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

But the Seat is Empty

He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5b

Well, that didn’t take long.  I decided to do something that is unusual for me.  I had registered my wife Judy and I for a pastor’s conference.  I was thinking one day and said to myself, “Maybe it would be good for me to just get away by myself.” Well, I talked it over with Judy and she agreed.  Of course, the fact that she was leaving right after the conference for a mission trip to Puerto Rico probably figured in.  So, the decision was made…I would go, she would stay. Where to go and when to stay and where to eat and when to eat would be my call. It was a good plan.

The day came.  We had great services at church, and I had a sandwich for lunch and a quick nap before I hit the road.  With a hug and a kiss, I was off on the great adventure.  I had the satellite radio playing hits from the 60’s, the cruise was set for the speed limit, and I passed the time just enjoying the beautiful day and the slowly changing color of the trees.  And then…it began to happen. It started when I caught myself causally glancing over at the passenger seat. Normally it would have held my favorite person in the whole world.  It sat empty.  No deal…but it was a thought.  I would occasionally put my hand in the seat as if feeling to see if she was there.  She wasn’t.

After several hours, I arrived at my hotel for the night.  I had chosen well.  It was very reasonable and very nice.  I opened the door and marveled at the room.  I wanted to share the moment with her, but she wasn’t there.  I called and let her know I was there safely and then planned supper.  There was no doubt where I was going.  Fazoli’s. They had their pizza baked spaghetti back on the menu and I had been wanting to go…so I did.  This was a place Judy probably wouldn’t have chosen but tonight it was my call and honestly…it was very good. That was followed with a visit to a creamery called, “The Lazy Cow.” I picked the place and the flavor.  “Not bad,” I said to no one as a went back to my room.

The room was still nice, but it was quiet…too quiet.  I called Judy and told her about supper and the ice cream, but it wasn’t the same as experiencing it with her.  After a while we said good night and we both went to bed in different beds, different rooms, and different states.  The next morning, she said she didn’t sleep too well, and I told her the same. I told her some plans I had made, and she shared hers.  After a couple of minutes, we said goodbye.  And that is when it hit me.

It was nice picking what music I wanted to listen to as I drove.  It was nice stopping when I wanted to stop. It was nice choosing to go to Fazoli’s and later getting ice cream. All that was nice, but she wasn’t there and that made it all less nice. Oh, it is still a good plan, and I will enjoy my time away.  I’m sure the teaching is going to be great and all that, but it will be different.  It might, it probably will be less than if she was there.  Think about that.  Think about something else.

Do we ever think or maybe even act on what life would be like without God? We muse how grand it might be without the rules, to make our own choices and decisions and not have to worry about what He might think. I know for some of you that may be everyday but for a chunk of us that is far stretch and yet too often we live that very same way. We include God when it is convenient and leave Him at home when it isn’t. I’ve already discovered that while this week will be good for me…it is not something I want to do all the time.

The bottom line is Judy is just too much a part of my life…and that is how we need to make it with God.  We need to make Him so much a part of our lives, that when we look around and realize we left Him (He will never leave us) that we are wise enough to go back and join Him.  Lord willing this Thursday, I’ll be back home…and home is a good place.  God said He will never leave us or let us go and there is a lot of comfort in that.  There’s also a lot of comfort in knowing that even when we take a trip and fail to invite Him, He’s still there…He’s still got this. Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, friends, gratitude, life, missions, prayer, Scripture, thankful, Trials

Choose to be Content

I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.” Philippians 4:12-13

I was content…almost.  Contentment is one of the most elusive things.  One minute you are fat and happy and the next minute you are just fat.  Some small, insignificant thing happens that seems to change everything.  It probably has a lot to do with most of us living in the best country in the world—the United States.  We have more than we need and that is a problem, and that is the problem.  Andy Stanley, a pastor in Atlanta, talks about the fact that most of us have houses with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms and get ready, there is even a house for our car attached to the deal. Amazing.

We once went on a mission trip to the Philippines. We were there to repair some damage caused by an earthquake. Two things amazed me—how beautiful it was and how kind and polite the people were.  On a couple of levels, it did indeed seem like paradise.  You see the island we were on was a vacation destination for many.  It was simply beautiful.  The only problem was we didn’t get see it.  There simply wasn’t time for a lot of sightseeing because there was a mission to accomplish–a job to finish.

Now I know that probably sounds pretty noble–maybe even spiritual, but the truth is even on the mission field it is hard not to think about–ME.  The “resort” we stayed at really was quite nice–particularly when compared to let’s say sleeping in the sand in Mali, West Africa or on the ground in Uganda, East Africa.  I guess I should have been content–and I was–almost.

