Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Fellowship Over Chicken Wings

I was the only white guy there.

Recently I went to visit an elderly lady who has poor health.  When I knocked on the door and was welcomed into home, I met about six people who were all very kind.  They were all African American, and I only knew one of them.  For a moment, we all stood there quietly and awkwardly. 

Then I noticed a plate on the table.  "Hey, are those Leo's Chicken Wings?", I asked.  One of the young men responded, "Yeah, they are.  Want one?"  I thought for half a second and said, "Sure, that sounds great!"

Then, they started passing out plates and napkins.   One of the wonderful hosts gave me a chair.  Then we all sat there together and ate chicken wings.  While we ate, we told stories, laughed, and had a blast.  It went from a silent room to a joyful place of fellowship.  I had a wonderful time with my new friends,  and I'll always remember it.

That whole experience reminded me of something important:  If we human beings will just sit down and talk with each other, we usually can find common ground and similar interests.  Though we may look different and have varying backgrounds, most of us are alike in many ways.  Most of us want our families to be ok, our bills to be paid, and our communities to be safe.  Most of us want to have purpose, hope, peace, joy, and strength.   And most of us just want to get along with our fellow man.

What I'm saying is regardless of whether we're black, white, rich, poor, Democrat, Republican, educated, uneducated, liberal, conservative, or whatever, we can usually get along with each other if we just put a little effort into it.  Let's sit and listen.  Let's try to understand each other.  And let's remember that the world will be a much happier place if we learn to calmly co-exist together.

I'm not so naive to think a plate of chicken wings is the key to world peace.  Things can be way more complex than that.  But I do believe with all my heart that if people would sit down and communicate with one another, usually some common ground will be discovered and a bond can be formed.  

Most importantly,  if we look to God, He can pull us together and make us one.  After all, when you and I both seek Him, it becomes obvious we're a lot more alike than we are different.  And that makes it easier for us to get along and work together.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Right Kind Of Church

We've got a Presbyterian church here in our neighborhood.  It's right around the corner.  Almost daily, I pass by it in my car.  But it wasn't until last weekend I noticed something on it's sign out front.  In big letters I could see the name of the church.  But underneath, in small letters, I finally saw this little message:  "A Place Of Grace".

I don't know much about that church.  No clue who the pastor is.  No idea what the budget might be.  No guess as to how many people attend its services.  But I do know this for sure:  A place of grace is the right kind of church.

See, we're all sinners.  I know I am.  And so are you.  We've all done wrong.  We've all made poor choices.  We've all missed the mark.  But the great thing about God is He forgives us and wipes our guilt away.  He doesn't hold our wrongdoings over our head.  And He doesn't expect us to live eternally in shame.  When we confess our sins to us, He forgives.  And He treats us far better than we deserve.  That's what grace is.  And it really is an amazing thing!!

So because God shows us grace, we also need to show each other grace.  That's what a good church does.  People fail.  People do dumb things.  People make foolish decisions.  And we have a choice:  We can beat up on these people, condemn them, and kick them while they're down, OR we can love them unconditionally, offer them forgiveness, and point them to our loving God who has all the blessings they could ever want. 

The older I get, and the more life experiences I have, the more I'm a grace guy.  Yep, I'm really thankful for God's grace in my life.  I'd be lost without it!  And I really want to show grace to others.  I want to show them forgiveness, love, and help, because that's exactly what God has shown me.  And I firmly believe with all my heart that no matter who they are, where they've been, or what they've done, the church should be the one place where they're welcomed, treated with kindness, and offered a word of hope. 

So may all of our churches here in Sumter, and around the world, be places of grace.  Let's share with others what  God has shared with us.  It'll bless people more than anything else we give them.

Friday, August 4, 2017

One Day At A Time

Recently I was sitting alone in a Mexican restaurant and enjoying a delicious lunch.  When I finished my meal, I sat there quietly and started thinking about my life.  Things I needed to do.  Places I needed to go.  Issues I needed to handle.  Challenges I needed to overcome.  All of these different thoughts were going through my head.  And I found myself not wanting to get out of my booth.  It was kind of like I just wanted to stay put and hide from life a little while longer.

As I sat there, I just froze.  I started feeling overwhelmed.  My life was feeling like an uncontrollable avalanche, and I started thinking, "Man, this is just too much for me to handle."

It was at this time that the waitress walked by my table.  I suppose my face was showing how I felt on the inside because she looked at me and asked, "Hey, are you ok?"   I responded, "I'm just feeling overwhelmed with life right now."  Then she smiled and said something I'll never forget, "You just gotta live one day at a time."

Wow.

She was right, you know?!

Sometimes it can be a lot to process when we start thinking about all the things going on in our lives.  Things can begin to feel like a bit much.  The big picture can be overwhelming.

But when we live one day at a time, we're just calmly taking one small step after another. And we're not worrying about crossing bridges we haven't even approached yet.  Rather than stressing over the multiple issues we must address in our lives, we're instead dealing with a single issue right here and right now.  That's a little easier to manage, you know?!

When that waitiress said that, I was encouraged.  The dark clouds started drifting away and sunshine re-enetered my heart.  And I felt energized.  So I got up, paid the bill, left her a tip, headed out the door, and got back to work.  Simply put, my day was changed when I was reminded of that very important lesson.

Are you feeling overwhelmed with your life?  If so, let me assure you that we all feel that way at times.  You're not alone.  It happens.  But the good news is this:  You can find peace of mind.  Look to God and whisper a prayer.  Accept the fact that yesterday is over and tomorrow hasn't even arrived yet.  And decide to focus solely on today.  When you do this, you're living one day at a time.  And doing that will make your life so much calmer and better.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Just Like The Old Man

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.  Others have had the same experience in their own lives.  And I reckon it's probably inevitable.  What am I talking about?  Well, it's simply this:  I'm turning into my dad.

Seriously.  I'm noticing it in a few areas here and there.  And my kids are pointing it out to me at times too.

It's not that I'm trying to do this.  And I'm certainly not opposed to it either.  But it's just happening naturally without me thinking about it.

For instance....

It seems that daily I'm walking around my house and turning off lights that kids leave on.  "We're running up the power bill around here people", I'll announce loud enough for everyone to hear.  Dad did that.

Last night I was sitting on the couch watching a PBS documentary about South Carolina wildlife.  My oldest daughter, Katie, said, "You're watching that?  Wow, you're turning into Wade Richardson for sure."  See, Dad watches that kind of stuff all the time.

When my son, Emerson, pours a glass of milk and only drinks half of what he poured, I'll say, "Come on, man, you're wasting money right there."  Dad said that to me quite often about drinks and food when I was growing up in his house.  He'd always say, "Take what you want, but eat what you take." 

I like to drive with my knees and back into parking spaces.  Dad does that.

I listen to Garrison Keillor's "Tales Of Lake Wobegon" and enjoy every second of it.  Does does that.

I enjoy science fiction movies and quirky comedies.  Dad does that.

And I find myself caring less and less about what other people think of me.  Dad really does that!!

These are just some of the many things I and others have noticed.  And maybe you're going through the same thing.  It seems like a lot of us somewhat turn into a version of our parents.  I've heard plenty of women say, "Wow, I'm turning into my mom."  So yeah, it's kind of a common thing.

But you know what I've noticed?  The greatest person we can become more like ... is God.  He's our Heavenly Father, and if we become like him, that's a game changer. 

I like what Paul wrote here in Ephesians 5:1-2  -- "Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love."  Did you see that?  We're really becoming more and more like God when we love.  In other words, when we treat people right, we're "imitators" of our Heavenly Father.

Do you want to become more like your Heavenly Dad?  Then try loving on people.  Be patient with folks who are difficult.  Be forgiving towards those who royally mess up.  Be helpful to those who are in need.  Be encouraging to those who are down in the dumps.  Just treat people right.

Don't be so doggone critical, harsh, cruel, bitter, impatient, cold, and difficult.  That's not love.  And that's nothing like God.  There's already too much of that stuff in the world, and we'd be better off with less of it.  Choose a better way!!  Choose love.  Treat people right.  Be a blessing to folks.  Make days better for others.  When you do that, people will see a reflection of God shining in you.  And their lives will be better off because of it.

Yep, it's a simple fact of life:  We're most like the Heavenly Father when we love people.  So let's do that today, with His help from above.  Loving on folks will make the world a better place.  And it'll help others see what God is really like.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

We're All The Same

I once read about a group of kids who started their own neighborhood club.  They just got together and had a good time goofing off and playing around.  When they started the club, they came up with three rules.  And this is what they were:  [1]  Nobody acts too big.  [2]  Nobody acts too small.  [3]  Everybody acts just right.

It seems to me that those are rules we all would do well to abide by, even as adults.

Let's not act too big.  In other words, don't walk around acting like you're the greatest thing since sliced bread and Coca Cola.  Abstain from acting like you're better or superior to other people.  That's called arrogance.  God doesn't like that, and most people don't enjoy being around that either.

Let's not act too small.  In other words, don't walk around talking negatively about yourself.  Avoid putting yourself down and acting like you're beneath everybody else.  God didn't make you as a piece of trash or second-rate human being.

Let's act just right.  In other words, let's have a healthy perspective of ourselves.  We're not better than other people.  And we're not worse than other people.  We're all somewhere in the middle.  We all have strengths and weakness.  We all have moments of thrilling victory and agonizing defeat.  When we all strip away our bank accounts, jobs, homes, achievements, and images, we're pretty much just alike.

The truth is this:  We all are imperfect.  But we also are all created by God, loved by God, and offered salvation from God.  That means deep down, you and I, along with everyone else, are basically the same.

So don't get too cocky about yourself.  And don't get too down on yourself.  Just realize you're like everyone else on the planet:  A work in progress that is highly valued by God.

I like what my Grandaddy Richardson wrote about himself years ago inside the front cover of a book he gave me.  This is what we wrote:  "Leon Richardson.  An old sinner saved by grace."  He had a healthy understanding of himself.  And that's what it means to act right. 

Remember who God is.  Remember who you are.  And always keep in mind that as we stand at the foot of the cross, we're all on even ground.  Nobody is above us or beneath us. 

Yep, it's true.  We're all the same.  And that'll always be the case.  So act right.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Mermaids I Saw

Surfside Beach is where I was recently with my family.  We all had a great time down there.  One night, we went out to this big, all you can eat, seafood buffet.  When we pulled into the parking lot, I noticed something on the sign.  It read:  "Live Mermaids Inside".

Well, I've never seen a mermaid.  Have you?  So that kind of got my attention.  Yeah, I was mostly looking forward to the crab legs and shrimp on the buffet.  That's what really excited me.  But mermaids?  I was curious to see what this was all about.

So we all went inside.  This was a huge place.  Lots of tables and chairs.  A gigantic spread of food that was waiting to be devoured.  And then I saw it off to my left side.  A nicely decorated pool with a little fence around it.  And in this pool, were two mermaids smiling, talking, and swimming around.

Ok, I'll go ahead and state the obvious.  They weren't really mermaids.  As far as I know, those don't actually exist.  But what I saw were a couple of ladies dressed up as mermaids.  It was well done.  And their costumes were impressive, down to the smallest of details.  They pulled it off really well.  It was neat to see, and everyone seemed to be amused by the whole setting.

The ladies were just pretending. 

But they're not the only ones.

People all around the world pretend to be someone or something they're not.  I've done that before.  Most likely you have too.

We can easily manufacture this image that is not like who we really are.  Maybe we do it to impress others.  Or maybe we do it because we're ashamed of our flaws and imperfections.  Most likely it's for a combination of reasons.

But you know what life has taught me?  I've noticed along the way that it's always best to be real.  Be who you are.  And never hide behind a mask. 

It's a good thing when we are honest on the outside about who we are on the inside.  It's good because it is all about reality.  It's good because it means we're being genuine and sincere.  It's good because it allows people to know who they're really dealing with when they're in our presence.  And it's good because it means we're not playing games with God or other people.

There's no harm in a couple of ladies pretending to be mermaids at the buffet.  That's just a gimmick.  And it's for fun.  But when it comes to daily living in the real world, there's nothing gained by you or me acting like someone we're not. 

Let's be real.  Honest with God and everyone else.  Folks can far better handle us when we're real about who we are.

I'll never forget it.  In a church service here in Sumter back in 1996, my uncle, Phillip Reynolds, came up to me and gave me some advice.  And here's what it was:  "Be real, David.  Just be real."

He was right.  And that still is true.  It's alway best to be real.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

God Of The Stars

Let's just consider the stars for a minute...

A star is a heavenly body made of hydrogen and helium.  It is always burning because of a process called nuclear fusion.
As for the number of stars there are in existence, scientists tell us there are over 100 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, and we are just one of over 10 trillion galaxies in the universe. 
As for the size of stars, Betelgeuse is 1,000 times larger than the size of our sun.  And VY Canis Mayoris is 1,800 times the size of our sun.
As for the distance from Earth to stars, it is 93,000,000 miles to the sun from our planet.  The next closest star, which is Proxima Centauri, is 4.2 light years away from us.  In other words, we would have to travel the speed of light every day for 4.2 years to get there.  Or, to break that down even more, if we could drive all the way there from Earth, we would have to travel 60 miles per hour for 48 million years to reach it.

As you can see, stars are mind blowing.  There are more of them than we can count.  They are tremendous in size.  And they are spread way out over a gigantic universe that is impossible for us to measure or understand. 

But here's the really cool part of all this...

God made the stars.  In Genesis 1:14, we see that it was He who brought them into existance.  Intentionally and amazingly, He created each and every one of them.  That's impressive!

God knows the stars.  In Psalm 147:4, we see that He knows the exact count for how many of them there are.  And, as if that's not enough, we see that He has a name for each individual one.  That's incredible!

God controls the stars.  In Matthew 2:1-9, we see that God moves a star to guide the wise men in their search for baby Jesus.  That's remarkable!

As amazing as the stars are, they're no match for God!  He made them.  He knows them.  And He controls them. 

That really ought to be a comfort to you and me.  After all, if God is big, strong, and wise enough to handle the stars, then surely He is big, strong, and wise enough to handle us.  He can provide for us, protect us, and bless us in ways that are unimaginable. 

The next time you look at the stars, just remember what a mom once told her daughter.  They were laying out on blankets under the Colorado mountain sky one night.  As they gazed up at the stars in the sky, the daughter was saying how neverous she was about traveling to England the next day.  Her wise mom listened calmly and patiently to her daughter, and then she said this:  "The God who holds the stars holds you."  How true that statement was ... and still is.

The God of the stars loves you.  He is for you.  And no matter what, you can trust Him with your life, your needs, and your burdens. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wrong Path To A Good Goal

Sarai wanted to have a baby.  It was a big deal to her.  And it pained her to not be a mother.  So she came up with a plan of her own.  She asked Abram, her husband, to have physical relations with another woman, named Hagar.  Then, when the other woman got pregnant and had the baby, Sarai would claim that baby as her own.  So, Abram agreed with the plan.  He slept with Hagar and she conceived.  But things got complicated and didn't go as smoothly as Sarai had hoped.

What happened here:  Sarai took a wrong path to a good goal.  God did not tell her to do what she did.  It was her own idea.  And it led to problems.

Was there anything wrong with Sarai wanting to be a mom?  No.  Absolutely not.  That's a good goal.  It was ok to want that.  But there was something wrong with the path she took to reach that goal. 

Sarai took matters into her own hands.

Sarai stepped outside of God's plan.

And Sarai refused to trust God's timing.

Let's not be too hard on her though.  She's not the first person to do that, and she won't be the last.  It happens all the time.

How many times in life do people take the wrong path to a good goal?  It happens daily around the world.  People want things that are perfectly normal, but they go about it the wrong way.

Think about the things people want:  A close relationship.  A better job.  A good income.  A win on the athletic field.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting these things.  But there is something vastly wrong when we try to reach these goals in our own way and on our own timetable. 

Life has taught me this:  God's plan is better than mine.  God's timing is superior to mine.  And God's power is greater than mine.  And if I submit to His plan, cooperate with His timing, and trust in His power, life works out for the best.

What is it that you want in life?  Identify whatever it is that matters to you.  And talk with God about it.  Be real with Him.  Ask Him to give you the desires of your heart.  Then, get on with your life and know that God will orchestrate whatever He thinks is best for you.

Don't take matters into your own hands like Sarai did.  If you do, things will just blow up in your face.  Do this instead: Trust God.  He loves you and He is for you.  And if you allow Him to work out His plan, in His way, according to His schedule, you'll be more than satisified.  You'll be blessed and thankful forevermore.

May God help you and me both avoid taking the wrong path to a good goal.

** P.S. The story about Sarai is found in Genesis 16.  If you want to read it for yourself, just click here.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Ocean

There I stood with my son on the sandy beach.  We were looking out over the Atlantic Ocean.  And the cool water was feeling good on our feet.  As we gazed at the massive body of water, I couldn't help but think about how huge it is, and how small I am.

The Atlantic Ocean is world's second largest.  It covers over 41 million square miles.  And it covers around 20 percent of the surface of our world.  Amazingly, the deepest this ocean gets is a mind-boggling 27,841 feet.  It's just hard to fathom how gigantic this one body of water is.

But wait, it gets even better.  This is only one of the Earth's several oceans.  And collected, they cover just over 70 percent of the face of the globe.  What a huge amount of water that is!

Then I stood there and thought about this:  Although I'm small compared to that, the oceans are small compared to God.  This verse (Isaiah 40:12) popped into my head:  "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand?"  That's a rhetorical question.  The obvious answer is God.  He is so big and mighty, that all of the oceans, rivers, lakes, and ponds of this planet could collectively and easily fit into His hand.  Because of this, He can measure how deep and wide this body of water is just by looking at what He's holding.

Wow. Nobody else can do that.  And it's just one reason we can say that our God is awesome.

He's big and powerful.  That means He's more than capable of taking care of us and handling any problems that come our way.  And that gives us one more reason God is worthy of worship.  Simply put, He is unlike any other.

The next time you see an ocean, remember this.  Yes, it is tremendous and impressive.  But God is even more so.  And we can trust Him with all that we are and all that we have.

Monday, June 19, 2017

God's Will And The Angry Girl

I was in Honduras for a few days.  While in that beautiful country, I met an American who was living full time down there as a missionary with his family.  He was good guy, and I really enjoyed visiting with him and learning what it was like to relocate from USA to Honduras.  He told me it was not easy at first.  Challenging, actually.  He and his wife were both convinced that God wanted them to make this move.  They were fully on board together.  And their young son was too.  But their teenage daughter was furious about it.  She did not see the sense in it and did not want to leave all her friends to move to Honduras.

He looked at me and said, "I'll never forget the Sunday before we moved down here.  We were back home in America at our church.  Our whole family was sitting on the front pew.  The preacher was just about to call us up in front of the church so everyone could pray for us.  It was at that moment my teenage daughter leaned over to me and whispered, 'I hate you for doing this to me!'.  That was one of the most painful things I've ever experienced."

He loved his daughter.  She really was a great girl.  It was just a difficult moment, and in her youthfulness, she didn't know how else to cope.  And even though he didn't hold a grudge against her, it did wound him.  Deeply, it hurt him.

But you know what?  He hung in there.  He stayed calm and loved her anyway.  He didn't get defensive or angry at her.  And he still moved his family down to Honduras.  Eventually she grew to like it.  His daughter adjusted emotionally and decided to have a positive attitude.  The family bonded even closer and had the adventure of a lifetime as one.

Sometimes in life, the right thing to do is the hard thing to do.  Obeying God is not always a happy cakewalk that is filled with ease and sunshine.  Not at all!  God's will for us includes pain at times.  But if we hang in there, cooperate with Him, and persevere, we will experience a blessing and enjoy the victory. 

In Galatians 6:9, Paul wrote this - "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  The apostle is encouraging people to stand strong and do what is right, even if it hurts.  And he is reminding everyone that there will be a reward waiting for those who follow God's leadership in their lives.

Maybe there's something you need to do, but it's really difficult.  And you know it's going to be painful on one level or another.  If that's you, just remember this:  God will give you eveything you need to get through those tough circumstances.  He will help you.  And when it's all said and done, your life will be better off because of it.

I'm glad my missonary friend hung in there.  He did not "become weary in doing good", and he did indeed "reap a harvest".  What an inspiration.  What an example!  May you and I do the same in our lives today and forevermore.