The Way Things Used to Be…

There is an old Amish grocery store here in Nolensville that is all decked out in Chrysanthemums and pumpkins at this time of year. Every time I pass by it, I get such a strong desire to stop in and buy 30 pumpkins and just as many mums. Fall is my favorite time of the year. The air; like James Whitcomb Riley says is, “so appetizen’!” I love wearing sweaters or hoodies, sitting around bonfires and sippin’ a little corn squeezin’… or not.

When I see the old Amish store, it reminds me of my roots back in rural South Central Indiana and causes me to remember how different the world is today than it was when I grew up 62 years ago.  If you read me often, you will know that I am a person who likes to reminisce, and; in my case, the desire for “the good old days” borders on escape at times. But it does make me wonder how we could have devolved from a country of caring for your neighbor to one where people don’t even know their neighbors.

When I was five, my mother would send me down to old Mrs. Zaharako’s to buy some eggs. It was about a eighth of a mile from our house, and I would walk down the country road to buy them. Mrs. Zaharako, would tell me to sit, while she went to gather them. She would do a ‘DOUBLE CHECK” to make sure she hadn’t given me one with a “chick” in it, by holding it up to the light. Her dog; a boxer, would sit staring at me the whole time.

The world was slower, and south-central Indiana had no higher ambition than to shed her leaves in bright orange, yellows and faded greens all over the ground.  Walt Baxter and his son Terry would ride their horses  down the road and even stop to talk to my parents. The farmers like Bill and Sandra Rogers were wrapping up their fall work. It was a time when everyone knew each other and cared about each other, a remnant of World War Two when we were connected spiritually, politically and morally to one another.

Remember, this was early to mid-1960’s, so there were no cell phones, four channels on television and if a kid was really lucky he had a magnifying glass that he could use to set a leaf on fire or torture ants. If the Marr’s cows got out, we all helped herd them back home…it was what you did.

Today, on my way home, I stopped at good old Publix to get some groceries and was looking at some canned pumpkin at the front of the store. A young mother with her little girl in the cart, (buggy for you Tennesseans), strolled up and was looking too. For reasons unknown I asked her right out loud, “do you like to bake?” I smiled and due to the snow on my rooftop, (white hair) she smiled back and said, “I do but it isn’t REAL baking”. Chuckling I said, “you buy your pie crusts?” and she laughed and asked, “how did you know?”

I shared how my mother used to mix her own using ice water to keep the fat or butter cold when she cut it into the flour. The young mother marveled. “Now”, she asked as she pulled out her phone to take notes, “Can you use real butter when you make a crust?”  I said yes and explained back in the day my mom used both butter or lard. She shuddered…”LARD?!” I said, “Sure, you haven’t eaten if you haven’t had some lard in a big mess of Collards or a crust.”

An older woman within earshot heard us and she piped up. “Ice water gets d-r-i-z-zl-e-d into the mixture…don’t just pour it all in!” Not being the expert my mother was, I deferred to this older woman and nodded in agreement.” The two got into a conversation about baking and comparing freezer rolls to homemade rolls. I knew my time to depart had come so I bid them a good day and strolled off to produce section. But those few moments interacting with other humans made me realize what made the old days so wonderful.

People knew they could trust other people, and the thought of an older woman giving baking advice to a younger woman seemed perfectly natural. Women are better at this than men. Men like to appear self sufficient and independent of others. “I got my act together and don’t need anyone to tell me anything” they think, even though NO ONE has their act together and EVERYONE needs all the advice they can get. Back then, we knew we needed each other, but; today, the thought of interdependence seems lost even despised.

I finished shopping and paid for my purchases and walked out to my truck to pack em in and get em home. While I was loading up my back seat, a family with two children was walking toward the store to buy groceries. I always try to make eye contact when people are walking toward me….windows of the soul you know. When the father’s eyes met mine I…of course, opened my mouth reflexively. “Good lookin’ family you got there!” smiling.

The man scowled at me and his little boy said, “Daddy that man said something to you…” The father said, “You never talk to a stranger…I don’t care what they say to you….it dangerous.” My heart hurt for that little boy. Yes, we live in a world where danger is great and threats to children are greater still; but we need to teach our children to discern good intention from bad, and parents modeling that is far healthier than teaching them to fear everyone they meet.

Driving home and passing the Amish grocery again, I couldn’t help but wonder where the door back to Eden was, and how we could possibly turn the knob and open the door back to it…but in this world, and at this time in history, it will take Jesus to show us the way… and I promised myself right then and there, to never stop talking, never stop showing genuine concern, to never fear interacting with my neighbors because every time we connect, we bring the “good old days” back into our present.

The door to community is always open…if we are.

Eugene…

It’s fall in Tennessee and along with the changing of color of the trees (which is not as pretty as Indiana, my home State), the geese are wending their way south and the air is crisp. It is time for some final outdoor preparations too. This afternoon I stepped outside to mow my yard and discovered my gas can was empty. Since my yard is going to continue growing down here through December, I figured I had better go and fill it up.

Arriving at the convenience store, I dispense the gas and pay at the pump, but I walked into the store for another purchase. While I stood in line, I recognized a man that I see frequently at this convenience store. He wears overalls, a faded red ball cap with the word “Best” on the label over his visor. I think it is a seed company, but I can never see it clearly enough to know for sure. His name is Eugene.

Eugene is a farmer whose family has lived in Nolensville for three generations. With all of the urban growth around Nashville, Nolensville maintains it rural personality, with Eugene’s corn field directly across Nolensville Pike from the Twice Daily convenience store where I stand in line. He is always buying the same thing…ten dollars of gasoline that he pays in cash because he doesn’t do business with bank cards. “The dang things charge you to use them!” he says with wide eyes. “Why would I use a card that charges me to use it?” He smiles big and shows his 78 year old teeth, no caps, no veneers, no ultra whitening. Eugene told me once that television “has got everbody so image conscious that everone wants to look young for their casket picture for the newspaper!” He laughs, grins and says , “oh my, my!”

I asked Eugene to maybe put a little more gas than ten dollars in his gas tank and he grins real big and says, “If’n I kick the bucket tonight, I don’t want nobody getting a full tank of gas off’n my hard work!” “Let em fill it up thurselves!” He laughs big and says, “oh my, my.”

Eugene and I became friends this summer, when during one of the hottest days of the year he was out in his field. It was a fallow year for this field. Last year they were supposed to rotate and Eugene had wanted to plant soybeans, but he needed to feed the soil…so he let this one lay fallow. He was on his knees smelling the soil to see if it smelled “acidy” according to him. I had thought he was having a heart attack and had parked my car on the side of the road and walked into the field calling to him to see if he was okay. Eugene had looked up at me and said “You can tell if a field is ready by color, smell and doin’ some fancy test by the County Agriculture office…but I like smellin’ best!” Needless to say he hadn’t had a heart attack.

He thanked me for stopping and asked me if I had ever farmed. I told him my former father-in-law was God’s favorite farmer and Eugene just laughed and said, “oh, my, my”! He offered to buy me a Coke for stoppin’ cuz “folks just don’t care no more!” We had gone up to the Twice Daily market and that was the first time I had seen him put ten dollars in his tank. Over the months we have lived here in Nolensville, I made it appoint if his old 1975 Ford Truck was sitting at the gas pump when I passed by, I would stop and talk to him.

I asked Eugene to tell me about his family. He blinked a little and took a big long sip of his Coke. “My wife and I raised 4 kids, “en ever one of um moved away…not a one of em a farmer!” He smiled big and said, “but, you know, that’s how God does…you know?” “That’s just how God does…raise up a child the way God wants em to go and when deys growed, they don’t walk away from it.” “Evidently, God dint want none of em’ to be farmers!” He told me they were scattered to the wind, but one daughter was in Nashville and she always stopped by to check on him.

