Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, life, loving others, Scripture

Sticks and Stones

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45

You’re nothing but a little Hitler.  The life of a pastor is always interesting.  You really never know what is going to come your way.  I’ve been doing this pastor thing for about 38 years now and I know two things.  First, generally speaking the sun will come up tomorrow.  There is no guarantee but it has a pretty good track record.  Second, you are going to step in someone’s mess today.  Pastor or not, you are going to bump into someone’s hot mess.

Her name was Sheila. Her mother attended our church and she and her two boys would occasionally visit.  I decided one day to go by and just let her know that we enjoyed having her visit.  I mean it sounded like a good thing, it sounded like the right thing.  What could possibly go wrong, right?  Well, I pull into her driveway and went up to the door.  I did my gentle, non-threating knock and she came to the door.  I gave the standard, “Hi Sheila, I just wanted to come back and let you know we are so glad you are visiting with us” spill.  It was pleasant…it was sincere.

I don’t remember everything she said that day.  It could be “pastoral amnesia.”  That is a defense mechanism that pastors have to guard their hearts when someone decides it is their spiritual gift to break them. It might be PTSS (Pastor Tramatic Stress Syndrome) where the event was so traumatic that you block it out.  Anyway…she cut loose and the two things I do remember included something about me running a cult and brain washing people.  The last thing I remember was when she said, in all seriousness, “You are nothing but a little Hitler.”

Well, that hurt—a lot.  It hurt so much that 30 years later I can still hear her voice, still feel her words, and still wish I had never knocked on that door.  Not too long ago I was asked to do her mother’s funeral and it seemed the wall was still there.  Amazingly…sad.  There is an old saying that is a lie.  It says, “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Really?  I wonder who came up with that one.  They must have been deaf and blind.  Words are an incredibly powerful tool or weapon—depending on the sender.

I still am amazed at the emotional energy that chance meeting had for me that day.  But it wasn’t chance…it was somehow prescribed by my Dearest Daddy to help me grow to be more like Jesus.  He knew (and He was right) that there would be many more awkward moments in the days ahead and I needed to learn how to handle them…like Jesus.  This morning I listened to a devotional by one of my favorite writers, Bob Goff.  He was talking about loving your enemies…or maybe folks who act like your enemies. He quoted Jesus and here’s what Jesus said, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.”

Wow…that is way powerful.  Bob told a story about a witch doctor that he took to trial in Uganda.  This witch doctor believed in child sacrifice and practiced it.  No one before had had the courage to take on these bad guys.  Well, he did and he won.  Later, he decided to go visit this guy on death row.  The former witch doctor, who by then had become a Christ follower, told Bob that he forgave him.  This confused Bob because the other guy was the bad guy, not him.  But what is important is the former witch doctor was extending grace because he wanted to be like Jesus…like his Father.  How about that?

This COVID thing has been a breeding ground for more than germs…it was been a breeding ground for division, unkindness, judging, and hurting.  I know it and you know it, too. And, unfortunately, God’s kids have not been exempt.  The world is watching and seeing and wondering if this God thing is real or a hoax.  One way we can show them that Jesus is the real deal is by loving one another.  Just because the evening news is filled with hated and bitterness doesn’t mean it should infect our Jesus world.  Remember He said that the world would know we are Christians by our love…not our dogmatism. I put something on the sign at church this week.  It says, Jesus first. Before. Everything. Else. Period.  I believe that.  He is more important than COVID, masks, politics, and everything else.  He is first and when He is first…we all do better.  Our world does better. Our marriages do better. Our churches do better.  So as we continue this journey called life, if you are a Jesus follower, make sure you are following Him closely.  Mimic His every Word and every step.  And if you are not yet a follower, I hope you soon will be.  I know sometimes we Jesus followers don’t get it right—but trust me, He never gets it wrong.  You can rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, food, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, Southern born, wisdom

Tripe and Gossip

The one who reveals secrets is a constant gossip; avoid someone with a big mouth.” Proverbs 20:19

The more I chewed the bigger it got.  I have lots of food memories from growing up.  First you need to remember that I was born in the South and folks from the South have a whole different way of eating.  And trust me…that means it was good…mostly.  I can remember fried chicken Sunday dinners with green beans and mashed potatoes…the kind that didn’t come from a box but from a real potato.  A lot of Sundays we had pot roast with those same yummy potatoes and green beans.

