A different kind of graduation…

When I first met Morrie, he was a loud-mouthed, foul talking, irresponsible braggart. We were 13 years old and he and I went to school together. He always talked dirty about girls. Of course, at 13 we didn’t know anything about girls, but Morrie said he was experienced. At times he would say things out loud and was cruel with his comments toward them. We all would kind of stand far away from him when he did this… I was embarrassed.

We went on school field trips and Morrie would always brag about how he could beat up any kid and was mean to the weaker boys in our class. As time went by Morrie was involved in a lot of mischief at school. He was caught stealing things or sneaking out of school when he was supposed to be in class. I stopped hanging out with him; as did other guys I knew. When we were in High School, Morrie became more sullen and angry.

When the day of graduation came, Morrie gave the peace sign as he walked across the stage and right before he lowered his hands, he quickly changed it to flip off the crowd to a few giggles. Afterward, while families took pictures of their kids, I saw Morrie walking away, pulling off his cap and gown, wadding them up and throwing them in the back of his car. He started the ignition and drove away…and that was the last I saw of him.

Over the years that passed, the memories I had of Morrie were the ones I had from 14-18 years of age. As we all do, I made a lot of judgments about him and resented some of the things he did to me and had said to me. Whenever I would run into classmates and his name was mentioned, none of them would make any comments except to roll their eyes and say, “He was trouble”… I did too.

After 20 years I went to my first, class reunion. I had lived too far away to come to the first 2 but at 20 years I finally went. As I arrived; I was so happy to see so many of my old friends. We caught up about what each of us was doing and I was a little shy about talking to people. I had been pretty outgoing in High School, but I hadn’t been the nicest guy either. I spent a lot of time mentioning to people that if I had treated them in a bad way that I was sorry. They were all very gracious to me. I was grateful.

I was tapped on the shoulder by a guy in a nice sport coat and jeans. I turned and said hello. I didn’t recognize him. He smiled and said, “It’s me, Morrie!” I’m ashamed to say this but I’m sure he could see my face register dread. I tried my best to smile and make small talk. Morrie smiled again and said, “It’s okay pal, I know I didn’t leave people with a very good impression during my school years.” He told me he had been convicted of a few petty crimes and had spent some time in jail. He said it was the most horrendous experience he had ever had.

I listened as he told me of being beaten by a group of men who thought he was a loud-mouth and showed him he wasn’t so tough. He said he had to pay $10 a month to a jail hitman to keep him from breaking his arm or leg. When he got out of jail, he said he had to live in his mother’s house until he found a job as a plumber’s assistant. He said during his time in jail and on days he was standing knee-deep in sewage helping the plumber, he would remember his misspent time in school. How he wished he had done differently but realized his circumstances were due to his poor choices.

As time went by, he became certified as a plumber and then a master plumber. He moved to Iowa and began his own business. He met and married a wonderful woman and became a Christian. When he had heard about the class reunion he decided to come back and ask forgiveness from the people he had wronged. He spent the entire evening going from group to group, person to person, re-introducing himself and asking forgiveness for his poor decisions from school.

One by one, just like me, Morrie won back some respect and as I saw him walk toward his car and drive away…but this time, there was a bounce in his step and a smile on his face. As soon as he left, the chatter was low but it was all about Morrie. Some said, “I don’t believe it…I think he was lying”. Others said, “Wow, what a difference! He is truly a changed man.” But I could tell…just looking in Morrie’s eyes, this was a man who had seen the depths of his own soul and met Jesus there.

He was quiet when he spoke, not bragging as in the past and he took care to not exaggerate any of the details. He corrected himself if he felt he had misspoken about something in his story. As he had turned to leave me that night, he had said, “I should have been a better person and a better friend, and I hope you will forgive me.” I had embraced him and given him a hug. He had a tear in his eye and thanked me for my forgiveness. Morrie didn’t make it to the next reunions, and I haven’t heard from him since.

I had held Morrie in jail for 20 years before I saw him at that reunion. Lots of things had changed in his life, and I feel bad that I looked crestfallen when I first saw him that night. But it made me realize how many people we hold in prison in our memories. People can change. People can become completely different over time and even though it’s natural to recall someone’s bad behavior in the past, realizing that God is active all over the world, we shouldn’t be surprised when the Morrie’s of our lives show up transformed.

That’s Jesus for you. With everyone he meets, he changes them…the man lying by the pool of Siloam, the woman with the issue of blood, the thief on the cross…and me. If you have done things in your past like me and Morrie and live your life in prison with regret, there is someone waiting in your prison cell who is with you…wanting to change you. That night, on my way home, I couldn’t seem to remember anything that Morrie had done badly in school anymore…it was like God made it all disappear. Somewhere along the way, Morrie had gone through another graduation, but his time, his cap and gown were intact, and God was taking pictures…

You Live on a Mud Ball…

I have been blessed with seeing God do really remarkable things throughout my life. Every time God interrupts my day with His presence and miraculous things happen I am so thrilled. But there are many more days in my life that those things DON’T happen. In fact, the majority of my days do not include some miraculous conversation or event. The ones that I post are stand out days and I confess, I really look forward to them…but they are few and far between.

So…what happens on the days that doesn’t happen? What happens when there are no divine interruptions? What goes on during ordinary days, when there isn’t someone to talk to in lines while waiting for coffee or at a supermarket or getting my hair cut? What happens on the days I’m not hearing the Lord speak to me in a bookstore or at my job?

In fact, what happened to the millions of people we never read about in the Bible on the days when the Red Sea wasn’t parting or David wasn’t slaying giants? What about the people in the market place when Joseph and Mary were looking for Jesus when he had stayed behind in Jerusalem when he was a 12-year-old boy? Were their lives important to God even though they didn’t make it into the Bible?

Was God only interested in the 12 apostles and the few people that came across his path when He was on the earth? What about the people who wanted to get close to him but couldn’t, and Jesus passed them by? Were those people who were working their jobs and raising their children in Galilee just not important? Were those “throw-away” days and people? Maybe you feel that way. Does God even take notice when I am going through the monotonous tasks day after day?

It may interest you to know that every single day that takes place is just as important to God and every single human being on the planet is of great worth and importance to Him. There ARE no unimportant events to Him. There is nothing that you do that He does not want to be a part of.

Most of my day is stocking store shelves, ordering a measure for carpet or cutting window blinds for people. I have days when there is NOTHING happening of any evident spiritual significance in my life. It is on those days, that God is still watching over me, still loving me and still wanting to guide me to opportunities. But I have to remember that it is almost always what happens on the non-miraculous days when I feel the Lord closest to me.

Today is one of those days. I’m writing in the morning before I go to work and in all honesty, I’m just tired and wanting the day to be over before it begins. It’s true. I want to have a “God Moment” today but if it doesn’t happen, the Lord still cares as much as He does on those days when something wonderful happens. What am I trying to say?

Life can be boring and monotonous, going to work, coming home, only to go to bed and repeat it all over again tomorrow. But if 99% of our lives are like that, God still takes interest in them. There are no “throw-away” days and no “throw-away” lives with God. I think this may be the greatest challenge to human beings.

When man fell in the Garden, endless and unbroken fellowship with God ended. It was broken and Man and God could no longer enjoy time in the presence of each other until Jesus opened the door again. I believe there is NOTHING boring in the presence of God. There are no days in his presence that aren’t new and spectacular. There are no moments of boredom where we will think about turning on the television because there is nothing to do. Presence and fellowship with God does not have to wait until you die and are in Heaven but PERFECT fellowship does. True, right now, “we see through a glass darkly” and so we have the Holy Spirit as a “seal” or a down payment of what we will have when the perfect comes. But a time is coming when we will not have to do with the “partial” any longer!

This is where faith comes in. We are looking diligently toward that day when there will be no more dreary task filled days where we tire easily. We are going to a place of unparalleled beauty and unequaled adventure. We are awaiting the moment our eyes see REAL color and when we hear REAL music after the lifetime of artificial substitutes. This is why it is called “The Believer’s Hope”. We await the time we sing with perfect voices, where angelic beings will be visible to us and the unspeakable beauty and joy will be ours not for 70 or 80 years but FOR ETERNITY!

We trudge through this dark muddy orb with a flicker of light within us telling us there is more…up, over the rim of this existence where the dawn explodes with colors to incredible for words. We endure, we persevere this life we live in a single file existence for a life where there will be no boundaries…no limits, and no liver and onions! A place that makes your greatest dreams appear as nothing.

I will set up measures today for a lot of customers…but there is something coming which will make everything I have ever done to be forgotten. Persevere, my friends, …persevere!

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. II Corinthians 4:7-18

On the day, when joy comes…

I’ve told the story before, but it is worth mentioning again of our family trips when I was young. We never really went on vacation as a family; that is to say, to places like Disney World or the Grand Canyon. We jst didn’t have the money for that kind of vacation. It was okay though because we didn’t know what we were missing. With four children in the family, we had plenty of entertainment.

My parents, like all parents back in the day, would pull out the old Rand McNally Atlas and once everyone was packed into the car, we would drive to my grandparents’ home in Texas. My father was raised in San Antonio, so making the trek across the country in our family Vista Cruiser from Indiana was quite a journey. Any time we were unsure of which exit to take, my mother (we children called her “Two-Lane Lorraine) would pull out the trusty Rand McNally to get our bearings.

Fast forward to 2019. These days you can dispense with old Rand and his sidekick and dial into your phone the address with zip code of your destination, and it will automatically figure your route for you along with gas stations, restaurants and points of interest along the way. Pretty slick. Except, there are times when the lady up in space doesn’t seem to know where you are. Ever get on the road, and she starts saying things like, “turn right at thus and such street…” but you’re already on Thus and Such street and then she has another glitch and says, “In 500 feet make a U-Turn” but you know you are on the right course? Somehow, she gets a smack in the head by the satellite and comes back telling you exactly where you are. It can be unnerving if you are out on a deserted country road and she goes on the fritz. You start to wish you had two guys named Rand and McNally in the car with you.

In terms of real-life direction navigation, one of the worst things that can happen is to lose sight of your goals. It is said that; in her first attempt to swim the English Channel, Florence Chadwick, due to fog and not being able to see the shore, gave up just 800 yards short of completing her goal. She was devastated after climbing into the boat to give up and discovering that she had less than a half-mile to success! She eventually tried again; this time with clear weather and became the first to swim the channel successfully!

Had she been able to see where she was in relation to the goal, she would never have thrown in the towel. That’s what happens when we can’t see where we are going. Discouragement sets in, and we begin to feel that the prayer will never be answered, the skill we’ve practiced for so long will never be mastered or the thing we have been saving for; will never be attained. Vision, along with perseverance are the two oars that enable us to continue rowing when all else tells us to stop. It is particularly important that even if the shoreline; like Florence Chadwick’s, is only in your mind’s eye, to keep the goal in sight. I have been on a championship team before, and I can tell you, there were many bumps on the road to the championship. I wanted to give up many a time!

There were the long practices, the tired, sore muscles, sacrifices that we didn’t want to make. At one point, when all of the team was discouraged, our coach would stand up year after year and make the same speech. You would think he would appeal to individual greatness in each of us…but he did not. He would say, “You have only one choice…just one.” “You can each try to be an individual State Champion OR, you can be a team player, and whether you individually capture first place (gymnastics), or not, by doing your best, the whole team can be State Champions.” He was right…and in the years the gymnastics program lasted, we won 13 of 17 State championships.

He knew he needed to show us something tangible to help our flagging vision during the hard times. Each year if our school won the championship, a city firetruck would meet us at the city limits, and we would all get on it and ride through the streets of our hometown with the siren blaring, and a banner that read STATE CHAMPIONS! Our coach, knowing that day was far off in the future for us, would go and purchase a model firetruck and hang it from the ceiling of our locker room with a sign that read…” Who wants to ride?”

Everyday, when we would enter that locker room, that firetruck hung there, offering us a vision if ours began to fade. I will never forget the faces of even the youngest gymnast on our team…beaming, on the day we saw that fire truck. It was not cool to cry, but I swear we all were misty-eyed, and our coach, stood proudly as we went through the town as champions once again.

You may be tired of working so hard for the goal you have of buying a home or saving for the car or vacation. You may have sacrificed for years, saving money to put your children through college. But Jesus says, “ASK and keep on asking, SEEK and keep on seeking, KNOCK and keep on knocking, for he who asks receives, he who seeks, finds and he who knocks, the door is opened.” Matthew 7:7.

Calvin Coolidge said, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

There are people; many of whom you don’t even know, who are cheering for you today. God says there is a great cloud of witnesses watching as you run your race. I encourage you, my friend, don’t give up. You may have had some real low points in your life, and maybe it seems your best days are behind you…they are not! Jeremiah 33: says,

“Call to me, and I will answer you, and I will show you great and mighty things which you do not know” God isn’t mad at you. He won’t give up. His love never stops. He doesn’t say, “That’s it! I’ve HAD it with you!” God never blows his stack…never. Keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. The day is coming when the fog is going to clear, and you are going to see the shoreline!! The day is going to arrive when you see the firetruck …and all of the hard work and all of the sacrifice will melt away… on that day, when the joy comes.

a Parable…

The fifth grade class of Mrs. Wallace was a perfect picture of order. All of the students sat respectfully in perfect rows of desks and chairs facing the chalkboard; Mrs. Wallace’s desk sat in front facing the children. The flag of the United States stood proudly in the corner and the students stood every morning to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Along the side of the room, hooks on the wall had names assigned to each of them, where students would hang their coats in the winter and their backpacks and lunch boxes sat on a small bench beneath each student’s name. Mrs. Wallace loved her students. She had a special name for each of them. She would coach the slow readers and was careful to encourage them all. When one of the students was sick, Mrs. Wallace would send the lessons of the day with another student to the home, and always sent a note saying how much they were missed in class and how special and important they were to the class.

At recess, while the students were outside playing, Mrs. Wallace would prepare for the next subject and be standing at the door when the students came in, winded from running and playing. She took them all to get a drink at the water fountain and then quieted them down so they could concentrate on the next lesson. Because there was order, every student understood the rules and each day ran smoothly.

One day, the principal entered with a new student and introduced her to the class. She was from a faraway school named Alumnus Chimeras. It was a different school and very much different in the way they learned, expressed themselves and interacted with others. The students’ name was Heloise Ele Burton. She stood impeccably dressed, with her hair brushed and curled. She seemed worldly wise, with a hint of whimsey and a broad smile across her face. Every girl in the class instantly wanted to be her friend and every boy thought she was cute.

Right from the start, when the teacher would ask the children to quiet down to begin the day, Heloise would quickly comply and was soon becoming the teacher’s pet. At recess, Heloise would slowly but surely begin to make comments to her girlfriends about how they were individually important; to be sure, but that because they were each different from one another, she felt they should each be allowed to express themselves “differently” and not have to conform to the school’s rules. The other girls would look at her strangely, but because Heloise was so pretty and popular they began to listen to her.

As the year progressed, Heloise began to influence her small group of friends to “dress the way you want to’… and say things like, “Why do you have to be just like every other girl? You’re your own person!” The small group of girls began to dress in a slovenly way, some no longer brushed their hair or even cleaned their nails. Some of the boys saw the girls doing “their own thing” and also began to do the same things. Mrs. Wallace grew concerned but she didn’t know what had happened. She decided to remain quiet in order to keep the peace. Things grew worse.

When Mrs. Wallace would ask the class to quiet down, Heloise would say, just below the murmur of other students but still loud enough to be heard, “You quiet down!” Her friends would giggle and the boys would say it louder. Laughter would fill the classroom. Mrs. Wallace did not know where the attitude was coming from, but she decided to remain quiet about it in order to keep the peace.

Soon, every student was “doing their own thing”. Students would arrive late, the clean blackboard would have graffiti drawn on it before Mrs. Wallace entered the classroom. When asked to stand for the Pledge, Heloise and her circle of friends would remain seated and now defiantly would announce, “We don’t think it’s right to have to stand if we don’t want to…” The novelty of such a bold and brazen display of disrespect was admired by the boys and soon, disrespect ruled the classroom.

Heloise and some of the other students hid the flag in the closet so they would not have to Pledge any longer. Mrs. Wallace tried to correct the students but to no avail. She had thought that because everything had been orderly for so many years, the students would always just simply obey the rules. Mrs. Wallace thought outer order and social rules were what held her class together. But she was wrong…

Order does not originate from rules, it originates from a heart that is subject to a higher order.

As the years passed, Heloise; after graduating with her Masters in Education, became the Principal of the school and re-named it, “Alumnus Chimeras” with the tagline, “Where students are their own truth.”

Of course, the above story is a parable and it is told in order to demonstrate how Satan came as an angel of light into our society and brought chaos. I’m sure you know that the name Heloise Ele Burton is merely an anagram which spells “The Rebellious One” and her former school named Alumnus Chimeras actually spells, “Secular Humanism”.

For decades if not centuries, small concessions have been made in every area of society, valuing individual rights above the order that God created. The individual and their “rights” has so inculcated into our society, that it “seems” right…but such is the deception of humanism. It neglects to tell those it deceives that each of their individual “rights” is actually a violation of everyone else’s rights. Soon anarchy ensues and society falls apart.

The other lesson to be learned is that trying to appease the spirit of secular humanism is simply an exercise in futility. In trying to appease a system that categorically dismisses and cancels out any other system of governance, the appeaser becomes compliant with the new system. Everything on the surface that was purchased with liberty of conscience from oppression, becomes the slave and property of the dictates of the crowd.

Secular Humanism is the spirit of antichrist, alive in the earth today.

The church is guilty of having given in to the small whims and desires of secular humanism. Individual responsibility for personal choices based on Scriptural truth has taken a back seat to easy humanistic believism. But there is no love in humanism and there is no mechanism for obedience to anything except obedience to the base nature of oneself. This is why when reasoning right from wrong in a social situation, the humanist will state, “There is no “right” or “wrong” only what is right for me and right for you!” Surely the weight of such a social construct is as weak as milk and water in its ability to restrain the individual to any order. The church seems to have lost its compass.

What we are discovering right now in our society, is that there is a resurgence of social restraint and political governance based on Scriptural and Christian tradition. The same tradition that made
America the nation it once was. This is a “Phoenix” movement…rising out of the ashes from the fire that has sought to burn down our sacred institutions of marriage between one man and one woman, and equal justice under the law and exchange it for the despotism of situational ethics and the cruel tyranny of the crowd.

This movement is diametrically opposed to the humanism that has abandoned bedrock truth for individual opinion and sought to exert censorship of those who resist their despotism. A system that has sought to betray our very liberties to those who would erase the order brought about by Judeo/Christian thought.

It is a battle between good and evil. And the church had better wake up and begin drawing a clear line in the sand between a Christian based society, stop using defeatist terms like “post Christian” and begin declaring that Jesus is Lord over all the earth! God has used men and women in the government to push back the darkness.

God is bringing justice and restoration by his own arm. I do not condemn the Church…that is Satan’s job. But I do reject any philosophy or eschatological belief that we turn over the earth to Satan and simply fly away. God placed man in the garden to take dominion over it, and as far as I can see in the Bible, he has NEVER rescinded the order!

Pray, seek God’s face, declare, “Come Thy Kingdom, Be DONE thy will on earth as it is in Heaven!” and then, become involved. Run for office, get on the school board, sit on the city council. God says in Isaiah 58:11-12;

“The LORD will always guide you; He will satisfy you in a sun-scorched land and strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will restore the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of the Breach, Restorer of Streets of Dwelling.”

It is also in our most treasured documents…

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” Declaration of Independence

Rise up man and woman of God…and do not believe the whisper that “the church is irrelevant”. God has made you to be: at this time in history, the Esther that goes before the throne and touches the Scepter of the King. You are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of others even millions who are awake. God is changing the complexion of His wineskin. He is making it new and filling it with fresh wine! It is a sweet wine made with the promise of a God who has never abandoned his people. He is pouring out in these last days his Spirit upon men spoken of by Joel the prophet :

“And afterward, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on My menservants and maidservants, I will pour out My Spirit in those days.…” Joel 2:28

This is not merely on the day of Pentecost, this is for today!!! O RISE UP People of God…RISE UP!

“The Battle Hymn Of The Republic

Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the Lord.
He is trampling out the vintage
Where the grapes of wrath are stored.
He has loosed the fateful lightening
Of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on

I have seen him in the watch-fires
Of a hundred circling camps
They have builded him an altar
In the evening dews and damps
I have read his righteous sentence
By the dim and flaring lamps
His day is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
His truth is marching on

I have read a fiery gospel
Writ in burnish’d rows of steel
As ye deal with my contemptors
So with you my grace shall deal
Let the hero, born of woman
Crush the serpent with his heel
Since my God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet
That shall never call retreat
He is sifting out the hearts of men
Before His judgment-seat
Oh, be swift, my soul
To answer him be jubilant, my feet
Our God is marching on!

Lessons from a Mouthy Tenderloin…

I ran out to get a few things the other day from good old Publix and ran into the store right before the rain came down in sheets. The rain was falling so hard, that it sounded like billions of tiny ball bearings were hitting the roof over our heads in the store. I looked out the front window of the store and to my amazement, there; where the parking lot had been, raged a river of water at least 8 inches deep! People were running into the store soaked in only seconds.

Of course, I had things to do, places to go, and people to see. I stared at the parking lot and then, went into what I call my “efficiency mode”. This means I purposely decided to turn “off” my social people greeting, side smiling, comment making self, and got down to the REAL business of finding a pork tenderloin. It was serious work and needed my full attention. I couldn’t be bothered by any distractions insomuch as pork tenderloin selection is a delicate process and is; of course, a great responsibility.

Just when I was zeroing in on a prime portion of tenderloin robbed by a butcher from a pig, I felt the brush against my right shoulder of a person reaching past me to grab my prized piece of pig! She just bumped me, said a cursory, “excuse me” and literally elbowed me out of the way with her left arm and started to grab my selection of swine!!! My blood began to boil. I placed my hand on the same selection of corpulent pork flesh as if to say…”Not so fast sister!” The room fell silent. The air became tense and thick with tension. Slowly; but deliberately I turned my head to the right to look the impatient patron of my Publix store directly in the eye. Everything went into slow motion…mothers of small children protected their young,… the butcher on call that day, ran to the back room for protection against the impending explosion. The chill of the refrigerated section made the hair on my arms stand on end.

A voice spoke up, “I want that tenderloin” she said sternly, not waiting her turn. “I saw it first!” I said with equal sternness having possession of the pig but not my soul. We stared at each other, she, declaring that I was taking too long… I, asking her who made her the official timekeeper of the meat department. It was a spectacle! I’m always the peacekeeper…you know? I always have to be the one who must “behave” and “be a good Christian!”. I rolled my eyes at God…”Why, oh why can’t I ever mix it up with people…” you know? I handed her the (damn) tenderloin (I mean it, folks, this is me in the FLESH I said that in my head…”Here’s your damn tenderloin!” and smiled like I was just kidding and she cheesed it up like, “that’s a good boy….give Mama what she wants!” Inwardly I was seething…yeah, and this was over a piece of pork folks!

She left smiling… and inside of me, I felt as if someone had just called my sister ugly…I wanted to throw DOWN! This raw emotion was more volatile than the thunderstorm outside the store. I actually had to walk over to the frozen potato freezer and just tried to cool off. If you think this outburst and overreaction just a bit too immature…well, it was. And it was something that as I shopped, God had to deal with me about. I’ll let you in on the conversation, and if you find yourself judging my immaturity in the exchange, just know that your judgment is probably right, but it takes time when you are angry to quiet things down inside to learn the lesson.
In the first place, the Lord is kind…and merciful when he brings up my childishness. I felt Him kind of say, “What are you really mad about?’, to which I, exploded;

“Why do I always have to lose?!!!’ Why do I always have to DO THE RIGHT THING…HAVE THE RIGHT ATTITUDE…BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH!!!”

I don’t know about you, but when God wants to talk things over with me, I am still thirteen years old and I like to sass. It always starts out hot and God lets me slowly cool down and doesn’t make thunderous, Wizard of Oz-like pronouncements like, “QUIET SCARECROW!” but rather with very calm questions that…are crafted to bring me back to the important things.

The silence of God is the most formidable silence I have ever known. I asked the question again…like maybe he didn’t hear me or something. Again, no answer on the other end of the phone. So, you know what I did? I hung up the phone! I just white-knuckled my shopping cart and pushed it toward the tenderloin section again and started looking at; what I was sure to be, inferior cuts of tenderloin. (yes, dear reader…I was pissed off about tenderloin! Lol!)

I bent down over the refrigerator when I heard the Lord ask, again, “What are you really mad about?”

My reply was, “Well, that old bitty just stole my tenderloin, and I had to GIVE it to her because you want me to be a GOOD Christian! I always have TO LOSE because, of course, I could send someone to hell by givin’ them a little taste of their own medicine!…but oh no…no I have to be everyone’s DOORMAT and get walked on in the name of “being a good Christian!”! ALWAYS! You never let me just give em a piece of my mind!”

Maggot filled heart, service out of necessity, not out of love…God just wanted me to hear my own heart and I DON’T EVEN LIKE PORK THAT MUCH!!!

I was mad at something that I didn’t even realize. That a lot of my so-called “good Christian” BS was all just smoke and mirrors…just out of religious service to look good and not to be good. I was a whitewashed tomb…outwardly kind but inwardly full of dead men’s bones…and my mouth…dear Lord, my mouth was just pouring out everything in my heart. I was genuinely angry at the very source of my life and joy…blaming Him for my hypocrisy. I, however, did not repent at that moment. I was still very bitter about it.

Up and down the aisle I went, my attitude worse than the weather outside…and I exuded that attitude as well. I was scowling…lower lip pushed out, kind of brooding and definitely grumpy. Two of the employees who know me saw me walking and later told me, “You looked mad so I didn’t want to say anything to you,” which made me feel really ashamed of myself. Each time, for “some reason” that lady who stole my tenderloin was coming down the same aisle toward me and each time I had to turn my head away from her because I saw that tenderloin in her basket and it would call out me saying, “Hey ya little sissy Christian, I’m goin home with this 90 lb old lady who kicked your butt!” “Ya little loser!” Evidently, the tenderloin was from Jersey…cause he spoke with a Jersey accent.

I decided I’d had enough and walked all the way to the other side of the store to get something else I needed. Of course, as the lesson master would have it, the pushy old lady with an elbow like an MMA sucker punch, also decided to go over to the other side of the store. Here I am in the bread aisle and I see that mouthy little tenderloin saying, “Go ahead, reach for the Bunny Bread…I dare ya!” I just knew the second I reached for something the old lady was going to reach for it too so I just stopped and stood behind my cart and waited for the lady and her belligerent pork butt to leave the aisle. I can’t stand a mouthy piece of pork!

As I stood pretending to look at my phone, again the teacher spoke in my ear…”So, what are you really mad about?” This time, I just was worn out and said, “You know Lord…you know what I am mad about”. He said, “Yes, I know, but I want you to say it out loud so you can hear it.” I sighed and said, “I’m angry that I have to lose my life everyday…I’m angry that I have to prefer others above myself, I’m angry that after 40+ years of following you, I am still as much of a pig as that tenderloin!” and I left my shopping cart right there and started for the front door. I figured I needed the quiet privacy of truck to talk this out. But He wouldn’t let me. Right in front of me, on my way out, was the little old lady. It was raining…POURING actually, and the store had three golf umbrellas sitting by the door for the employees who help with taking out customers groceries to their cars.

Remembering that the only way around the mountain was to go through it…I grabbed an umbrella, looked at the pork thief and said, “Come on, I’ll walk you out to your car!” She thanked me and I walked her toward her car. Yes, the thought DID occur to me to get her halfway there and then run back into the store…but I resisted that thought…it was a 10-year-old thought and I was thirteen so it was beneath me. We loaded her groceries, and then I followed her to her door to make sure she wouldn’t get wet.

When she drove away and I had walked back into the store, I found my cart still sitting where I left it. I went to the register to pay for my groceries but at the checkout, I looked at the “return basket” that every register has for when people changed their minds about something they didn’t want. As she checked my groceries across the scanner, I looked behind her in the return basket and…there, sitting in as big as life was the tenderloin from Jersey! Evidently, the lady didn’t want it after all, and here it was waiting for me.