His weathered face had big smile lines. He told me that he was one of seven boys in his family and the first to be in the Army. When he had finished his hitch, he said he went home to help his daddy. I wondered…but didn’t ask him about his wife. As if he could read my mind he said, “My wife and I were married 51 years but she went to Jesus a few years ago.” He hesitated  and then continued,

“I still have a maid that comes round’ ever week to dust and clean, en I make shore they dust and clean the floor just so my wife would be proud of the way the house looks effin’ she ever comes to visit while I’m a sleepin’”

I told him I was grateful for my wife too and he smiled and showed his teeth and said, “Dey keep us honest don’t dey?” He laughed out loud and said, “Oh, my, my” I nodded to the affirmative and he said, “dey DO keep us honest!” I asked about retirement and Eugene said, “I cain’t think about dat…I am too busy puttin’ away silage right now and getting the soybeans in”. “I got plenty of time to rest from November through February!”

Today, Eugene’s eyes met mine and he said, “Heyo frien!” I said, Heyo…just like him. We got to talkin’ about me mowing grass and him having to pay twelve hundred dollars for a roller bar under one of his pieces of equipment. “Can you believe dat? Twelve HUNDRED dollars! I liked to had a calf myself when dey told me dat!” then he laughed big and said, “Oh, my, my….but it’s jes money…you know? It’s jes money.” The time had come for me to get back and mow my grass and as I left I looked at the sun beginning to set and Eugene was walking next to me. I said,

“Aren’t the sun sets beautiful in Tennessee?” I said, I am so glad to be saved, and that was when Eugene, took hold of  my arm and said, “Hey…we BOTH saved…we lucky ain’t we? We da lucky ones ain’t we?” I smiled and said, “More like blessed Eugene” and he laughed and said, “yeah…we blessed and even though we got joints dat get stiff and fingers dat don’t want to work…we blessed” Then he smiled big, showed his teeth and said… “When Jesus come to take me home, I figure He gots a farm what need looking to and He will want me to fix   his tractor of sumpthin’…and you know what? I got DAT covered!” Then he laughed out loud, showed his teeth and said, “Oh, my my!”

Mercy is a Sword…

I had just turned left onto Concord Road off of Nolensville Pike when; from a distance, I saw the car pulled over on the shoulder of the road. I was late for work because, of course, I had made what I call a “drive-thru” cup of coffee, meaning a travel cup filled with coffee from my home coffee pot. For those who don’t know, “Drive-Thru” coffee is one of the staples of balanced spiritual people. Some of the other staples include pop tarts, chicken and biscuits, and large quantities of chocolate milk. These along with fried bacon and donuts are essential to make one wise. I mention this just in case anyone was wondering what contributes to my acute spiritual acumen.

Sipping on my very hot coffee with cream and enough sugar to stunt the growth of anything good in my body I, of course, rubberneck (the art of slowing down to stick one’s nose in the business of anyone unfortunate enough to be pulled over on the side of the road, yet making sure you don’t inconvenience yourself by stopping to help), to see what misfortune had befallen the motorist.I was in luck! I was able to see that the car evidently had a flat tire. Thinking to myself “what a pity” all the while thanking God it wasn’t me, I consoled myself with the thought, “oh…that person is close to all kinds of businesses or gas stations…they’ll get the help they need.”

I patted myself on the back for slowing down to show I cared, then drove on down the road. The drone of my tires against the concrete roadway and the music streaming through my truck speakers were not quite enough to drown out the inner voice trying to tell me to stop, turn around and go help. In my defense, my right hand turned up the music as Timothy Schmitt of the Eagles sang, “I Can’t Tell You Why” and I sang louder too. Reaching for my perfectly balanced coffee, I tried lifting it by the lid, and the lid came off…coffee spilling all over my spiritually balanced front carpeting and partially ruining my chicken and biscuits.

Praise did not emanate from my pie hole. I was ticked off that I had done something so stupid and just as I had pulled over to sop up the creamy, sugary mess, out my driver’s side window I saw people rubbernecking ME! That’s when the inner donut voice said, “How’s that feel?” “How does it feel to need help and people just pass by?”

Rebuking Satan and continuing to clean my carpet, I had to get out of my nice comfortable truck cab to walk over to the other side of my truck to get some shop towels out of my back seat to finish cleaning up the mess. Again, out of the corner of my eye, I saw people slowing down to look at my misfortune, only to gun it when I made eye contact. I realized at that moment that; as a stranded driver, looking at someone on the side of the road and saying ‘Bummer” did not help them at all. In fact, It was at that exact moment that I wouldn’t have given a rip about how good someone prayed for me if i had really needed some help…and then, I remembered the person with the flat tire.

“No,” I said out loud. “I am not the archangel of roadside repair…life happens and that sometimes stinks!” I said to no one sitting there. This soliloquy happened in three seconds. I busily wadded up the soaked paper towels and threw them in my truck bed under some cardboard so they wouldn’t fly away. Getting back into the driver’s seat, I looked into the rear-view mirror to make sure no one was nearby when I pulled back into the road. As I looked, I realized that all of the spilling and cleaning and inner voice resisting had taken place only about 50 yards past the person with the flat tire.

I sat looking at that car in my rear-view mirror for almost a minute. This was a pivotal moment. Did you know that dread almost always precedes me moving in obedience? Yes, DREAD. It’s because serving others is not convenient and not a natural impulse. Self-sacrifice …crawling up on the altar and willingly laying down our lives… quite simply sucks. There, I said it. Having mercy has to cost you something and oh, how my flesh hates it. The greater the mercy, the higher the value of it impacting a life. Believe it or not, I NEVER considered at that moment whether this would make a good story! I usually try running from stories far more than I ever live them!

My eyelids closed and then I looked forlornly at my empty silver “Drive-Thru” coffee cup sitting there from my formerly favorite big box store. I then remembered something I wrote last summer. “Inconvenience is one of God’s greatest servants.” This means to me that nine out of ten times whenever I have to do something that requires self-sacrifice it is usually God’s Spirit saying, “What are you going to do?” I then have a choice.

Going against the direction of traffic, I reluctantly backed up closer to the car with the flat tire. Again looking in the rear-view mirror and making sure it was safe to get out of my truck, I opened the door and walked toward the person sitting in the car.

I waved and stood back so they would know I was safe and shouted, “Are you okay?” The guy in the car rolled down his window and said, “Yeah I’m good!” I was relieved…”Hey, I said to my self, he’s good…I can leave!”My natural inclination would have been to say, “Okay man…just checking!” My conscience assuaged, I could now walk away with confidence knowing I had listened and obeyed.

Only I didn’t say “Okay man…just checking!” No. Instead of escaping, my mouth opened again…against my will. “You have a jack? Is someone on their way?” The guy looked miffed. “No, but I don’t need your help” he yelled back. I scrunched my face into that “What do you mean?” look and walked closer to his window. Did I hear him correctly? I asked him, “Did you say no you don’t have a jack and no one is coming?” “he nodded to the affirmative. He didn’t have his phone in his hand so I wondered what I should do. Not knowing where my jack was located on my truck, (it’s under the back seat I discovered), I again walked closer and asked, “What are you going to do?”

He scowled at me. “I said I don’t need your help!” he said; this time forcefully. I shook my head to indicate I understood. I then realized, that he DID have a spare and, that he DID have a jack…but he didn’t know how to change his tire! He was about thirty years old. I felt an inner nudge and said, “Hey, I’m all dressed in construction clothes, it doesn’t matter if I get dirty…want me to get your jack and tire out of your trunk?” It looked like he sighed like, “oh man, I don’t need the humiliation of you discovering I don’t know how to change my tire.”

Without waiting for him to answer I said, “Pop your trunk!” and began walking to the rear of his car.The trunk popped open. He then got out of his car and walked back to where I was in order to see what I was doing. “Man, you don’t have to do this…I can figure this out!” he said in an agitated way. I nodded without making eye contact. “I know you can…so I’ll just get it out and set it up and let you do it…that way you don’t get all dirty.”

I then chanced a look at him. His hands were on his hips and he then said, “Oh, THAT’S where the jack is! I tried to make a joke, saying that carmakers tried to hide the jack from car owners and finally got a little chuckle out of him.I set up the jack and his little “donut” tire and set it next to the side of the car. He wanted to save face…I could tell that right away because, in all honesty, he didn’t know how to use, or where to use the jack. I just continued finding the lift point near the rear tire for the jack, placed it under, and began to lift the back of the car.

“Is the emergency brake on?” I asked. He looked at me and said, “Oh, yeah, I guess that’s a good idea.”During all of this, I continued loosening the lug nuts, then lifting the car. He was taking mental notes. Again he said, “you didn’t have to stop…I could have figured this out!” I smiled…and the voice inside said, “Mercy is gentle…be gentle.” “I know you could have”, I said as I removed the flat tire. This was when I realized that being shown mercy, for the lost, is embarrassing and frightening.

For those who live in this world who believe they are the captains of their own souls, the fruits of the Holy Spirit are a threat to them. I continued silently without acknowledging the guy at all. I replaced the flat in his trunk and placed his jack and tire tools in the trunk as well. I wiped my hands on my jeans. I didn’t offer my hand to shake or say, “There you go!” I just began walking back to my truck.

The guy was silent until I was almost to my truck. He then used the last weapon he had in his arsenal. “Hey man, I can pay you…hold on!” I swiveled and shouted, “Stop…wait a minute!” I walked back toward him so he wouldn’t reach into his car to get money. I finally said it out loud.

“Okay, I don’t want your money…just like you didn’t want my help.” That slammed the door on that. He stood looking vulnerable. I said, “Dude, you may not want to hear this, but God saw you on the side of the road this morning and had someone stop to help in order to show you He is There and Real. That is the only reason I stopped…THE ONLY reason I stopped.”

The guy blinked and looked directly at me. “I don’t believe in God,” he said. Unshaken I said, “I know that…that’s why you were shown mercy…God will never stop showing you He cares until you finally give up and acknowledge Him or slam the door forever!” I was surprised by the force with which I said it. I turned around and walked back toward my truck.

Getting back into the cab, I was looking in the rear-view mirror to check the road and to merge back into traffic. My truck smelled like dark roast with cream and sugar. I felt no compunction, no urge to go read him the “Four Spiritual laws” or give him a Bible or give him my email or blogsite. That would have lessened the point.

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit are lethal firepower to pride, arrogance and self-sufficiency. They are the assassins of the lie of the enemy that “You are the captain of your own fate.” Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the tangible evidence of Christian morality still alive in the world and they kick pagan philosophy brutally to the curb.

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit is the aroma of a country that the lost do not know. Their presence on the earth is both enticing and heightens their senses to the fact that there is a land they do not know or understand…and it scares them. And that is good. Mercy, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are foreign qualities to this world.

People on the earth who do not know Jesus understand, Patriotism, courage, and forbearance…because these can possibly be conjured up by the law of natural selection and humanism. But Love? Mercy? …These gifts; when demonstrated to this generation, is like those who stood on the sands of Kitty Hawk and watched the first demonstration of the laws of drag and lift overcoming the laws of gravity. Both exhilarating and fearful. It makes them question what ELSE do they not know…what ELSE is there beyond their own mortal experience. God gives a slide show to the inhabitants of the earth on the screen of His people…if they are willing to be inconvenienced.

We belong to a country far away, Whose King is loving and compassionate, and we speak a language that is foreign to the inhabitants of this earth. We are ambassadors of a Sovereign who bids us to crawl upon the altar of sacrifice in order to demonstrate what his Kingdom is all about. Take up your cross…show the passport of your citizenship to that faraway Kingdom and show the earth that Jesus is still looking for them…Still looking.

Your Secret Weapon

There are days when; during stressful or troubling times, I allow my mind to wander back to 1964. In those days, my brothers and I would take walks down a lonely and unused road. The road had been abandoned over 50 years and all the asphalt was gone. Weeds grew up around the edges and the rain and sun had done their job, reducing it to a dirty, dusty path. We called it “The Old Lane”.

The old lane was a place we could walk and knew that it was our private domain. I used to slide my shoes in the old tire worn furrows and dust would billow up around me. I pretended I was a train as I slid my shoes imagining that the dust was the smoke from my smokestack. This is what kids did when there were only four channels on television and no such things as computers or video games…they played and used their imaginations. We had hours of fun, going back to the old persimmon tree, playing in fields that Bill Rogers plowed and created our own fun.

The old lane is symbolic to me of a simple, peaceful place where my mind and heart were safe. To this day, I can close my eyes and if I order my mind and heart to be still…I can go there and be safe.

Our minds were meant to be active agents in our earthly life. Not just doing figures and calculations or the busy work of doing our jobs. The mind was made by God to be the mechanism we use to calm our souls. It is all throughout Scripture.

“You will keep him in PERFECT PEACE whose mind is stayed on You; because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 23:3

“ “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” John 14:1

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

My method of retreating to 1964 may be a temporary escape, but that is not what God wants. What if I were to tell you that in the midst of racial and political division, what you think upon will determine whether you have peace? The Kingdom of God is already within you. The Holy Spirit is here and at work in the earth. So…if the Kingdom is here and the Holy Spirit is here, God is waiting on you to do what ONLY you can do…use your mind to recall the promises of God.

No one can steal Kingdom peace. I don’t care what any politician does, I don’t care what the talking heads say on television…real peace is not dependent upon good news. It is not dependent upon what the Republicans or Democrats are doing. Peace is apart and above the things of earthly existence. It IS otherworldly. It comes when we quiet our minds and STOP letting our minds rule us. That is a tall order.

Our mind wants us to think about everything. In fact, the talking heads are always asking people they interview, “What do you think about what he or she said?” “ What do you think about what he or she did?” Think, think, think… the strategy to get you whipped up into a frothy frenzy and to make you THINK on everything and try to figure things out. News Flash…you won’t  be able to do it, but it is the strategy of the enemy of your soul to try to get you to worry about politics, about how dirty the house is, about that person who bugs you at work, about the funny sound your car is making when you drive…THINK, THINK, THINK!!!

How about this. Go quiet in the “think” section. Because your thought are not who you are. Lots of people get upset when I mention Eckhart Tolle. I don’t trust him for my salvation I trust Jesus. But Tolle has tripped over a Scriptural truth and uses it better than most Christians I know. Stillness, (that is to say, the ability to stop your mind from convincing you that it has to rule everything you do) is the key. Jesus said, “BE STILL, and KNOW that I AM GOD”.

Most of us will plan for months for our vacations, we will plan out our days, get out our calendars and plot out our academic schedules, but we won’t spend 30 minutes sitting in a quiet place without the television or music or anything else and just learn to be still before the Lord. THIS IS YOUR SECRET WEAPON AGAINST WORRY, FEAR, INSECURITY and anything else your mind wants to induce you to THINK upon!

Stillness before God can change insecurity about who you are (remember your thoughts are not who you are). It is in quiet stillness that God can place within you a lion-like confidence as you sit, not talking, not jabbering away. Just allowing His presence to infiltrate your spirit brings about wisdom, confidence, awareness and trust.

You and I are not in control of anything. You can’t control the weather, other people, your spouse, your children. You can’t control other drivers on the road or your co-workers attitudes. You have no control over the price of meat, or bread or whether or not they re-name Aunt Jemima pancake syrup. The majority of thoughts that vie for attention in your mind are cunning tools of an enemy that wants to disrupt the communication between you and his arch-enemy, Jesus. He wants you worried, stressed and wishes you would have a heart attack and die. He wants your most creative engine, a Spirit lead mind, to be busy doing other things besides creating peace in you, so that you can take it to the world.

And just so that you know that I don’t THINK I am all holy and special…I will leave you with this holy thought…Satan is a butt hole. Thank you and BE STILL while God destroys His enemies.

Your Pal,

Doug

When God goes Fishing

I’ve been pretty silent for a while, not writing much due to moving into our new home. There are lots of things to keep us busy, from painting, tiling and moving around the furniture just to amuse ourselves.  From time to time, Mary Ann asks me to move the sofa just so she knows I can still do it. She’s a good wife.

However, late August has brought about a new rhythm of its own. I have succumbed to the desire to change my scenery and have returned to working with my partner Matt at our home renovation biz. Matt says good help is hard to find and he said it out loud within earshot, so I am guessing he is hinting to me to get busy and hang that drywall! Fare thee well favorite big box store!

Today however, I had just arrived at the Williamson County Dump and Recycle Center to throw out a bunch of old drywall and carpet we had pulled up from a customers home. These places are convenient Not only can you throw away old paint, tires and worn out batteries, but they have several compactors that will crush trash, metal and even a trailer for old mattresses. I’m telling you this is “Trash-o-Rama!” Williamson County residents can take one full truck load a day…A DAY mind you and it is all paid for in your handy dandy 9.75% sliding tax scale. Tennessee has no State tax and, believe me, it’s like passing a peach pit  at the cash register when you’re paying 9.75% on EVERY SINGLE PURCHASE. However…I digress.

Today while dumping lots of garbage into the compactor, a younger couple in their mid to late twenties stood on the opposite side of the compactor and were throwing their trash into the dumpster as well. They were young…and in love…Ahhh Youth! And they were quite proud of the fact that he had just bought her a diamond the size of Rhode Island as an engagement ring. She was all of 80 pounds soaking wet and without a doubt she was bigger than he was. She was flashing that piece of ice for all of us trash people to see. In all honesty, she should have been walking with an armed guard. It was beautiful and…well…

She was thrusting out her left hand for the people on my side of the trash compactor to see when two things happened exactly at the same time. The compactor was full, Buford, the compactor operator was too busy looking at her ring when he pushed the yellow button that started the compactor moving forward. The thing was full to the brim with all kinds of goodies… 2×4’s, banana peels, some rotten eggs, some used baby diapers, (Cruisers…on sale 150 pack for 12.99) oil filters, two or three rolls of fiberglass, an old floor lamp, a box of broken fluorescent bulbs and bags and bags of trash. The second thing that happened was that her ring went flying off into the trash compactor!

It slipped in between some oil filters and believe it or not I heard it hit the bottom of the steel compactor floor.  The thing was mauling and had already begun to break some boxes and bags open…one of them exploded with a “splash” as it went everywhere. The young woman looked horrified and screamed. Buford pushed the emergency stop but things were mashed in so tight after some fretting and crying …and that was Buford doing the fretting and crying, there was NO WAY to reverse the compactor. Everything ground to a halt and six of us stood staring at the compactor. The woman’s fiancé was really mad…which; considering that a diamond the size of a softball had just gone into a trash compactor, I guess made sense. Two people drove off and me, Buford the woman and her red faced fiancé stood there looking.  

What to do…what to do?

I asked Buford if the compactor had a pull out tray underneath to which he answered no. I, of course had no idea of what to do. So, I did the only thing one does in these situations…I asked the Lord what to do. The woman was hysterical at this point. She knew her ring was down in that compactor that compressed garbage up to 10,000 lbs. In view of her options, she could allow the compressor to go through it’s crushing and hop into the dumpster to see if it survived the onslaught or…well, that was it…it was the only option.

I asked her if I could pray and she said, “Anything, do anything!!! I want my ring! So I did. “Lord, I ask you to protect that ring and not let it get crushed.” She ordered Buford to start the compactor which, now had a line of cars waiting to dump things into it. Buford pushed the button. The sound of crunching, creaking, splitting wood and squishy garbage being compacted was sickening to hear. I kept hoping that thing was insured.

After the piston returned to it’s starting spot, I asked Buford to turn off the compactor for a moment. Yes…into the dumpster I dove; feet first however…let’s not get crazy. Buford handed me his flash light and I scoured the bottom of that dumpster. I got a sick feeling that didn’t come from the used diaper material on the side of the dumpster. I thought, “Oh no Lord, her ring…” and then…

Out of the corner of my eye, there, right up against a bunch of garbage and eggshells, gleamed her diamond ring…perfectly intact!

I reached down, asked Buford if he had a rag and to my surprise he handed me an alcohol wipe. I gave it a quick once over. THERE WAS NOT A SINGLE SCRATCH ON THE GOLD NOR WAS THE BAND EVEN BENT!

I handed the ring over to the woman and she shrieked with joy! They asked me if I wanted money as a reward. I told her, as I climbed out of the dumpster the only thing that came to my mind…and believe me, I wasn’t trying to be spiritual.

I said, “Store up for yourself riches in heaven where thief cannot steal nor moth destroy…you can do that for me!” They helped me out of the dumpster and she confided that she had been a lapsed Catholic for twelve years. “but “ she said, “I have to go and confess my sins.” Being a former Catholic myself, I told her, “God is available right now…you don’t have to go to the confessional.” She teared up and told me God could never forgive her. Her fiancé stood stone cold silent as she told me she had aborted a baby and could never be forgiven for that. That’s when Buford became my “mighty man of God” . Buford pulled out a Bible from a stack of three on his shelf he had pulled out of the trash from various people. He underlined the Scriptures for her and was very bold.

“Darlin’ this man has jumped into a dumpster for you but dat don’t mean nuthin’ compared to whut Jesus dun fer ya. He ain’t hangin’ on no crucifix…Jesus is Alive pumpkin….ALIVE I tell you!”  Without asking, Buford put up the “This lane closed” sign and told her Jesus “dun come to the trash bin today to find you!”. My eyes teared up. So did hers and her fiancé’s. Ole Buford prayed for her and her man. I told her God forgives everything and right there…in the compactor aisle number #2 at the Williamson County Recycling Center, The woman and her fiancé prayed the sinner’s prayer. Buford, BOLD man of faith, who knew why he was there,  he put his hand in the devil’s face and pushed him out of the way. In all honesty, no preacher in thirty years has had that kind of anointing on him. He was the preacher, I just got to be there.

After giving them a tract from  his church, we prayed again and they went their way.  Buford winked at me and said, “Hey my man, we dun did team ministry and I don’t even know yore name!” I gave Buford a big hug and said, “Not important Buford, but thank you for your boldness and authority!” Buford smiled and said, “The minute you spoke Scripture to dat couple, I knowed dat God decided to go fishin’ in the dump today…you were the hook and the bait…and I got to reel them in!”

There is nothing God won’t do to reach people. Be ready to jump into a dumpster. You never know what is going to happen. Thank God. Being the hook and bait never felt so good!

Do You Remember the Americans?

Two days ago, I could take it no more…I grabbed a power washer and went to my back patio, cleared it of any contents and began to spray away the dirt, mold, mildew and grime like I would like to wash away this stupid virus.

Now, in my current state of social constipation, I am anxious to talk to anyone….ANYONE. But, with no one around, the sun shining and, the light breeze blowing through my hair, I hooked up my hose to the power sprayer and began cleaning.

It began with me saying out loud to a stubborn bit of mold to yield to my power sprayer…”You get out you old poopy mold!” My imagination hasn’t changed much since I was a kid, so the mold said, “Never!!!” He even told his “mold brothers” to join hands and resist the alien invader with the hose in his hand. “This is OUR patio!” he screamed. Content to have a conversation, I resorted to my secret weapon…DECK CONCENTRATED POWER DETERGENT! Needless to say, superior technology crushed the resistance and I came out victor…but, now; once again, there wasn’t anyone to talk to.

So, since I was finished with this portion of the job and; having nothing else to do for the duration of my solitary confinement, (I admit, I’ve become depressed because I like interaction with  people), I decided to go, practice social distancing and get some plants for my back patio.

Just getting into my truck was exciting! I jumped into the cab and said “Hello” to the dashboard and all the coffee cups on my floor board. “How you guys been?” Yes, it was pathetic…but when you are staved for interaction, anthropomorphic dialogue is my only option. I had a BIG smile on my face. Looking back at that  as I write this, I could sense the three month old empty StarBucks cup was quiet and angry with me for not having visited sooner. My tool belt in the back seat was as lonely as I was and jabbered the whole way to the garden nursery.

Jumping out of my truck and trying my VERY best to practice social distancing…I walked with anticipation like a child on the midway at the county fair…itching to get on his first ride. As I rounded the corner my mouth fell open as I heard voices  over the intercom and…could it be? PEOPLE walking…but NOT ONE of them talking to each other. My inner Irish Setter wanted to jump up on everyone and say, “Hi, hi there, Hi, oh I’m so glad you’re home…hi, hi!” But, getting a grip…I held back my head and walked in to retrieve the plants…after all this is my duty right now…don’t breathe and get out quick!

Well, THAT plan worked for two steps. Standing six feet away I addressed the lady watering the lemon grass. “Hi, how are  you? Having a good day? Isn’t it nice weather? I’ll bet you love working out here in this beautiful sunshine! How is your family? Do you have enough toilet paper? What has YOUR family been doing during solitary confinement? I caught myself in mid-multiple-sentence and put my hand over my mouth. She looked at me and smiled and went back to watering. I re-grouped…”Okay…be cool, she’s just a little afraid to talk…don’t spook her…act casual!”

I picked up a plant or two and saw a lady trying to manhandle a 30 lb bag of mulch. “I’ll help you!” I said. She backed up at least 12 feet and nodded. I asked how many and believe it or not, she held up three fingers! Again…out of my mouth came, “Oh, okay three…you need three? Great, are you working outside today? What are  you planting? Does this mulch have dye in it…it’s SO black!” she stared at me like I had spoken Russian, nodded and walked away. I was puzzled. I placed my hand up in front of my mouth and checked my breath, “not minty fresh but okay”…I thought.

I gathered some knock out roses, and a lot of annuals because of their bright colors. I feel I have been sensory deprived so  I got LOTS of colors. When I was loaded up, I went to stand  in line, a perfect six feet behind the person in front of me. What does an extrovert do when no one is talking? I began to whistle. I whistled the star spangled banner, I whistled “Oh, I wanna dance with somebody…I wanna feel the heat with somebody….YEAH I wanna dance with somebody….With somebody who loves me!” Whitney would have been proud…. but it was like a dial tone in that stupid check out line!!! NOTHING.

Now I’m desperate…people, people everywhere and not a word to speak! I seriously thought about faking a faint, but realized no one would move to help me. I got to the checkout girl and began my last ditch effort for human contact. I thought to myself, “Now, careful Doug…don’t spook her…just smile and say, “Hello!”. But…NOT.

“Hi!” I’ll bet you’ve been busy today!!! (insert panting like a dog and jumping up for attention). I continued, “Now, I have two of these and one of those and four of these and six of those….” She scanned silently. She pointed at the register to tell me how much. I asked, in a vain and useless attempt how to pronounce her name she replied, “Tracy”. I had failed…There was no one to talk to.

I scowled as I walked to my truck and loaded it up.  Between three weeks ago and today something had changed and I hoped it wasn’t long lasting. It reminded me of a song by Steven Stills a long time ago.

Do You Remember the Americans?

Standin’ by a snow drift in the pale moonlight
Hitchhikin’ West on a highway at night
Tryin’ to get to Frisco, lookin’ for my girl
Here come a trucker, hope he don’t mind long curls.

I remember years ago hitchin’ this same road,
Never saw a trucker leave a man out in the cold.
“No riders” sign on the window never meant a thing,
Nowadays they just roll on lookin’ kind of mean.

Kind of makes me wonder, scratch my head and kick the snow.
Four years overseas, who are these strangers in my home?
Where are the country people, does anybody know?
Do you remember the Americans, where did they go?
Were they simply bought and sold?

Getting back on my patio at home, I admit I fell into a depression. I was not made for isolation, and none of my anthropomorphic friends could console me.

Be human my friends. We are Americans…this may seem like the worst thing that ever happened to you, but I assure you it is NOT the greatest challenge we have ever had as a nation. During war and gas crisis…during Watergate and Vietnam. Through the Depression and Dustbowl… we have endured…hardships have come and they have gone but the one thing that got us through…was that we were TOGETHER…and we were Americans.  Human kindness is more contagious than this virus…and it produces incredible results.

While you’re out there today, don’t let the news or anyone else steal your soul! SMILE at people…speak comforting words… we are not each other’s enemies! Social distance may be in order, but love and caring…reaches across boundaries that cannot separate kindred spirits. Don’t be bought and sold by fear…SING out loud, shout across the way to your neighbors…drop off a flower on their front porch!

DO YOU REMEMBER THE AMERICANS? WHERE DID THEY GO?

#AJOYFULHEARTMAKETHAMERRYCOUNTENANCE

#DONOTGIVEINTOFEAR

#DOYOUREMEMBERTHEAMERICANS

The Chicago Way…

A few decades ago, I had a friend who had a somewhat worrisome problem. He was being bullied by a kid and as these things always go, he couldn’t sleep and was becoming resistant to going to school. On a weekend; as we rode our bikes, we talked about his problem and about the kid who was bullying him.

The bully was just another kid who was a friend of mine. He wasn’t particularly bigger or smarter or more popular than my pal Randy with whom I hung out, but for some reason, what had started as making a joke at Randy’s expense, became an all-out, daily ritual of public humiliation. Because my friend Randy was from a Christian home, he did his best to understand Jesus teaching of “turning the other cheek, but not only did it NOT stop the bullying…it added fuel to the fire! The bully waxed bolder.

Randy began avoiding the usual path into school when he got off the school bus. He would get off the bus and go around to the side door and run up the stairs straight to the classroom, thereby avoiding the hallway where the bully waited daily to “cut him off at the pass” and start taunting him. After the bully found out Randy’s strategy he would go and wait in the stairwell where Randy would run and continue his bullying there. Randy started a new tactic, which; at first confused the bully. Randy began to laugh along with others when the bully would taunt him in an attempt to make it look good natured and appear that he enjoyed the abuse. In reality, Randy confided in me that the guy bullying him was eroding his self confidence so much that he hated himself for being so afraid.

I remember seeing this usually happy, funny and good-natured kid, sit sullen, eyes downcast and quiet. He began to doubt whether “turning the other cheek” was such a good idea. Randy commented that he had hoped the bully would tire of taunting him but, it had escalated from mere words, to Randy now getting pushed and shoved in the back hallways of school and being threatened. The kid who was doing the bullying, now had a “posse” and they would actually make my friend do demeaning things telling him that “if you do this, we’ll stop bullying you!” Ashamedly, with tear filled eyes, my friend confided in me that he had complied with their requests, even barking like a dog to their laughter and derision. He hated himself.

On a different weekend, after months of this kind of abusive bullying…I could only see a shell of a boy where before he had been confident and full of life. You wonder why kids take their own lives? It is because they live in a prison of self-hatred…believing that there really IS something wrong with them…and looking in the mirror they begin to hate themselves for ever complying and appeasing their tormentors.

I looked at my friend and whether or not you agree with me, I told him, to stop changing his routine, and to stand up for himself. Now…it is here in the story where I ask you, what would YOU have told him to do? Go the teachers or Principal and ask him to talk to the bully? Randy had tried that with only temporary results. Have his parents speak to the bully’s parents? He did that, but it only made the bully more aggressive and want revenge. So, Randy and I made a plan. On the next Monday morning, Randy walked boldly through the front door of the school, books in hand and looking straight ahead.

The bully began his withering attack toward my friend and this time, Randy told him to stop. The bully became angry and said, “Make me!” Randy’s right fist landed squarely on the nose of the bully. The “posse” immediately wet their pants and the bully crumpled onto the floor crying and calling for the teacher. Both were marched to the Principal’s office and…even though the principal knew the circumstances and probably thought the bully had gotten what he deserved…he punished both of them.

Randy later told me, smiling ear to ear, that it was the best punishment he had ever had!

From that day on, there was no more bullying. Randy walked with impunity down the hallway and wasn’t bothered anymore. Hs confidence returned and he later told me that he had misunderstood “turning the other cheek.” He had thought it meant to take any injustice and cower in defeat. But it didn’t mean that at all. It meant in terms of injustice concerning Christ and our faith, we were to love unconditionally and go the extra mile…but it DIDN’T mean to purchase peace by allowing evil to triumph over good!

Randy is a parable to show you the path to how we as a country have arrived at the place of being “a divided nation.” And yes, I’m fixing to give somebody a bloody nose!

For decades conservatives have bought in to an absolutely ridiculous and pacifistic philosophy that we need to “purchase” peace by not making the left “angry”. Many good hearted, clear thinking conservatives, most of whom believe that when you are maligned politically or accused maliciously that you just stand silently and take it, think that peace can be purchased by silence. The left has advanced dangerous and threatening policies that have brought our country to the precipice of disaster as a result of not being challenged.

Enter Donald Trump. Trump believes in the philosophy that Sean Connery espoused in the movie “the Untouchables”.
Connery: “You said you wanted to know how to get Capone. Do you really want to get him?”
Kevin Costner looks inquisitively—
Connery: “You see what I’m saying don’t you? What are you prepared to do?
Costner: “Everything within the law.”
Connery, “and then what are you prepared to do?” “If you open the door on these people Mr Ness, you must be prepared to go all the way! Because they won’t give up the fight until one of you is dead!”
Costner: “I want to get Capone, I don’t know how to get him!”
Connery: “Want to get Capone? Here’s how you get him… He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue…THAT’s the Chicago way! Now…do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I’m making you a deal… do you want this deal?”
Costner: I have sworn to put this man away with any and all legal means at my disposal, and I will do so!”
Connery: Well, the Lord hates a coward…do you know what a blood oath is Mr. Ness? (shaking hands)
Costner: Yes…
Connery: “Good… cause you just made one.”

What you are thinking right now is, “That is SO unchristian!” “How can you even THINK of going so stridently against scripture you warmonger!” Well, besides the obvious of metaphors killing and bloodshed, no it isn’t. I am not calling for bloodshed even though I will be accused of that. I am calling conservatives to not back down from a good argument! I am urging them to NOT remain silent in some ridiculous belief that by being quiet we won’t make people, “angry.” I am sick and tired of that stupid straw man. “Oh, don’t say anything that will bring an “us vs. them” argument!!! It just makes our nation divided!” In other words, just let them slander your beliefs and pass legislation without making a contradictory argument and it will show love and peace. I’m sorry, but my B.S. meter just went off!

Our forefathers fought and died in numerous wars for our freedom. Many left widows and children in the wake of fighting for our right to assemble peaceably and to bear arms. They gave their lives away to be able to protect our freedom to petition Congress for a redress of grievances. We current members of this family legacy have to understand that what used to happen with bullets and mortar rounds is now taking place with words and withering character assassination…and Christian conservatives had better use the reason and eloquence bequeathed to them by Almighty God or lose everything that our forefathers fought for!

What Trump has taught the conservatives in our country in three short years is that you never bring a knife to a gun fight. You counter every argument with the same virulence that it came at you. It doesn’t win you friends…but he doesn’t need more friends…and neither do I. What is dividing us as a nation is that we don’t have to swallow everything the left feeds us…we have refused and they don’t like it because the right has begun to “speak up.” Trump has thrown an elbow and the left has a major bloody nose and they don’t know what hit them. Like the character Howard Beale in the 1975 blockbuster “Network” “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

If you believe that any kind of uncomfortable discourse involving pointing out obvious error from the left is non-productive…you don’t in my opinion understand Christian reason. If you think that Christians cannot argue coherently in a social network and make conservative political statements that will anger the left while still loving them…you may need to study what love really is. If you feel that Patriotism is better served in silence and believe it to be a gentle quiet and loving force in society, that may be true in terms of loving unconditionally as a Christian, but it is NEVER to be silent about politics because Christianity preaches a Jesus upon whose shoulders rests the government of the nations.

While all of us possess different gifts, given by God, the one character trait we ALL have in common is courage. We can reason and argue righteous points if we are not afraid of losing friends. These days, we don’t stone prophets…we ridicule and laugh at them. We must not be afraid of speaking truth in order to pacify conditional friendships. No, politics is not necessarily the hill we want to die on… but standing for truth and opposing false ideas disguised as “compassion” and “reasonable” most certainly is.

IDEAS HAVE CONSEQUENCES…ASK ROE VS. WADE…

I am willing to throw some elbows…and I’m willing to take a few. But never, EVER mistake my desire to win you over to Christ or speak the truth of Biblical principles in government as me appeasing or opposing philosophies… because at the end of the day, according to biblical and Godly principles…right, will ALWAYS make might! And THAT is God’s way in my book!

Killing a Lion in a Pit on a Snowy Day…

He bent down on hands and knees to look closely at the tracks in the snow. Having been raised by a father who loved to hunt, Benaiah the son of Jehoida was accustomed to hunting as a boy. He had been timid at first to handle a sling, a sword and finally a spear but, with every hunt Benaiah grew more and more confident. As he matured, he grew strong and would go hunting by himself in the wilderness. As year passed into decade, his culminated experience brought him to the moment he was now accustomed to. Benaiah was no longer hunting birds or boars…he was hunting lions.

“Scripture doesn’t tell us what Benaiah was doing or where he was going when he encountered this lion. We don’t know the time of day or Benaiah’s frame of mind. But Scripture does reveal his gut reaction. And it was gutsy. It ranks as one of the most improbable reactions recorded in Scripture. Usually, when the image of a man-eating beast travels through the optical nerve and registers in the visual cortex, the brain has one over-arching message: Run away. Normal people run away from lions. They run as far and as fast as they possibly can. But lion chasers are wired differently. For the vast majority of us, the only lions we’ve ever encountered were stuffed or caged. And few of us have experienced hand-to-hand combat that forced us to fight for our lives. But try to put yourself in Benaiah’s snowshoes.

Out of the corner of his eye, Benaiah sees something crawling. I don’t know how far away the lion is—and their vision is probably obscured by falling snow and frozen breath—but there is a moment when Benaiah and the lion lock eyes. Pupils dilate. Muscles tense. Adrenaline rushes. What a Hollywood moment. Imagine watching it on the movie screen with THX surround sound. Your knuckles turn white as you grip the theater seat. Blood pressure escalates. And the entire audience anticipates what will happen next. Lion encounters tend to script the same way. Man runs away like a scaredy-cat. Lion gives chase. And king of the beasts eats manwich for lunch.

But not this time! Almost as improbable as falling up or the second hand on your watch moving counterclockwise, the lion turns tail and Benaiah gives chase. The camera films the chase at ground level. Lions can run up to thirty-five miles per hour and leap thirty feet in a single bound. Benaiah doesn’t stand a chance, but that doesn’t keep him from giving chase. Then the lion makes one critical misstep. The ground gives way beneath his five-hundred-pound frame, and he falls down a steep embankment into a snow-laden pit. For what it’s worth, I’m sure the lion landed on his feet. Lions are part of the cat genus, after all.

No one is eating popcorn at this point. Eyes are fixed on the screen. It’s the moment of truth as Benaiah approaches the pit. Almost like walking on thin ice, Benaiah measures every step. He inches up to the edge and peers into the pit. Menacing yellow eyes stare back. The entire audience is thinking the same thing: Don’t even think about it. Have you ever had one of those moments where you do something crazy and ask yourself in retrospect: What was I thinking? This had to be one of those moments for Benaiah. Who in their right mind chases lions? But Benaiah now has a moment to collect his thoughts, regain his sanity, and get a grip on reality. And the reality is this: Normal people don’t chase lions.

So Benaiah turns around and walks away. The audience breathes a collective sigh of relief. But Benaiah isn’t walking away. He’s getting a running start. There is an audible gasp from the audience as Benaiah runs at the pit and takes a flying leap of faith. The camera pans out.