My mama made really good biscuits.  You can’t imagine how good they were hot out of the oven.  While we did occasionally have dessert we really didn’t need it.  We would just take one of mama’s biscuits, slather it with butter and then pour cane syrup all over it.  Shoot-that-thing! You don’t know good if you’ve never had homemade biscuits and syrup.  Now with all that said, there were a few things we had that were a bit—different.

I remember I decided to try something new with my peanut butter. It could have been that we were out of jelly but anyway I got the mayonnaise out of the refrigerator, smeared it on some bread and then loaded on the peanut butter.  Bam…just like that a new delicacy was born.  That became one of my favorites for years.  One day I had one and then got the stomach flu and well, we parted ways.

We didn’t have a whole lot of candy growing up and I’ve always had a sweet tooth.  Somewhere along the journey I discovered the sugar bowl.  Did you know you can get a teaspoon full of sugar and put it in your mouth and it tastes like a candy bar?  Well, it probably didn’t taste like a Snickers, but it was plenty sweet.  You know what they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

School lunches were always an adventure.  There were deviled egg sandwiches (awesome), deviled egg sandwiches with potted meat mixed in (not so awesome), potted meat sandwiches without deviled eggs (yuk) and finally Vienna sausages (uh, well, somewhat good).  You just never knew what mom was going to put in the lunch bag.  My all-time favorite was pimento cheese.  To this day that is one of my favorites. And then there was—tripe.

Tripe wasn’t a lunch item, it was always for supper.  Some of you may not have discovered the wonder of tripe or even know what it is.  Well, for those of you who don’t know tripe is cow’s stomach.  Yup and let me just tell you it was an experience.  It always smelled great cooking but eating it was a real challenge.  Mama usually cut it up in pretty small pieces but you still had to get a sharp knife to get it down to bite size.  Now tripe was…chewy.  In fact, tripe was very chewy.  Which is why it never made it into the lunch bag—it took two hours to eat one small piece.  You see, the more you chewed it, the bigger it got! 

I’ve heard it said that celery is one of those negative calorie foods…it actually takes more calories to chew it and digest it than are in the food itself.  I think tripe must be one of those also.  In fact, I am sure there is a tripe diet somewhere out there.  You take a bite, chew for two hours and bam…lose two pounds.  Good, ole, tripe.  The supper of champions.

You do know that gossip is a lot like tripe don’t you?  You mutter a few words about your friend and before you know it, you have yourself a belly full of trouble. Those few hurtful words just get bigger and more hurtful each time they are repeated. Feelings get hurt, relationships are broken and talk about a belly ache…oh yeah.  While the Bible doesn’t say much about tripe it does say a lot about gossip.  One of my favorites is Proverbs 20:19, “The one who reveals secrets is a constant gossip; avoid someone with a big mouth.”  How’s that for being straight to the point?

One of the best ways to avoid gossip is to remember a couple of things.  If the person you are telling isn’t part of the problem…don’t tell them. Also, if you wouldn’t say something to a person’s face you shouldn’t share it behind their back.  Now the problem is, most of us just love a good piece of juicy gossip.  The Bible says, “A gossip’s words are like choice food that goes down to one’s innermost being.” That might be true but I know one more thing about tripe.  If it gets stuck in your throat you are in deep weeds.  That choice piece of gossip can get stuck too, and can cause heart breaking consequences.

Well, I gave up tripe a long time ago.  I guess I had enough when I was a kid.  I wish I could say I have totally given up gossip the same way.  I have found out given half-a-chance I can find myself saying, “Hey, did you hear…” and that tripe-like-sin is right back in my mouth.  We just need to be careful to keep it out of our mouth.  The good news is Jesus is more than willing to help if you ask.  He can handle all kind of things whether it be a tough piece of tripe stuck in the wrong place or a juicy piece of gossip right on your lips.  Just ask Him.  He will help cause He’s got …even this. 

