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Sippin’ Sweet Tea, Sittin’ in a Lawn Chair, and Soakin’ in Summer Stories

The sun had just dipped below the tree line. The thick, humid summer air was turning to a pleasant, slight coolness that takes the edge off the day’s hottest heat. Cousins were bouncing and running through the trees and scattered lawn chairs in my uncle’s yard. Chatter and laughter flitted through the air much like butterflies do with more than a few exaggerated fish stories and exchanges about mischief among the kids. And the food. Oh the food! The charred, smokey burgers and sweet, savory baked beans piled high on everyone’s plates. Juicy watermelon finished off the meal time with that just-right mix of watery sweetness. More than one seed spitting contest followed. Everyone did their own thing until my PaPaw took his seat with sweet tea in hand in that old, woven lawn chair. Even now, nearly thirty years later, I can still see his broad smile and glinting eyes that smirked more than his curving lips. I can still hear his soft chuckle. I wasn’t the only one.

You see, when my PaPaw sat down, stories were sure to follow. And every one of us knew it. Just about every family member, even the littlins’, gathered in close to hear him retell scaring the daylights out of his kids decades earlier, beating his boys in golf just the day before, or catching a cooler full of fish on the last family beach trip. He just had a way. However he said it, he just said it better. Sons listened. Daughters and daughters’-in-laws cooed. Grandkids giggled. All of us found ourselves mesmerized. We were home. Home right at his feet. Listening.

I’ll never forget some of those stories. I can still hear him tell us about sneaking quietly around the back of the house, switching off the power, and slowly slipping into the living room where his wife and kids had gathered to figure out what happened to the power. At the point in his account where he screamed and everyone else scattered, I laughed and laughed and laughed. I could listen to him tell that story over and over.

My PaPaw was a Christian. I’m so grateful for that. To me, that means in part one day I’ll get to hear him rattle off stories again. It also reminds me, one day, I’ll get to sit and listen at Another’s feet. Just like Mary did.

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.

Luke‬ ‭10:38-39 (‭ESV‬‬)

That’s part of what makes our memories, relationships, and joys so powerful. They are echos of the real thing. They allude to the greater story. They hint at a greater reunion. One day, for believers in Jesus, every good gift we’ve been given here will be perfected there. And the even greater hope for others among us—those who may not have as many fond memories, relationships, or joys—is that they can anticipate the stories of the Savior sitting at his feet with an unmatched eagerness.

Summer’s just around the corner. Sweet tea and a warm grill too. Laughter. Fish stories. I’m looking forward to it. I’ll remember my PaPaw. Again. And when I do, I’ll also look ahead to that other reunion.

Now, would you please pass the sweet tea?

Are You In A Fog?

Not too long ago, my family and I were traveling back home at night. It had been a cold, rainy evening already and turned dark. As we navigated up Black Mountain on I40 West, the fog settled in. Unbearably thick. Frightening. Soaking up the headlights scary. I slowed way down. I had too. My visibility only extended about 10 or 15 feet, at best, in front of the car.

We wound up that mountain at a near crawl. As we cut through that choking blanket of hazy moisture, my mind darted to a verse I had been meditating upon in the days prior.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Psalm 119:105

Throughout Psalm 119, David emphasizes over and over how God’s word has been given to us to shape how we live and act. Verse after verse, David praises God for the gift of the Old Testament Scriptures he had grown to love because they methodically guided his actions toward God and others. In this short verse here, David imagines a nighttime walk, perhaps from his shepherding days, where like a small lamp, God’s instructions for him had shaped what he was to do and how he was to act one step at a time.

Like a cascading waterfall, the truths of that short verse burst afresh upon me that night in the midst of that gray foreboding fog. The actual, physical fog hearkened my mind back to a few years prior. My wife and I were driving the exact same stretch of road seeking clarity in that season of life about God’s direction for a specific issue before us. I’ll never forget the word she used to describe it–she called it “the fog.”

The fog spiritually does quite exactly the same thing that real fog did as we drove through it. Fog clouds vision. It disorients direction. It slows progress. It hinders action. We would have been motionless and helpless had it not been for the car’s headlights. Light pierces the fog. At night, light is the only way to make your way, even slowly, through its dense restraints. Like car headlights, we need a way to see our way through the fog. Enter Psalm 119:105.

It’s here we need to see a crucial truth about how God’s word most often works. Rarely will you open the Bible to find circumstantial direction about your foggy situations. We need to be careful holding his word to a standard where we expect to thumb through its pages to find a specific answer about much of the stuff we face.

Do I change jobs?

Who should I marry?

Which car should I buy?

What college should I attend?

Which one should I direct my child toward?

If you are looking for specific answers for questions like these, I fear you may end up disappointed. But, if you and I seek out his word for wisdom on how to make these decisions, we may begin to see the step in front of us. The lamplight of his word shines ahead of our steps more like these questions below.

Which job gives me the greatest opportunity to serve God? Does one take me away from Christian fellowship? Will one weaken my commitment to my family?

Is this young man I’m dating following God? Is he valuing my purity? Will he help me honor God with my life? Will he lead our family to Jesus?

Which vehicle lets us steward God’s resources he’s trusting us with the best?

Will my top options for college help me find the shape or call of God for my life? Will the friends I make press me closer to God and his standards? Can I help my son seek God’s wise guidance in the college options he has before him? How does his word help shape my conversations with him so that I help him rather than push him away?

The difference between those two sets of questions is night and day.

As my mind jolted back into the car creeping along the curvy interstate, we crested the top of the mountain. The fog began to lift. The lights pierced further. Our route became safer. At the same time, the connection between Psalm 119:105, the actual fog we were coming through, and the spiritual fog we had experienced years prior became crystal clear. God has given us a spiritual foglight. The words of his book pierce the hazy, engulfing fog that clouds around us. They show us, incrementally, how to put one foot in front of the other to find our way. Years before, God did exactly that. Through his word, he helped us navigate that spiritual fogginess. He showed us how to obey him, day by day, even moment by moment, until his unfolding plan became clear on the other side of the fog.

More than once since, other spiritual fogs have settled back upon us. I never like it. But, I believe I’m starting to understand God’s purpose in them.

Slow down.

Look right in front of you.

Heighten your attentiveness.

Let my word guide your conduct.

Pay careful attention ahead.

Are you in a fog? If so, it may be just where God wants you. His word, like a visible guiding light, can give you direction, wisdom, and clarity for each step ahead. Slow down. Take a look. At his word. Right in front of you. And as you do, see if he doesn’t light your way.

So I Break Bowls

Apparently, I break bowls. And other things that are, I guess, breakable. I’m not entirely sure when this breaking of the things began. Maybe it started all the way back about nine when I threw a football through my uncle’s glass window. From inside the living room. It seemed like a good idea at the time to play football inside their house. My angered parents and relatives helped me understand extremely quickly that it was in fact actually a very bad idea. Or perhaps it began with the glass, apple-shaped candy dish that didn’t survive the horsing around at age eleven. Come to think of it, the raised baseball bat taking out the glass light fixture in my room at twelve could have been the starting point.

Anyways. The breakage all started (again) when out of the goodness of my heart, I was putting away a glass bowl with leftovers into the refrigerator. Instead of cooperating appropriately as I carried it to the shelf, that cold, shiny enemy decided to slip out of my hand and land with a loud shatter on the kitchen floor. Out with the leftovers and out with the bowl.

We all know glass breaks. So sometimes, it’s bound to happen. But for me, bowl one turned out to be only the beginning. That first bowl started a domino effect of breakage that has carried us through an entire bowl set and into another. In the course of the next few weeks, it seemed every other day a bowl would jump from my hands to quickly scatter in pieces all over the floor. Big serving dishes. Blue decorative salad bowls. Smallish ones. White cereal bowls. It didn’t matter.

But it wasn’t just bowls. My breaking ways carried us right into the Christmas season when I inadvertently took down an entire ceramic nativity set. The decorative display of wise men, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, animals and of course baby Jesus sat in peaceful serenity on our back shelf until I happened. Hovering above, a display case of tea cups looked down. This shelf had atop old, heavy medicine bottles for decoration. As I closed our back door one evening, these bottles, at the shake of the door closing, became glass missiles aimed at the nativity set below. Little survived.

You’d think I would learn my lesson and deal only with plastic. You’d think I would leave all the glass work to my wife. Not hardly. Stubborn me kept plowing through. And I was sensing a respite. It had been quiet for a few weeks. Too quiet.

As I put one of our new glass bowls into the refrigerator, it fell. This time though, it didn’t break. I picked it up, escaping the inevitable only for a brief moment. I placed it back on the shelf, and when I took my hand away, it followed me right back out and onto the floor with a crack.

My wife and son? Laughing uncontrollably in the living room at my latest broken bowl.

Me? I’m done. Glass is no more. I revoke my privileges from here on out to deal with any glass. Of any kind. At any time. That is, until my manly pride leads me back to prove victory over these fragile enemies of my sanity.

At least the bowls aren’t too valuable. Like the light globe, candy bowl, or window of my childhood days, glass can be replaced. Some other stuff doesn’t replace nearly as easily. Break a bowl? Clean it up with a broom and dustpan. Break your child’s heart with a forgotten promise? That wound may take months or even years to heal. Destroy a window? A repairman, replacement window, and some extra cash fixes it quickly. Break trust with your wife? You may never recover all the scattered pieces. Shatter a nativity set? See the broom and dustpan again. Shatter your relationship with God’s people with missiles of bitterness, hatred, or dishonesty? You may never put back together those invaluable confidences.

When we break the trust of people, we have only one place to turn. Jesus. For mercy. In the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector, Jesus teaches us that God will forgive the thieving, destructive path of tax collectors and other such trust breakers, if they will honestly and decidedly plead for mercy.

13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:13-14

How? He owned his breakage. He confessed it. He pleaded mercy from the only one who could fix it. Interestingly enough, one chapter over in Luke’s gospel, Jesus introduces us to another tax collector much like the one from the parable (see Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus, the thieving defrauder and breaker of trust confessed his destructiveness, and by the power of Jesus’ life-changing salvation, promised to make right his wrongs.

8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Luke 19:8-10

Don’t be like me. Avoid the bowls!

Don’t be like Zacchaeus. Guard the trust of others. But if you do find yourself breaking others’ trust in you, find Jesus. He forgives (and fixes) trust breakers. And thankfully, bowl breakers too.

Pray for Parking Places?

The cold, damp day grew colder and wetter as the rain fell steadily when I went to make hospital visits. When it comes to church, cold and wet days often have a direct correlation on the number of people who show up. More rain and cold tends to equal more parking places. That wasn’t the case at the hospital that day, however. I pulled into the parking deck looking for a place to park hoping I wouldn’t have to park outside so I could stay moderately dry. I had only been in the deck a matter of seconds before I knew parking places would be scarce. At another entrance to the deck, I noticed a car drive out toward the outside parking while another car drove in ahead of me to look for a place. As I scoured the rows of parking places on each level, following a few cars doing the same, I quickly surmised that I may need to weather the weather and walk in the cold rain. So after one round through the parking deck, I skirted out to the outside spaces.

Full too. Row after row. Lane after lane. I had never been to the hospital where there wasn’t at least a place or two outside, but that was the case that day. After two passes through the outside lots, I said to myself, “Well, I guess I could pass back through the deck one more time and see.” About that time, a thought hit me. I should pray for a place to park. My wife makes a habit of praying for parking places. A couple times a month, she will tell me of her prayer parking adventures when God answers her need for a place to park for her and my son to get in at the grocery store or some other place. Me? Well, I’m often a stubborn man. I don’t need to park that close. I don’t have a halfling tagging along who needs to stick close by on the walk in to the store. Did I mention that I’m a man? You know, that kind of person who doesn’t like to “need” or “‘rely on” someone else to solve my problems. It’s often just this type of attitude that hinders me from praying for parking places and such. But I was getting desperate. I had been driving around and around and around eating into an already busy day. So I decided to pray about it.

Quite instantly, as I offered a prayer for a parking place, a lady climbed into her car right in front of me in the parking deck on my pass back through it. The timing was nearly seamless. In the exact moment I finished asking God to provide a parking place, she got into her car and turned her back up lights on. With as much speed as that prayer reached heaven and received an immediate answer, the Spirit of God whispered to my heart, “I care about parking places too.” Then the convicting edge of that truth pierced a good bit more deeply. God wants us to need him for parking places.

You see, we often know we need him for the big stuff. We are anxiously praying about the biopsy appointment to determine whether or not we have cancer. We lay sleepless at all hours of the night pleading with God to bring back our prodigal, or restore our brother’s marriage, or save our drunken dad. We seek God’s protection over our child’s first trip to college. We pray intensely for discernment about a crossroads with our career. As believers, we know these types of challenges require the kind and gracious care of God. But it’s the little things that sometimes booger up our faith more than the big ones. Parking places. Five dollar expenses. Homework assignments. Neighborhood conversations. Radio selections. Dessert choices. When we assume many of these small decisions are in our realm of control not requiring our inquiry of God, we tend to take the middle-level issues we face and keep them under our control too. Cable or satellite? Or neither? Do we increase our giving to our church this year? Two week family vacation? One week mission trip? New car or used one?

Do you realize that God cares about each one of these choices you and I face? The big ones, the small ones, and the in between ones. He wants us to bring everything to him.

6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

When the Bible says “in everything” it really means exactly that. God wants us to pray about everything. Does that mean God will always give you a parking place right when you pray for it? Nope. Will he write in the sky the brand of dog food you should buy? Probably not. But he urges, even commands, us to bring all of our concerns to him in prayer so that by our doing so, we may realize deeply and regularly that God cares about our needs and concerns more than we do. And in the process of pulling us to our knees about everything, he’s growing our faith and confidence in his wisdom, provision, and guidance each step of the way.

I had the chance to share this story with my church last Sunday. This week, a deacon told me he was looking for a parking spot and decided to pray because he remembered what I had said. Within 5 seconds God provided one. Why? Because he cares about parking places, and everything else too! I plan to keep praying for parking places. What about you?

Are You Afraid of Graveyards?



I grew up in a pastor’s home.  For us, that meant Tuesday evening visitation, a wedding or two, church twice on Sunday and every Wednesday, many funerals, and parsonage living.  If you’re not sure what a “parsonage” is, well, let me inform you. Many Baptist churches like the ones my dad served owned a home near the church where the pastor and his family could live.  It was usually a nice perk.  Growing up, we never had to drive to church. We could play basketball, run, ride our bikes, and even hit golf balls on the fairly large church property.  Parsonage living only caused problems for us in about three different ways to my kid eyes back then.  First, from time to time cantankerous church members thought my dad should be at their beck and call at midnight for their ingrown toenails, which happened almost exactly like that just a time or two.  Second, con artists and professional beggars assumed it was my dad’s duty to mortgage the church property so they could travel out of state to visit their dying parent. They only took cash of course.  Third, late evening errands (better worded nearly-heart-attack-inducing-pranks) at my brother’s and my expense kept my dad entertained between the con artists and cantankerous church members.  You see, the parsonage we lived in for about eight years stood roughly a short 100 yards from the church doors.  About fifty yards out, though, the church’s oldest graveyard spread out right across the most direct route from our house to the church.  You could go around it to the left, or right, but you’d walk a good half a mile (well not really) out of the way.  To us youngins, those extra steps around felt absurdly ridiculous when you could much more easily slip right through the graveyard.

My dad knew this.  So, that mean ole…I mean that troublesome…I should say that trickst…no that old codg…that guy we affectionately called dad,* phoned from the church about dusk one evening to have my mom send my nine year old twin brother and me to the church for an “errand.”  Dirty liar.

Unbeknownst to us, he slipped out to the graveyard, snuck in behind a large gravestone, and waited.  Hop-a-long and I bounced right past him being none the wiser till that cruel fiend pounced scaring the living daylights out of us. To this day, I still don’t know what the “living daylights” are because after that moment, I had none left.  I don’t know how fast I ran, but I do know I beat the socks off my brother back to the house that night. If he remembers differently, I assure you, his memory fails him. That’s one night my longer legs and childhood fears outdid him on both accounts.  If we hadn’t screamed so loudly, we would have heard my dad horse cackling as he rolled all over the ground in that graveyard.

Life’s that way sometimes, isn’t it? You find yourself cruising along, headed toward the next item on the to-do-list, only to have some frightful enemy jump out where (and when) you least expect it sending you back the way you came in sheer terror.  Or freezing you in shuttering dread.  Or shaking you down to your bones.  These “life frights” may even take days or years from you.  And just like my dad horse laughing, your dreaded enemy is likely cackling at your expense.

I’m glad Jesus doesn’t leave us without help, or hope, in such moments.  That day years ago, momma came to our defense.  I’m pretty sure she told my dad he’d be buried under one of those gravestones if he ever did such a heartless thing to us again.  At least that’s what I imagined her to say when he came laughing into the house while she consoled us.  When sin, or Satan, or one of his earthly minions, or life circumstances chase after us, we always, always have the alternative to run back to Jesus. In fact, that’s exactly what he wants us to do.

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.
Proverbs 18:10

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.
Psalm 27:5

1 In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! 2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!
Psalm 31:1-2

He is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.
Psalm 144:2

*Important Note: I’m tempted to believe one of the unmentioned “spiritual gifts” in the Bible could be pestering. And I have learned by experience that my dad mastered the discipline of said gift. In like manner, I am striving to follow in his footsteps, although I have yet to scare my eight year old in a graveyard. But there’s still time 🙂

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 6

In the previous posts in this series, we’ve explored David’s command to “be still” in Psalm 46:10 and each of the specific meanings of that idea.  As I have alluded to through out those posts, our relaxing, waiting, and letting go aren’t some sort of mindless exercise. “Being still” has a direction, a target, a goal, and we cannot overlook the point of this pause.  The command to stillness finds its source and sustenance in knowing the identity, power, and authority of God.  We are to find our way to stillness with one explicit purpose–that we would see God be God.

David identifies characteristics of God’s power and authority that should reverberate loudly in our stillness.  He is a refuge, strength (46:1) and a fortress (46:7, 11).  He is the God over nature (46:2-4) and the God over wars (46:9).  In every line of this worship song he penned, the God we are to know in our stillness is anything but still, silent, or powerless.  He urges us to quiet ourselves in the raging and roaring of nature and hear his authoritative voice quell the wind and seas.  This Psalm echoes forward to the New Testament as Jesus stood up from his sleep in the boat to still the waves and stop the wind with the calming command, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:35-41).  When we still ourselves, we can know the One who rules nature with a simple whisper.

While the torrents of the skies and the seas submit to his words, we can also take comfort that the actions of humanity must kneel to him as well.  In the raging of nations and tottering of kingdoms (46:7), God is the one to stop wars and destroy weapons of warfare with just as much ease as he calmed that storm. Again, we see Jesus taking up this scepter of authority.  This time, his throne is not the tossing, titling bottom of a boat.  The full assault of Jewish hypocrites and Roman tyrants had focused all their resources to end his life.  But in power, the power of life over death, Jesus cried out in victory, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).  Three days later, his victory would be finalized as he burst forth from the useless and temporary chains of death in resurrection power (Romans 1:7).  And as he did, the spiritual kingdoms of raging tottering nations halted still, crumbling into heaps of dust.  When he completes his victory lap at his second coming, all nations and enemies will kneel before him (Philippians 2:10-11) powerless to any longer make war against the one who ceases all wars.

If you would be still, on God’s terms, you will see him work.  He will declare himself to be God in spite of your circumstances, challenges, relationships, or trials.  Storms stop when he declares himself.  Wars cease when he announces his presence.  We need only to relax, wait, and let go. We need only to be still.

Other Posts in this Series:

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 1

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 2

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 3

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 4

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 5

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 5

Tighten your fist. Hold it. Count slowly to 30 seconds. Now imagine how often you do just that emotionally. Reflect upon how many times in a given week your anxiety knots up just like your hand just did. Ponder how frequently you bind up your insides trying to hold together, or pull in, or fix, or — dare I say it — control what’s going on around you. I’m like that far more than I’m comfortable admitting. But I am also encouraged, because God’s Word here in Psalm 46:10 has an antidote for that symptom of “busyness” as well.

In a couple of the previous posts, we looked at how the word translated “be still” means to relax and wait. The word also means to let go. This closely related idea pleads with us to comprehensively loosen our grip of control on the circumstances and situations around us. You see, when we relax, we wait. When we wait, we let go. When we let go, we relax. Each idea, while distinct, is really an interrelated way of doing the other two.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” Yes. “Let go, and know that I am God.” Exactly.

Let go of control. Stop grabbing at it. As you do, look to God. That’s the point of each application. In our relaxing, waiting, and letting go, we aren’t to mindlessly stall out, quit on our responsibilities, or break from relationships. We are to meditate on God’s power, authority, presence, and majesty. We are to reflect on his past involvement in our lives. We are to seek his active authority in our day-in, day-out routines. We are to know that he is God!

Other Posts in this Series:

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 1

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 2

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 3

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 4