Posted in fear, life, sovereignty of God, wisdom

Poison Ivy

 “Can a man scoop a flame into his lap and not have his clothes catch on fire? Can he walk on hot coals and not blister his feet?” Proverbs 6:27-28

I should have been more careful.  I should have known better. I have a long history of cutting firewood and being around the woods.  For the better part of 17 or 18 years, wood was our primary, and sometimes only, source of heat.  It all started back in LaMonte, Missouri and continued when we moved to Cobden, Illinois…in fact, that is where it really became a part of our lives.  We lived in a large Victorian home and our heat was whatever was piled in the driveway.  So, with the help of a very good friend named Gerry, virtually every Saturday we would go and “cut wood.

As the years went by, I learned a lot about safety in the woods.  I remember the first time I used a chain saw back in LaMonte.  The guys told me to be careful and never pull the saw toward you.  Yeah, well, one of the first things I did was pull the saw toward me (call me a slow learner) and nick my leg.  I learned about how to notch a tree, sharpen a chain and how to load and stack wood.  I learned a lot.  But one thing that I never paid much attention too was poison ivy.  While I never intentionally rolled in it, it seemed for the most part I was one of those lucky people who it didn’t affect.  Well, fast forward to a couple of weeks ago.  I was wrong.

It turns out, I guess, that I was indeed lucky but not in the way that I thought.  I was lucky that it never “got me” and somehow, someway, recently it did.  We were sitting around the other day, and I was wearing shorts.  I noticed on my left leg several (five to be exact) small red dots.  I told Judy, “Look at these bites on my leg.”  They were in random places, and I thought that a mosquito or two had decided to have lunch.  Well, again, I was wrong.

In a very short time it became evident I had somehow, someway, gotten into some poison ivy.  Those five small dots grew into narrow strips of angry, red, raised, skin and it was very apparent that what I thought couldn’t get me…did.  Now as outbreaks go, this one wasn’t very bad but for a guy who never had it, for a guy who thought it wouldn’t, couldn’t get him, it was bad enough. It itched, then itched some more, and then just for fun…itched some more.  So far, and notice that means it is still going on, I have managed not to scratch it, but I will be very glad when this is in the rearview mirror.

The crazy thing is I really don’t know when or where it happened.  We have a little bit in our yard but even though I didn’t think I was allergic, I was also pretty careful.  I hadn’t been in the real woods, but one thing is for sure…I got too close somehow, somewhere. And, because of that I have some pretty unpleasant circumstances.  Maybe I wasn’t careful enough.  Maybe I thought it might get you but not me.  Maybe I didn’t look close enough in the flowerbeds around our yard.  All that really doesn’t matter I suppose.  What does matter is that it got me.  It.Got.Me.

Did you know that sin, those things that God and culture both warn us about, can and will get us?  Did you know that even though we think it will happen to someone else and not us…it can…it will?  Did you know that regardless of how “innocent” we think we might be…the consequences are the same?  Judy always told me about poison ivy.  Being a garden person, she told me, “Leaves of three…let it be.”  I clearly heard her but frankly, since it seemed I couldn’t get it, I just didn’t pay close attention.  Now, oh yes now, I know differently.  We would do well to treat sin the same way.

The Bible, in the Old Testament part, asks a really good question.  In the Book of Proverbs, it asks if a man can hug fire to his chest and not be burned?  Of course, the obvious answer is no, you can’t.  But it turns out the writer isn’t talking about fire…he is talking about sin.  Mess with sin and you are going to get burned and with the burn comes the consequences and with the consequences come misery.  It is true with poison ivy, and it is true with sin.

Well, the bottom line is regardless of my long history with not getting poison ivy, I now have a new history and trust me I am going to be a lot more careful around my three-leaf adversary.  Green and lush or not…it is not my friend…and neither is that thing we often run to…sin.  By the way, if you stumble into poison ivy there are a few things that can help with the itch.  And, if you stumble into sin, well, His grace is more than enough.  Just ask the Heavenly Father and He will be more than willing to help.  You might say, “He’s got this.”

Posted in fear, forgiveness, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, thankful, travel, Trials

Big Foot, Lions, Tigers and Bears

 “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” John 16:33b

If you remember from yesterday, Judy and I had climbed to the top of a bluff in Southern Illinois.  It was smack dab in the middle of the COVID hot mess and we needed a break, so we took a hike.  As we stood there, it was just beautiful. Tens of thousands of acres were bursting into spring and God was shouting, “Hey just like winter’s dreary brownness must give way to the new life of spring–this will pass.”  It was a good moment.  Before long, with night just over an hour away, it was time to go down from the bluff and head home.  Folks say there is no place like home–that is if you can find it.

Well, the magical phone app Judy was using is called, “All Trails.”  It really is quite cool. You start the app at the selected trailhead and using GPS it guides you through the woods.  The trail is shown right there on the screen–even ones that aren’t even there. And that, dear friends, is where the fun began.

So, according to our trusty app, Stoneface trail made a loop back to the car.  Now a loop is better because you don’t have to see the same scenery twice.  It’s all new.  We decided to take the loop.  At first the trail was pretty evident.  We came to a low split rail fence across the trail.  We thought it meant no horses on Stoneface.  What it really meant was if you go past this point you are going to die.  We went past that point.

We walked and hiked for a while and strangely that grumpy feeling started coming back again.  It may have had to do with the fact that I started to realize that the app was lying to us.  “Trail? What trail? I don’t know anything about a trail.” So, we reached the point where we had to go down the bluff.  Remember, there is no trail, there is no sign of a trail…only a friendly app that kept saying, “you’re on the trail.”

Now there are not words to describe this journey but I’m going to try.  We were walking, sliding, down a 90% embankment (ok maybe it was like 20%) and rocks covered with leaves are rolling like ball-bearings under our feet. We cross rivers (ok- creeks), change time zones, and go through small Grand Canyons.  I’m growing concerned.  “Hey Judy, we have less than an hour of daylight.” “No problem” she said.  “The app says we are on the trail,” she said.  I won’t tell you what I said.

On we went with our app spewing out lies about trails.  Then it happened.  I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye and there just forty yards away was Bigfoot–or the Abominable Snowman–I couldn’t tell for sure.  We were in deep weeds.  Then, I heard a duet being played by a banjo and guitar.  Yup–we were going to die.  On we marched–lions, tigers and bears frolicked all around us.  “Hey Judy,” I said.  “The app says…,” she said.

So, the app lied.  Period.  But there is one thing it didn’t lie about.  After about an hour or so, she said, “I see the car.”  I said, literally, “Thank you Lord.” Another ten minutes or so and I was hugging that glorious thing–no, not Judy, the car.  So, what is the moral of this strange and twisted trail–I mean, tale.  Trust.

While the app didn’t tell the truth about the trail, it did tell the truth about the one thing that mattered–the destination.  It led us to the car.  And, you know, I think the app kinda reminded me of God. First and emphatically, unlike the app, God never lies…we just stop believing and trusting Him.  We think He promises paved roads and smooth journeys and then we get mad when He doesn’t deliver.  Read this carefully–God never promised that.  In fact, Jesus said in John 16:33b “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

He told us the path would be rough.  He told us the trail would be difficult.  He didn’t promise storm free living, rather He promised He would never leave us–never abandon us, and He doesn’t.  Most importantly, He said we are going home, and we are.  If we confess our sins, trust in what Jesus did on the cross, turn from our sins and choose to follow Him–we are going home.  That is the gospel truth–literally.

