Posted in forgiveness, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Trials

Drop the Rocks

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7

It kinda made me mad.  I know there are a multitude of things in the world that make us mad and there are also degrees of madness—boy is that a play on words. There is a little mad, some mad, half mad and downright mad.  Well, anyway, I was just a little mad.  Back on the first Monday in January, I started walking again for exercise.  Since the weather is so unpredictable, I decided to just use the treadmill.  It isn’t as good as the outdoors but you sure can work up a sweat.  So, five or six days a week I have my date with “the mill.”  I have a television mounted right in front of me to keep my mind busy while I walk. With all the new streaming services there is a lot to watch.

One of my favorite things is something called “Aerial America.”  They take a particular state and with a drone and/or helicopter they fly all over the state and shoot video.  It is very interesting and stunning but there was a problem. Because it was filmed from the air, I had a hard time staying on the treadmill.  They would go up and down, left and right and I was all over the place with them. You know…where you stare you steer. Maybe I needed to find something else to watch while walking on the treadmill.  I decided it would be a great opportunity to get some good Bible teaching, so I started watching services from some of the guys I like.  It has been very profitable.

Different guys have different styles and I always try and pick speakers that stay close to the Bible and there are a couple that have large ministries and by and large do a great job teaching.  Now, I never agree with everything that every speaker says.  In fact, I teach every Sunday and guess what? I don’t always agree with me. It’s just a fact of life so if you teach publicly get ready for someone to say something.  I get that.  But then there was this morning.

As I was looking for something to watch from one of the guys I follow, I saw something that just about made me mad.  Some no-name guy, a pastor, teacher posted a video calling this nationally known speaker a “false teacher.”  Well, I didn’t watch his video because it wasn’t worth my time.  But I wondered exactly what caused him to say that this guy wasn’t the real deal.  Now again, I don’t always agree with everything this teacher says nor how he says it but “false teacher?”  I don’t think so.  He leads one of the largest evangelical churches in America.  He teaches the Bible and at the end of every service he has a time for people to act on what they heard and specially, to act on an invitation to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow Him.  He gives an old-fashioned altar call.

Oh, and one other amazing thing.  Everything this church produces, sermons, curriculum, music, you name it—they give it all away for free.  His church could make a zillion dollars but instead with incredible generosity they just give it away.  I find that amazing.  So, what’s up with the dude who made himself judge and jury?  If I were to take a guess it would probably be jealousy.  When someone is successful some people just assume that they are fake or false.  It seems the more successful a ministry is, the more people cast stones.  Cast stones…hmmm.  It seems like Jesus had something to say about that.  Remember?

There was a woman in the Bible taken in the very act of adultery.  The Pharisees (we won’t go there) dragged her out in public in front of Jesus and declared, “Moses said we should stone this woman.  What do you say?”  First, and always, don’t mess with Jesus.  You will lose.  But Jesus stooped down and wrote something in the sand, (we don’t know what), and then said, “Okay.”  Well, that wasn’t all He said.  The rest rattled their bones.  He said, “Okay, but the person without sin needs to cast the first stone.”  You could hear a pin drop, but then you would have heard something else—the sound of rocks falling to the ground.  And, beginning with the oldest to the youngest, they left—all of them.  Jesus looked at the woman and said, “Where are your accusers?”  They had skedaddled. And here’s the best part.  The One who was left, Jesus, the One who could condemn her—didn’t.  Amazing.

I know it is our natural tendency to chuck rocks but don’t you think maybe it is time to let the rocks fall.  Whether you are a Jesus follower or not, chucking rocks is a dangerous game.  Those rocks can act like boomerangs—and that will definitely leave a mark.  Should we practice a discerning spirit?  Absolutely.  But rock chucking has nothing to do with discerning—it has to do with a judgmental spirit.  I know, those rocks can be hard to drop sometimes but I know someone who is good at dislodging them from our sticky hands.  His name is Jesus, and you can take it to the bank, He’s got that too.  Bro. Dewayne

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

Shoeless Service

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Luke 6:35

It was a dark and stormy night.  Well, it really wasn’t but I’ve always wanted to begin a story that way.  But for one man it was, and this is his story.  Years ago, my son-in-law, Blake, and daughter, Sarah, were talking a walk on Church Street—a road that runs about a block behind where we live.  It is just one of the many side streets in town but that night it was something more.  As they walked, they noticed a man coming toward them.  He was obviously having a tough time—like I said, it was a dark and stormy night—at least for this lonely man.

His head was low as he shuffled his feet and pushed his bike.  As he got closer, when some people would have crossed to the other side of the street, Blake and Sarah took the time to greet the man.  His eyes told the story.  He was an Army veteran who had fallen on hard times.  He told how he had been refused treatment at the Veteran’s Center. He shared how memories of a band of brothers who would have stood with him were fading fast.  His uniform that night was dirty and tattered, but his shoes told the story.

Blake, looked down, and while there were shoes on his soiled feet, not much of what used to be remained.  The shoes he had on were way too small but that didn’t matter for much of the toes were blown open.  He told a little more of his story and each word made it clear that it wasn’t just a stormy day for this veteran…it was days, weeks, months, and years.  It would have been easy for the young couple to listen and mumble some semblance of a “I’m sorry” or maybe a “God bless you.”  But they didn’t—more specifically Blake didn’t.

As Blake was looking down at his feet—he saw his own.  His feet were shod in one of his favorite pair of tennis shoes—in nearly new condition.  And then something amazing, something very Jesus like, happened. Without a word, he reached down and began to untie his shoes.  Then he slipped his shoes off and handed them to the tired, banged up veteran.  I’m not sure what he said—maybe nothing.  But perhaps the gift said it all.  Perhaps the gift said better than any words could, “I care.  I feel your pain.”

So, after the exchange they went their separate ways.  He continued down the block and they finished their walk.  I believe that both the tattered veteran and the young couple left different that night.  Perhaps the man’s day was not quite as stormy as it was before his encounter with love.  Perhaps he didn’t feel quite as hopeless—quite as alone.  I know Blake and Sarah were changed.  When they got back to our house after their walk, they shared their story.  It wasn’t, a “hey, look what I did” but rather a “look what God did” kind of moment.  We cried. Jesus encounters will do that to you.

As we take our walks in this thing called life, there will always be multiple opportunities to do the right thing, the extraordinary thing, the uncommon thing.  Sometimes they will be disguised but often, they are in plain sight.  A struggling single mom, a senior adult trying to manage one too many bags, a challenged adult or child who needs a smile and the list goes on and on.  Jesus, the God-man, did plenty of amazing, brazen things during His life here.  The part we know the most about only lasted just over 1,000 days. And in those days, He impacted His known world and in the days since then the entire world.

There used to be a saying that was tossed around in our everyday Jesus walk lives.  It simply said, “W.W.J.D.” or “What would Jesus do?”  It has long since been cast aside now but the truth of those four letters or four words still ring with power.  What.Would.Jesus.Do? One thing is for sure.  It would include a multitude of acts of kindness to the most unlikely of candidates and it would be done in the name of love. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”  What powerful words.  What life changing words.  The thought of doing this is counter-cultural and it might stretch you a bit but don’t worry— “He’s got this.”

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

My Blurry World

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” Romans 13:14

One day it became obvious.  We all know about DNA and how we pick things up from our ancestors.  Whether it is hair (or lack of it) from an uncle or our leaning toward a certain body build, the ones who have gone before have left their fingerprints all over us. However, sometimes, it doesn’t work that way.  My Daddy and Mama both wore glasses and yet somehow, I ended up with pretty good vision.  I can remember in my younger years I could spot something in the distance that others would miss.  It was better than 20/20.

Then one day I noticed something.  While I don’t remember the exact day, I do remember the thing that called my attention to it.  One day, I looked down at my watch and realized that it was a bit fuzzy.  Hmmmm.  So, I moved my arm around a bit and soon everything was back in focus.  There….problem solved.  This went on for a while and though it was a slight inconvenience it wasn’t a deal.  Yet.