When we arrived at the resort, we were given our room assignment.  Judy and I were assigned a single unit.  I must admit I did have the best roommate.  We went to our room, and it was nice–small–but nice. There room to walk and have the luggage on the floor, but it was nice. We pushed the twin beds together and it was just like home–just smaller–a lot smaller.  So then we went to check out the other room assignments.

Well, their rooms were also quite nice.  Each person had two twins pushed together to make a double bed and the room was bigger–a lot bigger.  There was even room for their suitcases to be on the floor and still walk around the bed.  Suddenly, my room (well, our room) felt even smaller.  Suddenly, it didn’t seem quite–fair.

Now I was content until I saw how the rest fared.  I was content until I saw what big was like and then I wasn’t. Just like that I went from contentment to discontentment. I went from feeling blessed to feeling cheated—all in about two seconds flat. Isn’t it amazing how one minute you can be satisfied and the next you’re not?  There’s a word for that and I think it is close to sin. And the crazy part is it doesn’t just happen on a mission trip to the Philippines–it happens to a lot of folks on any given day.  We are content until we see how the other half lives. I think it is something like the grass is always greener somewhere else.

Paul said something quite amazing in Philippians 4:12 “I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot.  In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Oh, and by the way, when Paul wrote those words, he was sitting in a dark, dank, stinking Roman prison.  Ouch.

I think all of us need to learn Paul’s secret to joy–just be content!  The truth is most of us have it a lot better than 90% of the world! The truth is if we look around, we will find that our Heavenly Father has filled our world with “love notes” that simply yet profoundly say, “Just to say, I love you.”

Whether our world has a healthy dose of bumps or if the sun shines consistently, if it is corona crazy or as smooth as a lake at sunset, we have so many reasons to be thankful…to be content.  Why not take the time today to look around and be thankful for what you have rather than rattled about what you don’t?  After all, hasn’t the Giver proven Himself over and again?  Hasn’t He “shown off” time and again in His lavish grace and love.  Sure, He has.  So, settle back and take a rest.  After all, He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, friends, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel

Same Words, Different Melody

When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them.”  Matthew 9:36a

It was familiar but not.  One of the highlights of our recent trip to England was the opportunity to experience so many things that were similar to life in America but at the same time different.  After all, we all spoke English, but our English and the English the Brits spoke was just a little different.  More on that in another story.  We both drive cars but on different sides of the road.  They drive on the left (who knows why) and we drive on the right because…we are right.  We like (love) ice in our drinks, and when we ask for ice, they look at you like, “What?” Crisps are potato chips and flats are apartments.  Like I said..we both speak English but not quite the same.

Another thing I enjoyed while there was attending worship.  I am a Christian who happens to be a Baptist.  The church I attended there was Baptist too and while it was the same, it was different.  They didn’t have offering plates…they used these little bag things with a pole attached.  It was like a fish net but was made a cloth instead of netting.  One of the things we really loved…and wished we could import…was the fellowship time at the end of the service.  After the last prayer, instead of rushing out the door to the nearest restaurant or appointment, everyone, gathered at the back of the worship hall and just visited.  There were some light refreshments but mostly people just talked.  How novel.

One thing that was a little different was the songs that they sang.  While some were familiar there were several that were totally new to us.  So, I was glad when the song person said we were going to sing, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”  That is a wondrous (pun intended) song and one of the older hymns that I enjoy singing.  As the instruments, a piano, flute, and guitar began to plan the introduction…something wasn’t quite right…not familiar.  And soon, very soon, I realized that while I knew the words, I certainly wasn’t familiar with the melody. How about that?  Same song, same words, different melody.

So, I jumped right in and worked my way through the unfamiliar melody motivated by the beautiful familiar words.  And even with the different melody, the words carried me into worship.  And just about then it hit me.  In life, church or no church, we can come together and do life.  We may walk or dance to a different tune but still can be carried by the same message.  Wouldn’t it be a better world if we realized that we are all created by the same God and the things that make us different are not a weakness but a strength?  Wouldn’t it be a better world if we were not driven apart by skin color, or our heart language or the social economic station we are in life?  Let me tell you. It.Would.Be.Better.

Of the thousand things that I love about Jesus, one of the best is that He loves people.  Period.  When He lived here, He just saw people as people.  Some might have been more broken than others, but He loved them all the same.  One time a bunch of people met Him on the shore as He got out of a boat.  I’m sure there were all kinds of people there that day but all He saw was people and the Bible just says He had compassion on them.  He loved them.

If you are a Jesus follower, or even if you are not, why not follow the example of this lowly man from an obscure part of the world.  Why not set out today to see people as people…and love them regardless.  Even if they look different, speak different, believe differently or, gulp, vote differently than you…why not just love them?  If you happen to be a Jesus person, well, I’m sure that is something that would make Him smile…and if not well…He probably would smile anyway.  Accepting people as people isn’t easy but with a little help from the One who made us…anything is possible.  In other words, He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, forgiveness, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, love, loving others, missions, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel

Walking the Jesus Road

There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord of all richly blesses all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:12-13

It seemed like a waste of time.  I was part of a mission’s medical team, and we were ministering in Uganda.  We were working with a ministry that helped orphans and due to war, Aids, and poverty—there were many to help.  After ministering at the orphanage, we went out to local villages and into the bush to reach more of the people.  Medical care, though extremely inexpensive, was out of the reach of most of the people.  That alone clearly speaks of their poverty.  It was such an opportunity to help others.

Before we started the clinic, I would have the opportunity to speak to the people.  I would explain that there was a Man named Jesus who was like no other man.  He would go from village to village helping people—often healing them of their diseases.  I would explain that He did it because He loved them.  Then, I would tell the people that we were followers of that Man and just as He wanted to help people—we wanted to help them.  I explained that the medicine and the doctors were there at no charge to them because someone else had paid the price.  And naturally, that led to me sharing how God was offering them a way for their spiritual brokenness to be forgiven.

Some of the people in the village had heard of this Man—many had not.  Some were Muslims and some followed whatever local religion they were familiar with.  Before they saw the doctors, we had the privilege of sharing with them more about this man Jesus.  We would ask them if they wanted to leave whatever “god” road they were on and walk the Jesus Road.  While it seems simplistic here, there it made perfect sense.  There was no pressure just an opportunity to believe.  Whether they said yes or no, the medicine, the help, was theirs for free.  That’s what Jesus would do.

It had been a long day and we had seen well over a hundred patients—maybe two hundred.  Many had said yes to the question about the Jesus Road, but some simply said no. As the day wore on, our spirits were still willing, but our bodies were growing tired.  Finally, there was just one man left and it was my turn to share with him.  He was tall and dressed in the traditional Muslin clothing.  I could tell that he was elderly, but I was surprised to learn that he was 81 years old.  Now, honestly, the chances of a Muslin man that old choosing to change roads was slim to none.  It seemed like an exercise in futility.

I shared a Bible story with him and was surprised that he paid close attention.  At the end of the story, which spoke of a person choosing to walk the Jesus Road, through the interpreter, I asked him, “Would you like to follow this Jesus Road?”  Much to my utter surprise, he responded, “Yes, I would.”  I was certain he just didn’t understand my question, so I rephrased it and his response was the same. Amazing.  Finally, I said, “Do you understand that walking the Jesus Road requires you to leave the road you are on?”  I said, “You cannot walk two roads…only one.” His response was, “I choose the Jesus Road.”

We bowed our heads and he prayed telling Creator God that he was a sinner, but he believed that Jesus had died to pay for his sins.  He said that he was willing to leave all other roads and follow only Jesus.  And just like that, this dear old man, became a Jesus follower. Did he fully understand all the theology that was involved?  Probably not, but he did know that God loved him, that he was a sinner and Jesus would forgive him and that was enough.  What seemed like a waste of time, an exercise of futility, turned into the most amazing moment of the trip.  That day that man became a child of God.

This story never grows old—and neither does the old, old story about Jesus being born, living, dying, being buried, and coming back to life in three days—never to die again. It is a factual, amazing story.  I am always amazed that we know more about this carpenter from a small village in the middle of nowhere than we do of all the Roman emperors combined.  Do you know the reason?  Jesus is the real deal.  How about that?

You might be surprised to learn that Jesus wasn’t a big fan of religion. In fact, neither is God.  I always think of religion as man’s attempt to reach God while Jesus was God’s way to reach us.  A relationship with God is not about church, being good, or keeping rules.  It is about God’s love and our faith in what Jesus did.  It is simple, it is powerful, and it is true.