You see two sets of tracks leading up to the pit’s edge. One set of footprints. One set of paw prints. Benaiah and the lion disappear into the recesses of the pit. The view is obscured to keep it PG-13. And for a few critical moments, the audience is left with just the THX soundtrack. A deafening roar echoes in the cavernous pit. A bloodcurdling battle cry pierces the soul. Then dead silence. Freeze-frame. Everybody in the theater expects to see a lion shake its mane and strut out of the pit. But after a few agonizing moments of suspense, the shadow of a human form appears as Benaiah climbs out of the pit. The blood from his wounds drips on the freshly fallen snow. Claw marks crisscross his face and spear arm. But Benaiah wins one of the most improbable victories recorded in the pages of Scripture.”1

When I was a young man I had to look for a job after leaving college with an injury. I recall looking in all kinds of places and in a strange turn of events I ended up selling waterless cookware door to door along with some pretty bullet proof Chinaware. Now I want you to imagine a guy showing up at your door toting a suitcase. You open your door and there stands a young guy with a suitcase in his left hand and he says, “Hello, My name is….. and I am here to show you the blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah….SLAM! Yeah, that’s pretty much the way that went.

I went to restaurants, homes, churches, civic clubs, and even talked to secretaries at their desks. I would look for young women with engagement rings on their fingers in order to ask them if they had anything in their “hope” Chests except for “Hope”. (yeah, I used that line…not effective!!) This as you may imagine was a tough sell. I mean…TOUGH. Trying to sell something that people could buy at any time much less expensively than for what I could sell it to them. Imagine trying to sell ice in Antarctica. That was kind of like what I was doing. Yes, my manager would tell me I wasn’t selling “waterless cookware” I was selling cooking in half the time! I tried to remember that when over 100 doors would slam in my face.

While that may sound pathetic (and…it was), there was a preparation taking place that I didn’t understand. I was hunting small game. The very act of taking on an absurd job was an indication to God that I was willing to do anything in order to succeed. There is a powerful motivation placed into the heart of every young person, man or woman, that wants to do something meaningful. It is a sense of destiny. We even say to ourselves, “I want to do something to change the world!” Perhaps you know what I am about to say intuitively, but, great opportunities are almost always preceded by small, absurd opportunities that no one is lining up to do. I should have known when I showed up to interview for that job that it maybe wasn’t the greatest opportunity when the receptionist was sitting in an empty office at a small desk near the railroad tracks in my hometown. Not a lot of competition for this job.

Many people think that REAL spiritual learning takes place in church. THAT my friends, is a serious error. This is what has happened to the church. Many Christians have divorced true opportunities for practicing spirituality for a weekly visit to Bedtime Baptist. The majority of our spiritual training takes place outside of the cushy, hug loving, hand lifting Sunday go-to meeting church. I will go as far as to say, Sunday meetings; as important and scriptural as they are, (Pastors who read this, I DO encourage all Christians to attend church so don’t start ragging on me here,) are only a tiny percentage of the training we need in order to be effective for God’s Kingdom here in the earth.


The REAL training we experience takes place in the opportunities that God provides during our week when we must show unconditional love to people who are not so lovely. Being patient when co-workers treat you with contempt, working hard during work hours and not cheating the employer when it would be easy to do so, taking only the thirty minutes or hour for lunch instead of taking an hour and a half. These little “insignificant” events are the training God uses to find those who will be faithful in the small things when He is looking for someone to use in a meaningful way in the lives of others.

If you have ears to hear what I am about to say, God was trying to see if you and I; like Benaiah, would hunt down the insignificant opportunities he has brought across our paths to determine what we were made of. My friends Bob Perry and Bill Bennot began the Nashville House of Prayer in Bill Bennot’s garage almost fifteen years before God allowed Bob to step onto Air Force One to pray over the Presidents plane. Hidden gold is almost always disguised as trivial tasks to check our motivation. Bill and his wife Connie oversee one of the most influential churches in South Africa today. Small game hunters at first turned Lion killers!

The point is, if we are willing to be faithful in small and even might I say, dead end places in order to obey God, God will and can reward that boldness by giving us world changing and life changing assignments. Being successful in God’s economy has nothing to do with your professional delivery of a sales pitch and everything to do with being bold enough to knock on the door. In my case, back in the day of door to door pots and pan sales, I viewed life as a polka. I was a 90 pound weakling and I was dancing with an 800 pound partner. I needed to move fast and stay out of the way! But I WAS willing to dance…and THAT is what God was waiting to see!

In his book “If Only”, Dr. Neal Roese makes a fascinating distinction between two types of regret: regrets of action and regrets of inaction. A regret of action is “wishing you hadn’t done something.” In theological terms, it’s called a sin of commission. A regret of inaction is “wishing you HAD done something.” It’s called a sin of omission”.

In terms of regrets of action, there are quite a few things I truly regret doing in my youth. But in terms of regrets of “inaction”, I have very few. It’s because I disovered even in failure that God uses every single triumph and failure to bring us to the moment of our greatest tests. I highly recommend the book, “Killing a Lion in a Pit on a Snowy Day” by Mark Batterson. It’s old, but it’s message is timeless.

Jesus wants to heal the sick, the brokenhearted and proclaim the favorable year of the Lord through us. He wants to use you in words of knowledge, and wisdom, and yes, even raising the dead. He is watching to see who will do the small game hunting, so that; when the lions need to be chased, there will be thousands of us ready to run toward the pit to slay the lions of our generation. Thank you to my “lion Hunters” of the faith, Connie Bennot and Bill Bennot, Bob Perry, Nick Pappis and Patricia Pappis, Bob Weiner and Rose Russell Weiner, and the dozens of men and women who; without a thought, jumped into the pit with lions and came out victorious.

[1] Killing a Lion in a Pit on a Snowy Day Mark Batterson © Multnomah Press 1993-2002 All Rights Reserved [2] Ibid

Charming the Cobra…

Titillation is the feeling we experience when actively seeking forbidden pleasure. It’s is the anticipation of a tactile reaction that can only be experienced when; we have given ourselves over to a force that could easily destroy us, yet: somehow, we escape unharmed. Seeking the thrills with none of the consequences.

As a foolish teen, my brothers and friends tempted traffic as we would run across I-65 and hide in the median and then race back over the interstate where our friends waited and would cheer our “courage”. It is amazing a semi-tractor trailer didn’t crush us into a grease spot on the highway, but the “high” one felt from cheating death was undeniable. Our pulse quickened, my eyes became alert and it is the only way that I could explain what it was like to do a mind-altering drug. It is an appropriate metaphor, drugs and running in front of semi-tractor trailers.

No doubt if you watch any type of dangerous sport, auto racing, motocross, skydiving, bungee jumping etc. you will see people who; without exception have become hooked on the thrill of cheating death. I don’t judge these people, but I realize that the need for excitement, even danger, is ever-present and actively sought for by many. In many ways, those who seek the elixir of thrills are very much like those who charm cobras
.

Even though cobras do not possess the ability to hear the music charmer, they are nonetheless hypnotized by the pungi that the charmer waves in front of the serpent. While it is illegal these days in India and across eastern Asians countries, earlier charmers in decades gone by, placed their lives in danger in order to charm a cobra for payment. The cobra considers the pungi as a predator and follows the pungi closely. The performance before a crowd gives the spectators the experience of danger and they pay the charmer handsomely for his/her courage, but many times it is a sham. Most charmers have pulled the fangs or sewn the cobras mouth shut so that only it’s tongue protrudes.

These days, the lust for a thrill causes us to seek cobra holes that we know are dangerous, but where the stakes and odds seemingly lean in our favor. Many don’t consider what I am going to describe as dangerous at all…but they are filled with venom and their bite will result in death as surely as the cobras. I am not addressing those who are of the world and do not believe or follow Christianity… I am speaking of Christians.