So, there you go.  If you go to Stoneface…don’t take the loop.  If are feeling overwhelmed–trust Jesus.  If you are feeling like God didn’t keep His end of the deal…remember the truth…it’s not smooth sailing but He is leading us home.  No matter how big the waves of the storm, He is bigger.  So, rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in gratitude, life, Scripture, thankful, travel

Stoneface

 “A person’s steps are established by the LORD, and He takes pleasure in his way.” Psalm 37:23

Stoneface.  Without context that could means several things.  Like when you are late for supper again…and your wife gives you the look–stone face. Or you have your eye on a parking spot and someone whips in front of you and you give the other driver the look–stone face.  Well here in Southern Illinois, it can also mean a rock formation that when viewed from the side looks like a man’s face.

During the COVID shutdown, Judy and I decided to take a hike and see this natural formation.  After work, we slipped on some comfortable shoes and drove out to the trailhead.  That is where the story begins.  Now this is going to be a two-part deal so be sure and tune in on tomorrow for part two.

So, at the trailhead, several things became apparent rather quickly.  One, the trail wasn’t maintained very well.  Well, actually it wasn’t maintained at all.  There were holes, rocks, roots, and a host of other hazards that made the hike not difficult but challenging.  Second, it was wet.  There were several places where water had found a way to puddle up (it didn’t practice social distancing) and the result was a mud obstacle course. I should have worn my boots. Third, at times the trail became difficult to follow.  Now at no point did it totally disappear but it was a little difficult to see.

Oh, and there was one more thing. Up. The trail went up. That shouldn’t have caught me by surprise since Stoneface was up and I was down.  But after a while it occurred to me that this was more up than I thought it should be.  The bottom line is this hike was not meeting my expectations and I might have gotten a little grumpy. Judy with her optimistic spirit was chatty all the way up.  “Oh look,” she said at a rock by the trail. “Oh look,” she said at a tree growing by the trail.  Like I said, I may have been a little grumpy.

After a while we got to the top of the bluff and the trail improved and so did my attitude.  I started noticing the rocks by the trail. Do you know what?  They were beautiful.  I started noticing the trees by the trail.  Each one was unique–hand crafted by a God much bigger than me.  Within a few minutes I too was quite chatty.  God had impressed me.

From the top of the bluff the rock formations were incredible and so was the view.  You could see the beautiful Southern Illinois landscape for miles and miles.  The handiwork of God was awesome.  As we were standing on top of the bluff I looked down and right there, slightly below us, was Stoneface. It was smaller than I expected but more detailed and obvious too.  About then it happened. I was glad to be there.

The rocks, roots and holes on the trail were far less significant.  The times when the trail seemed difficult to follow no longer mattered.  My chatty sweetie that seemed a little annoying on the way up seemed especially beautiful at the top. It was worth it. And just about then it hit me.

God’s plans for me–they’re not always smooth and paved.  They have their potholes and puddles.  They aren’t always downhill for He is often leading me uphill for a view from the top–to see His grandeur.  Psalm 37:23 says, “A person’s steps are established by the LORD, and He takes pleasure in his way.” That means that God directs my life and He is leading me in a way that is for my good and His glory.  Always.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”  2021–trust.  Illness–trust.  Personal loss–trust. Unemployment–trust. You get the idea.  The path may be a little challenging but the view from the top will be worth it.  Always. So, trust Him.  Rest in Him.  He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne 

Posted in life, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

Falling for Indian Point

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him with His hand.” Psalm 37:23-24

 I fell and I fell hard.  It was Sunday afternoon.  I had the opportunity to speak a couple of times at the church where I pastor and it was, as always, one of the things I just enjoy.  I love sharing and watching truth come alive in people.  It was a great day to be at church too because every Sunday someone new comes back from the COVID blip.  It is like Christmas morning and a family reunion all rolled into one.  After church there was lunch with a couple of friends and family and then…wait for it…the nap.