I was about 40 when this “slight inconvenience” began but I don’t think I fully understood that it was a beginning.  As the years went by, I began playing the trombone. You know, to get my eyes to adjust I would have to move my watch, or the book or whatever, in and out to gain focus.  That worked…until one day my arms just weren’t long enough.  My eye doctor told me what I already knew—it was time for readers.

Readers are these glasses you wear when your arms are too short. You don’t wear them all the time, you simply put them on when you need to look at something close up.  So, every morning, I wake up—or at least that’s the plan. And, because my regular vision is good, I still have the ability to see around the room and far off.  But when I sit down and want to read my Bible or my iPad it instantly becomes apparent—I need my readers.  I quickly remember that it is a blurry world without them—at least my close-up world is. So, I slip them on and boom—I can see—clearly.

The key is remembering where your glasses are.  I have multiple pairs in my home office,  I have two on my desk and one by my chair when I read.  I know that they are essential—to see close-up.  I know some people struggle with the far-off thing and I might too one day but for now…readers are my friends…readers are my essentials.  Nobody wants to live in a blurry world, especially when the world is so blurry you can’t make heads or tails of anything.

I’m a Jesus follower and because of that I know there is a pretty promising future out there.  I’m sure He has my future in His hands though I’m not sure what that always looks like.  I am learning just to hang on and trust.  I do know ultimately because of my faith in Him (and certainly not because I deserve it) I will spend my forever with Him in a place called Heaven. I don’t know where you land with that but, hey, it is most definitely worth checking out.  Grab a copy of the Bible and read it for yourself.  It’s been around a really long time with no revisions so it’s something that can be trusted.

But that is then. What about the here and what about the now?  Well, just like I really need a little help reading up close, I need more than a little help to do life—up close and personal. And that is one of my favorite things about following Jesus.  He doesn’t wait for a time way off in the future to be there for me.  He is here now.  Sometimes it is from the Bible, sometimes it is in my every day walkabout life, and sometimes it seems like a still small voice but He is there to help me in my otherwise blurry life. Over and again, I see His handiwork—I call them love notes—as He helps me journey.  I’m learning the more I look—the more I see.  The more I see—the more I want to look.

It took me awhile but now it is a natural reflex for me to put my glasses on. When I pick up a book, glasses on. When I’m reading the instruction manual, glasses on.  When I’m setting the thermostat, glasses on.  I’m also learning to put on Jesus the same way.  Difficult decision…Jesus on.  Wisdom to make it through the day…Jesus on.  Need help forgiving or being kind…Jesus on.  Paul, one of the writers in the New Testament, says that we should make it a point to put on Jesus, but he doesn’t stop there. He says that we should not even crack the door open for things that are contrary to the Word. He knows nothing blurs our world like going crossways with God. And here’s the amazing part…it really works.  Just like my glasses give me clarity, so does Jesus.  He makes life make sense.  And I have the confident assurance that because He can see clearly…He always knows the answer.  And because He does, He’s got this. 

Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, Southern born, thankful

Santa Claus Came to Town

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

It was a Christmas to remember.  I wish I could tell you the lengths that my Daddy and Mama would go to make sure we had a wonderful Christmas.  Daddy had a good job, but with a bunch of kids, money was always tight.  If I were guessing, we were probably at the bottom of the middle class.  But somehow, they always managed to make sure our Christmases were fairytale. One year stands out.

I was in the sixth grade and by now I had moved into the world of “nonbelievers”—if you get my drift.  I remember that year Mama had told me I could stay up later with the adults.  I guess you could say that I graduated.  That night, we visited, talked, and ate.  I’m sure Mama and some of the girls were in the kitchen preparing for Christmas Day.  At about 11:00 pm, I remember Mama telling me that perhaps I should go ahead and go to bed.  Maybe, she said, Santa Claus might still be coming to town.  Ho, Ho, Ho.

Since it was so late, I didn’t put up much of a fight.  I never was much of a person to stay up late—until I started dating that is.  Smile.  So, off to bed I went.  There were no visions of sugar drops dancing in my head—like I said, I was a “non-believer”.  Our house was an old, former World War II barracks and was long and narrow.  On one end was the kitchen, then a small dining room, next a living room with the bathroom and two small bedrooms, a breezeway and finally a garage turned bedroom.  That is where I slept.

The next morning sometime early, I got up.  I’m not sure if someone woke me up or it was just time.  I wandered through the breezeway into the living room where several of the family were sitting.  I backed up to the old two burner oil stove and warmed up a little. After just a few minutes, Daddy said, “Dewayne, go get me a cup of coffee.”  Coffee was a big deal around the Taylor house, so it certainly was not an unusual request.  I lingered just a moment more, savoring the warmth of the stove before heading to the kitchen.

As I left the living room and entered the dining room, I literally almost stumbled on something.  There parked right in the middle of the walkway to the kitchen was the most incredible red, English-racer bicycle you have ever seen.  Now, keep in mind, this was back when bikes were all the rage.  Unlike today when if it doesn’t have batteries or require electricity it’s not even worth mentioning.  It was beautiful. The frame was bright, metallic red, the fenders were chrome, it had three speeds, hand brakes and, wait for it, a generator light.

I was amazed.  Not in all my years could I have ever imagined such an extravagant gift. Somewhere there is a home video that my brother shot of the grand moment.  I was like someone who had just won the lottery—and from my perspective—I had.  I petted it, hugged everyone one I could find, threw on some clothes and went off into the darkness with my new English racer.  And that generator—oh yes, it lit the way.  And if that wasn’t enough, keep in mind this was in North Florida, so it was warm enough to ride—even early in the morning.

Like I said, my parents went way out of their way to gift us at Christmas.  Things might have been lean during the year but at Christmas, they pulled out the stops.  I had an idea how they did it.  Saving was not practical on such a limited budget, but they would get one of those loans from a finance company and then pay it off throughout the year.  It was so sacrificial.  I know I have many things to be grateful for from my parents, but the lengths they went to, so we could have Christmas touches my heart to this day.  I know it probably didn’t make financial sense, but they loved us that much.

I have another parent who did something that didn’t make sense either…and interestingly enough it involved Christmas and Easter. That would be my Heavenly Father. Knowing the world needed a rescue, a redemption, He sent His only Son into this broken world as a baby just so He could grow up and then give Himself to a Roman cross—just for us.  Paul, the guy God used to write a bunch of the New Testament, said it this way, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still broken, still messed up, unloving and unappreciative, Jesus died for us.  Nope, it made no sense but that is what I love about God.  I know sometimes He allows things that I don’t understand…like when I pray for someone to be healed and it just doesn’t work out like I want. But to know that He loved me enough to create Christmas and Easter—well, that’s just amazing.

So as Christmas rolls around, be sure and be grateful for the sacrifices made on your behalf by family.  I know, for some that might be difficult.  But try and find the good that is lurking somewhere out there.  But be sure and thank God for the greatest gift ever—His own Son and His sacrifice, that we can be forgiven and look forward to being in heaven one day.  Of course, the great part too is that having God as your Dearest Daddy means you get the Gift that keeps on giving.  He walks with us every day and through everything, side by side, hand in hand, and we have the grand assurance that no matter what—He’s got this.

Posted in Family, food, life

Fish and Spaghetti

There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the Man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.” 1 Timothy 2:5-6a

No really…it is good. I’m a food mixer.  I know some people love to keep their food separate on their plates and some folks even eat one item at a time.  They will eat all their meat, all their potatoes and so on and so on.  Not me.  I like to to mix it up a little.  In fact the best bite on the plate is always the last bite.  It always has a little bit of everything on the plate. First you scrape it all together in a tidy little pile, scoop it on your fork and let it fly.  Awesome.

I’m not sure how it started but one of my absolute favorite mixings is tartar sauce and Heinz Ketchup.  When I order fish I always squirt a big puddle of ketchup on my plate and then mix in a helping of tartar sauce.  Then you take your fork and stir it together and start dipping your fish in this magic pink sauce.  All I can say is, if you haven’t tried it you need to.  Not too long ago a server at a restaurant noticed my strange concoction.  Without saying anything to me, she went back to the kitchen and stirred up a batch.  She was soon back at my table singing the praises of the power of “pink.”

They say that things go better with Coke and fish, all kinds of fish, go better with pink.  But…there is one exception.  Fish and spaghetti.  Ever heard of it?  Well, not only have I heard of it, I have had it several times.  In fact, Lord willing,  tomorrow night I will be sitting down to fish and spaghetti.  Now first, you need to understand it is not fish cooked in spaghetti, rather it is fish served with spaghetti.  I learned of this food miracle a while back.  A couple that attends our church invited my wife Judy and I over for supper.  We were served fish and spaghetti and it was incredible.

To be sure this dynamic combo is not an accident.  First, David is the fish cooker and the man takes frying fish to a new level.  Moist and crisp at the same time…it is “shoot that thang” good.  Second, Lisa makes some of the best spaghetti I have ever eaten. It is seasoned perfectly and has just a slightly different flavor then most spaghetti I have had.  I fell in love that night.  I am a fish and spaghetti man for life.

David is an African American and when we were discussing this duet, he assured me it was a “black thing.”  I had never heard of these two things together before and he told me to ask someone…so I did.  I asked another friend of mine who happens to also be African American, “So what do you eat with spaghetti?”  She quickly replied, “Fish.” There you go.  I have been a comfort food fanatic for over six decades and almost missed this food wonder.  It is almost a food group all of its on.

Things are like that sometimes.  Sometimes certain things just click together.  It is as if they were meant to be together. Peanut butter and jelly.  Chocolate and peanut butter. Cheese and summer sausage. Well, add fish and spaghetti to the list.  And while you are listing—be sure and add Jesus and you.  I have been a Jesus follower since 1975 and I am telling you He took life to a whole different level.  He makes the good even better and makes the difficult more than tolerable. He is amazing.  And just like fish and spaghetti if you’ve never tried Him you don’t know what you are missing.  He makes life worth living.

Now understand I’m not talking about you and religion, or you and church.  A relationship with Jesus is totally different from church or religion.  I like church and tolerate religion but neither one of them is even close to Jesus.  He is literally One of a kind. The Bible says that there is One go-between who can bring God and us together and it is the man Christ Jesus.  He gave His life to purchase freedom for everyone.  I hope you will get a copy of His Book—the Bible—and read about Him this Christmas season.  You will discover a Man like no other who loves you like no other.  He is a best friend on steroids. I admit these are crazy days we are living in—you know it and I know it.  I’ve found that Jesus adds stability, peace and hope to what can be a pretty difficult existence. With Him we go from surviving to thriving.  All you need to do is believe.  Believe that He is who He claims to be—the God man—believe that He died on a Roman cross to pay the price for your sin, believe He came back to life and believe that if you ask He will forgive you.  I took Him at His word and He is everything He claims to be.  He is the real deal.  And, hey, when God is your best friend you can sleep better at night and rest better in during the day.  When the God who made it all is your best friend—you can believe that He’s got this…and He does.

Posted in Family, food, gratitude, life, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, travel

Taters

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33

It was a sight for sore eyes. A while back when my aunt died, I went down to be a part of her memorial service.  It was a special time for me since it was my Daddy’s baby sister.  Though he has been gone since 1974 it was an opportunity to honor him.  The funeral was in Gainesville, Florida and the return trip gave my wife and I an opportunity to travel some Southern back roads.  We chose to travel north through Alabama and it turned out to be a real treasure.

Judy and I are both from the South.  She is from Valdosta, Georgia and I am from Jacksonville, Florida. There are just certain things about living in the South that are special.  You will find things run just a bit slower there.  It’s not uncommon to find an older gentleman in an old pickup truck going nowhere in a hurry.  It is a Southern thing.  It’s not uncommon to see homesteads with old tin roofs often tinted with a rich red rust.  It is a Southern thing. It’s not uncommon to see old groves of giant pecan trees ready for a rich harvest of nuts.  It is a Southern thing.  It’s not uncommon to see old tobacco barns with smoke slowly drifting skyward as the brown leaves dry.  It is a Southern thing.

There are many things like that in the South and each one is a treasure to those who recognize them.  But if there is one thing that marks the South, if there is one treasure above the rest, it is good Southern cooking.  You can find it in most kitchens in those older homes.  Mamas are teaching their daughters (and sometimes their sons) how to season green beans and fry chicken or mash potatoes.  If you’ve never eaten Southern comfort food…well, you’ve never eaten well!

As we were traveling North through rural Alabama we were seeing all these things and reliving our roots.  It was time (actually past time) for breakfast so we began looking for a place to eat.  We found ourselves in Luverne, Alabama.  It is a small town which happens to be one of the treks to the beaches in Florida…so it gets a fair amount of traffic.  We had traveled through before for that very reason.  We were looking for a “mom and pop” place and we found Taters.  It was a small restaurant in Luverne and it looked like just the spot.  “Taters” was in yellow on the front of the barn red building.  It had a “Jesus 2020” sign planted by the entrance.  Things were looking promising.

We went in and immediately noticed the decor.  It was, shall we say, “Southern Jesus.”  Hand lettered Scriptures filled the walls.  The napkin holders had the same.  Back by the restrooms was a big sign about God.  The server came as friendly as a Chick-fil-A employee on steroids. We ordered our food and waited.  Soon, sitting in front of us was one of the most delicious breakfast meals I have tasted in years.  There were three eggs sunny-side up (that means the yokes were sitting there like two small suns), a side of hash browns cooked nice and crispy, three strips of thick cut bacon cooked like it should be—limp. And then there it was.

“It” was a real big spoon full of Southern cooked grits. These weren’t the instant variety—they were the slow cooked kind.  And right in the middle of that pile of grits was a puddle of melted butter.  It was Southern manna—it was heaven.  And trust me—everything was as good as it looked.  Now, no lectures about heart attacks, I don’t eat like that all the time, but that time—I did so with no regrets—not even one.  But here’s the surprise—that wasn’t the most important thing.  The thing that mattered most was the Jesus part.  You see this was a restaurant that served up Jesus first and just happened to also serve good food.  Their mission was Jesus and their food was a side dish.  I was real glad they could cook, but I was blessed by their Jesus boldness.  I walked out with a full tummy, a full heart, and a life lesson.

You see, if we follow Jesus, He has to be the center of our universe.  Our sign at church says, “Jesus First. Before. Anything. Else. Period.”  That is what Taters in Luverne, Alabama is doing.  Food is second to Jesus.  So, what about you?  What about us?  Are you a teacher first and then a Jesus follower? Are you a CEO first and then a Jesus follower?  Are you a coal miner first and then a Jesus follower?  Are you a preacher first and then a Jesus follower? What about this?  What if we starting reversing that?  How about a Jesus follower who happens to be a teacher; a Jesus follower who happens to be a CEO; a Jesus follower who happens to be a coal miner or, yes, a Jesus follower who happens to be a preacher.

Jesus First. Before. Anything. Else. Period. That would be a game changer.  Jesus said if we would “seek His Father first and live for Him, He would give us everything you need.” We need that today.  These chaos infested days we are living in  are golden opportunities to be a light in a dark world.  But we can only do that effectively if Jesus stops being an add on to our lives and becomes our lives.

The next time I am driving through Luverne, you can bet I will stop for some good food and a good helping of “Southern Jesus.”  They might not be there because “Jesus first” can be risky.  In their case it might cost them business.  If you do “Jesus first” it may cost you a friend or two or maybe a promotion, or maybe your popularity. Regardless, it is worth it. One more piece of travel advice. As you travel life’s hectic highway, stop and take a rest with Jesus.  And go ahead and be sure and put Him first.  Risky? Yup.  But, hey, remember, He’s got this.

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, 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, food, life, Scripture, thankful

Miss Pauline’s Sour Cream Raisin Pie

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” Psalm 34:7

Try it. You’ll like it.  Over the years I have met so many incredible people.  I have learned that people are not perfect but people add spice and challenge to life.  People make life…life.  I am a pastor by call and by trade and I love it.  There are many reasons that is true but one is the people I get to serve with.  One of those was Bob.  Bob is a friend from my past but at the same time Bob is a friend that I could see tomorrow and we would pick up right where we left off.

Bob is one of those people with a quirky sense of humor.  I love that because I do too.  I remember one time he showed up at the church office and beeped the horn.  I went and opened the door and went out.  He told me to come around to the other side of the truck and hop in. Well, I went and opened the door and what greeted me was a five or six foot rattlesnake coiled up on the from seat.  We almost had a natural disaster there on the spot.  Turned out the snake was headless.  Bob liked snakes so I don’t think he did the honors but why miss the opportunity to scare your pastor to death?

Now Bob and I are Baptists.  One thing you need to know about Baptists is that we believe food is the cure all for all things.  If we are sad—we eat.  If we are happy—we eat.  If someone dies—we eat.  If someone gets married—we eat.  And sometimes, well, we just eat for fun.  Well, Bob and I were at one of our meetin’ eatin’ times and I was eating some raisin pie.  Now this wasn’t your normal raisin pie.  This was Miss Pauline’s sour cream raisin pie and it was incredible.  I was working on my second piece when I invited Bob to have a taste.

“Nope,” he said, “I don’t like raisin pie.”  Well I began to persuade him with all of my preacher passion.  “This,” I explained, “is like no other raisin pie you have ever eaten.”  I went on to explain how this pie would make your tongue slap your face.  So after about five minutes of “you really need to try this,” he did.  The results were as expected and immediate.  Two or three pieces later Bob was an official member of the Miss Pauline’s sour cream raisin pie fan club.

Here is what he and I came to discover.  There is raisin pie and there is Miss Pauline’s sour cream raisin pie and the two are not the same.  And once I tasted Miss Pauline’s pie, I wanted him to experience it too.  I just knew that if he did, he would be a fan for life.  And do you know what?  I think that is true about Jesus too.  I find a lot of people are not too keen on God or Jesus.  The reason is simple.  They have tasted religion and decided pretty quick that wasn’t too tasty.  I agree with that one.  Some have tasted church and depending on their experience it was either a disaster or a delight.  At any rate, church isn’t the fix all that people think that it is.  Religion or church are just plain ole raisin pie.  You need more…you need Jesus.

Yup, Jesus is like Miss Pauline’s raisin pie. He is so much more than religion and so much more than church…He is the One who knew the price for sin was death and then willingly paid the price for that sin.  He died on a Roman cross to pay the price for our sin and then came back to life three days later to prove He was the Son of God. It is a pretty amazing story.  If you have never read about it let me suggest you get a copy of the Bible read about Him.  You will find Him in the first four books of the New Testament.  You will find He is like sour cream raisin pie…delicious and irresistible.  But you can’t know that if you don’t take a taste.

David (he is one of the Kings of Israel from Bible times) was on the run from one of his enemies when he wrote, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” David was saying if you will take just one taste of the real deal you will like what you taste.  Its not religion, its not church—it is the Man who died on the cross because He loved me and you.

So, if you ever get the chance to taste sour cream raisin pie, especially if somehow you can find a piece of Miss Pauline’s, well don’t wait and don’t delay.  Even if, especially if, you have tried plain ole raisin pie you are gonna be surprised!  And if you haven’t read the story of Jesus, well don’t wait and and don’t delay.  Even if, especially if, you have been turned off by church and religion, you are gonna be surprised. You are gonna find out that He is the real deal.  You are gonna find out when and if you decide to follow Him, He will be your new BFF (best friend forever) and He will never leave you sitting beside the road.  He is the kind of friend that you can call at 2:00 am and never get a busy signal.  He is the kind of friend who invites you to sit and chat on the front porch and rest a while.  He is the kind of friend that is like a strong, big brother who loves you.  Strong enough to say, “I’ve got this” and pull it off.  Try Him…You’ll love Him.

Posted in Grace, Memorial Day, Military memories, Scripture, travel

Heroes

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13

I’m not sure how I found my way there, but I was grateful.  During my assignment in Sembach, Germany we had the opportunity to see so much.  From Hitler’s hideaway called “The Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden to the windmills of Holland to the Alps of Switzerland we were constantly amazed at what was all around us.  But nothing prepared me for Luxembourg.

We had some friends that we had known in our days at Moody Air Force Base in South Georgia.  They received orders to Germany several months before we did.  They were only a couple of hours from us so we saw each other pretty frequently.  It must have been during one of our forays that we came to it—Luxembourg American Cemetery.  It was one of the most hollowed sights I have ever seen.

There, in the cemetery, are 5,075 white Lasa marble crosses and stars of David.  Row after row of headstones that mark the final resting place of American heroes.  Each one made the ultimate sacrifice for us, for you and me, that we can live in freedom.  General George Patton is buried there. Two Medal of Honor recipients are also buried there: David G. Turner and William D. McGee. Twenty-two sets of brothers lay buried side by side throughout the cemetery. Some, 371 in fact, were never found.  They are simply listed as missing in action.  102 are just unknown.

This place of honor was established on December 29, 1944.  Many of the soldiers died during the Battle of the Bulge…Hitler’s last push to turn the tide of the war in Germany’s favor.  It failed but it came at great cost to the Allied forces. It was a harsh winter and because of the urgency of the times many were sent to fight with little or no winter gear. The desperate Germans showed little mercy to those taken prisoner.  And, all this occurred just nine months, nine months, before the war ended.  So many had survived D-Day and countless days of combat only to make the ultimate sacrifice months before the grand reunion with family.

Heroes.  It is a word we throw around lightly these days.  In a world where everyone gets a trophy we are in danger of losing the value of this incredible word.  Hero. Dictionary.com defines it as “a person noted for courageous acts.” Oxford says it is a person who is admired or idealized for courage. Webster defines it as an illustrious warrior or one who shows great courage.  Another place said it is a person who at great danger to themselves puts others first.

I went to Toys-R-Us one time and there they had several aisles of super hero stuff.  As I turned the corner a sign caught my eye.  It simply said, “Real Heroes.”  Along that aisle were the soldiers and sailor figures as well as police, firemen, and other emergency responders.  If I went to that aisle today it would have to include doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.  Real heroes…real people putting others first at peril to themselves.

But there would be one missing.  Jesus Christ, the Hero of Heaven, who willingly, who bravely, gave Himself to a Roman cross that men, women and children could be free. The cross was so horrible it was called the death of deaths.  It was so horrible it was illegal to crucify a Roman citizen.  And yet…He went.  Why?  He loved me. He loved you.

Amazingly it was not for some of us but all of us. Skin color, economic station, language, nationality, capacity to be bad or good doesn’t matter.  The Bible simply says, “He came to seek and save that which was lost.”  It simply says, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  It simply says He is not willing for any to perish but all to come home. Anyone—I like anyone. Anyone who acknowledges their need for a rescue will find one in Jesus. And this Hero not only does a meet and greet, He invites you to join His family.  How about that! So when you hear the national anthem, place your hand over your heart as a salute to those who paid the price for our freedom.  When you see a veteran, thank them for his or her service and sacrifice.  When you walk through a cemetery with your kids, point out the graves of the men and women who served and tell them why they are so special.  And when you talk to the Hero of Heaven next time, thank Him for forgiving your sin.  Thank Him for always being there.  Thank Him for giving you a place to rest.  And, thank Him for having this….because He does.