Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, life, loving others, missions, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

Zone of Fire

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.” James 1:6a

It was over in a flash.  Well, most everyone has heard of Johnny Cash and most everyone has heard his number one hit, “Ring of Fire.”  Well, Johnny had his ring and I had my “zone of fire.” Twenty-five or so years ago my brother decided he would come up and visit with my wife and I.  It was a big deal because he is from the deep south and well, for him to cross the Mason-Dixon Line was pretty much a miracle.  When we were making plans, he mentioned that he wanted to go pheasant hunting.  Well, I checked into it and found that there was a “bird farm” about an hour from where we lived.

A “bird farm” is a business that owes a ton of land and then raises birds to be released into the wild for the purpose of hunting.  When the day came, we drove up to the bird farm.  When we got there, it was me, him and a couple of other guys, we checked in and the guy said that we would have a dog hunt with us.  That was strange since we didn’t pay for one but hey, ok.  We headed out with the dog and the guide. The way this works is you form a line, straight across, and about fifteen to twenty feet apart.  Then the dog works the area in front of you as you move forward.  If the dog goes on point (which means he found a bird) then the guide scares up the bird and someone, or a lot of someones, shoot.  So we hunted, and hunted and hunted. The bottom line? I was pretty sure there wasn’t a bird within a hundred miles of that place.  The dog never went on point.

From there things went downhill.  The owner came and said that he had accidentally given us the dog and we had to give him up…so we did.  That meant we were totally on our own.  We would walk through the weeds saying, “Here birdie, birdie.”  Ok, not really but we did walk through the field just trying to scare up a bird.  It was beginning to look like a continuation of the time with the dog when it happened.  As we walked through the field, and with no warning, we scared up a bird.  It was a beautiful male pheasant and he just exploded off the ground about thirty feet in front of me and slightly to my right.

I can’t tell you how fast this all happened.  He leapt into the air, I raised my bird gun and fired.  It really was over in a flash and it was a perfect shot.  Just like that the bird was down and everyone was excited.  I had shot pheasant once or twice before but honestly it was a great shot…all except one thing.  Not once, not for a millisecond did I think about my “zone of fire.” Basically, the zone of fire is the predetermined area where it is safe for you to fire your weapon.  It obviously includes where there aren’t any people.  Now, it all worked out just fine.  I was within my zone of fire, but it was not because I intentionally did it—it was just luck.

While I don’t personally believe in luck, I do believe in a God who takes care of us…even when we are just a little—careless.  Truth be known, if that bird was a little closer to the line of guys I could have wounded one of my friends and that would have been unbelievably tragic.  When you have a weapon, you need to be sharp, you need to be focused, and you need to be careful.  You must be always be aware of your zone of fire.

That truth doesn’t just apply to weapons, you know.  We need to apply it anytime we are with people.  You see, we carry a lethal weapon with us all the time.  That would be our mouth.  And if we are not careful, a situation may come up, and before even thinking, boom…someone is wounded or hurt.  And the crazy part? It can happen in a flash just like pheasant exploding off the ground in front of me.  In a moment of time, we can fire from the mouth that will leave a lasting, and sometimes permanent scar, on the heart of someone around us.  We just need to be careful.

James, the half-brother of Jesus said that the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. We all know the stories of the wildfires in the west—the grave property damage and the tragic loss of life.  And James says in the same way the tongue can cause that kind of damage in the lives of people.  What can we do to prevent that?  The same thing when we are using our weapons around others.  We need to be sharp, we need to be focused, and we need to be careful.  Now, I have a friend who is a weapons expert and a great hunter. If he had been there that day, he would have given us a safety briefing which would have included our “zone of fire.”

We have an expert with our tongues too.  He is our Dearest Daddy and because He made us, He knows the destructive power of the tongue and can help us control it. As we walk through each day, He will be by our side and He will guide us and help us.  He will whisper the guidance we need to be safe and not hurt others.  He is a guide that can be trusted and depended on.  After all, He’s got this. 

Posted in Family, food, forgiveness, life, loving others, Scripture, Southern born

Spilt Milk

I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37

It gets really hot in North Florida.  When I write these stories I try and remember things that happened in my youth and sometimes they are just funny.  When I was about eight years old, my mom and dad were always looking for ways to save a little money.  I didn’t know if we were rich or poor and most of the time, I didn’t care.  Sometimes it was obvious but most of the time, it was just normal.

I’m not sure how we started, but we began to buy our milk from a family that lived about a mile from us.  It wasn’t really a dairy farm, it was more like they had three or four cows. We would go over twice a week and buy a gallon in big half-gallon glass jugs.  And let me tell you…this wasn’t that pasteurized stuff we drink today.  It was straight from the cow.  And one more thing, it wasn’t 2%, or 1%, or skim milk.  No sir, this stuff came fully loaded with milk fat.  It was good.  We had an old ice cream churn, the kind you had to crank, and this milk made the best ice cream you have ever tasted.  It was always a special day when we went and got milk.  And then one day it wasn’t.

We were still driving that old 1957 Plymouth and it was time to get milk.  I think Mama was driving and one of my sisters was in the front seat and the other in the back with me.  Those were the days before seat belts and rules about kids not sitting up front.  In fact, in those days dashboards were made out of metal.  Anyway, we got to the home where they sold the milk. Mama paid the lady and I was to carry the milk to the car and carefully put it on the floorboard in the backseat.  It was a good plan…almost.

The milk jugs had little handles on the top near the neck of the jug.  I picked up the jugs, one in each hand and headed to the car.  I put the jugs down on the ground and opened the back door.  I turned around and picked up one of the jugs and set it on the floorboard.  Then I turned around to get the second jug and put it next to the other.  You know, next is a nice word.  It means close to.  Well, I swung that ole jug through the door and well, you might say I got it just a little too close to the other one.  There was a sound of glass hitting glass and one of the jugs busted wide open and that nice fresh milk spilled all over the carpeted (remember that) floorboard.  Bummer.

Mama came over and of course was upset about the wasted milk.  I was too, but you know what they say, “There’s no use crying over spilt milk.” That is true, however, things were going to get worse before they got better.  I suppose we bought another half-gallon of milk and headed for the house.  Once there I did my best to clean up the spilt milk. The problem was twofold, there was carpet and then, like they did back then, there was also a thick pad underneath that carpet.  You could do what you wanted to, but there was no way all that milk was coming out of that carpet and pad.

Remember, I told you that it was really hot in North Florida.  Well, by the next morning there was a strange odor in the whole car and it got worse and worse.  By the end of the first day the smell of sour milk made it just about impossible to sit in the car.  We already had the windows down because there was no air conditioning, but even that didn’t stop the odor.  The breeze from the open windows made it better, but when Mama or Daddy hit a stop light, Katie bar the door…it smelled awful. For days and days our 1957 Plymouth smelled horrible. I’m pretty sure I was not winning any family member popularity contests for the next couple of weeks. The smell lasted long after the accident…oh boy did it.

Have you ever broken a jug of milk in your car before?  Well, probably not, but let me ask you this.  Have you ever done something wrong, something that hurt someone, something that broke someone’s heart?  If so, you probably know what this story is about.  You see when we get all fired up and make bad choices with big regrets, it doesn’t just go away…oh no…it lingers and lingers and lingers.  And you know and I know, sometimes the scar just stays forever.  I know we shouldn’t cry over spilt milk, but maybe we should shed a few tears over broken hearts, hearts broken by our hands or voices.

I sure wish I had been more careful that day.  I know I was just a kid, but I was old enough to be careful.  My careless behavior caused a big stink and it was a stink we all had to endure.  Maybe, like me,  we should be more careful with our actions and our words each day.  If we would, it might save a few hearts and a few big stinks.  The Bible says that we will have to give an account for every word and every action that we say or do.  Do you know what?  If I would have asked, my big sister would have helped me that day…Mama would have too.  But, I thought I could handle it.  Sometimes, we think that way in life too.  Why not ask for a little help from your Heavenly Father before the milk gets spilt? Ask and He will help you the rest of the way.  You can count on Him.   He’s got this.

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, Grace, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, wisdom

A Little Misunderstanding

Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” Colossians 4:6

It was just a little misunderstanding.  The story is told of a pastor who visited a man in the hospital.  As he stood by the bed, the man began to be in deep distress.  Unable to speak he quickly wrote the pastor a note, handed it to him and then just died.  In all the confusion of the moment, the pastor slid the note into his pocket and forgot about it. Several days later the pastor was conducting the memorial service for the man.  The pastor was describing the man…his life, his good heart and his service for others.  Then it happened.

The pastor suddenly remembered that he had the note in his suit pocket.  He told the audience, “I have just remembered the day Joe died I was visiting him in the hospital and he slipped me a note right before he passed away. I failed to read it and have just now remembered it is in my pocket. How special it would be if we can share his final thoughts together now.  So the pastor reached into his pocket, pulled out the note and read, “You’re standing on my oxygen hose.” Smile.

As a pastor you can bet I’ve got some pretty crazy stories and a lot of them revolve around little misunderstandings and lack of communication.  One day I was visiting one of our members in the hospital and she was quite ill.  When I make a visit I naturally slip into my “let me make you feel better mode.”  For me there are two great fix-alls—humor and food. But sometimes, many times, a person just needs compassion and kindness.  This was one of those times.

I walked into the room and she was lying in the bed softly moaning.  I moved over by the bed and whispered her name.  She opened her eyes, slightly smiled and said, “Pastor, thank you for coming by.” We shared for just a few minutes and it was obvious she was very sick.  And then she said, “I just want to go home.”  I softy said, “I know.” And she said it again and then another time. Each time I responded with some simple words of understanding.  After the third time I upped my game.  I said, “I know you want to go home and when God is ready, He will take you.”

Well, imagine my surprise, and embarrassment, when she said, “NOT that home, pastor, my home.”  Oh…oops. I was ready to ship her off to heaven and she was just wanting to go back to her house.  Like I said, sometimes there is just a lack of understanding and communication. When that happens we need to admit that we missed it and if necessary ask for a little grace or perhaps give a little grace.  I quickly apologized for the misunderstanding, she did get better and indeed went to her home. We even had the chance to laugh about it later.

In the world we find ourselves these days there are multiple opportunities for misunderstandings.  When we find ourselves in too close of quarters for too long, when we have differing opinions about everything from the corona virus to what’s wrong with our country—misunderstandings are bound to happen.  In the regular world the normal response would be to get mad and often get even.  In the regular world the normal response would be more anger and more division.  But for Jesus followers that is just not an option.

The Bible tells us over and again that if we follow Jesus we are to act like Jesus.  We often get that when it comes to moral responses—and rightfully so.  But we too often miss the biggest application—how we respond when we bump into other people…or they bump into us.  Paul, one of the major writers in the Bible says, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.”  I like that.  Gracious and attractive.  Mama used to say this, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.  I wonder if Mama knew Paul?

Well, the bottom line is there will always be plenty of opportunities to bump into people.  There will always be plenty of opportunities to respond in a “not so Jesus way.”  But what if we hit the pause button right before we speak and ask ourselves, “Is this gracious or attractive?  Is this nice?” I wonder how things would change?  In these dark days the world needs “Jesus lights.” It needs us to shine for Him even when we get a little tired and a little weary.  We need to recognize that is just a setup for regretful words.  Let’s choose option “B.”  Let’s just rest in Him and choose to think before we speak.  After all, He’s got this.