Tuesday, April 14, 2009

From Blunder to Wonder

Saturday I bought a new shirt for Easter. I wish the story was that simple and direct but, as is usual for me, it was not that simple. The day started well and ended well but in between the beginning and the ending there sure were lots of oh-well's.

The morning began with a fine breakfast made by my wife. I like to give her a plug when I can and the fact that I make points with her for it does not hurt. All I had remaining to do that day was to attend a wedding. I was scheduled to preach the next morning, Easter morning, at a church in Dallas and I was actually already set on what I wanted to say. Whether or not it sounded that way the next morning to the congregants of First Missionary Baptist Church in Cockrell Hill is another matter. In my mind, I was ready.

Since I had such a lightly loaded day AND since I would be preaching Easter Sunday morning, I had the bright idea to buy a new shirt. Not just any old shirt. I needed (the word "wanted" is more appropriate here but to garner your sympathy I will stay with the needs based approach) a gonna-preach-on-Easter-Sunday-morning shirt. My journey began three hours before time for the wedding. Surely, anyone can drive 50 miles and buy a shirt and return in such a time frame. Well, I am not anyone and neither am I Shirley. I returned home at 9 P.M. and I missed the wedding.

My first stop was the Longview Mall. I arrived when I expected to arrive. I had two stores in which to shop, JC Penney and Dillards. After 45 minutes of fretting in Dillards, I hurried to Penney's where I found nothing. It took me 15 minutes to realize that though. My hour of shopping was up and I had nothing to show for it. So, I went back to Dillards. I must not go, and empty handed. After 20 more minutes I decided to leave Longview with no new shirt.

Driving toward Gilmer I knew I had stayed too long in the mall which meant that I would miss the wedding. I called the preacher and left him a message. Minutes later I was speaking to the sister of the prospective groom and making heart-felt apologies. I called my wife and informed her of my fruitless trip and that attending the wedding was lost. She was dutifully sympathetic and I knew she would console me once I got home. Then I had another stroke of genius. Let's go to Tyler. There is another mall there!

So, I called Amy back and informed her of my bright idea. She agreed that since I was already out and had missed the wedding that it made sense to continue my search for the "needed" shirt. Bless her heart, she is a good wife.

I must pause here and explain why finding a new shirt is such an ordeal for me. I am picky. And I am not exactly svelte. Reference my pictures to the right of this blog and you will understand. I needed a cool new long-sleeved shirt that was neither blue nor white and sized in extra-gargantuan. They don't grow on trees. Being the day before Easter made such a shirt even harder to find. This was the toughest Easter egg hunt I had ever been on.

Once at the mall in Tyler, I again tried Dillards and JC Penney. I actually found a couple shirts at each store. In fact, I had two shirts in my lap in JC Penney and was rolling toward a checkout when I suddenly became disgusted with both my choices. One was an orange checked pattern that the more I looked at it the more it made me think of a rodeo clown. Rodeo clowns are fine fellows. I know a few. I am not disparaging rodeo clowns or their attire but that shirt just was not what I wanted. Both shirts would have been okay for attending church. They would have been fine if I was singing on a Sunday evening. But neither shirt would do for preaching Easter Sunday morning.

After much inner debate and consternation, I left yet another mall empty handed and dejected. I had one more possibility. There is a big & tall store near the Tyler mall so I drove over there with little hope of finding my Easter egg, uh, I mean, shirt.

I had not been in the Casual Male for more than 3 minutes when I spotted it. It was not blue neither was it white. It came in extra-gargantuan. And best of all it was a bright Eastery kind of color, PEACH. I found my new gonna-preach-on-Easter-Sunday-morning shirt. I was near tears as I made my purchase. Not really, but I sure was relieved. I had persevered and finally found what I was bound and determined to get.

When I returned to my van to come home I noticed the front tires and the near complete lack of tread on them. We had a two hour drive the next morning and the forecast was for storms. Well, those front tires would not do. As I left Tyler, I called a buddy who works in the tire department at our local Wal-Mart. I asked if he had two tires like the ones he installed a few months ago on my rear wheels. He checked and sure enough he found two. I told him I was just over an hour away. It was 7 P.M.

Don told me his boss had okay'd the installation and that he and a co-worker would wait on me. What I had not realized was that the tire center closed at 7. I thought they were open until 9. They waited on me for an hour so they could get me the one new thing I really did need that day, tires. Had I not parked the way I did in Tyler I would not have noticed how bad the front tires were. Had Don and his boss not been willing to wait for me to drive back to Mount Pleasant, we would have had to weather the winds and rain on slick tires. Had God not been in control of it all and had He not watched over me and my family there is no knowing what might have happened on the road to Dallas. But He is in control and He does watch over His kids even when their minds are on frivolous things.

While Don and his co-worker waited for me, a couple from Arkansas came into the shop. They were pulling a trailer and trying to get back home when one of their tires threw off its tread. They were in immediate dire need. Those two guys put on a new tire for them. God took care of them, too. He saved them a possible overnight hotel stay or a possible wreck. He used Don and his co-worker to bless more than just me Saturday night.

I do goofy things and I suppose we all do from time to time. It sure is good to know that God watches over all His kids and gives us what we need when we need it even when we have no clue what we were really in need of. He is able to take all my blunders and make them into wonders that accomplish His purposes and give Him glory.

"Thank you, Father, for your abundant grace extended to me even when I have my eyes on the wrong prize."

Because He lives,


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Apples of Gold

Sunday evening we (South Jefferson Baptist Church) hosted the Hoppers in concert. The concert was great. They sang wonderfully and ministered spiritually. We have enjoyed bringing in the Hoppers annually for the last 5 years or so. They are a top southern gospel group and it is nice having a big name group come sing. They pack the house and several smaller area churches even dismiss their evening services so they can come be a part too. I love the good singing and I love the fellowship between churches. Would to God that churches did more fellowshipping and serving together but that is another post.

After the concert, I quickly made my way to the booth where the Hoppers sold their CD's and DVD's and other things. I was on a mission. Our older son, Riley, has a drum set and wishes to learn how to play them. Since neither Amy or I play drums and since we have declined to pay $65/hr for lessons, I was in line to buy a drum instructional DVD made by Michael Hopper, the family's drummer.

With DVD in hand, I gathered up Riley and we went to the front of the church where Mike was chatting with folks as they drifted by offering words of joy and thanks for a wonderful service. When I could, I asked Mike if he would sign the DVD for Riley. I knew Ry would like that and it afforded us an opportunity to get to know him a bit. He was very gracious and encouraged Riley to learn to play the drums.

We had been blessed by the whole evening. We had made our purchases. We had gathered autographs. We had visited with friends and visitors. I thought we were finally ready to go home. But there was yet someone else with whom I needed to speak. I believe that appointment was set by God.

As much as the singing blessed my heart, there was something else Sunday evening that meant even more to me. Claude Hopper, the group's patriarch and founder, introduced to the congregation his older sister, Virginia Steele. Mrs. Virginia is now 84. This was the second time she has attended their concert held at our church. Both times, Claude has introduced her and asked her to share a few words of testimony. She is a charming lady who loves the Lord deeply. With a captivating, deep-south accent she eloquently expresses her love for Christ.

After getting Mike's autograph for Riley, I turned to roll up the aisle when Mrs. Virginia looked my way and began moving toward me. Naturally, I turned toward her and smiled as I reached out to shake her hand. I thanked her for coming and for her words of testimony. She smiled and said she remembered me from the last time she had come. That was sweet but what she said next moved me deeply.

She said she had often prayed for me and that because of me she was more lovingly mindful of people with disabilities. Glory Hallelujah! That's a God thing. Her facial expression was so sweet. Her eyes were glassy with tears as she talked with me. I immediately teared and swallowed the lump in my throat. I thanked her profusely and told her that I believe God uses me in a more impactful way because of the wheelchair. I believe that. She understood. The moment was precious to me and I will not soon forget it.

Do you remember the words of Proverbs25:11? "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." Mrs. Virginia's words were that to my heart. We only spoke for a couple minutes yet the blessings linger still.

We will each encounter around ten people every day. We will speak on average about 25,000 words every day. How many of those meetings and how many of those words could someone reflect on and say that we were to them apples of gold in pictures of silver?

Our words matter. Just as we love to be encouraged, let us be ones to speak encouragement to others today. You don't have to memorize anything. You don't have to be profound. Be sincere. Be loving. Most of all, be ready to be a blessing to someone you meet along your journey. The blessings will far outlast the effort and will mean so much to both of you.

Because He lives,


Friday, April 3, 2009

When The Chicken Is No Longer Finger-Licking

We are all feeling the impact of the current economic climate. Effects are felt nationally, locally, and personally. We probably all have varying opinions on government bailouts, employee bonuses, tax rates, and the like. The stock market is like pond ice in Spring, dubious as to whether or not it will support one's weight. I am sure you have noticed that store prices have risen. And gas prices are also inching back north of $2 per gallon.

Personally most devastating is job losses. Detroit, MI has an unemployment rate of 22 percent. I hate it but I can live with that since Detroit is 900 miles away and I have no friends or relatives living there. Closer to heart and home though, Pilgrims Pride made another installment on their down-sizing today. Over 100 people lost jobs. That's tough to live with because many of those are friends and some are very dear friends. The fowl has gone foul.

I love what one friend said in response to losing their job. He and his wife both know that God remains in control and that God still has plans for their lives. They have sunshine even on a cloudy day in their life. And its not just their imagination.

The chicken industry is a major player in the local economy. It will continue to be so even after today. Even those who were ousted today will still eat chicken, though I would not blame them for trying out Tyson chicken.

How do we respond to changes in life that are beyond our control? What will we do now? Some will assess blame. Some will slip into depression. Some will grow angry and even bitter. Some will even point a finger at God and demand an answer to the question of why. Those are all responses of the natural man and, honestly, are easy for even Christians to fall victim to if they take their eyes off the Lord.

The answer to what we do now is to keep trusting Christ. That may sound really simple and obvious but it is the truth. We must keep our eyes on the Lord. Daniel in praying for his people confessed to God that they, as a people, had turned their faces away from Him. Nationally, we have done that too. Locally, let us remember things we already know and draw comfort from that knowledge. God is in control. God has both plan and purpose for His children. Keep your face turned toward God.

I am praying for my friends who have been forced to search for a new job. My heart is with them. My whole-hearted belief is that God will provide. Chicken was just a tool God used to bless them. Praise God that He has many many tools to use.

Whatever you face that has become difficult, painful, sour, or even foul, remember that God has not forgotten you nor is He ignoring you. He has plans to bless you and use you. Taste and see that the Lord is good. He's still finger-licking good.

Because He lives,