If you want a witness, you can go to Uganda and find my 81-year-old friend, but truthfully, he probably isn’t there.  By now, he has most likely followed the Jesus Road straight into heaven.  That’s where it ultimately ends.  And as much as I love the fact that the road leads there, I am also so glad that there is room for two to walk side by side—Jesus and me, Jesus and you, Jesus and us.  And as we walk, I know that I can face whatever the road holds because, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

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

Miracle (or not) of the Bag

For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37

There was no way.  We were once again on our way to West Africa.  This particular trip was a medical trip, and they were always the most fulfilling.  The needs in the Sub-Saharan region of West Africa are always mammoth.  Since water is always a problem that means food is too.  But second to that is the need for medical care.  Though health care is very reasonable compared to here in America…the bottom line is the people are just extremely poor and often the care they need is simply not available.  That is particularly true in the fringe desert regions of Niger.

This wasn’t a large team but is was a great one. We were all friends and several of us were Africa mission trip veterans.  For one in particular, this was her first trip and she handled it like a real trooper. On the morning we were to fly out, Judy and I went by to pick up one of our team team members named Rhoda (her name has been changed to protect the innocent). She attended our church and is a good friend of ours.  Rhoda has one of the most merciful and loving hearts of anyone I know.  If she has any capacity to help…she will.  Now we had had a couple of team meetings to go over the general expectations including customs, the number of bags you could carry, and very specifically, the weight allowance for each bag…which is fifty pounds.  Not fifty-two or fifty-one—fifty pounds.

When we arrived at Rhoda’s house, the air was electric with excitement.  Since I was the only guy from Harrisburg, I was quickly assigned the role of “pack horse.”  In other words—I got to carry the luggage to the car and load it.  Well, I went into Rhoda’s house and picked up the first bag.  I’ve done this enough that I can tell just about how much a bag weighs.  This one was just about on the money.  I went to the car and chucked it in the trunk.  I went back to get bag number two and as I went to get it—it seemed to be nailed to the floor.  With some effort, however, I was able to lift it off the floor—barely.

It was about that time that Rhoda walked into the room.  I asked her, “Rhoda, did you weigh this bag?  It feels a “little” heavy” (I was being extremely generous.)  She assured me that the bag was ok and so with some grunting and groaning, I kinda lifted and kinda slid the bag out the door, down the sidewalk and to the car.  Again, with considerable effort I managed to hoist the bag into the trunk.  All this while I’m going, “Man, this bag feels heavy…but hey…she said…” So, with the luggage on board and people seat-belted in, off we went to the airport where we met our final team member. When we arrived, we got one of those carts to help with the luggage.  We needed it.

Again, with considerable effort, I soon had the bags on the cart, and we headed inside to get checked in.  Judy and I went first.  We checked our luggage—fifty pounds each thank you—got our boarding passes and we were set.  Rhoda was next.  Her first bag was right at fifty pounds.  Go, Rhoda, Go.  I lifted the suspicious bag on the scale and watch with amazement (I think that is the right word) as the scale zinged up toward the sky and stopped at…sixty-five pounds…fifteen pounds over the limit.  Well, you can probably imagine my expression and explanation.  “Rhoda” I said, “what in the world?  I thought you said the bag was ok.”  “Well, pastor,” merciful Rhoda explained, “I was praying for a miracle.” 

I don’t remember if we laughed, cried, or both but two things were sure.  First this was one miracle that God chose not to give us. Second, the clerk wasn’t a fan of grace—at least not fifteen pounds worth, anyway.  We took the bag off the scale and placed it on the floor to lighten it up.  Fortunately, some friends had hung around and they were going to be able to help us with the excess stuff.  And here is the picture of Rhoda’s beautiful heart. People had donated and she had gone to Bath and Body and bought those West African ladies… bottles and bottles and tubes and tubes …of all kinds of lotions and creams.  She knew they needed it for their dried-out desert skin and wanted to bless them.

Well, we had to remove fifteen pounds of Bath and Body and leave it with our friends.  But don’t worry—there were still fifty pounds of blessings left.  Almost the entire bag wasn’t for Rhoda—it was for her new friends in West Africa.  And do you know what?  The whole trip was just one big blessing.  We were able to provide free medical care to so many people and shared stories from the Bible with many others.  When it was all said and done—we were blessed and humbled and God was made big.  We didn’t get the miracle of the bag with the Bath and Body items, but we did get the miracle of changed hearts—ours.

The Bible tells us that nothing is impossible with God and I believe that to my core.  That doesn’t mean that we always get exactly what we want or the way we want it.  It does mean that in the end—it will all work out.  I think by and large that is one of the lessons we have learned through this COVID hot mess.  We have learned, or are learning, that if we will just leave it to Him…He will handle it, in His way and His time. Always, always—He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne