unfortunately, housing options were very limited.  The few places the real estate person showed us were small, dated and pricey.  Now Judy had this prayer thing down.  She had asked God for a house with a fireplace.  My expectations weren’t that high. I had asked God for a house without bugs.  She was much more creative than me.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure God was going to pull off either one of our requests.  And then he came along.

No, it wasn’t God but he was God’s delivery man.  His name was Mario—like the brothers. He kinda looked like Danny DeVito. He too was a real estate agent and he had heard us talking with the other agent.  He came over and introduced himself. He said, “You know, I have a house that I had built but haven’t been able to sell.  I might be willing to rent it to you.”  He gave us the address and told us go and check it out. It was just outside of town in a neighborhood called, “Valley View.”

We drove out and turned in and started checking addresses.  At the end of the first road we had to go left or right on Valley View Circle.  We went left and began looking for house number 209.  Soon, on the right, was number 209.  But wait…this couldn’t be the right place.  It was a new, beautiful three bedroom split level brick home.  We were shocked  and said, “No, this can’t be right.”  We went and peeked in the windows.  “No, no way. Must have the wrong address.” And then we saw it.  A massive chimney connected to a big fireplace.

Well, this was too much. Judy and I were beyond excited. This was more, so much more, than we ever expected in our wildest expectations.  We immediately went back to the real estate office and hunted down Mario.  “Well,” he said, “I’ve changed my mind.  Sorry, no deal.”  Naw…just kidding.  He said he liked us, trusted us and would be willing to work with us.  The bottom line is he rented it to us at below market value.  He said he would need a security deposit and we told him we didn’t have anything saved up.  He readily agreed to tack $25 a month onto the rent till we had that covered.  Oh, and of course, it was refundable. 

So, that is how Judy and I moved into our Cinderella castle at 209 Valley View Circle. Oh, and the yard needed landscaping, so he paid me to do that and took it off the rent. Amazing.  You have probably already guessed that this is one of our favorite God stories.  I still smile as I write this because it is just one example of how God has showered us with His love and grace.  A fireplace? Really? New brick home?  Yup. God is good.

Now God wasn’t good because He gave us a really nice house when there was no way we could afford one.  God wasn’t even good because He gave Judy a fireplace.  No, God is just good.  Sometimes it is very obvious and sometimes it takes a little faith to see it.  But He is good.  Someone once said, “God is good and He is good at being God.”  I was thankful for the Knob Noster Motel (bugs and all) because it was better than sleeping in our car.  But I was also thankful for the time He gave us our wildest dream. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” I know that is probably talking about heaven but I think it has to apply here too. Over the years there have been some real winner mountaintops when God just showed off. But do you know what?  There have been some valleys too. Hard times when we couldn’t see the next step.  The big take away has always been, “God is good. God is faithful. God can be trusted.”  So, I’m gonna lay my head down tonight and rest in Him believing that.  After all, He’s got this.”

Posted in Mother's Day

Mother’s Day–The Hard Way

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

“So,” I asked, “what do you want for Mother’s Day?”  I mean, it was a good question and a timely question.  It was a question that I asked too many times the week before “the day.”  It reached a point where anytime I started a sentence with the word “so” she gave me “the look.”

Mother’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries are all a little difficult when it comes to Judy.  “Why” you ask? Well, one she is not a “gifty” person. Now “gifty” is not a word; I made it up.  It means one who needs gifts. I am a “gifty” person.  Second, she’s pretty content.  She’s not really heavy into the stuff thing.  She doesn’t particularly like or need jewelry, candy, or even pe-can pie.  I know, it’s hard to believe!

Well, it was Saturday before “the day.”  No matter how not “gifty” Judy is, I needed to do something.  She deserved it and I didn’t want to go to jail.  So, I decided to try one more time. “So, Judy,” I said, “what are we going to do about this Mother’s Day thing?  It is tomorrow.”  At first I thought I was going to get the look but instead she said, “I know what.”  That worried me because she had a smile on her face.  It was that “you should have quit while you were ahead smile.”  She said, “You can dig up plants for me.”

“Dig up plants?” I muttered but it was too late. The deed was done.  The deal sealed. I agreed and after stalling for a few minutes followed her out to the yard.  She took me to a spot under a large crepe myrtle where some lilirope had taken over.  So this was it.  With a stiff upper lip I attacked those pesky, rooty plants and ripped them from the ground. “Teach you to grow, you, you, plant you” I muttered.  It was a battle but one I eventually won.  I thought I had won the day but I think the muttering under my breath kinda spoiled the deal.

To make up for the muttering we started tackling these killer rose bushes.  They had some dead branches that needed to go.  Now you need to understand these bushes had thorns on their thorns.  Well, before long, blood was shed…and I muttered.  I was pretty sure I was going to have to call the Red Cross for a unit of blood before we were done.  I thought, “Surely this will win the prize.  Game, set, match.”  Nope, that stinking muttering under my breath about shedding blood spoiled things again.  I think I ended up tired, bleeding and empty handed.  I never should have muttered.  Judy calls it “losing the blessing.” I call it a real dumb move.

So, I was sitting on the patio after the medics had bandaged my arm and gave me CPR (smile) and then it occurred to me.  You know, this is what we do with God.  We tell Him how much we love Him.  We offer to do anything for Him. “Just speak the Word, Lord, and I will go and I will do.” So He speaks and then we stammer and then we mutter and then we lose the blessing. “Lord, what would you have me do?” we say. He mentions hard things like forgiving, loving, serving, giving, sharing.  You know, all those “ing” ending words that feel a whole bunch like digging plants.

Well, if I would have pressed pause on the “mutter button” I would have remembered just how much Judy does for me.  I would have remembered how much I really do love her. I would have remembered that while I don’t like digging plants I sure like seeing her smile.  It’s the same with God. If you just hit the pause button you would remember all that God has done for us and does for us every single day.  If you know Him, you gotta love Him. How could we not? How.could.we.not?

You see, God loves you to the moon and back.  Two scriptures put a bow on the package.  John 3:16 says God loved us enough to give His Son to a Roman cross.  But wait, Romans 5:8 tells us that God showed His love by sending Jesus die on that cross without us having to get it together  He just said “hey, come to Me…let’s get together.”  How about that? Well, Judy and I ended up going on a great hike later in the day and had a really great time.  We were amazed at His handiwork and I was amazed at how quickly she could forgive. I hope the next time she needs some plants dug, I’ll just hit pause on the “mutter button” and gladly start digging.  Not because I love digging plants, not because I have too but because I love the one I’m digging for.  And when we ask God what we can do for Him, whatever it is or whoever it involves let’s just get our shovels and get busy.  Afterwards, we can take a break and rest in Him.  He’s got this.