Posted in Christmas, Family, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

The Rest of the Story

When it is in your power, don’t withhold good from the one to whom it belongs.” Proverbs 3:27

And now you know the rest of the story.  You might remember that line from Paul Harvey who used to tell some incredible stories from real life.  He would tell the part that was known and then tell the part of the story that was not.  He would always end with, “And now you know the rest of the story.”  Well, today I want to tell you the rest of the story.

In the days right before last Christmas, I wrote a Grits story about my storied Christmas childhood.  It was almost magical.  Each year it seemed that Mama and Daddy pulled it all together, and that always meant sacrifice, and gave us a Christmas beyond our dreams.  I cannot recall one Christmas that wasn’t incredible.  I’ve heard stories from the generation that endured the Great Depression and they would speak of no Christmas or maybe just an apple or orange.  My Daddy and Mama were part of that generation and I wonder if that is why they were so generous to us?

Well, in that story I talked about my Daddy’s old 410 shotgun.  Every Christmas morning, long before sunrise, he or one of my older brothers would go on the back porch or the breezeway and shoot the old 410.  It was like firing the pistol at a horse race.  We knew it was time to race into the room to see what Santa had brought.  I mentioned in the story that I wasn’t sure who had the gun—this priceless family heirloom.  I knew it was somewhere but where?

While I had four brothers, five including me, there are only two of us left.  We are the bookends—he the oldest (soon to be 84) and me the youngest (a long way from 84).  Christmas night I received a message from my brother.  He wrote that he had read my story about Daddy’s old 410 and that I had mentioned that I didn’t know what had happened to it.  He shared with me that he had the gun.  Shortly after our Daddy died in 1974 it came into his possession and he had it ever since.  What he wrote next made the Christmas of 2020 one for the books.

My brother said, “Dewayne, I want you to have Daddy’s old 410.” 

My brother said, “Dewayne, I want you to have Daddy’s old 410.” I couldn’t believe it, so I read it again and I had indeed read the message correctly.  Tears instantly began streaming down my cheek as I shared the text with my wife, Judy. He said he had already talked to his son who was helping with his affairs and let him know his desire to pass it to me.  Well, Judy and I had already made plans to go to Cookeville, Tennessee right after Christmas so I told her that we needed to head to Jacksonville when we were done there so I could go and pick up the gun…and we did.

We drove hundreds of miles and a whole lot of hours to go get “the old 410.”  I couldn’t see the brother who had blessed me due to COVID, as he and his wife life in an assisted living home. I did get to sit and visit with his son who is only six years younger than me.  The gun (not a gun but THE gun) and that visit made every mile and every hour worthwhile.  If I am still alive when my brother passes, I will probably have the opportunity to share at his service.  I already am extremely thankful for him—his fingerprints are all over my life.  But that day I will share this story and how his thoughtfulness made the Christmas of 2020 one I will never forget.

The old 410 sits right to my left as I write this.  I showed it to my oldest grandson and his dad.  We always spend Christmas Eve night with them.  I smiled from ear to ear when my son-in-law leaned over and said, “Papa, you will have to bring the old 410 to our house next year so we can shoot it off Christmas morning.”  That sounds like a grand idea and if the Lord is willing that is exactly what we will do.

The Bible says that we shouldn’t withhold good from a person when it is within our power to grant it.  I am so grateful my brother didn’t wait.  He could have.  He could have passed it to someone else, but instead he chose his baby brother who just happened to write a story.  Me, my Daddy, my uncle and each of my brothers have hunted with this gun—it is a beautiful piece of our family legacy. It is now one of my most cherished possessions.

So, let’s watch for opportunities to bless someone when it is within our power.  I know Jesus was really good at that and if we are Jesus followers, well, we should follow His lead.  I wonder if the Whisperer whispered in my brother’s ear and he just listened.  I wouldn’t be surprised—he and Jesus are pretty tight.  And when it is our turn to be kind, well, don’t worry. He will whisper to you too, and rest assured He will give you the wisdom and ability you need.  He’s got this.

Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, prayer, priorities, thankful

Christmas Eve

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2:15

What are you doing Christmas Eve?  It really is a great question.  All of my life, Christmas Eve has been as much a celebration as Christmas Day itself.  The family would come over, there would be food, lots of food, Mama and the bigger sisters would gather in one of the bedrooms to wrap presents…lots of presents.  I can remember that the three youngest of Mama and Daddy’s eight, dubbed the three little ones, would anxiously wait outside that bedroom door dying to see the name tags on the boxes.  Would it be mine?

As we grew older things changed some but not really.  I think as we became non-believers some of the excitement faded, but it was still special, it was still family, it was still Christmas Eve.  One thing that was not part of our Christmas Eve celebration was church.  I think, though I am not sure, that Baptist Jesus followers didn’t do the church thing on Christmas Eve.  I mean it was ok because we made up for it on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights.  While the Lutherans, Methodists, and Catholics were home watching Bonanza and the Wonderful World of Disney…we had to go to church.  So, it probably worked out okay. I’m sure it didn’t matter to God either way.

Back in 1986, I had the privilege of serving at the First Baptist Church of Cobden, Illinois.  After I had been there a few years I got the crazy idea of having a Christmas Eve Service.  No churches in town were doing one, at least not Protestant ones, and it just seemed like a good idea.  I mean, the shepherds, said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” And, hey, if they went to see Jesus…we should go to worship Jesus!

I remember when I shared my idea with my friends who happened to be deacons, they were at least partially sure I had sprung a leak somewhere.  We batted it around for a few hours (just kidding, a few minutes) and they agreed to give it a try.  Some said, “Now pastor, don’t be surprised if nobody comes.”  Well, we were all surprised not because no one came, but it seemed everyone came.

From the first Christmas Eve the building was full or almost full every year.  Many wonderful traditions were born during those years…traditions involving family and friends.  It was pretty wonderful.  I’ve been gone from Cobden for twenty years now and unless something has changed, they still gather on Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of Redemption’s Child.  I suppose my friend Austin is still playing, “Mary Did You Know” on his old six string.

Well, in 2000, God thought it was time for a new chapter, so we moved to Harrisburg to pastor at Dorrisville Baptist Church.  Well, guess what?  They didn’t have a Christmas Eve service either.  Again, I got this crazy idea.  Why not start one here too?  At that time, I believe there was not a Baptist doing a Christmas Eve service so it was definitely, shall we say, innovative.  Well, I talked to my friends who happened to be deacons, they were at least partially sure I had sprung a leak somewhere.  We batted it around for a few hours (just kidding, only one or two) and they agreed to give it a try.  The general consensus was that it probably wouldn’t work.  The music guy said he could only do it if we did it at 5pm…so 5pm it was.

Well, guess what?  Yup, from the first service, it was a full or almost full house.  We  sang carols, read the Bible, lit candles, and softly sang Silent Night.  I think some people came to see if I could really preach about 15 minutes.  Smile. But the bottom line is that it has become the favorite service of most of our members.  Families come and pack a row of chairs or two.  It is genuinely, sincerely, very special.  At least one time, it was snowing to beat the band with four or five inches on the ground by the time our service started.  I thought, “Surely they won’t come out in this.”  But I was wrong…they came.

So, what are you doing Christmas Eve?  Can I give you a special invitation to find a service somewhere and attend?  We all know how rough this year has been…it is almost beyond words.  And yes, I know we will need to be careful—but somehow, we need to worship.  Honestly, if we can go to Walmart, we can go to church. I know our church is blessed with a large facility that will allow us to socially distance. We are also going to stream the service live online.  Why? I want as many people as possible to experience this wonderful part of Christmas…the part where we corporately thank God for Redemption’s Child.  That night, that Silent Night, I believe we will take home a special gift.  It will be the gift of a promise kept…that a Child, Jesus was born and because of that, we have the assurance that no matter what, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne