Burly Bikers Acting Like The Kingdom!–Saturday Story, 14 February 2020

Below is the link to a powerful story. Many have questioned me why I say that Bikers and the Biking Community look more like the Kingdom of God than many congregations. I personally know of 2 congregations that hid and protected a predator–and there are countless more stories out there like those. Well, here’s a group that seems to say, “Enough is enough!” Read and be challenged, Church, to act more like Bikers than Tenured Pew Sitters! This is truly a Kingdom Of God Story of love, grace, redemption and hope!

Just imagine being a child who someone abused. Now vision yourself going to court to face the very person who hurt you. As you can imagine, that would be incredibly difficult and frightening. But in life, that’s something that happens every day. Although these children are very brave, it never hurts to have a great support system.

(Click here for the rest of the story)

Here is the BACA WEBSITE and make sure you watch the video, and what one victim said if she was afraid of her abuser. I’ve submitted my own request to join this wonderful group. The time for talking is over–it’s time to take action! And that, my friends is the moral of This Kingdom Story–stand with the weak and the vulnerable!

A Ninja And A Missionary–Saturday Stories 22 February 2020

Children can teach us a lot and we need to learn from them. Today’s Saturday Story is about the power of imagination and it comes from another one of our grandchildren, Caroline. Enjoy!

When I Grow Up I’m Going To Be. . .

Caroline has quite the imagination, even if I say so myself. I think it’s because she inherited it through her Grandpa! She was always telling anyone who would listen what she was going to be when she grew up. Once she announced she was going to be a “Petanarian”–that’s a doctor who takes care of people’s pets. That is, until one day she asked me if Petanarian’s had to go to school. When I told her “Yes”, she kinda lost interest in that.

But before she was going to grow up to be a Petanarian, she told her parents that she was going to be a Ninja Missionary. Though her body was small, I think she was about 3 or 4, her imagination was enormous. She explained it like this: “I’ll go out and do ninja stuff and when I’m not out doing ninja stuff I’ll be a missionary doing missionary stuff.” And the wonderful thing is–She Believed That She Could Do Just That! One day be a ninja doing ninja stuff and the next day be a missionary doing missionary stuff. Who could ever come up with a combination like this–but a child like Caroline!

Moral Of The Story

Children like Caroline see the future with unlimited potential. They even see the most unlikely things as a real possibility. They see things that we adults see either as impossible or incompatible. And because we have lost the imagination to have unlimited dreams, we lose that God-Given Gift of Seeing Potential. Adults today are living with self-imposed blinders that limits both our potential and what God has designed for us to do and to be. This has produced a dull and painful existence; when we forget how to dream without limits.

Our response to Caroline’s dream of becoming a Ninja Missionary should not be “Oh, that’s just childish imagination.” No! Our response should be like Elisha’s prayer in 2 Kings 6:17–Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire. What if you stopped being disappointed, sad, disillusioned, angry and similar ways of thinking? What if, like Caroline, you could dream of being the second Ninja Missionary? You can’t the be first, Caroline was the first Ninja Missionary. Stop thinking about what can’t be done and begin seeing what could be, in your life, your family, your neighborhood and in the world. Use God’s gift of IMAGINATION!

FYI, Bart Mallard originally gave the rights to this song to Amy Grant because he couldn’t imagine himself recording it. But she had enough imagination for both of them. And as the saying goes, the rest is history–a double platinum album for MercyMe.

The Nose Knows!–Saturday Stories 15 February 2020

Today’s Saturday Story is about a dog who can teach us a lot about knowing what really matters.

The Nose Knows!

It was somewhere around 2005 as best I can recall. My son Matthew and another buddy were deployed back to Iraq, along with their dogs. Their dogs were trained to sniff out and detect materials used for the making of those dreaded IEDs. Matthew’s dog was name Kitchee (I think this was how it was spelled). I wouldn’t make fun of that name; he was a big German Shepherd who knew not only how to smell explosive materials, but trained to violently attack anyone when given the command.

Each time Matthew would be deployed we would send him those famous care packages. We would send him whatever he needed and always something sweet and good to eat. We also sent something for Kitchee–a bag of rawhide chews. That dog was protecting Matthew so I made sure to always include a big bag of chews. Both soldiers, Matthew and Kitchee, always looked forward to that care package. I called Kitchee a soldier because he was–he had a rank and it was one grade higher than his handler. If Matthew had received a promotion, Kitchee did as well.

Back to the story. We had sent them a care package that arrived on their base while they were out on a mission. When they arrived back to the base Matthew picked up the package and he and Kitchee went to their room. Matthew told me he just put the package on his cot, released Kitchee from his leash, closed the door and went to the chow hall for something to eat. When he returned to their room that care package had been ripped open by Kitchee. All the contents were scattered on that cot except for that package of rawhide chews. And he was having a ball with those chews.

Kitchee bypassed homemade cookies and candy–his only interest was those chews. The box was sealed and those chews were still in a sealed factory package. But he could still smell them. He wasn’t interested in the other stuff–only what mattered the most to him–and what he knew belonged to him! The nose always knows!

Moral Of The Story

Kitchee wasn’t distracted from his mission. He bypassed all the things that weren’t meant for him. But how many times do we get distracted from our mission of becoming more and more like Jesus? God has things for each and every one of us that HE designed to help us become more like Jesus–and He sends them as a “Care Package” waiting to be opened for us to discover that special gift. It’s know as Every Day Life. Unfortunately we get distracted by the things not meant for us. But Kitchee? He teaches us that the Nose Knows! Don’t get distracted from what God has for you!

Keeping Cadence–Saturday Stories 8 February 2020

This Saturday’s story goes back to 1996. I remember it because of 2 unforgettable things happened. For the first time in his 18 years of life, my son said, “Daddy you were right.” I had been trying to help him understand you could work hard or you could work smart. I was right; he said it and even if he doesn’t remember that moment, I always will. The other thing that happened that led to that utterance of Matthew was when he graduated Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Here’s the story.

KEEPING WITH THE CADENCE

When my son Matthew graduated from the Army’s Basic Training, I made the trip to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri to see his great accomplishment.  One of the many images that was engraved on my mind was the way they walked as a unit.  Each member, each soldier was in step with the other.  Their lines were sharp and crisp because only ONE was calling the cadence.  Their Drill Sergeant was the only voice heard.  Their ears were in tune with only their Drill Sergeant. 

I don’t remember the exact cadences they used. I remember some of them were…well it was 1996 before political correctness was fully operational…some couldn’t be repeated. But I do remember part of one of those cadences. It was something like this: “My buddy’s in a foxhole, a bullet in his head. The medic says he is wounded, but I know that he is dead.”

Then their Drill Sargent would start a new cadence call; and they never missed a step. And not far away you could hear other Drill Sergeants calling cadence, but their platoon did not heed the other voices, only the voice of one kept their focus and attention.  They were not distracted by any other voices. It was impressive, to say the least. Many cadences, many voices–but he and his platoon were in tune to only one voice. And they moved as if they were one person.

MORAL OF THE STORY

We need someone to call cadence for us. But not just anyone–The ONE who is been given that responsibility–for us as individuals and us collectively as the Body of Christ. That’s Jesus. And He does give us the cadence call through the Holy Spirit. It’s like Paul wrote in Galatians 5:26–

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

In real life, there are a lot of things that demand our attention:  family, jobs, appointments, and activities.  It is easy to find ourselves frustrated or disappointed at the end of the day because of the busyness with which we are seemingly perpetually engaged in.  And this is where the stress comes in and often overwhelms us. 

I’m glad Jesus taught us to pray saying “Our Father” rather than “Our Drill Sergeant.”  So, if you find yourself out of step and full of stress, remember my lesson.  Let God lead the parade called life.  Listen to His voice as He calls out the cadence.  Life flows much better when we cooperate with God, much like that platoon that followed only one Drill Sergeant’s cadence.

Change In Names–Saturday Stories 25 January 2020

(Today’s story happened in 2004, but it will always be a part of the unfolding story of who I am and who I am becoming)

Would It Be OK?

When Debbie and I started dating, it wasn’t long before I met her granddaughter, Rileigh Breeze.  I quickly became known by her as “that ‘nother Randy.”  I was known as “that ‘nother Randy” because they had a long time family friend also named Randy.  So, when Rileigh Breeze talked about “Randy”, she needed a way to clarify which “Randy” she was talking about.  Now to her, it just made sense to call me “that ‘nother Randy” since the first “Randy” had been a part of her life for longer than I had been.  One day she was telling her “Auntie” something Randy had said.  But she quickly added, “Not Randy Randy, but Grammaw’s Randy.  You know, that ‘nother Randy.” 

It wasn’t long before I was known in Debbie’s family as “that ‘nother Randy.”  And I was OK with that designation.  It certainly eased the confusion as to which Randy was being discussed.  It made for clarity in communication, and besides, it was a cute and humorous way that Rileigh Breeze had made this distinction between the two Randy’s. Without something to make us distinctive, it would be confusing to know which one was which.  (If you think it would be confusing to have two family friends named Randy, how about 3 different people not only sharing the same first name, but also the same last name.  Yes, there are at least 3 different people named, you guessed it:  Randy Burbank; and yes, we are all cousins.  And please, no comments about the “Bob Newhart” show:  This is my brother Darryl and my other brother Darryl.)

Debbie and I had been dating almost a year when I asked her to become my wife and partner in God’s ministry.  Not long after we announced to her family that we would be married, Rileigh Breeze was talking with her Grammaw about what this meant and the changes that would occur; the biggest of which would be that Grammaw would move across the state, 2 hours away.  As best we can remember, during the conversation, she asked, “Grammaw, would it be OK if I called him Grampaw instead of that `nother Randy?”  And the first time she called out, “Hey, Grampaw” I knew something special had happened. 

Of course, she melted my heart, but something else happened.  Our relationship changed from one of friends, to that of family.  Even though there is not a genealogical connection, even though there is no shared DNA between Breeze and myself, she is and will always be one of my granddaughters, and I will always be her Grampaw.  The cultural designation would be she is a step-granddaughter, but not in my heart.  Debbie and I do not have step-grandchildren, only grandchildren. It was amazing to me the first time I heard Rileigh Breeze call me “Grampaw”.  Our relationship changed and took on a lot more depth; and it all happened when she called me by the name:  Grampaw.

Moral Of The Story

When God calls us by name, there is, without a doubt, a sound of love in the way He does it.  I knew there was a deepening of love between Breeze and myself, but it didn’t hit me until she called me by the name, “Grammpaw”!  God is constantly calling to us by name, and I want to encourage you not to be too busy so as to miss that moment.  Every time God calls you by name is a sacred and powerful moment that offers to change our relationship with Him with ourselves, and with others.

And why does God call us by name?  Because He has said:  “For I have ransomed you.”  Ransom is an interesting word in the Hebrew language.  It means:  “to act as a kinsman (family member).”  God wants us to know we can experience a family relationship with Him.  When I married Breeze’s Grammaw, I was no longer a friend, I was a family member and she acknowledged that with my new name.  God wants us to know that we are kin, we are family. 

Stuck In The Mud–Saturday Stories 18 January 2020

So far my Saturday Stories have been about moments where God shows up in unexpected places. Well, this Saturday Story is about what the phrase “young and dumb” looks like…in me.

STUCK IN THE MUD

It was back in 1977; I had my first pick-up truck.  One day I decided to take it off the paved road through some trails.  I had been on this particular trail before, but on a dirt bike.  It had rained that week and my truck was only a two-wheel drive, but I felt confident I knew that trail well enough to stay out of trouble. 

Things were going pretty well, I had made it through some rough parts of the trail when I came upon a place in the road that was covered in water.  I stopped and looked at it carefully. I knew what this place in the road looked like when it hadn’t rained, so  I decided on a course of action that would I felt would take me safely to the other side. 

I really believed that if I backed up a bit and went through the right side of the mud hole I could get to the other side.  I really believed I could get to the other side.  So, I backed up a bit and moved full speed ahead.  Now, I believed I was well on my way to the other side.  About one-fourth of the way through I slowed a little but I kept on going, confident I was about to get to the other side. 

About two-thirds of the way through, I found that my faith in my reasoning ability was wrong, seriously wrong.  My truck came to a complete stop and would not move.  No matter how hard I tried, I remained stuck in the mud.  This was in the days before cell phones, so there I was, miles from the main road, and not another person in sight.  My choice and my decision were seriously flawed even though my confidence was high.  There I was on LaGrange Mountain, alone and stuck, unable to go any further, or even go back. It was the middle of the week and the likelihood of someone coming along in another truck was the same odds as a snowball’s chance in that certain place.

Just then I heard a dirt bike coming down the trail. Good news to me. Better news he stopped. Best news was he went back to get his truck and a chain and pulled me out of my created mess. Reflecting now on that “young and dumb” moment, I wondered why did this stranger decide to go riding that day? And of the many off-road trails, he ended up where I was stuck in the mud. Call me simple-minded and naive, but I think God may have been at work that day–even though I wasn’t aware of it.

The Moral Of The Story

Our choices and decisions can be…often are flawed. Without the right information that fits the situation we can end up where I was that day in 1977, stuck in the mud. But because of His Grace, God has already been at work. He’s ready for our “stuck in the mud” moments. It may not be as dramatic as a lone dirt bike rider who had his truck and chain ready to help, but God knows where we are, what we are facing–and best of all, He has a plan–and if we follow His plan, we get unstuck.

Addendum to my story: Once I got unstuck, I went back the way I came in and left that mud hole in my rear view mirror. I learned enough not to try that again! Allow God to help you make more than good choices, but the best choices of all.

Saturday Stories–Ernie And Today Is Not That Day!

Welcome to another Saturday Story. Today’s story is from several years ago; it was such a powerful moment that I still remember it as if it occurred yesterday. Listen to it, and maybe Dad has something to say to you…

TODAY IS NOT THAT DAY

Ernie was a retired sheet metal worker. He and his wife Bettye had retired to Scottsboro. They never had children, so they “adopted” kids of all ages, including me. Both spent many hours serving Jesus at Randall’s Chapel (no, that church wasn’t named after me!). Ernie served Jesus in so many ways. Teaching, leading committees, the men’s group, serving in whatever way he was asked. Needless to say, this pastor fell in love with them.

Ernie was the epitome of an “active member”; but I and several others noticed Ernie didn’t have his usual level of stamina. Ernie noticed it too, so he went to his doctor to find out why. After several tests, Ernie was given the diagnosis of ALS (I refuse to call this evil disease by the name of one of baseball’s greatest players).

Word reached me of this diagnosis. As “pastor”, my job was to give him and Bettye words of encouragement and wisdom. This wasn’t my first encounter with someone dehumanized by ALS. I knew what Ernie’s future would look like. The day after his diagnosis I was going to “visit” with them and share those “words of encouragement and wisdom”. And as I sat in my office that morning, I struggled to find any such words. But it was my “job” to do it, and honestly, I felt like a failure because I simply couldn’t find the right “words”.

Just then (remember that “just then” or “it just so happened” are usually God prepared and ordained moments) I heard Ernie come in. He stuck his head in my office and asked, “Bro. Randy, do you have a few minutes, I need to talk about something.” Of course I had time, I always have time for a good friend; but this time my mind is in panic mode. I still didn’t have those words of “encouragement and wisdom”. In my heart I said, “OK, Holy Spirit, you’re going to have to do the talking because I don’t know what to say!”

And my, oh, my did my Friend, the Holy Spirit, do some talking. But it wasn’t me doing the talking–it was Ernie. “Randy, I know you heard about my diagnosis. And I need you to understand that one day I won’t be able to teach the Sunday School class. One day I won’t be able to be involved in the men’s group. One day I won’t be able to serve this church. One day I won’t be able to do all the things I love doing around here.” And what Ernie said next is still with me.

With a love and fire in his eyes he said, “But today is not that day! I’m going to continue to do all the things I’ve been doing. Whatever you or this church needs me for, I’m here! I know that day will come, it’s just that Today Is Not That Day!” The words of encouragement and wisdom wasn’t meant to be shared by me; that Holy Moment was given to Ernie.

And Ernie kept that Sacred Vow. He kept on working and moving forward with Jesus. And a little over a year later, that day finally came. Bettye asked me to do the funeral service. And the message I shared? It was the very same one Ernie shared with me that morning in my office. Ernie prepared his own eulogy and funeral message: Today is not THAT day to give up. God is with you every step of the way. And on that sad day, God’s Grace abounded.

Application Time

We all face difficult, even terrifying moments in life. The temptation, even the urge to give up can seem overwhelming. I know, I’ve faced many such moments. And in those moments, I see Ernie, sitting across my desk. He’s smiling and saying to me, “Now Randy, you know Today Is Not THAT Day!

Whatever it is that you may face in life; whatever you ARE facing right now that is overwhelming you with the feeling of helplessness or hopelessness and you want to give up; remember my good friend Ernie’s words: Today Is Not THAT Day! Ernie lived with the confidence that whatever the future held, HE was held by God and was secure in that knowledge.

Saturday Stories-A 3 Year Old’s Reminder

At the risk of sounding like an extremely proud Grandpa (because I am!), this Saturday’s Story is about one of our granddaughters, Caroline. Caroline is the daughter of my daughter, Leslie. Her mother put a curse on Leslie. You know the one: “I hope you have a child just like you.” Bless Leslie’s heart, she does! There are a lot of “Caroline Stories” I can tell, but today, it’s about the lesson she taught me when she was only three.

You Can’t Be Talking And Pay Attention To Me!

Several years ago, my daughter Leslie and her kids, Ethan and Caroline, came for a visit. They lived 2 hours away; so any visit was special. I called my parents who lived less than a mile away so they could see their great-grandchildren. After a time, we were in the kitchen just us adults talking.

In our kitchen was a small single step stool. Debbie, being somewhat vertically challenged, needed it sometimes to reach stuff in the top of a cabinet. Caroline had noticed this stool and managed a new skill–jumping off and landing securely on her feet. It was only about 6 inches, but for another vertically challenged 3 year old, it was quite a feat.

So Caroline began to display her new skill. She called out to us and said, “Watch this!” Being doting grandparents and great-grandparents we applauded her and congratulated her on this newfound skill. After several successful jumps and our accompanying praise, we went back to our conversations as adults. Needless to say, this did not please the Princess Caroline. Yes, Princess Caroline; it’s a title well earned and most appropriate for her.

We were in a circle talking with each other when Princess Caroline squeezed her way into the middle of this circle. She pressed her index finger to her thumb, and pointed at us with that little hand. I’m sure she learned this visual expression from her teacher at preschool. With a determined expression and dead seriousness, Princess Caroline got our attention with these words: “You Cannot Be Talking And Pay Attention To Me!”

While we “adults” were through watching her most recent skill, SHE wasn’t through showing us her skill. And she wasn’t going to be ignored any longer. She pulled our attention from talking to watching. To make sure we understood her “point” she repeated it again: “You Cannot Be Talking And Pay Attention To Me!” Ever since that day, we have, often jokingly, said to each other: “You Cannot Be Talking And Pay Attention To Me!”

The Moral Of This Saturday Story

This 3 year old Princess taught an invaluable for all of us. How many times does The Father try to get our attention–but we’re too busy talking? Talking to each other. Talking about others. Politics. Sports. The news. The latest fake news from the internet. Talking with others about how much we know about God. Telling others what THEY need to know about God. Telling God what we need. Telling God what HE needs to do.

Talking, talking, talking and more talking to the nth degree. Caroline taught me a lesson that day that I have had to be reminded of. . .frequently. . .too frequently. Caroline didn’t have out attention because we were, in her opinion, talking too much to each other. We adults needed to re-focus our attention to what really mattered.

Do you suppose God ever takes His index finger, pressing it against His thumb and saying to us: “You Cannot Be Talking And Pay Attention To Me!” Caroline would not let us have a choice–we HAD to give her our undivided attention. But God? Well, He never violates one of His gifts to us–a gift that leads to heights of joy–or depths of regret and despair. Free Will!

But the truth is, we cannot be talking and Pay Attention To God. Our troubles and chaos of this era is because we haven’t been paying attention to God. So. . .Stop Talking And Pay Attention To God! You need to, and our culture needs you to Pay Attention To God! You can’t pay attention to God if you are too busy talking.

Saturday Stories–A Christmas Story

“So they can all see the baby Jesus.”

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Being a pastor, I am often blessed to hear others tell wonderful stories of faith that have impacted their lives.  One such faith story comes from the time when I served the Weeden Heights congregation back in the 90’s.  Jimmy and Elaine Springer were such faithful servants of God, and I considered myself to have received an extra blessing by becoming more than their pastor, but also their friend.  One day Elaine shared with me a simple but powerful image of why we all need a child-like faith.

 See Jesus This Christmas

It was during the Christmas season.  She and Jimmy had decorated their home to match the festive holiday season.  Among their many decorations was a Nativity Set, complete with all the characters and animals.  Elaine said she carefully arranged the scene so that each figurine’s face was looking outward.  This way, each person who looked at the scene could see the faces of Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds, and the Wise Men.  During a visit from their grandchildren, Elaine said she walked past the Nativity Scene and all the characters had been moved.  They formed a circle around the manger, and the baby, Jesus.

Well, she carefully rearranged them back to their original state, only to discover sometime later to find them in a circle again—all in a circle around the manger and the baby, Jesus.  When she asked her grandchild why she had rearranged them in a circle, the child’s reply is a classic and full of faith:  “So they can all see the baby Jesus.”  Needless to say, the words spoke to Elaine’s heart, and the truth was ever so clear.  The Nativity Scene was indeed correct—each person, each animal facing and focused on the Christ child.  Needless to say—the Nativity Scene remained that way, all characters in a circle that focused on Jesus.

The Lesson 

It was a special Christmas when a child reminded everyone, that this Holiday Season is really about one thing—Jesus.  And I remembered the words of Paul in Hebrews chapter 12—“Keep your eyes on Jesus!”  This time of year is truly a busy and sometimes stressful time.  Crowded streets and highways, parking lots that are full, huge shopping crowds, long lines, finding the perfect Christmas gifts; all this and more sometimes makes us forget what the Season is really all about. 

So, if you are all stressed out, I have a word for you; that word is—STOP!  Take your eyes off the crowds and lines and sales, and circle up around Jesus and focus on Him!  Right now, or when you get home, go to that Nativity Scene in your family room, then move all those figurines into a circle around the hope and love that can only be found in Jesus.  And if someone asks, “Why are these figurines in a circle?  I can’t see their faces.”  Tell them, for God’s sake, tell them, “Look where they are looking—see the face of Jesus.”

And from this Kingdom Pastor, who often struggles to keep his focus, I want each of you to experience the inexpressible Joy, Hope, Peace and Love that comes from “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”

Saturday Stories–I Will Be Joyful Even If It Kills Me!

Last Saturday I told a story about my son, Matthew. Now, I never used my kids as examples in my sermons. . .while they were living at home. After they left the nest–they became fair game. This week’s story is about yours truly. But unlike Matthew’s story, I’m NOT the hero. It was from December of 2007. I’m calling this story:

I Will Be Joyful, Even If It Kills Me!

In December, 2007 I was forced to do something (again) that I claimed I would never do this time of year.  It is something I absolutely loathe.  Every year at this time I say I will not do it, I will not do it!  And every year I find myself forced to do it.  I find myself groaning in my heart, much like Paul when he wrote in Romans 7:15—For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  What was it so terrible I found myself forced to do?  I HAD to go to the local discount super center to pick up some things.  The items I needed were only there, and if I could have made myself get up at 2:00 am, I would have gone then—but that’s when I do my best sleeping.

Understand something. . .these are “my” people. This is the area I grew up in as a child. For the most part, these are good, solid, salt of the earth people; EXCEPT when it comes to Christmas shopping. My people turn into monsters and vile, evil hordes. Oh, there are those exceptions; but those exceptions are almost as rare as the winning lottery tickets. If Dante lived today, I’m sure he would have included an extra level of hell!

 So, with a sense of dread and angst, I entered the challenge—of finding a parking place, and then dealing with those annoying people who stop on the main aisles to converse with friends and family.  (I’ve often wondered why some families don’t just go ahead and announce that their Family Reunion will be held at the local Wal-Mart.)  Some people seem to find it a thrill to go shopping this time of year—I am not one of those. 

I suppose my dread comes from my past experiences of having worked in a retail environment during this time of year.  Not that I believe in different levels of hell and punishment (because I don’t)—but if I did believe that, working retail during Christmas would certainly be classified as one of the lower levels.

But before I left the house, I decided this time I would, no matter what, display in my face and words and actions, the spirit of joy, love and peace. On the drive there I kept reminding myself, “Self, be joyful!” The idiots and morons on the highway was challenging my resolves. And once in the parking lot, there were those asinine people just sitting there, waiting for someone to leave so they could have a close parking place. They’re too lazy to walk, but not too lazy to fight like a barbarian for those specials.

Still, when I parked, my resolve was intact, a bit battered, but intact. I began the walk smiling and being joyful.  (Yes, sometimes preachers do practice what they preach!)   I made it a point to tell everyone “Merry Christmas” with a smile and sincerity in my voice.  And, I must confess, I saw a change in people’s expressions when I am joyful toward them. (Hmm?  Could it be something to this thing of sharing joy?)

Well, to make a short story long, I finally navigated several detours (because of people conducting family reunions, don’t get me started again) and like St. Nick, checked every item off my list and entered the next challenging level of holiday shopping—finding the check-out with the fewest people.  Having conquered that level, I placed my items on the counter and thought about what a stressful day she must be having. So I started to engage the cashier in some cheerful conversation–God knows she needed it. Then she had the nerve to be cheerful to me first.  Quite frankly, I don’t know how she managed it, but she did.  When she asked me how I was doing, I thought, “Now, here’s a great opportunity to witness!”

 What happened next was one of those moments when the Holy Spirit just blind sides us with grace and love.  My reply to her (and I thought it a clever opening line), “I am blessed by the Lord.”  And without missing a beat, her reply was “And highly favored!”  The sound of joy in her voice when she said that was so uplifting to me (so much for me being a witness, in fact, I stopped witnessing and started be witnessed to).  But what she said next, spoke so powerfully to me that I need to share it with you. 

With the sound of holy laughter and joy in her voice, this lowly cashier said to me:  “Too blessed to be stressed!”  Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, my drive home was much more full of joy than my drive there, and it wasn’t because the adventure was over, but because God used an ordinary cashier to remind me what this wonderful season is all about—That We Are Too Blessed To Be Stressed!

Can you even imagine a portion of the stress that young Mary must have felt when Gabriel first announced God’s plan for her life?  But Mary’s faith was able to override her emotions (and some might say logic) and her faith enabled her to become an instrument of God’s presence and His love, as I was reminded of God’s love and presence by that cashier. 

Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed.  Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?  When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.  You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said. Luke 2:42-45 (New Living Translation)

And in our text today, her cousin Elizabeth affirms God’s activity in Mary’s life with that power line in verse 45:  You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said!  And in response, Mary burst forth in song, like in a Broadway musical.  Mary gave us the very first Christmas song as she sang praise for the presence, power and activity of God in her life.  Mary was way too blessed to be stressed!           

And so can you!  When you believe that God will do what God has said that He will do in you, for you and through you, the blessing continues.  So, as the countdown continues—more parties, more gatherings, more shopping, don’t get stressed out like I did.  Be ready and be alert because God is going to break into your ordinary and sometimes stressful days with joy and love.  For many people, they are too stressed to be blessed.  You do not have to be one of them because of God’s presence and power.  Open your eyes and hearts to see the ways God is blessing you. 

Saturday Stories-One Proud Daddy

When my son, Matthew graduated Deputy Academy

I’m trying to stay focused on this gift (some may say curse) of writing. Not as faithful to it as I should be, so I am trying to develop some “themes” for each day. For this and future Saturdays I will share stories as I find them with you. This particular is from my son, Matthew. After a long career in the military, he is now a Deputy Sheriff with the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department. By the way, he was the oldest cadet in his class. He was The 40 Year Old Rookie! His nickname was Old Man. Now, on to HIS story as told by him; a story that makes me proud of him.

A Weary, Homeless Traveler

I came across a homeless gentleman a few nights ago, walking down a dark, mildly desolate spot on Highway 17. I pulled up and I bet he he thought, “Great, another cop harassing me!” I got out of the car and he immediately handed me his only form of identification……..his VA card.

From all I could tell, he wasn’t a wino. He had a long beard, skinny, and frail. But I didn’t smell one iota of alcohol on him, his eyes weren’t blood shot, or any of the other “typical” attributes you see in some of our homeless. I checked his background and the only thing that popped up was a suspended drivers license out of Florida.

I got to talking to him and learned a little bit about him. He served with the famed 82nd Airborne. I served with the 101st Airborne so immediately a little friendly rivalry ensued. I discovered he had been hitchhiking from Cincinnati and was trying to make it to Lafayette, Louisiana. I asked him why there. Did he have family there? He said he had no family left, at least none that he knew of. He did know two people there that he used to paint with and hoped they could help him out with a job. He was a painter at one time I guess.

I told him to get in the car and I would give him a ride. He asked if I could carry him to a Walmart that way he could get inside for a couple of hours. (It was extremely cold this night.) I told him that I wouldn’t do that, I would find him somewhere he could sleep proper for the night.

I tried the local Room at the Inn homeless shelter and they were full. Same with a couple of others or it was past the intake time. But do you know who took him in graciously? The Salvation Army. Even though it was past their standard intake time, they took him in graciously and gave him a bed and food.

As I was leaving him he asked if Highway 72 was a good road to walk on as he made his way west. I told him about the road, local truck stops, and where not to go. He thanked me very graciously. Salvation Army catches a lot of grief over stuff, but in this instance, I can’t say enough good things about them.

What I Discovered

Stories have lessons to discover; these are some lessons Matthew is teaching Dad:

  1. He took a risk. Law enforcement officers take a risk every time they encounter a person. He was alone and backup wasn’t even close. I’m not saying that homeless people are risky; They Aren’t! But it seems that every day, an officer gets shot or killed. Matthew left the battlefields of the Middle East for a battlefields at home. Do we only seek places to show the love of God that are safe for us, or are we willing to take a risk for Jesus? Jesus took a risk for you on that Cross. It’s time we who align ourselves as Followers Of Jesus to do the same for others.
  2. He made a connection. Matthew immediately recognized their connection was the military. I’m sure Matthew was right about what this man thought when the blue lights came on. A simple V.A. card was all it took. Combat brothers and sisters share a bond we who have not served cannot comprehend. Finding ways to connect WITH people is the key to opening doors and disarming suspicion. His connection was from this experiences. Our experiences are the doorways to connections with others!
  3. He met an immediate need. This man needed two things: a way to get out of the cold, and to get further towards his destination. The man only wanted to get to Walmart so that he could have a place to warm up for a couple of hours. But that wasn’t enough for Matthew (another proud Dad moment). He went the second mile, searching for a shelter for his brother in arms. He didn’t give up until he found him warm shelter and a hot meal. What are we doing to meet the immediate needs of people around us? The homeless? The struggling single parent? The addict? That couple on the verge of divorce? The person contemplating a permanent solution to a temporary problem? People in need don’t need our judgment about are they “worthy” of our help. Jesus didn’t consider their “worthiness”, neither should we.
  4. He offered counsel. Before they parted ways, the homeless veteran, feeling comfortable with him, sought counsel, not advice. And Matthew responded with good counsel. He didn’t give him “advice”; it was good counsel; the places to avoid as well as places that were safe. It seems to me that while most of us are good at giving advice, we are poor in giving good counsel. Good Counsel comes out of a heart that cares; a heart that seeks wisdom, a heart that bears the scars of day-to-day life. Wise Counsel doesn’t come naturally. It comes out of the desire for us to seek wisdom! If you find yourself today tempted to give advice, fight that temptation. Instead seek wisdom, the wisdom from Above.

If you think I’m bragging about my son. . .YOU’RE RIGHT! When I see Jesus in him, I just want to keep on encouraging him. When you see Jesus in action in others. . .do the same!

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!