Posted in Family, fear, gratitude, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

Seasons Come and Seasons Go

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.  A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Seasons come and seasons go.  Judy’s great nephew recently posted a picture on Facebook. It showed their son, maybe five years old, walking down his driveway.  On his back he carries a backpack that is just about as big as he is. He is heading to school—his first day of kindergarten. The first day of school is an event, even more so when it is kindergarten, especially for mom and dad. In the foreground of the picture, is a line of toys…I suppose some of his favorites.  The message was beautifully clear. As seasons change, as great adventures come along, as each new journey starts, sometimes you must leave what you love behind. It’s part of growing up—it’s part of life. I’m sure out of camera range was mom, and dad too, who watched through teary eyes.  Their little boy was growing up.  Seasons come and seasons go.

It happened a couple of weeks ago as fall silently arrived. Did you feel it? Did you sense it? Probably not.  For most it wasn’t even a blip on the calendar. There was no fanfare, no ticker-tape parade, no sounds trumpeting its arrival.  In many ways it was just a day on the calendar that most of us probably missed.  But not everyone missed it.  The trees took note.  Slowly and surely, their leaves began turning a beautiful yellow and red before drifting, floating to the ground.  The plants took note.  The shortening days began telling their leaves it was time to prepare for next spring by preparing for winter’s sleep.  And oh yes, the squirrels definitely knew it.  They began gathering their supply of acorns and pecans, tucking them away for the coming winter.  You see, fall is a time of transition…nature’s way of letting us know that another season is soon coming…Winter. And winter, like all the seasons, is something to celebrate—something to embrace.

For me the first day of fall was an event.  Every year I look forward to it. I told my wife that part of the mystery of fall is how something so beautiful prepares the way for a time of dormancy and sleep.  You might think of it as a time of things dying but you would be wrong.  No, it is a time of preparation and transition.  Remember…seasons come and seasons go. And in the beauty of fall we see the promise of spring, of new life.  It is that way for nature.  It is that way for us.  In the fall of our lives, things begin to change and it is God’s way of preparing us for new life, eternal life with Him. While we do have to walk through the winter of death, just on the other side is the eternal spring of heaven.  It is something to celebrate—something to embrace.

So, seasons come and go.  It is true in nature and it is true in life.  While the changing seasons sometimes bring challenges they also bring on exciting new adventures. Changing seasons on the calendar are something to celebrate—something to embrace.  It is God’s promise to us that something new is coming. The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us that for everything there is a season—a time for every purpose under heaven.  He’s telling us that seasons come and seasons go. There are times for living and dying, playing and harvesting, dancing and sitting still. Yes, it is something to celebrate—and something to embrace.

As we casually flip the pages of the calendar, as the clock keeps ticking, leading us toward new seasons and new adventures, don’t get stuck in the cold of winter. No, remember this—spring is on the other side.  Every day is a gift from God and is a gentle nudge from our Dearest Daddy that He is preparing new seasons and new adventures for us.  Like our first day of kindergarten, it might mean leaving behind some of the things we love, but we can rest in Him knowing that only the best comes from Him and He never, ever gets it wrong.  Never. Sleep well tonight knowing that He who creates the days, masters the same.  Rest knowing that He’s got this. 

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, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

I Was Moved, I Was Grateful

For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

I made a random turn…into the cemetery.  The other evening Judy and I were out on a mission.  One of our ladies had given us some homemade ice cream and we were returning the container.  Oh, in case you are wondering, it was way beyond delicious.  It was peach and it was peachy.  I’ve already put in a request for strawberry next.  So we returned the container and just kinda started driving randomly.  As we went down the street the entrance to the cemetery came up on the right—and I turned right in.

Slowly we started driving down the lanes and just as slowly I started reading some of the headstones there.  First, though, on the left was the newly rededicated “Little Arlington.”  It was dusk and the lights were on and I was so impressed with the great work the crew had done.  One of those was our own Jacob Palmer.  Great job, Jacob.  But I was also impressed with what it represented.  Sacrifice.  Ultimate sacrifice.  The kind of sacrifice that means you don’t get to come home from the war.  I love what is often said, “All gave some but some gave all.” For that, I was moved and I was grateful.

Just down the lane was a grave that caught my attention.  It was a young soldier who went to Korea to fight for his country in what has been called “the forgotten war.”  He was 27 years old when he died on some battlefield, some hill in a country for away.  He was fighting and ultimately died for the cause of freedom.  I was moved and I was grateful.

In several places, Judy and I would stop as we saw a headstone that was personal because we knew, we loved, the ones buried there.  Sometimes both of the names were etched there in the stone and it symbolized two lives joined into one with one story.  And for both the story was concluded.  Sometimes though only one name had the start and finish dates. The other story was still being written and there was a heart longing for heaven and a long awaited reunion.  One stone declared and celebrated 72 years of marriage.  So many of those story writers had touched our lives.  I was moved and I was grateful.

