Archive for the ‘Stories’ Category

This past Saturday I preached Mrs. Edna’s funeral. She had lived more than ninety years on the earth, although she actually fell a little less than a decade of her goal. I noted at the funeral that everyone of us had our “Edna stories” that were actually our own precious treasures. Rather than rehearsing a few of those choice stories, I urged those in attendance to treasure the hidden anecdotes that we had hidden in our memories.

Edna knew the Lord, and at life’s end, that’s all that really matters. It’s not about accumulating wealth, titles, properties, or fame. It’s what a person did with Jesus that matters. Edna had trusted Christ in life, and she had trusted Him in death.

The sorrow we felt at Edna’s funeral was not hers. No, the sorrow we felt was ours. We lost a friend who had made us laugh and cry. She was someone we enjoyed and sometimes just put up with!

The apostle Paul wrote these words to the church in Corinth: For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1, ESV). The word “know” in this verse means “assurance borne out of conviction,” so Paul knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that death did not signal the end of a person’s existence. He used the word “tent” as a synonym for our earthly existence or life, calling it “our earthly home.” In contrast to “tent,” Paul said that “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands.”

We would do well to remember that when Jesus left His rightful place in heaven that the apostle John describe it as “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, ESV). John’s word for dwell literally means “to pitch a tent” or “to tabernacle.” In other words, when Christ came to the earth, He lived as a human being — “He pitched His tent among us.” When He had accomplished His mission on earth — His death, burial, and resurrection — He returned to His Father in heaven.

Scientists tell us that the cells in the human body continually die and replenish so that every seven years we get an entirely new body. That means that Edna had lived in several bodies! We did not weep for her when she moved from the first to the second or imagesthe fifth or the sixth or even the twelfth! Why should we weep now when she moved from her earthly tent into the wonderful house that the Lord has prepared for her?


Paul said that when this old earthly tent is worn out and is no longer fit for habitation, we move into “a building from God, a house not made with hands.” A building has a foundation, suggesting a permanent house and not a tent. This new house is an eternal dwelling place.

Edna lived in several places since I’ve known her. Some of them were nicer than others. But now, Edna has moved again! And we should be happy for her! Let me offer some more words of encouragement from Paul, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord….Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6,8, ESV). Note the words “away from the body and at home with the Lord.” There’s no in between time.

Death is a part of life just as much as birth is a part of life. Let’s just suppose for a moment that Edna could have reasoned in her prenatal state. “Something is about to happen to me. I’m about to leave the only place I’ve ever known. It’s good in here. I’m safe. I’m well-nourished. I’m going somewhere I’ve never been. This must be death.” When the reality is that she discovered birth, not death. She left the narrow confines of her mother’s womb to discover a far greater and richer life.

In the same vein, let’s suppose that a few hours before Edna underwent another change on Tuesday afternoon. Again she reasoned, “Something is about to happen to me. I am about to leave the only place of life I have ever known. Surely this must be death.”

But if Edna could speak to us, she would undoubtedly say, “No, I was wrong again. What I thought was death was another birth out of the human flesh experience to the superlative life of heaven. It’s far greater and richer than I could have ever imagined.

At a June 13, 2008, event honoring John Wooden and famed sportscaster Vin Scully and raising money for pediatric cancer research at UCLA and other local institutions, Coach Wooden had an opportunity to demonstrate his famed socks-and-shoes lessons.

Wooden began the first day of practice each year with his most important basketball lesson. Players gathering for that first day  were full of anticipation. They wondered how their coach would set the tone for the long season to come. They didn’t have to wait long. Socks

At the event one of Wooden’s most famous players, Bill Walton, introduced the coach and recalled his first days at UCLA as a basketball player. Walton related the shock that he and other new players felt when the first thing Wooden did was set them down and teach them how to put on their shoes and socks. Doing this properly, Walton said, was the initial lesson for “everything we would need to know for the rest of our lives.”

Following Walton’s introduction, Coach Wooden came out on stage holding a box with athletic shoes and socks, bringing with him 12-year-old Robert, who was introduced as having tackled cancer at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. There was much good-natured laughter as Wooden gave Robert the socks-and-shoes instructions.

“You know, basketball is a game that’s played on a hardwood floor,” Wooden said. “And to be good, you have to…change your direction, change your pace. That’s hard on your feet. Your feet are very important.”

The team veterans knew this lesson was coming at the first practice, but  first year players were no doubt perplexed by the initial lesson imparted by their Hall of Fame coach: He taught them how to put on a pair of socks. He did not teach this lesson only once, but before every game and practice. Why?

Wooden had discovered many players didn’t properly smooth out wrinkles in the socks around their heels and little toes. If left uncorrected, these wrinkles could cause blisters that could hamper their performance at crucial times during games. Many players thought the practice odd and laughed about it then. Wooden knows some of them still laugh about it today. But the coach would not compromise on this basic fundamental principle: “I stuck to it. I believed in that, and I insisted on it.”

In our desire to grow as Christians, we can easily forget about the fundamentals of our faith. If we do, we run the risk of developing painful spiritual blisters that can hurt us as we run our race.


After a long night and day of marching, General Robert E. Lee and the exhausted Army of Northern Virginia made camp just east of Appomattox Courthouse on April 8, 1865. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant had sent him a letter on the night of April 7, following confrontations between their troops at Cumberland Church and Farmville, suggesting Lee surrender. Lee refused. Grant replied, again suggesting surrender to end the bloodshed. Lee responded, saying in part, “I do not think that emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army,” though he offered to meet Grant at 10 the next morning between picket lines to discuss a peaceful outcome.

In planning for the next day, Lee informed his men that he would ignore the surrender request and attempt to fend off General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry while at least part of the Army of Northern Virginia moved on toward Lynchburg — assuming the main Union force was just calvary. However, Major General George G. Meade’s VI and II Corps pursued the greatly outnumbered Confederate troops.

Having watched the battle through field glasses, Lee said, “There is nothing left for me to do but go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.” Having dressed that morning in his finest dress uniform, Lee rode to the spot where he thought he and Grant would meet between the picket lines for peace talks only to receive a message of Grant’s refusal to meet.

Lee quickly wrote a reply, indicating that he was now ready to surrender. Still hearing the sounds of fighting, Lee sent a letter to Meade requesting an immediate truce along the lines. Meade replied that he was not in communication with Grant but would send the message on and also suggest Lee send another letter to Grant via Sheridan. Lee also had Confederate Major General John B. Gordon place flags of truce along the line. As the messages moved through the lines and word of the surrender spread, the fighting stopped.

Grant received Lee’s letter of surrender just before noon. In his reply, Grant asked Lee to select a meeting place. In searching for a suitable place, Lee and his men encountered Wilmer McLean, who offered his own home for the meeting. Grant arrived in Appomattox about 1:30 in the afternoon and proceeded to the McLean house. His appearance in his field uniform, muddy after his long ride, contrasted sharply with Lee’s clean dress uniform. They chatted for a while before discussing and writing up the terms of the surrender.

The terms were surprising. It wasn’t judgment — nor prison — nor retribution. The terms were to stop fighting and to start living. Give up your weapons, go home, and plant your fields. The soldiers who had not eaten in days were given meal rations. Their horses and mules returned to plowing fields. The war was over but for many people, life had just begun.

A kind word can turn away wrath. Good things happen when we can weep with those who weep. Acting like Jesus sometimes means seeing past someone’s behavior and into their need.

If you’ve been hurt, the best next step for you is to forgive that person. Holding onto the hurt will only make the hurt worse.

Life Is Good!

Posted: May 18, 2017 in Family, Stories

Mother’s Day brings mixed emotions. This day can be really awkward at church. For many, Mother’s Day is an awesome celebration omothers-day-01f life and the joys of being a parent. My wife is an awesome mother to our kids and an even better “Gigi” to our grandchildren.

But Mother’s Day is a mixed bag for me as well as for many others. Gayla’s mother passed away in 2010. For those who have lost their moms, Mother’s Day is a day of grief marking that loss. You may know a mother whose son or daughter has passed away. No parent expects this kind of loss. One of our daughters struggles with infertility. She and her husband — along with many others — face the silent reminder of that struggle every Mother’s Day. For every woman who has experienced an unexpected miscarriage and grieve an unborn child, Mother’s Day is a day of grief.

Some of my friends have had their children fall into addictions, rebellion, and walking away from God. Mother’s Day always seems to remind them of how they “failed” in raising a godly child. Some women chose abortion and live with the reminder every Mother’s Day of what “could have been.”

As you can see, Mother’s Day can be mix of emotions.

So let me offer a good story to help us all on Mother’s Day. Bert and John Jacobs grew up the youngest of six children in a lower middle-class family in Boston. When the brothers were in elementary school, their parents were in a near-death car accident from which their mother managed to escape with just a few broken bones, but their father lost the use of his right hand.

The stress and frustration from his physical therapy caused him to develop a harsh temper, they explain in their book Life Is Good. “He did a lot of yelling when we were in grade school.” Life was not perfect. “There were often difficult things happening around the house.”

But their mother, Joan, still believed life was good. So every night as the family sat around the dinner table, she would say to her six kids, “Tell us something good that happened today.” As simple as her words were, they changed the energy in the home. The brothers write, “Before we knew it, we were all riffing on the best, funniest, and most bizarre part of our day.”

Growing up with a mother like theirs — one who sang in the kitchen, told animated stories, and acted out children’s books for them, no matter what bad situation they were going through  — that them an important lesson: Being happy isn’t dependent on your circumstances. “She showed us that optimism is a courageous choice you make every day, especially in the face of adversity.”

Perhaps you have heard of Bert and John’s little company — “Life Is Good T-Shirt Company.” Their never-quit attitude likely propelled them not to give up even though at one point they only had $78 between them. For five years, they traveled up and down the East Coast, sleeping in their van, living on peanut butter and jelly, and showering when they could. They sold their t-shirts in the streets and college dorms. Now their little company is worth millions — thanks to their mom’s three simple word that changed their lives forever. Life is good!

A glass bottle washed up on the beach, a decades-old note inside sounds a bit like the introductory scene in a movie. But for Clint Buffington that situation turned into a reality.  Huffington discovered the bottle nestled in the sand on an overcast day in the Turks and Caicos near the Bahamas.

When he took a closer look, he noticed what was written on the note inside the bottle: “Look inside.” That got his heart racing.imrs

Eventually, he broke the bottle open, revealing the note, which had been scratched out in pencil and contained a few clues: an address (419 Ocean); a name (Tina); a name of something? (Beachcomber, spelled incorrectly). Was it a place? Was it an object? The words “return” and “reward” eventually became more clear, too.

Buffington — “an experienced message-in-a-bottle hunter” — eventually tracked down a potential contact by the name of Paula Pierce, whose mother Tina had been an owner of a motel on 419 Ocean Boulevard in Hampton, New Hampshire. Though Buffington found the bottle in 2011, it was not until last month that Buffington and Pierce met in person. Pierce, whose father is believed to have written the message, said it was “like being contacted from the past….That gave me chills today,” she said, “I actually started to cry.”

And Buffington? “I’ve been really lucky that I have this thing that allows me to open the door and connect with people that I would never have any reason or right to connect with otherwise.”

What “message in a bottle” moments can we look for as we seek to connect with people? What doors can we open in order to foster relationships that may have never existed otherwise? God has a purpose for each one of us. That purpose involves coming to a faith relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. Coming to faith in Christ always involves some other person or persons. There’s always a connection, and that connection that leads to a “forever relationship” with Jesus Christ always involves a verbal or written testimony of the gospel.

images-3At the Midweek Service on Wednesday, I told about an article written in the New York Post. On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the coast of the Northeastern United States. (The article called the storm “venti-sized” which I prefer to the media referring to it as a superstorm, but that’s another story.)  By the time Sandy subsided, 286 people lost their lives along the storm’s path in seven countries.

As the hurricane bore down on New York City, almost everything shut down — except for one rogue Starbucks near Times Square. Desperate but highly committed Starbuck junkies fought high winds, dangerous rains, and dire warnings just to get a latte or a cup of coffee. Bethany, 28, walked 10 blocks with her one-year-old daughter for a fix. “I saw on Facebook that they were open,” she said. “It was scary not having Starbucks.” Her neighbor and friend, twenty-nine-year old Chris came along and later said, “When she said they were open, I said, ‘Pack up the baby. Let’s go!’ I didn’t know they were all going to close. I started panicking. There’s nothing else I would’ve gone out for. This makes my day complete.”

They were a part of a daylong stream of customers that packed the store, standing shoulder to shoulder and waiting at least ten minutes to order. Alex, 25, walked more than twenty blocks looking for an open Starbucks. He told reporters, “It took half an hour. But I’m a Starbucks fanatic. I go four or five times a day.” David, also 25, said he went to three closed Starbucks before learning the store was open. He said, “I’m really happy these guys are open. I can’t get a pumpkin spice latte anywhere else. The ten-minute wait was worth it.”

People will make sacrifices for what they value. If we value Christ, we will lay down our lives for Him. The people in this true news story were nuts, but you have to say that they weren’t lukewarm or uncommitted about following their deep desire for a pumpkin spice latte. They willingly risked the safety of their homes to pursue what they valued.

When it comes to serving the Lord, He calls us all to the same level of commitment. “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That’s a definitive call and that call is not based upon what is comfortable. It’s a call to self-denial.

The Barkley Marathons at Frozen Head State Park; all photos are a little small. 3x2

The Barkley Marathons at Frozen Head State Park

Known as the world’s hardest race, the 100-mile Barkley Marathons in the mountains of eastern Tennessee provide a grueling test for the most-in-shape athletes. In this year’s race, none of the 40 runners completed the race. “The mountains won,” said Gary Cantrell, who created the even in 1986. “I was pleased with the outcome. It’s a competition between the humans and the mountains.”

In the 30 years of the race, only fourteen out of about 1,100 runners have completed the race. With a finisher rate of about one percent, the Barkley has been labeled by many as the world’s hardest race.

Along with a handout that includes race directions, participants are only allowed to use a map and compass to find their way. There are no medical aid stations on the course, which covers more than twice eh elevation gain of Mount Everest over the full 100 miles (or five 20-mile treks around the course).

Nicki Rehn, a 40-year-old Australian who is an assistant professor of education in Canada, completed one and a half of the five 20-mile laps this year before succumbing. “You don’t come here to be victorious. You come here to be humiliated,” she said. “It’s lonely out there. It’s eerie. You have to be comfortable being inside your own head. Everyone comes back pretty broken.”

It’s easy to get lost, confused, or weary in the Christian life—and the length of it can break us down. With such a race, we must run with perseverance with our eyes fixed on Jesus, who successfully completed the course.

Last Sunday we had a wonderful time in prayer and worship. About three months ago, when I began putting the service plans together for the summer, the Lord led me to set aside the Sunday nearest Independence Day for a “different kind of service.” At the time, I did not know exactly what it would entail. All I sensed at the time was that the service would be built around Psalm 130 and would include an observance of the Lord’s Supper.

While at the Southern Baptist Convention last month, it became clearer to me what that “different kind of service” would be. The week prior to the July 5 service, I had an emergency eye procedure. At first, I thought this would prevent me from participating in the service. However, what occurred was that the Lord used my time of convalescence to prepare my heart to lead the service. I must admit that I was not sure how our congregation would respond, but there’s little doubt that God spoke to us in an unexpected way! And yes, we will be seeking the Lord for His timing for another service during which we can pray individually and corporately for revival and spiritual awakening. We will do so until He brings an awakening.