Answered Prayer and the Love of God

Distracted prayer isn’t the best, but sometimes it’s the best I’ve got.

Like today, for instance. I was sitting at my desk praying when several worrisome things started swirling around my mind. I tried to push them down, asking the Lord to keep my mind stayed on Him.

Finally, I stopped and said, “Lord, this is a struggle. Is it always going to be a struggle?” That’s when my phone rang. I looked at the caller ID and saw the call was going to be about one of the worrisome things which had attacked my prayer time.

I reluctantly answered and in doing so found out the issue was soon to be resolved–that I would have one less thing to occupy my thoughts during prayer.

Again, this was right after I admitted my struggle to God and asked Him if it was always going to be that way.

This type of thing rarely happens in such an obvious way to me. It is rare that I ask God something and He immediately gives me such an explicit, in-my-face answer. But when It does it makes me pause and remember His steadfast love for me.

A love that is present whether it is so obvious or not.

God is Good?

Technology is great…except when it isn’t.

I say or think this phrase whenever a download takes longer than it should or something goes wrong with a store’s “system” while I’m trying to checkout or when any other thing happens to cause a delay or disturbance when I’m trying to use any type of technology that is wasting time it was designed to save.

Which means I say or think this phrase quite often.

Without the technology we have, we couldn’t live life the way we presently do. Lives are saved and/or extended due to technological advances. Purchases can be made quickly and easily from places all over the globe. There is information being passed along at insanely fast speeds via the internet to people pretty much anywhere on the planet all of the time. The technology we have at our fingertips and use without even thinking about it is the stuff of yesterday’s science fiction.

And it really is great…until it isn’t.

We are kind of fickle about it, really. We go along enjoying all the things that we never would have even thought about just a few years ago, things we now barely remember not having. And then it doesn’t work as we believe it should and we go a little crazy.

“I hate my phone,” we say after it takes a second or two too long to give us information at our fingertips we would’ve had to drive to the library to get from dusty, old, and now-forgotten books in the not too distant past.

While this attitude toward technology isn’t the worst thing in the world since the technology itself really doesn’t have feelings and we really haven’t formed a relationship with it, I’m afraid we take this approach with a being who does have feelings and who does want a relationship with us.

God is good, we believe…until we believe He isn’t.

He provides for us, strengthens us, helps us, hears us, saves us. But then He takes too long to answer a particular prayer or answers it in a way that doesn’t satisfy us. Or He gives someone else something that we long for and we wonder why them and not us. Or He doesn’t work like a genie in a bottle or like some type of cosmic, doting grandfather and give us everything we want.

When God doesn’t do what we think God ought to do we start to question His greatness, His goodness, and maybe even His existence.

This is far more serious than being aggravated at the slowness or ineptness of technology. This is calling into question the very essence of the self-existent creator, sustainer, and supreme ruler of the universe who has been good in an unfathomable number of ways to us that we will never know or see this side of Heaven. This is dangerous ground we should be wary to tread.

If you are treading this ground now or are perilously close to doing so I encourage you to do a few things.

Stop. Breathe. Ponder. Pray. Search the Scriptures. Pray some more. Consult with someone who has gone through tremendous trials and has retained their faith. Slow down. Count your blessings. Pray some more.

Then you might just remember the truth that God is good even when it seems like He isn’t.

Because this is the truth even when people refuse to accept it.

Filling Gaps

“She’s got gaps. I got gaps. Together we fill gaps.”

These words were spoken by Rocky Balboa to his friend Paulie in the movie Rocky about why Rocky is attracted to Paulie’s sister, Adrian. I don’t remember everything about this movie, but I definitely remember this quote. Really, it explains a lot about relationships. Everyone has positive qualities they bring to the table as well as opportunities for improvement (otherwise known as weaknesses). Most good relationships I have seen are between two flawed people who help fill the gaps in each other. In this way, both people in the relationship are improved by the other.

It isn’t just in relationships that we should try to fill gaps.

Presently, I believe there is a kindness gap in our world. So many are so concerned with being right and with proving their rightness and another’s wrongness that kindness isn’t even considered.

There also appears to be a grace gap. Ungraciousness abounds as we maximize the faults of others while minimizing our own.

There is a gap in serving others, too. After all, if we serve others we run the risk of being taken advantage of and that just won’t do.

We are really adept at pointing out the problems of our world. We also are pretty good at wondering why no one does anything about them. We aren’t very good at comprehending the reality that we have been blessed with opportunities to fill more gaps than we realize.

If we complain about problems in our world, our homes, our communities, and our churches yet do nothing to fix the problems or change the situations, we are actively involved in causing the gaps to increase in hopes that someone will finally do something about them. This is foolhardy as the gaps will eventually grow so large as to be impossible for someone in the future to fill.

What are we waiting for? There are gaps to be filled and they are shaped like us.

Let’s fill them so others can devote their attention to other, future gaps. And let’s get started.

Now.

Septic Tanks and Scripture

I’m not very good at manual labor, but this doesn’t mean I’m unable to do it.

Our septic tank had to be pumped again today. If you’re unfamiliar with septic tanks, consider yourself blessed. A septic tank is a buried container usually made of concrete or other such strong material through which waste flows in order for the liquid to be treated and then sent out into a drain field. That which isn’t liquid remains in the septic tank and is broken down by various and sundry enzymes into sludge. This definition may be incorrect or incomplete, but it encompasses my basic understanding of what a septic tank is and does.

Septic tanks have to be emptied every few years in order to work properly otherwise the home’s drain system will back up causing a rather disgusting mess. Unfortunately, the number of people who live in a particular home largely determines how often a septic tank must be emptied. We have 10 people in our house which means ours must be emptied more often than normal.

Again, my explanation may be lacking, but the general idea is still true. If your home has a septic tank, it must be emptied occasionally and the more people you have in your home the more frequently this must happen.

In order for my septic tank to be emptied by a vacuum truck, a portion of the lid has to be uncovered. This means that someone had to dig a decent-sized hole. That someone was yours truly.

So…I dug a hole yesterday. It’s not something I’m good at, but I did it anyway. I did it because in order for the septic tank to be emptied and for things to work properly, it had to be done.

The pattern I used was alternating 20 minutes of digging and 5-7 minutes of resting. Dig for 20 minutes, rest for 5-7 minutes. I knew if I just dug and dug and dug without resting, I would get discouraged and quit before the job was done. Doing it my way, I completed the dig in about 2 hours.

I did something I’m not very good at by doing it in small chunks until it was done. If I dug holes more often I would probably be able to dig longer than 20 minutes, but you have to start somewhere.

Does this make sense to you? If so, maybe it’s how you can start reading the Bible.

I don’t mean to assume you don’t read the Bible. However, I know that most people don’t–including most professing Christians. And the reason some give is that they aren’t very good at it. And when you’re not very good at something the idea of reading a book as big as the Bible is terribly intimidating.

So…start small. Maybe with just one chapter a day. Or 5 minutes a day. Or 10 minutes a day. And the more you do it, the more you will get done and the more you will be able to do.

I didn’t have to dig the hole all at once, but I had to start somewhere.

If you aren’t currently reading God’s Word—just start somewhere and pretty soon you will look down and see how much into it you have dug.

And you will be blessed.

Stetson Bennett IV and Jesus

I didn’t believe the Georgia Bulldogs would beat the Alabama Crimson Tide to win the 2022 CFP National Championship. My disbelief in their ability to do so was not because Alabama had beaten them badly in the SEC Championship Game just over a month ago nor was it becasue I believed Alabama head coach Nick Saban to be some sort of magical coaching wizard incapable of losing to Georgia’s Kirby Smart.

I doubted Georgia’s ability to win because I doubted their quarterback.

Stetson Bennett IV, Georgia’s quarterback and the Championship Game Offensive MVP, is a former walk-on who grew up in Georgia and dreamt of playing for the Bulldogs. I’ve watched him play several times over the past couple of years and simply didn’t believe him capable of leading his team to victory in a game this big.

Georgia’s defense played wonderfully and they took advantage of key Alabama injuries, so clearly he didn’t do it alone. I didn’t think he would be able to do it at all. But he did it anyway, leading the Georgia Bulldogs to their first National Championship since 1980 with people doubting him all the way.

Disbelieving in someone’s ability to do something doesn’t mean he will be unable to do it. The collective disbelief of an innumerable amount of people is also incapable of determining his actual success in completing the unbelievable task. If people were stopped from accomplishing great things because of the disbelief of others, no great things would ever be accomplished.

Included in this is all that Jesus has done, is doing, and will do.

There no way this carpenter’s son from Nazareth is the Messiah. There’s no way He can raise Lazarus from the dead. There’s no way His death on the cross has any eternal significance. There’s no way He rose from the grave. There’s no way He still lives to make intercession for His people. There’s no way He is really coming back again.

Go ahead and disbelieve all of this if that’s your desire. Your disbelief does not in any way make all that Jesus has accomplished and will accomplish any less true.

Stetson Bennett IV is still a National Championship winning quarterback and Jesus Christ is still the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who conquered death, hell, and the grave by his sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection from the dead.

Doubting will do you no good.

A Man I Love

It was late spring, 1998. I had been preaching for a few months and teaching a middle school youth class for over a year. That is when I met Mike Murphree.

Mike was the pastor of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in east Knoxville, where my grandmother was a long-term member and one of the churches I had visited at times during my childhood. I had heard his name at this point, but had never met him.

He was 47 years old, short, and standing just outside of the house I lived in with my parents. I was 20, tall, and wondering why he wanted to talk to me. I figured it was to invite me to preach for a special youth service. This was happening quite frequently as I was one of the few young preachers around.

Instead, Mike talked to me about possibly becoming the youth pastor at his church.

I didn’t know him well then; I just knew what little my grandmother had told me and what little I could see. I knew he was well-learned with a Master’s of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I knew my grandmother believed him to be a good pastor, which meant he was a good pastor (she had excellent discernment about such things). I knew he was from Alabama. And that was about it.

I know a lot more about him now.

I know he has a fantastic, somewhat mischievous sense of humor. I know he is unafraid of confrontation, but controls that side of himself until it becomes necessary. I know he loves God deeply and his family with great tenderness. I know he enjoys learning, thinking, and sharing his thoughts with others and wants others to do the same with him.

I also know what it’s like to watch him slowly die.

I know all of this because a little while after I became the youth pastor of his church, his younger daughter and I got married. I have been his son-in-law for almost 23 years and for the past few years he and my mother-in-law have lived with me and my family.

One of the reasons they moved in with us was because of his gradually declining health. The decline is close to nearing its end. He is not far from seeing his Savior.

Through the years, I’ve enjoyed stimulating conversations with him about serious Biblical topics and silly conversations about the taste of dog food and the possibility of time travel. I thought I was going to have to get in a fight with someone at a Salvation Army drop-off site after Mike pointed out to a couple of guys who were taking some of the donated items the sign that said they weren’t supposed to be doing so. He has offered sage advice to me about pastoring, fathering, marriage, and more. He’s been one of my best friends.

Recently, I’ve become adept at walking backwards down the hall because that’s how I’ve been helping him to the bathroom, living room and kitchen. With his hands in mine, I’ve done my best to make sure he feels steady and secure, step by step. I have helped him out of bed and back to bed, onto the toilet and off. I still try to engage him in conversations like we used to have, but it has become more difficult both for him to think and to communicate what he is thinking.

He was feeling particularly bad today and nothing was providing him any relief. Running out of suggestions, I finally asked him if he wanted me to read to him. He did and I ended up reading 5 chapters of a book I’m reading to this man who I care for so much.

I know he’s tired. I know he’s weak. I know he’s close to being Home. Until he goes There, I count it a privilege to be present with him for the journey here, to help him as much as I can.

Some might say that Mike isn’t the same man he the first day I met him. He looks different, gotten weaker, struggles to walk. But he’s still the same to me.

A man I truly love.

Menu Options at Peyton Manning’s Restaurant

It has been reported that former University of Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning is planning on opening a western-themed restaurant called “Saloon 16” in Knoxville. If his restaurant is anything like Peyton was as a quarterback it will be fantastic, but still not as good as restaurants in Florida. If you didn’t understand that last sentence– Congratulations! You aren’t a long-time Tennessee Volunteer fan and, as a result, have been spared a lot of misery over the past couple of decades.

I have no idea what this restaurant will be like, but because I am a VFL (Vol For Life) and a Peyton Manning admirer I’m sure I will eventually check it out after it opens.

Until then, I have a few suggestions for menu options at Peyton Manning’s restaurant.

1. Forehead Fries. This menu item would feature the number of french fries that could fit on Peyton Manning’s forehead. If you know the size of his forehead then you know “forehead fries” could easily feed a family of 60.

2. Horseburgers. Manning started his career with the Indianapolis Colts before finishing up with the Denver Broncos. Colts….Broncos. Horses. Horseburgers.

3. Pop Tarts and Juice Boxes. For when his brother Eli comes to town.

4. Omaha Steaks. But you will have to order something else first and then do an audible. OMAHA! OMAHA!

5. Goat. Since Manning couldn’t be the G.O.A.T. (because of Tom Brady), he may as well let his fans eat goat. And no, I’m not a Tom Brady fan, but facts are facts.

6. Chicken Parmesan. Ordering this without singing the “chicken parm you taste so good” jingle should result in being forcibly removed from the restaurant.

Some of these menu options may not be very appealing, but I know there are at least a couple of good ones. And Peyton — If you read this, I’m just joking about your forehead. You have a lovely forehead.

No matter what is on the menu, I’m pretty sure this restaurant will be a success. Tennessee Fans are Peyton Manning fans and he has plenty of fans in and around Knoxville.

Including me. I’m a Peyton Manning fan. Which is fine as long as I remember to keep my fandom in check and healthy.

Some people obsess over certain athletes, entertainers, actors, and politicians. Some even go so far as being followers instead of just fans. I find this level of fandom dangerous because none of these people are perfect.

Jesus is the only one who is perfect.

Go ahead and be a fan of Manning and other people with talents and abilities you admire. But be sure you don’t follow them.

Follow Jesus. Only He is worthy of everything you have and everything you are.

 

What are some other possible menu items for Peyton Manning’s restaurant? Who are some athletes you admire? Tell us in the comments.

Guns N’ Roses and the Goodness of God

Last week I ministered to a young lady and her family after it was found out that her precious baby girl had died in her womb. Her death was sad and shocking, but the Lord was near.

Yesterday I went to the funeral of a 20-year-old young man who is the youngest son of a couple my wife and I have been blessed to know for about 16 years. His death was sad and shocking, but again the Lord was near.

I know the Lord was near because He has promised to be near the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

I also know the Lord was near because I could feel His presence in these times of tremendous sorrow.

Before the services for both of the departed, I tried to prepare myself and my emotions. I wanted to be strong for parents, families, and others who were mourning. This worked until midway through the funeral service yesterday.

That is when the deceased young man’s mother sang an unexpected song.

Accompanied by a softly-played piano, she sweetly sang a rendition of the Guns ‘N Roses song “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” The only changes she made from the original were changing the “she” to “he” and slightly shortening it. Here are the lyrics:

He’s got a smile it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Where everything
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky
Now and then when I see his face
He takes me away to that special place
And if I’d stare too long
I’d probably break down and cry

Oh, oh, oh
Sweet child o’ mine
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Sweet love of mine

He’s got eyes of the bluest skies
As if they thought of rain
I hate to look into those eyes
And see an ounce of pain
His hair reminds me of a warm safe place
Where as a child I’d hide
And pray for the thunder
And the rain
To quietly pass me by

Oh, oh, oh
Sweet child o’ mine
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Sweet love of mine

I know these lyrics were written by Axl Rose about his then-girlfriend, but in that moment it transformed into a song from a grief-stricken mother to her much-loved son. And that is when my pent-up tears began flowing.

I never expected to cry while listening to a Guns N’ Roses song, but I should always expect the Lord to be near the brokenhearted.

Because His promises are always kept.

 

Feel free to share a comment and thank you for reading!

A Lesson from Driver’s Ed

I found out the other day that my old high school no longer offers Driver’s Ed. While this wasn’t devastating news, it was still quite surprising.

Driver’s Education was one of my favorite classes. There was the driving simulator where we pretended to be put in dangerous situations while we pretended to drive. There were the Chevy Corsicas and Chevy Luminas we took turn driving around the mean streets of Strawberry Plains. And there were the two driving instructors.

One of the instructors was high-strung guy who called me by my full first name, but instead of saying “Matthew” he said “Maffew.” The other one was so laid back he was almost comatose. I liked them both even though I did get yelled at a few times.

There was one thing that happened in that class, though, that made me really angry. It involved a police officer who came into our class to talk about drunk driving.

During the first part of his spiel he asked how many people had never tasted any alcoholic beverages. Several of us raised our hands. He seemed surprised by this.

He then asked how many people had never tasted any alcoholic beverages–including wine coolers. This time only me and another guy raised our hands. That is when he made me mad.

He looked right at us and said, “You’re lying.”

I remember the rest of the class laughing. I remember shaking my head. And I remember him replying, “Yes you are!”

The thing was, I wasn’t lying. Up until that point in my life I had never tasted any alcoholic beverage. And I still haven’t. It was an aggravating thing, but that incident made me realize something.

People expect people to act like other people.

If a lot of people do a particular thing or act a particular way, some expect everyone to do a particular thing or act a particular way.

People expect people to act like other people so much so that we begin to expect ourselves to act like other people. In other words, we tend to go along with the crowd.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the crowd generally went a good, God honoring way. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Which is why Christians aren’t called to go along with the crowd. We are called to go along with Christ.

People expect people to act like other people. But Jesus expects His people to act like Him.

Thankfully He doesn’t leave us to our own devices to do this.

He expects His people to act like Him and empowers us to do so by His presence and His strength.

And for this I say “Hallelujah!” And that’s no lie.

Do your high school have Driver’s Ed? If so–what was the best thing about it?

 

One Angry Cookie

One Angry Cookie

My wife has 3 Chihuahuas which, as it turns out, is the exact number too many. The oldest of the three is Cookie. Cookie is generally a sweet dog with a tolerant disposition.

But in the above picture she looks a little psychotic.

Why? Here are the possibilities–see if you can guess which one is true…

1. She just listened to “Weird” Al Yankovic’s new album Mandatory Fun. It’s good. Real good. I should know–I’m a big ‘ol nerd.

2. She knows it’s almost Shark Week and was working on her best shark impression. Wouldn’t a Chihuahua Shark be terrifying?

3. I asked her what she thought about mayonnaise. Even Chihuahuas know mayonnaise is not fit for human (or canine) consumption.

4. She has an audition for an upcoming Colgate commercial and was working on her smile. It needs more work. A LOT more work.

5. We have a Doberman puppy that she DOES NOT LIKE.

If you picked #5, you are correct. None of our Chihuahuas like poor Beulah. That’s right, I named our puppy Beulah; mostly so I could call her crate “Beulah Land.” If you don’t get that lame attempt at a joke it means you haven’t spent much time in a Baptist Church.

Anyway, the Chihuahuas don’t like our new puppy and make sure she is aware of this as much as possible. But all of their growling isn’t going to change things; Beulah is here to stay.

When what they growl about isn’t going to change, their growling is a waste of time.

And the same is true for us. There are some things that can and will change; there are some things that will never change. Growling and griping about what will never change will give us less time and energy to work on those things that can be changed.

Maybe Cookie will one day learn this; hopefully we will, too.

What are some other reasons Cookie might look this way? How are you doing at not growling at things that you have no control over?