There is something about a Sunday afternoon nap that is almost sacred.  After speaking and eating, napping is just a natural.  Well, after all the essentials were done, I decided to…take a hike.  My wife Judy was down south visiting family so I had some time to myself.  I really enjoy hiking with her but second best is just taking a hike.  It was a beautiful day and Judy and I had talked several times about trying a trail called Indian Point.  That was my destination. So after a short drive,  I arrived and was glad to find it wasn’t too crowded

So, I hopped out of the car and off I went.  I forgot my hiking stick in the trunk until I was about ten minutes in and I would regret that a little later but hey.  The first part of the trail was like a nice walk in the woods.  There were plenty of rocks and roots to avoid but not enough to distract from the beauty around me.  I slowly ascended and soon, off to my right, I began noticing spurs off the trail that led to various lookouts.  They were amazing.  Atop large rock formations, the valley below spread out like a beautiful quilt in various shades of green.  God impressed me…again.

Soon I was back on the trail, still amazed and still climbing up.  Before long, I could see what had to be the trail’s name sake…Indian Point.  It was a large rock outcropping many, many yards wide and it just invited you to come and see.  So, I stepped up the pace in anticipation of what was coming.  I should have been a little more careful.  On my way to the point, I suddenly had an unexpected experience.  As I was walking and as I was looking ahead, my boot caught a small root knob and, well, it wasn’t pretty.

I’m not sure if my hiking stick would have saved me or not but since it was back in the car that didn’t matter.  I stumbled for one step and then just fell. There was no time to break the fall, no time to put my hand out—I fell and I fell hard.  I landed on my left side and frankly for the first few seconds I was just stunned.  And then, in a moment of brilliance, I said, out loud, “That hurt.” And it did.  In my pride, I was immediately glad that no one was around to see my descent and painful crash landing.

I slowly, ever so slowly, stood up and accessed the damages.  First, thankfully, it involved no blood but it did include a large knot on my left forearm, a banged-up knee and a rib cage that said, “Ouch.”  Ok, so, I proceeded to the lookout, determined not to let what had happened rob me of the moment—and it didn’t.  I continued on the trail and what lay before me was just amazing.  The incredible rock bluffs, caves and flowering trees were amazing.  I was blown away. God was obviously showing off when He made this part of Southern Illinois.

So, I made it back to the car and, yes, there were definitely some sore body parts.  A few minutes later, I had to cough and I quickly found out just how sore my ribcage was.  When I got home, I found out I couldn’t even bend over to get my boots off.  The good news is that after taking too much Ibuprofen, I could.  And for all of you who are worrying, by Monday morning things were better.  My arm and ribs are still stinking sore but other than that—I’m ok.  Oh, and for the record, I wouldn’t have missed the hike for anything.  I can’t wait to take Judy with me.

My big take away wasn’t the fact that I fell, or that I was going too fast, or that I should have been paying closer attention—though all those are valid.  My big take away—and don’t miss this—was how something so small could cause me to fall so hard.  The root knob was probably two inches high but it was all that was needed to bring me down. For all my trails in my future, at least as long as I remember how bad this hurt, I will probably be a little more careful.  I know I was a bit sloppy in my walking but it’s hard to look down when things above are so beautiful. There’s a lot of truth in that one!

My Dearest Daddy, of course, knew all about all of this and you might want to debate His goodness.  If He is so good why this and why that but you would be missing the point.  The fact is…I walked away.  The fact is…this morning, I can move.  The fact is…I was able to enjoy the rest of the hike.  The fact is…He is a good, good Father.  One of my favorite Bible verses says that He directs my steps and even if I do fall, He is there to pick me up.  I like that…a lot and He was there to pick me up.  And, He will be there to pick you up.

So, if you have some time and enjoy hiking, take a hike on Indian Point trail in Southern Illinois and be prepared to be impressed. Watch for the rocks and the roots and don’t get too much in a hurry.  You might take a tumble and you might miss something spectacular.  And don’t be afraid because whether it is a trail or day at the office, or no matter what, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne