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.

Posted in life, Mother's Day, Scripture

Mother’s Day- Redemption

“Jesus told him, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6

Redemption.  It’s one of my favorite words.  One week ago, I wrote a story about Mother’s Day and my feeble attempt to honor the mother of our children.  It was a story of good intentions with a not so good conclusion. It was a story that should have been about honoring but was really about muttering.  It was a story about what was instead of what could have been…should have been.  But, well, it turns out it wasn’t the end of the story.

So, without retelling the whole story (see “Mother’s Day—The Hard Way, May 11, 2020 on gritswithgrace.com) let’s just say I lost a blessing.  Judy asked for a simple Mother’s Day gift and I fumbled the ball.  I did it but with some (ok, a lot) of muttering.  The day ended good with a great hike together and my receiving a reasonable measure of grace.  The next day, Becca, our oldest daughter suggested a trip to Pigeon Forge for a few days as recompense.  That seemed reasonable and doable and is in the planning stages.  But there’s more.

It is the time of year when ladies change their purses.  I know Judy has a dark red one that she uses in winter and a cute (did I just say “cute?”) one for spring.  Well, the cute one for spring has seen its last hurrah.  It is faded like an old leaf on the ground in late fall.  She told me she was looking for a replacement but couldn’t find “the one.”  It had to be a certain kind, it had to be the same color as last year’s, and it had to be a particular design.  She said, “I can’t find what I want.  I guess they just don’t make it.” What she was really saying was, “Here’s a chance for redemption, big boy.”

I jumped on this like “white on rice.”  I like a challenge and love redemption.  Now, I don’t know a thing about purses.  Most guys don’t do purses though some have a “man-bag.” This guy doesn’t do either.  But I do know about the promised land…Ebay.  So, I got my iPhone out, clicked on the icon and entered eBay land.  I tried several key searches. I quickly found out that whoever this Vera Bradley person is, she makes a lot of purses in a lot of designs and in lots of colors.  But I was determined…I was seeking redemption.

Well, Judy wanders in, sits down and together we continue the search.  By the time she got there, I was close.  I could smell it; I just couldn’t taste it.  And then it happened.  There it was. Vera Bradley, coral floral, cross-body purse. The right brand, the right color and the right design. She wondered if it could be true.  She said she would believe it when she could see it, hold it, touch it.  The Saturday after Mother’s Day it came in the mail in all its glory. She saw it, she held it, she touched it. Game. Set. Match.

Her smile was from ear to ear and so was mine.  Her happiness was so evident and so was mine.  She couldn’t believe her prize was in her hands and her “prince” had brought home the bacon.  Oh, I was redeemed all right. The epic failure was gone…replaced by the laurels of “coral floral” victory! Then I said, “Wait…I’ve heard this story before.”  It is the story of God and me…of God and you.

You see, because of our sin, our failures, we were in a hot mess.  We were separated from God and there was no fixing it.  It was epic fail 101.  Then God made a way—the way for rescue, for restoration, for redemption.  And it’s not unlike my Mother’s Day story.  I searched for the one thing that would make redemption possible and found it. And we do the same.  We long for the one thing.  And it isn’t religion. It isn’t being good.  It isn’t stopping a bad habit or starting another.  It is grace.  It is forgiveness.  It is Jesus.

You see, Jesus is not a religion…we have enough of that already. As Jesus said, He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  His death and resurrection made it possible for anyone to come home to God.  He makes it possible for this epic failure to call God, “Father.” Paul, in Colossians 1:13-14, put it this way, “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. In Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Well, I’m glad the story didn’t end with part one.  I’m glad there was a part two. I’m glad for redemption.  And your story never has to end with only a part one.  Whether it is coming home for the first time or coming back home another time, we will always find Him waiting with open arms and a warm embrace. Guess what?  Last Monday I was ok…Judy still loved me.  She’s like that.  This Monday, well, she thinks I hung the moon. She’s like that too.  Today, God waits to welcome you home and guess what?  No, He doesn’t think you hung the moon…He did that.  But He does love you to the moon and back.  So, let go and let Him hold you.  Rest in Him.  He’s got this.