Posted in Family, food, life, Scripture

Food Truck

“When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36

There’s a new food truck in town.  For the past several years I have begun my day by walking for exercise.  I take several different routes but one of my favorites is around the lake at the city park.  It was there I met Bubba the goose (for past readers he said to tell you hi), saw the power of integration in the goose families (they are doing fine), saw a man waging a war with people I could not see, and saw the new food truck in town.  Let me explain.

We walkers see two kinds of exercisers.  Some people come and go and some are regular as clockwork, they show up to walk each day.  Like Forest Gump they start running—or walking—and just don’t stop.  These folks become unofficial friends.  We may not know each other’s names, what we do for a living or where the other person lives but for those few minutes at the park our lives intersect. And then, there’s the “food truck.”

She loves dogs and really animals.  She walks her dogs every day in the park…and there are several.  But what is interesting is that for a long time there was a cat walking with her.  I mean a lot of people walk dogs, but a cat?  The feline wasn’t on a leash but would just quietly walk behind her and the dogs.  Talk about intriguing.  So after a while I just had to talk with her.  It turns out it wasn’t her cat at all.  She met the cat one day while walking and it looked a little thin so she started dropping some dry cat food on the sidewalk and …well the cat had breakfast and hung around for dessert. There was a new “food truck” in town.

Sadly, one day our feline friend wasn’t there and I learned that he was hit by a car and didn’t survive.  We mourned together…a lady I didn’t know losing a cat she didn’t own but we paused and grieved.  But before long, there was another cat.  I first saw him on the sidewalk about a block from the park and he was having breakfast on the sidewalk and I knew the “food truck” had been by.  The relationship wasn’t as tight or as long but she had made a new friend by meeting a need.

Well, one day I was again walking in the park and ahead I saw several squirrels having breakfast.  Yup, the “food truck” fed squirrels too.  And then a few days later I saw several ducks gathered on the walking trail.  Turns out ducks like cat food and they too were having breakfast.  The “food truck” was a hit in the park and everyone was invited.  But the funniest part was yet to happen.

So I am walking, and across the narrow lake I can see her walking her dog.  Behind her is a group of ducks having breakfast.  Then on my side of the lake there are three ducks and they are on the move.  They are waddling as fast as their little legs would take them and they are quacking up a storm.  Again, my duck is a little rusty but I believe they were saying, “Hey wait for us.”  So huffing and puffing they waddle down a small peninsula and jump in. Paddling furiously they headed straight across the lake.  Like kids chasing the ice cream truck they swam on.  It was my last lap for the day but the last time I saw them they were on shore and hollering, “Wait, we’re coming.”

I don’t know my friend’s name but I do know her impact.  Her acts of kindness to animals makes her a hit with them and with me.  She just seems to care and really, besides this strange sort of fan club, gets no other reward.  She just does what she thinks is the next right thing.  I wonder how different our world would be if we did the same.  Jesus did.  The Book tells us that when He saw people—He didn’t see social class, He didn’t see color—He just saw people and He had compassion on them. He saw them as sheep without a shepherd or maybe like ducks needing breakfast.

Compassion is best defined as simply love in action.  Its seeing a need and then doing what you can to meet that need. Imagine today taking the time to show kindness to someone having a difficult day.  Imagine today taking the time to give someone a smile when they are only used to frowns.  Imagine today doing simply the next right thing—without reward, without expectation—simply because it is the right thing to do.  It might just be amazing.  It might just look crazy…like a cat following a lady walking her dog. It might just be game changing.

In a few minutes, I’m going to do my walking thing.  I don’t have any cat food.  In fact my shorts don’t even have pockets but I can pack an intentional smile for someone who needs one.  I can do that.  Sometimes Jesus gave out free lunches to crowds—big crowds.  Sometimes He healed broken bodies and spirits.  But something that I think we overlook is that He probably smiled…a lot.  Imagine His joy as He shared and showed compassion—love in action. Like the cat, like the ducks following the “food truck” people followed Him.  Not just for the bread, though some did, but because around Him they felt safe. They felt loved. They found a place where they could rest from the craziness of life.  We can too.  He’s got this.