“Hey, ya big palooka! Here I am, I’m all yours!” I smiled and paid the lady at the register but left the tenderloin in the return basket. Of all the gin joints in all the world, this tenderloin was sitting at the check out lane that I went to. The lesson I took away had nothing to do with the lady or the tenderloin…but it had everything to do with my motives about serving God and others.

I can pretend that what I do is for God and for His glory, but unless we lose… REALLY lose our lives, we will never find them in service, in good deeds or in religious exercise. We only really find our lives when, we lay them down, willingly. It is our choice, but it’s best to remember that dead men can’t feel resentment toward inanimate objects.

I’m going to Aldi next time!

The Tools of God…

“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor” Isaiah 61:3c

As trees that grow, I did not start
As strong and solid as now I stand.
But I fell as an acorn on the ground
And covered up by silt and sand,
was pushed by foot beneath the soil,
and left alone, below the land.

When days and nights turned into weeks
I pushed myself above the dirt;
And felt the warmth upon my face.
And with a will to now exert, myself,
a purpose birthed within my soul.
“To grow, and to bless all the earth!”

So daily, in that forest thick,
I sought for my place in the sun.
And as the canopy would seek,
to steal my share, I had begun
to push up higher and master them,
for my purpose would not be outdone.

Then fell the rain, and then my roots,
went deeper still within the ground.
And wider, taller did I stand;
as less substantial plants would drown.
And surveying from my new-found height,
As “King of Trees” I would be crowned.

Then, years rolled by and I saw wars,
And men would camp beneath my boughs,
then, children played and climbed my trunk
And lovers in my shade made vows.
And lending strength to weaker things
remained the purpose I espoused.

Then came the day when men with saws
Cut down the forest to build a town.
And to my left and to my right,
Great trees were being all brought down.
and only I left standing still,
saw house and buildings all around.

In the center of their city park,
I stood alone; tall, old and grey.
And centuries like water poured,
And little by little I would decay.
And acorns that I’d drop below,
Would grow as I, in an earlier day.

And finally, when they came for me
With celebration loud and proud.
They said that I would be removed,
But oh, what “booing” from the crowd!
And back and forth they went for weeks
And then announced their plans aloud.

“This tree has seen 4 hundred years,
And knowing that it must be felled,
We cannot simply cut it down,
For from its strength our town has swelled.
Beneath its branches were treaties signed
And in its shade, our laws upheld.”

“So let us use its wood with honor,
And with it, church and courthouse build,
So men and women can worship still
and the purpose of its life fulfilled.”
And so they brought me down in honor
By the hands of workers wise and skilled.

You did not start life by yourself…
although well hidden, in the ground.
The God of Nations placed you there,
And the purpose for your life was found.
Your growth was never in your hands,
Within HIS hands, twas safe and sound.

And growing tall as the tallest trees
He graces you with Word and Prayer
To rule with him upon the earth,
Destroying evil everywhere and
Sowing acorns as you go, and
Growing them with love and care.

Such are the purposes of God,
Lending strength to others weak,
And becoming pillars in our towns;
So men will believe the words we speak.
The rain, the sun, the soil, and time,
The tools of God to make Great the meek.

Last Words

I have been reading about the last words of famous people. You know, the older I get the more I actually look forward to going home. I’m not trying to leave early though. I figure when it’s time, it’s time. There are many who have done things of note in their lifetimes and, their last words are both interesting and important.

I have read about famous last words of Presidents and Mafia bosses, (which, don’t confuse the two although there are some very close comparisons), and people of faith and those who were athiests. All of their last words are important. What we choose to say at the moment of our death may not be a summation of our lives, because some of us have surprise endings…i.e. accidents. But for those who were dying and knew it, some of them said some very profound things.

According to Steve Jobs’ sister Mona, the Apple founder’s last words were, “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

Emily Dickinson, America’s most celebrated poet’s last words were, “I must go in, for the fog is rising.”

When I read those things I often try to imagine what they saw. There is no doubt that the veil between life and death is exceedingly thin…less than a breath in my estimation. I wonder in my heart if Steve saw something so incredibly beyond anything he could imagine that the computer genius was reduced to his child like wonder statement…”Wow.”

There are humorous ones. Charles Gussman was a writer and TV announcer, who wrote the pilot episode of Days of Our Lives, among other shows. As he became ill, he said he wanted his last words to be memorable. When his daughter reminded him of this, he gently removed his oxygen mask and whispered: “And now for a final word from our sponsor—.”

When Groucho Marx was dying, he let out one last quip: “This is no way to live!”

Donald O’Connor was a singer, dancer, and actor. He also hosted the Academy Awards in 1954. O’Connor died at age 78 with his family gathered around him. He joked, “I’d like to thank the Academy for my lifetime achievement award that I will eventually get.” He still hasn’t gotten one.

I found that some of them were particularly poignant.Billy Graham’s daughter Anne Lotz says that his last words were for her 11-year-old granddaughter. Lotz’s family surrounded Graham during her final visit with him, and she said her 11-year-old granddaughter told him she loved him as the family was leaving. Graham answered back, “I love you.” Those were his last words.

Football coach Vince Lombardi died of cancer in 1970. As he died, Lombardi turned to his wife Marie and said, “Happy anniversary. I love you.”

O.O. McIntyre was an American reporter. He died at age 53, and spoke his last words to his wife Maybelle: “Snooks, will you please turn this way. I like to look at your face.”

When he was 57, Edward R. Murrow died while patting his wife’s hand. He said, “Well, Jan, we were lucky at that.”

John Wayne died at age 72 in L.A. He turned to his wife and said, “Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.”Humphrey Bogart’s wife Lauren Bacall had to leave the house to pick up their kids. Bogart said, “Goodbye, kid. Hurry back.” Not quite, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” but close.

While I am both healthy and happy at this moment, I can think of nothing quite so peaceful and wonderful to gaze upon; before I leave this earth, as the face of my wonderful wife Mary Ann. I hope it will be so, but God knows.

Now don’t start thinking I’ve been diagnosed with some kind of fatal disease. I have not. But what people say at the last few minutes of life can be a window into what is most important to them. Like John Adams, who lay dying on the 4th of July 1826:

“Thomas Jefferson–still survives”… John Adams, US President, d. July 4, 1826(Actually, Jefferson had died earlier that same day.)

“See in what peace a Christian can die”. Joseph Addison, writer, d. June 17, 1719

“Now comes the mystery’. Henry Ward Beecher, evangelist, d. March 8, 1887

“It is very beautiful over there.” Thomas Alva Edison, inventor, d. October 18, 1931

I have lived my life in such a way, that as far back as I can remember, I’ve always looked forward to seeing the green valley that I believe God has promised me. As a child, I asked my mother what I would see when I died. It was a curious question for such a young child.

She sat at the edge of her 4-year-old child’s bed and stared at me. I remember she looked out the window in my bedroom and; at that moment, she heard the train passing through town over 4 miles away.

She looked back at me with soft tears in her eyes and smiled gently. “Doug, when you are ready to go to heaven, you will hear the gentle call of the heavenly train whistle and there will be a seat, with a quilt on it to keep you warm. I will be waiting on board saving your seat next to me.” I smiled and would ask her to repeat that story from time to time as I grew up.

As my mother grew older, after my father had passed away, we would talk often of heaven and I could tell my mother was so looking forward to “boarding the train for home”. In her last year of life, as she slowly approached the end, she would sleep often, and at least one night, as I sat by her bed in her little apartment, she would say, “Doug, I think the train is getting closer…” this time it was my turn to weep quietly. I held her hand until she drifted off to sleep.

In her final days, I was busy at the winery, but I went to sit in her room at the Hospice. She had been asleep for 4 days straight, and they didn’t expect her to wake up. It was on this day, that I sat by her bed holding her hand and singing “I come to the Garden alone”…her favorite hymn.

As time passed, I stood and had to leave her. “Mom” I said quietly, “I have to go to work, but I’ll be back tomorrow…I love you.” This was when; for the first time in 4 days she awoke fully and spoke to me with a full voice.“Doug, your Dad said, “Come Home”!” Standing in that room I was sure, just absolutely sure, I heard a train whistle from downtown. I choked on my response.

“Mom, you do what Dad wants you to do.” Her eyes smiled at me and she went back to sleep. The next morning, February 14, 2014 just 9 days shy of her 90th birthday, my mother boarded the train alongside my dad…her had called her home on Valentines Day and had come to the station to meet her with a quilt on her seat to keep his sweetheart warm.

What I want is for you, my friend, to know in your heart of hearts that you have your ticket securely in your hand. I want you there…with me, in my green valley. It’s lovely there…the flowers make music and there are levels…oh so many levels in that place where you can visit.

I will be there waiting for you on the train to accompany you if you’d like. I’ll have a quilt sitting in your seat to put around your legs for the journey. We’ll sit and laugh and talk and watch the lovely scenery pass us by until we arrive at the station where everyone we know will be waiting for us.
There will be my wine…the perfected wine I finally have made from perfectly sugared grapes and my dogs will all be there to greet you…yours too! And there will be no strangers there…only friends, dear friends and family.

And whatever you held dear, and whatever memory that comforted you will be real and waiting for you.

I don’t know what my last words on this earth will be, but one thing is for sure…it will be a blessing, a prayer or thanksgiving for having had the privilege of being born on God’s earth. If I survive my wife, we will hold hands and I will sing to her, kiss her forehead and listen for her last words. If not, she will be there holding my hand and I will be looking into her eyes and the eyes of my children and grandchildren.

But until then, there is work to be done, and a kingdom to proclaim…and the train is quickly approaching the station.