For those who have promised to give Jesus control of their lives and then have become enslaved to playing around the cobra hole of immorality and sensuality, confusion comes quickly and who we are in the sight of God is no longer clear. The serpent is coming to strike and we cry out for God to deliver us, all the while, mowing and clearing the path to get to the cobra hole easier. We become self-deceived as we begin to convince ourselves that God understands our weakness and makes allowances for it. But He does not. The construct of being able to live in sin while following Jesus is just that… a construct, and mental image that goes directly against the Word of God.

They start innocently enough. A casual look at the skirt in the next cubicle. Imagining that he understands you better than your husband and beginning to “admire” the man your co-worker appears to be. It begins with allowing your mind to wander so close to the cobra hole of an affair that you begin to obsess about it…and before long…as a man thinks…so is he. That’s because in humans there are two creations…the first what we construct in our minds, like an architect; and then, building the house. Speculation becomes the drawing board upon which we bring the abstract into reality…where we create from a mere thought the cobra hole that summons us to come near.

For the first few visits, the hole appears abandoned with no serpent in sight. This is the bait with any of the cobra holes we play around…adultery, pornography, deception, revenge. As soon as one has worn a trail to the cobra hole, whatever it may be, the trap snaps shut! “They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you.” 2 Peter 2:19 New Living Translation. The New American Standard Bible says it in a different way…” for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved..”

For those who have promised to give Jesus control of their lives and then have become enslaved to playing around the cobra hole of immorality and sensuality, confusion comes quickly and who we are in the sight of God is no longer clear. The serpent is coming to strike and we cry out for God to deliver us, all the while, mowing and clearing the path to get to the cobra hole easier. We become self-deceived as begin to convince ourselves that God understands our weakness and makes allowances for it. But He does not. The construct of being able to live in sin while following Jesus is a just that… a construct, and mental image that goes directly against the Word of God.

Let me tell you the consequences I received from playing around those cobra holes.

I used to live as a missionary and pastor. I traveled to foreign countries and speak two foreign languages. I used to sing ( yes, my fellow classmates in Columbus, I was so ashamed of being able to sing that I hid it from everyone…) I led praise and worship both in Portuguese and in English. I was part of a worship team that monthly sang over a satellite network. I once wrote a song in Brazil that swept across the nation and that God used mightily to bring others to himself. I once had the full trust of my former wife and children. Then I gave in to foolishness and went headlong into adultery. Here I was, a recipient of so many of God’s gifts, and this is how I repaid Him. It wasn’t just a one-time thing, but I will not go into it. The point is that I got bit playing around dangerous places…and my friend, so will you.

Do you know why I no longer pastor? Wonder why I don’t sing any longer? The Bible tells us that the gifts and calling of God are not able to be revoked…in other words, God will not change His mind about them, but He most certainly can and WILL restrict how they are used. I’ve had many say I should go and begin a church, but the truth is, the Lord has forbidden me from doing so. There are consequences for our sin my friends. We don’t think about those consequences, but they are real. While Jesus paid the price for the eternal consequences of our sin, there are some results we cannot run away from here on earth. For years, I was heartbroken by the realization that my own actions hurt my family and resulted in limiting my effectiveness for the Lord. God will not be mocked, and while I am forgiven, the Lord has made it clear that I may no longer be an established pastor in a church. I am not saying that God will require the same of others, but He HAS required it of me…

You may say, “Well, God would never tell you not to minister his Word!” I didn’t say that. In his great goodness and mercy, instead of teaching within a church; which is my gifting, the Lord granted me permission to write. This is why I write today. My zeal for the Lord continues, but the consequences of my sin restrict where and how I may do it. I now sit in my home in front of a computer instead of standing and teaching. It is a daily reminder of what my sin has cost me. Even though the Lord is slowly healing my relationship with my children, what I put them through is still painful in my heart and mind. I have never told this story publicly and I pray you will not judge me too harshly, but the Lord seldom does things for a singular reason.

He did not just create the Sun to heat the earth, but it is also a display and a metaphor of His glory. The sun also is the principal agent in the process of photosynthesis, by which green plants and some other organisms use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water. Photosynthesis in plants generally involves the green pigment chlorophyll and generates oxygen as a byproduct.

Again, God seldom does something for a singular purpose.

And so, it has been my observation that when God teaches a lesson to us in life, it is seldom a lesson only for us. All things are made and used by God to demonstrate His goodness, His greatness and, His glory…even His discipline in our lives. My discipline from the Lord can become your lesson. You can learn obedience from my former disobedience. Even though this happened decades ago, like Jacob, I walk with a limp. I am free and forgiven and am full of joy, and I am thrilled to still be used by the Lord. But, do not tempt the Lord my friends…stay away from the cobra holes that beckon you with promises…there is only death there.

The Days are moving faster…

When I was a child summer vacation from school lasted four years…or so it seemed. Running and playing in the woods near our home, riding bikes with Kent Tovey my pal, swimming in Terrace Lake; summer was an almost endless journey in the halcyon days of my youth.

These days, it seems like we had cookouts every weekend, the Four-H Fair appeared to last a month and we went to the fair every night. Pick up baseball and basketball games were on every corner…and; especially in the 1960’s, going OUT to eat was like…OMG!!!! Even then, “going out to eat’ meant Frisch’s or even more rare…going to “Lotus Gardens” in Greenwood Indiana.

Then, when school began, it seemed that school lasted four years as well. Days seemed to go slowly, the clock ticked once every five seconds it seemed. Teachers spoke like Charlie Brown’s teacher…”Wha wha wha, wha wha….WH WHA wha wha!” As a Catholic kid, I tried to make other kids laugh while they were standing in line for communion…’cause they’d get in trouble from one of the sisters if they were caught giggling. I was a troublemaker, but then, so were Steve Deppe, and Terry Harper and Kirk Long and Don McGuire, partners in crime…all. One day in elementary school lasted approximately 3 days back then. The sun; not having much to do, would stand stationary for two hours in the morning right about during reading and it stood still for 3 hours during math class.

Around 7th grade, something peculiar happened. Days began to move a little faster. A bell would ring and then I noticed the clock ticking pretty much every second…but a second back then was longer of course. Maybe the teachers got prettier…or maybe I just noticed them nore…well, Mr. Hughes didn’t get cuter, but…well ‘nuff said. However, it began to move into a regular 24 hour day by the time I reached High School.  Summer vacations got shorter and less adventuresome.

 By the time I had grown up enough to have a family, days had begun moving at a much faster clip. I recall one day was only 6 hours long….don’t bother to contradict me…it WAS only 6 hours long and that’s when I knew that God had been hiding something from me…from ALL of us! He had been hiding the fact that life was actually a fleeting thing and that we had better make something of ourselves during the short time we have here.

I didn’t think that was quite fair, hiding this information from little kids all that time. By the time you grow up enough to realize that eating six hot dogs quickly was a bad idea and that picking your nose wasn’t socially acceptable, you had three kids of your own and the guy running the Tilt-a Whirl at the Four- H- Fair was some creepy carnival dude who smoked too many Lucky Strikes. You wondered how in the world your parents could have dropped you off to roam free in the midway with all of the strange people on the loose.

These days, my days last approximately, 20 minutes. I eat breakfast at 3 am, lunch at 10 and dinner at 3:30. My wife seems to just get home right before I wind the alarm clock, brush my teeth and get in bed. This is why people get old quickly. God turns up the speed of the earth as you get older and you age 30 years in six months. Your tiny grandchildren yesterday are running for Congress today, and in 20 minutes they will be bouncing a grandchild on THEIR knees while you will have been dust for 20 years.

Such is the rhythm of life and as you contemplate that, also consider this…if you could stretch a rope 5 hundred yards in front of you…so that you stood on one end of it and could barely see the other end, the life you now live would only take up one inch of it. That’s right…one inch. 80 years maybe? One inch, or even less, and then all of the decisions you made in that one inch would  determine what you would experience in the other 500 yards. The problem is, the rope isn’t only 500 yards long…it goes on for eternity. The decisions you make…concerning Jesus, concerning how you treat your neighbor, concerning who is most important in your life RIGHT NOW…will determine EVERYTHING. And the earth and the Sun seem to be moving faster still.