Friday, May 18, 2018

The Prayer In Rhode Island

It was a Sunday morning up north in the state of Rhode Island.  I was standing in a church office with a local pastor and several other guys.  We were about to start a worship service, so all of us fellows formed a circle and had a time of prayer.

The pastor of the church started our prayer time by saying, "Lord, this morning, I had a horrible attitude and snapped at my wife.  I'm so sorry for that."

Then another guy in our circle prayed out loud, "Lord, I struggle and sin all the time.  I'm truly sorry for how bad I am a lot of days."

This started an avalanche of prayers by guys who almost seemed to want to outdo each other on how depraved they were and how awful their behavior had been.  It grew to the point of being uncomfortable for me.  Never in my life had I been so ready for a prayer time to be over.

Then, something cool happened.  The last guy who took a turn in our circle prayed this:  "Lord, today, I just want to say I'm thankful to be forgiven.  I'm so grateful that you have given me a pardon and you cleanse away my guilt.  What a blessing that is!"

When he did that, it was like the dark clouds parted and the sun started shining again.  Joy returned to the room.  And a positive vibe was in the air.

Listen, folks.  I realize there is a time for privately confessing to God our sins and transgressions.  Believe me, I understand that and I do that when I'm by myself.  It's totally appropriate and spiritually important.

But I think if we're not careful, we can get more obsessed with our guilt than God's forgiveness.  We can become more fixated on our failures than on God's victories.  I've seen some folks that carry on and on so much about how bad or awful they've been that it's almost like they're glorifying their sin.  It's kind of like confessional showboating.  I just don't think that's healthy. 

Rather than beat ourselves up constantly for what we've done wrong, let's lift praises and thanksgiving up daily for what God's done right.  He's saved us and forgiven us.  God has washed away our wrongdoings and covered us up with His righteousness.  We ought to feel good about that and rejoice over it.

So, yeah, if you need to confess some stuff to God, by all means go ahead and do it privately and experience His grace.  But after that, receive and believe His forgiveness.  And know that you can walk around with joy and gratitude rather than beating yourself up and punishing the guy or the girl who stares back at you in the mirror.

Child of God, you are forgiven for all of your sin.  Believe that and receive that.  Let go of your guilt, and latch on to His grace.  Then, when you do this, move forward and enjoy your status as a loved, saved soul.  That's when life gets really good!!

Monday, May 14, 2018

An Unforgettable Hour

Saturday, May 12, 2018.  That's a day I'll always remember.  Here's why...

I was called to the home of a young woman who had a terminal illness.  She was on her bed.  Nurses had put her in a pretty dress and set a corsage on her as well.  They had fixed up her hair and got her looking great.  While she laid on her bed, a man was standing beside the bed with a smile the size of Texas on his face.   See, this was their wedding day.  And I was there to marry them. 

It was a brief but meaningful time.  They both indicated they wanted to be husband and wife.  She even managed a smile or two.  He was a happy groom.  And when I told him he could kiss the bride, he did so enthusiastically, several times.  It was a neat moment.  One of the nurses quickly snapped the above picture, which was my hand holding on to the bride and groom .

The two nurses and I stood there by her bed, and we were touched by what we saw.  Love was in the room.  Joy was in the room.  And, little did we know, something else was too.

That something else, was death.

See, just a few minutes later, things began to change.  She started to act differently.  We watched as she laid there taking some deep breaths.  And then, this new bride, slipped away into eternity.  She died right there before our very eyes.  Less than an hour after she entered her marriage, her soul exited her body. 

Her husband cried.  Her son grew quiet and punched a wall as he walked out the room.  The nurses and I stood there taking it all in.

Dell, Beebe, and I were reminded of something that day.  Life is a heavily mixed assortment of joy, sorrow, pleasure, pain, beginnings, and endings.  In life, we rejoice on the mountaintop and we grieve in the valley.  And that's just as true for people who do believe in God as for those who do not.  Nobody is immune to it.  As Jesus once said, "He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."  (Matthew 5:45)

Here's the one stabilizing factor in all this:  Jesus.  See, that young woman knew Jesus as her Savior and Lord.  He had forgiven her sins.  He had saved her soul.  He had allowed her to marry the man she loved.  And He made it possible to go to Heaven when most newly married couples would be going on their honeymoon. 

As crazy and unpredictable as life can get, Jesus is the rock to which we can cling.  He is steady and immovable.  And no matter what may come our way in living, loving, and even taking our last breath on Earth, He will see us through. 

I'll never forget what my friends and I experienced on Saturday.  Never.  Yes, it was painful.  But, there was a glorious, silver lining to the cloud.  In the midst of that painful moment, Jesus stayed with her, Jesus gave her entrance into Heaven, and Jesus granted her the ultimate healing. 

Hold on to Jesus, friends.  Hold on to Him.  There's nothing more important than Him in this world of ups and downs.

Friday, May 11, 2018

I'm Staying Right Here

My son is playing baseball again this year.  He loves being around the game.  And I'm glad to see him having fun with it.

Last week we were at one of his games.  It was getting late into the evening.  For whatever reason, Emerson was not getting any playing time.  He was sitting on the bench.  Not getting to hit.  Not getting to play in the field.  Nothing.  The coach had him sitting there doing nothing.

As I noticed the clock ticking later and later, and as I realized my boy was not going to get to play that night, I thought about Dad and Mom.  They were at the game too.  And they both had to go to work the next morning, which was just a few hours away.  So I leaned over to Dad and said, "Hey, I know it's getting late, and it doesn't look like Emerson isn't going to see any action tonight, it's ok if you and Mom want to head on home and get some rest.  We all will totally understand."  Dad sat there for a second, shook his head, and said, "No, I'm staying right here for the boy."  And he did.  Dad remained in the stands and supported his grandson even though there wasn't anything exciting going on.


I've been thinking about that for the past week.  "I'm staying right here."  What an awesome display of loyalty, love, and patience.

On a much larger scale, that's exactly how God is with all of us.  Sometimes we are the starting pitcher and totally dominating everything with excellence.  And other times we are sitting off to the side on the bench, not doing anything of great significance.  But every day of our lives, God is still there with us loyally, lovingly, patiently.

He doesn't pack His stuff up and leave when we're not at the top of our game in life.  Not at all.  He is an awesome Father who is always there through thick and thin.

People can let you down.  Folks come and go in life.  But God is different.  He hangs around day in and day out.  He looks at us and says, "I'm staying right here."  And what a blessing that is.

"the Lord your God will be with you, wherever you go."  Joshua 1:9

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Hotel Room And Jesus

My brother, Condy, booked a hotel room in Savannah.  He and his wife were about to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary, so he made reservations at a nice place where they could get away from it all and just enjoy a great trip.  Several weeks after he booked the room, they got in their car and drove down to Savannah.  Late that night, they arrived at the hotel.  They checked in, got their key, went to their room, opened the door, looked in, and were greatly surprised at what they saw.  There, in the room, was a kitchenette, a table with chairs, and NO bed.  Yes, you read that right.  They walked into a hotel room that had no bed.

Condy walked down to the front desk and told the guy that his room has no bed in it.  The hotel employee explained to my brother that the hotel was full that night and they had to put them in that room.  Then the guy told Condy that if he and his wife stayed in that room for one night, the hotel would give him a regular room for free the next three nights.  While my brother appreciated the gesture, he told the guy that this was their anniversary, they booked the room weeks in advance, and they needed a normal room with a bed that night.  To make a long story short, they ended up leaving and staying at another hotel that night, and everything worked out just fine at the other location.

A hotel room without a bed?  That makes no sense.  The bed is the main reason people book a hotel room.  They need a place to sleep when they are away from home.  That is the purpose for hotels to begin with. 

That true story has me thinking the following:  Just as a hotel room isn't complete without a bed, a heart isn't complete without Jesus.  The bed is what makes the room what it ought to be, and Jesus is what makes our hearts what they ought to be.  The same principle applies in both situations.

Jesus is who forgives sins and saves souls.  Jesus soothes our aches, satisfies our longings, directs our steps, and secures our eternities.  Jesus is what our hearts need and our well-being requires.  There is nobody more important than Him, both now and forevermore.  As my good friend Meredith said a while back, "I just don't believe you can have too much of Jesus."  She's right!  He is exactly what can make all the difference in our hearts and lives.

If your heart doesn't have Jesus, you're like a hotel room without a bed.  Incomplete.  Let Him come into your life.  He will bring all the grace, love, and blessings you could ever want, and He will make an eternal impact on your life that will prove to be all you need.

My brother and his wife were so glad when they found a room that had a bed in it.  And you, my friend, will be more than glad when your heart has Jesus in it.  I can guarantee you this :  Your heart will never be the same, and you'll be so much better off for all of eternity.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Caesar Salad And The Christian Life

I love Zaxby's.  Really, I do.  Their food is delicious.

But I've had one issue with them lately...

The past four months, I've been on this salad kick.  Since January 1, I've eaten plenty of salads at this fine establishment.  The deal is, whenever I pull up to place my order for a Caesar salad, the person taking my order always asks, "What kind of dressing would you like with that?"  Think about that.  They're asking what kind of dressing I want on a Caesar salad.  Is there any other kind of dressing that I would want on a Caesar salad other than Caesar dressing?  The Caesar dressing is what makes a Caesar salad what it is.

This went on for quite a few weeks.  I found myself getting a little frustrated with the question about something so obvious.  A time or two (I'm slightly ashamed to confess) I even responded to the question about what kind of dressing I wanted with a slightly sarcastic response of, "Ummm....let me about Caesar dressing?" 

Finally, one day, I pulled up to the window to pay and pick up the salad I had ordered.  A kind, lovely, young lady smiled, took my payment, and handed me my order.  Before I pulled off, I gently asked her, "Maam, I've got a question for you.  I've been ordering Caesar salads here for a while, and I'm always asked what kind of dressing I want on it.  Does anyone actually request anything other than Caesar dressing for a Caesar salad?"  She calmly said, "You know, you'd be surprised at the number of people who come through here and request something other than Caesar on their Caesar salad." 

I don't know about that.  It just makes no sense to me whatsoever.  Call me crazy if you want to, but in my mind a Caesar salad only has Caesar dressing.  But, different strokes for different folks, I suppose.  And, I reckon in the broad scheme of things, it really doesn't matter.

But I will say this ...  Just as Caesar dressing is what makes a Caesar salad what it is, love is what makes the Christian life what it is.  Jesus said the following in John 13:35 - "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."  Love has to do with being kind, patient, forgiving, helpful, and selfless towards other people.  So when we are loving, we are being exactly what a follower of Jesus should be.  Love is a key ingredient to what a Christian life is.  It's what makes that kind of life so special and powerful.

Maybe you disagree, but I really do think that Caesar dressing is what makes a Caesar salad so unique.  But regardless of whether you think I'm right or wrong on that, we'd all have to agree with Jesus on this:  Love is what makes the Christian life so unique.  Christianity without love is just not Christianity.  Love is vital to the experience and way of life.  May our God help us to have and share more of it everywhere we go, every day of our lives.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Crystal Ball

I've got a relative who is a doctor.  He's well respected and very good at what he does.  Not too long ago, he and I were in a meeting with several other people.  As he was discussing his medical practice, the good doctor said, "Contrary to what some people may think, I don't have a crystal ball.  I don't know exactly what's going to happen with patients and their health."

The doctor was humbly admitting a simple truth : The future is a mystery to us human beings.  We are not certain what will take place tomorrow and the days after that.  Sure, we can make plans and have hopes for what will take place after today, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that; however, none of us knows with total confidence what is waiting around the corner.

Proverbs 27:1 states "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth."  James 4:14 also drives this point home with the following words : "you do not even know what will happen tomorrow."  In the Old Testament and the New, we are reminded that if any of us thinks we know what the future holds, we are only kidding ourselves. 

What is it that you need to be doing?  Maybe it's one of the following:  (1) Get right with God.  (2)  Repair a relationship with a relative or friend.  (3)  Lose weight and improve your overall physical health.  (4)  Organize and improve your financial situation.  (5)  Make a positive impact with your career.  Or maybe it's something else.

Whatever it is that you need to be doing, just remember this :  Life is unpredictable and uncertain, and that's why you need to maximize the moment and seize the day.  Prioritize your life and begin focusing on those things which are the most significant.  Do something with your life and make it count.  Don't put the important stuff off for a later date.  Refuse to procrastinate with significant life matters.  Why?  Because you may not have a chance tomorrow, and you may not even have a tomorrow.

My relative is right.  He doesn't have a crystal ball that provides a glimpse into the future.  And neither do we.  Only God knows the future, and we're not God.  Because of that, let's value every day, live with a sense of urgency, and take care of those things which matter most. 

Don't be too certain about the future.  Just be sure you do everything you can today.  That, my friends, is smart living.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Keeping Herself Straight

She's a dignified, wise, older lady.  And I enjoy her company.  Our talks are always positive and pleasant.

The other day we spent some time together.  When I was walking out of the room, I turned to her and said, "Hey, keep 'em all straight around here."  She looked at me, laughed, and said, "Tell you what.  I'll just focus on keeping me straight." 

What a great response.  And what a fantastic motto to live by.  "I'll just focus on keeping me straight."

There's an old German proverb that states, "Sweep in front of your own door."  That means deal with your own issues and clean up your own messes rather than fixating on your neighbor's issues and messes.  We're to focus on keeping ourselves straight rather than obsess with keeping others straight.

Jesus talked about this before.  In Matthew 7:5, He said "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."  Did you catch His point?  Deal with your own matters first before you begin addressing other people about theirs.

The older I get, the more I feel the exact same way.  I find myself minding my own business more, and monitoring other people less.  The way I see it, I've got my own struggles, weaknesses, and tendencies to deal with.  I'm not perfect and I'm not qualified (or even want to) sit around and tear down other people.  I'd rather focus on becoming a better man myself.

It seems to me we all would be wise to deal with ourselves first before we even think about getting into the business of carrying on about the flaws of other people.  That's what Jesus wants us to do.  And that may, in the long run, help each of us to become more and more of the men and women God wants us to be.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Elizabeth's Haircut

While standing by the kitchen sink, I noticed it.  My daughter, Elizabeth, walked into the room.  There it was.  A change in my girl.  "Elizabeth, you got your hair cut.  I like it.  You look great, girl!"  As soon as I said that, she started laughing, looked at her sister, and said, "Dad I've been wondering when you would notice it.  I told people that I was going to wait and see how long it took for you to catch on."  I responded, "Well, how long did it take me?"  "About 24 hours," she said with a laugh.

Then, that afternoon, I walked into a restaurant here in Sumter.  There was a group of girls by the door.  They're good kids who are friends with Elizabeth.  One of the girls smiled at me and said, "So, Mr. Richardson, I heard it took you 24 hours to notice."  Then that group of girls laughed out loud.  I couldn't help but stand there and laugh with those kids.

Yep, sometimes we fail to notice things in each other.  Whether it's haircuts or someone going through a tough time, our attention doesn't always lock on to everything around us.  This can happen when we are distracted, self-absorbed, or even apathetic to what others are experiencing in our lives.  Of course, it can also happen accidentally because we are human, which means we are not always on our "A game".

But here's the great thing : God notices everything.  He sees, hears, and knows all.  Nothing and nobody escapes His attention.  Our awesome God is completely in tune with you, me, and everyone else.  Proverbs 15:3 tells us "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch."  Also, Psalm 66:19 states, "God has surely listened and has heard."  Then, in Psalm 139:3, the writer says this to God:  "You are familiar with all my ways." 

That's a good thing.

God's awareness shows He values us.  We matter to Him.  He is a watchful Father who keeps His attention locked onto His daughters and sons.  Just think about it:  With all of the many different things competing for God's attention in the universe, He still maintains a laser-like focus on us.  Wow, what an honor it is to matter to God!

I'm sorry it took me a little while to notice Elizabeth's haircut.  But I'm glad it takes God no time at all to notice who we are, what we are experiencing, and what we need.  There's a lot of comfort in knowing that we are always noticed by the Lord who loves us immensely.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Three Reasons Why Christmas Matters

It's Christmas Eve, 2017.  A joyful time!  And here is why it matters so much...

At Christmas, we are reminded God can do anything.  Young Mary was a virgin.  She had saved herself for her future husband.  But her world turned upside down when an angel said she was going to conceive and give birth anyway.  Needless to say, that made her scratch her head and wonder how this would happen.  After explaining that God was going to do a miracle in her life, the angel said in Luke 1:37, "For with God, nothing shall be impossible."  Isn't that awesome?!  God can do anything, anywhere, anytime, with anyone that He wants.  I find a lot of comfort in knowing God is all-powerful and without limits.  That lets me know that whatever we all go through, God can more than handle it.  He's omnipotent, and that's a vital truth to keep in mind.

At Christmas, we are reminded that God's plans are better than our plans.  Joseph was engaged to Mary.  He didn't understand everything that was going on, but he did know this:  Mary was pregnant, and the child was definitely not his.  So, understandably, Joseph was going to quietly walk away from the relationship.  But an angel appeared to Joseph, explained the situation, and encouraged Joseph to stick around.  The Heavenly being told the struggling fiancĂ© to take Mary as his wife and help raise the baby she was carrying.  Now Joseph had a choice.  He could live his own way and leave Mary, or he could live God's way and keep her and the unborn child in his life.  In Matthew 1:24, we see that Joseph "did as an angel of the Lord commanded him."  What a smart move!  He chose to live God's way.  And because Joseph followed God's plan, he got to witness the birth of Mary's miraculous child, name that child, and raise him in his own home.  Joseph experienced amazing, life-changing joys because he lived out God's perfect will instead of his own.  And so will we if we do the same.  Sooner or later, we will get a blessing if we follow God's plan for our lives.

At Christmas we are reminded that God is in the saving business.  In Matthew 1:21, the angel told Joseph to name the baby "Jesus" because "He will save His people from their sins."  And in 1 John 4:14 we read, "The Father sent His Son to be the Savior of the world."  Amen to that!  We've all sinned.  We've all done wrong.  And we're all guilty.  But Christmas is special because it's when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who came here to save us from our sins.  He saved us by paying for our sins on a cross.  Because of Jesus, we are forgiven and rescued for all of eternity.  What a blessing!  God loves us enough to send His Son, Jesus, here to save us.  That's the best gift we've ever received.

So those are three reasons why Christmas matters.  God can do anything.  God's plans are better than our plans.  And God is in the saving business.  That's more than enough cause to celebrate!!  And that ought to light a fire of joy in our hearts.

God is good.  All the time.  May we remember this at Christmas and all the other days of the year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Leave A Tip

It's not something I've thought about much before my daughters started doing it.  Then it began to make sense.  All three of my girls have worked in a restaurant here in Sumter over the last couple of years.  And they've all had great experiences doing it.  I've been proud of them for getting out there and learning how to work hard.

I listen to them talking about what it has been like for them and their friends in that line of work.  And here is something I've noticed them talking about:  Some people really understand tipping and some people don't. 

Now that I've watched and listened to my girls, I'm much more aware of why this is so important.  And I interact with waiters and waitresses with more understanding now wherever I go.  I guess I understand them better because of what my girls have told me.

Here are a few quick thoughts to keep in mind when you go out to eat....

That guy or that girl who is waiting on your table does not get paid much money at all by the restaurant.  You'd be surprised at how little they make from their employer.  Their main source of income is tips.  That's how they make money.  They depend on tips.

I remember when I was a kid most folks tipped 10%.  That was pretty normal.  These days it's more like 15% - 20%.  I tend to lean towards 20% now wherever I go.  And if I can't afford to tip that day, I just don't go out to eat.  Please consider doing the same.

Remember that if your dining experience isn't everything you want, it's not always the fault of the waiter or the waitress.  They're not cooking the food.  They're not controlling the thermostat.  They're not in control of the noise level.  Be reasonable with them and keep in mind that if something goes wrong in whatever restaurant you're at, it's not always the fault of the waiter or waitress.  So don't financially "punish" that one who has waited on your table just because the experience didn't live up to your expectations.

Christians, that's fine if you want to leave a gospel track.  But do it in addition to a tip, not in place of one.  Yes, a track can help their souls get saved, but it won't help their bills get paid.

Be patient with that one who is waiting on you.  They're human.  They have good days and bad days, just like you do.  They have other things going on in their lives too.  So keep in mind you're dealing with a human being, not a robot.  Also, ask yourself, if that waiter was your son, or that waitress was your daughter, how would you want them to be treated?

I think ultimately, this is about more than tipping.  It's about being good to people.  It's about treating people the way we would want to be treated.  And it's about behaving like Jesus would.  He was loving, kind, patient, and forgiving.  It seems to me that whether we're in a restaurant or not, we ought to treat people the same way.

The next time you go out to eat, be good to that waitress or waiter.  It'll bless their heart.  And you'll have a good feeling for doing it.