There were also stones of tragedy.  There stood the stone marking the grave of two brothers tragically killed one night by a drunk driver.  Several of stones showed lives cut short by a tragic accident.  Over there was the headstone of one of the victims from the 2012 tornado.  Everywhere were stories of people who touched the lives of others. One stone showed an American flag engraved in full color—the grave of a proud veteran.  One grave was that of a pastor and a veteran of World War II.  So many stories, so many lives, so many contributions.  I was moved and I was grateful.

As we continued around the lanes inside the hallowed grounds we noticed there were places where whole families were buried together.  Generations of fathers and mothers, sons and daughters lay in eternal rest together.  The stones often bore nicknames and tag lines of the one who lay there.  On one grave was a tattered flag that said, “#1 Dad.” Some graves though were barely marked.  The only indication that someone lay there was a rock or a stone.  In another part of the cemetery were the pauper graves.  I have stood at some of those graves as we laid to rest someone that almost no one knew.  Once it was the funeral director and me.  No one else came. I was moved and I was grateful.

“Wait,” you say.  “How can you be grateful?”  Well the reason is simple.  Whether it was a family plot of many generations or a solitary grave of a person when no one came—Jesus was still there.  He is the unseen attendee of every funeral.  For many He is there as Savior and Lord. For others He is there as the Sovereign Lord Who wishes all to believe but knows not all will.  But He is there.  He is always there.  When we need Him, when we want Him and yes, even when we ignore Him.  I am moved and I am grateful.

When you get some time, take a slow drive through the cemetery.  It is anything but morbid…it is in fact one of the most meaningful things we can do.  You will be touched, you will be moved, and yes, somewhere along the way you will be grateful.  Let each headstone with a start and finish date be a reminder that for you there is still time.  Still time to make a difference, still time to mend a relationship, still time to finish well.  But most importantly…there is still time to believe and trust in Him.  The Book says that if anyone will call on His name…they will be saved—forgiven—rescued. No story is so bad that He can’t change the end.  Once again I am moved and I am grateful.

Many see the cemetery and think death.  For those who truly understand grace and Jesus they know the cemetery isn’t about death it is about life.  You learned it in Sunday School but now hear it again…like the first time.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever (that is you and me) calls on His name will not perish but have everlasting life.  So trust in Him and rest in Him.  For He has all of this. 

Posted in fear, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

The Thief

Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” Psalm 90:12

The thief has struck again.  Without anyone noticing a thief has been stealing from us all.  It happens visually everyday and no one does anything to stop it because they can’t.  Slowly and almost without notice the thief takes from us and we usually don’t notice until it is too late.  Who is this thief?  It is time itself…the calendar.

The day of the year with the most daylight hours is usually around June 21st.  It is known as the summer equinox.  On that day, the tilt of the earth allows the northern hemisphere to be closest to the sun allowing the maximum amount of daylight hours.  On June 21st sunrise occurred at 5:32 am in our town.  Fourteen hours and forty-six minutes later it sets at 8:19 pm.  From that time forward, slowly and surely the amount of daylight hours slowly begins to recede.

You ask, “How much?”  Well, today the sun will rise at 6:07 am and will set at 7:50 pm.  If you do the math you will discover that will give us 13 hours and 43 minutes of daylight.  Amazingly you will find that the thief has taken an hour and 3 minutes from us.  And each passing day he will take another few minutes.  Finally, someday in the near future you will get up and wonder why it is still dark or why the sun is setting so early.  The answer is the daylight thief.

I find all this pretty fascinating.  As the days and weeks march by it reminds us that fall is coming.  Before long, the leaves will be changing colors and falling to the ground.  Perhaps, before long our thoughts, even for a few hours, will be on a happy place like Thanksgiving and not the corona virus.  On December 21 the process will all reverse.  We will begin to gain back those precious minutes of daylight and it will remind us of the promise that spring is on its way.

The amazing part of all of this is how subtly it happens. It is true of the calendar and the hours of daylight we experience, and it is true of so many small things in our lives.  We take in a few too many calories and before long we wonder why our clothes are tighter.  Humidity?  I mean they do call it the air you can wear.  We miss a few days of exercise and wonder why our energy level suddenly drops.  We miss a few days talking with our Dearest Father and wonder why He feels like a stranger. We miss our time with the Book and find ourselves bumbling our way through life. Sigh.  It is all too familiar and all too predictable.

The secret, I believe, is to be aware.  I have one of those “Joe Cool” Apple watches that tells me more than I need or want to know.  One of the things it tells me is the time of the sunrise and sunset.  A few days ago the sun was setting at 8:06 pm and I knew that meant before long it would be setting before 8:00 pm.  Sure enough, it is.  Whether it is exercise or calories or prayer or reading the Book, if we will pay attention we will have fewer surprises and consequences.  I like what Moses said.  He wrote, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.”  You know, wisdom to watch what we eat and how much we exercise.  Wisdom to stop and talk to God and read His Book.  Yup…good, good advice.

Paul, one of the writers of the New Testament, put it another way.  He said we should make the most of everyday, not living as someone who is foolish but as someone who is wise.  He goes on to say we should do this because the days are evil—or full of difficulties and challenges.  The fact is we all get 1440 minutes a day—no more, no less.  The hours of daylight may change, but the time has been set for eternity.  1440 opportunities to make the most of life, to get it right.  And, because we are imperfect humans, we can use some of those minutes to talk to our Dearest Father about our warts and failures.  We can snuggle up close as He whispers assurances of love and forgiveness.  We can just rest and know…that He’s got this.

Posted in Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

We Shouldn’t Be Here

If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

I looked at Judy and said, “We shouldn’t be here.” I know when you normally hear those words you are at a movie and a couple of teenagers are standing in a cemetery at midnight with a full moon with a wolf howling and a guy with a chainsaw standing a few feet away.  That was not the case.

So, as you know we live in a world of cancellations.  Vacation. Cancelled. Conference number one.  Cancelled.  Conference number two. Cancelled. In an attempt to get some refreshment I went ahead and registered for conference number three.  About ten days before it started they called and said due to state regulations (North Carolina this time) they were having to dramatically reduce the number of attendees—from 400 to 110.  Judy and I didn’t make the cut…by a long shot.  We registered in early April and they were cancelling all the way back to December of 2019.

I had gotten used to the rejection notices by now.  Like a struggling actor or writer it seemed nothing was going my way.  So, after my normal foot stomping, “this is crazy” and the all time favorite, “when will it ever be normal” I settled back into life…desperately needing a fresh drink of water from the well.  Then it happened.

Less than a week before the conference was to start I received a phone call on my Dick Tracy Apple watch.  I checked the caller ID and it was the conference center.  I ran to the kitchen to get my phone, answered, waiting to see what they wanted.  She told me that they had been allowed to open an overflow room and would we be interested in coming?  If I could speak ten languages I would have said yes in all ten.

So we arrived at the conference and this is when it got interesting.  The people in the main auditorium (and there were only 110 of them—normal attendance is 400) had white name tags and the ones in the overflow had tan name tags.  We received our tan tags and waited for supper.  I began to notice that there were not many tan tags.  How interesting.  When it was time for the conference to start, the white taggers headed to the main room and tan taggers headed upstairs to the overflow area.  And that was the turning point.

In this room meant to hold 150 people there were 28 of us.  Blue covers draped over the back of 28 chairs showed where we could sit.  It turns out I was member of a pretty, small select group. Totally attendance was only 138 people and somehow I was one of them.  Keep in mind all those people who made reservations before April were in front of me in line and somehow, some way we were here.  That’s when I said to Judy, “We shouldn’t be here.”

The topic for the conference was about rebuilding the church in a post quarantine world.  One of the first things he said was that perhaps each of you are here for a specific reason.  He then told the story of a young Jewish girl who, against all odds, found herself as queen in a foreign land.  A plan had been hatched to kill all of the Jews in the land and her uncle was asking her to go the king on the Jews behalf.  He said, “Perhaps for such a time as this God has put you here.”  For such a time as this.  Hmmm.

I honestly feel that for some reason God has allowed me this opportunity to help lead my church in the coming days.  The speaker made it clear that any thought that things are going to be same are just not true.  It is going to be different and challenging.  It is also exciting.  All of this has caused me to revisit the sovereignty of God in all of this.  I mean, I just believe that God is in charge.  Not circumstances, not government, not me.  That means that He does have a plan that He is working out.  The only question is are we going to trust Him and be a part of His plan or are we going to write our own.  Spoiler alert.  That never goes well.

So whether it your every day, walk around life, or a business, or a church, if you are a Jesus follower, are you willing to let the Whisperer whisper and share with you His plan?  I hope I will have the wisdom and courage to do so.  It will mean stepping out of my “I’ve done it this way for 38 years” comfort zone and perhaps, just perhaps, do something different…perhaps radically different.  Who knows, maybe we, with Him, can change our world. So, we shouldn’t be here but I sure am going to be listening for the Whisperer to speak to my heart.  I know it will be right.  I know it will be challenging.  I know it will be exciting.  I know somewhere along the way He is going to say, “Rest in Me.  I’ve got this.”  He does.