A Skunk Hit by a Truck Made out of Poo, or Singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to the Tune of ‘Welcome to The Jungle’

Oh, God!
No!
This is a bad dream…it has to be a dream!
Wake up! Stupid brain!
WAKE! UP!
What are the words?!
How does the melody go!
Noooooo!!!!
Folks, it wasn’t a dream. It was an ever loving nightmare, and I was living the nightmare. I was not asleep. Sadly. I was standing on stage with my lovely wife in our lovely church with our lovely congregation looking on at the unlovely horror that was unfolding before their eyes.

“Help him, Jesus.”
That’s when you know it’s bad. That’s what I heard from the congregation. ‘Help him, Jesus.’ If you’re speaking or singing in church and you hear, ‘Help him/her, Jesus,’ it’s not going well.

Panic. This is the only time I can remember that I’ve panicked onstage. Folks, I was in theater. I know how to fake like I’m not nervous on stage. I’ve played music and done plays for audiences of hundreds of folks. I once sang right after a lady had a heart attack and nearly died in church on a Sunday morning. True story: CPR, ambulances, paramedics. That lady was dead, and then we heard she wasn’t, funny enough. Anyway, that was nothing. I was not nervous. I was panic stricken, strumming my guitar and staring with ‘something is horribly wrong’ eyes at my wife, or at anyone who would dare look at me.

Have you ever heard something so awful that it gave you the ‘this smells like a skunk that was run over by a truck made out of feces’ face? The sound coming out of our PA system was the sonic equivalent to skunk hit by a truck made of poo, and it was all my fault.

CAPO on IV.
That was the very first thing written on my music. And I’m the one who wrote it! For the non-guitar strummers out there in internet land, a capo helps a guitarist change the key he or she is playing in. Playing the E chord shape with a capo on the 4th fret turns E into Ab. This song was supposed to be played 4 notes higher than I was currently playing it.

If you can imagine such an abomination, it was the praise and worship equivalent of singing Happy Birthday to the tune of Guns N Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle. It was bad. It wasn’t working. I couldn’t figure out what the melody should be (I was leading the song) and I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t figure it out. Horrible.

What did I do in the face of such horrific sonic abhorrence? I kept going. True story. Wiser men may have abandoned ship. I was committed. Halfway through the song I happened to see my note at the top of the music. That made it worse. Now I knew what was wrong. What was wrong, was me. My wife was looking at me with a ‘Is he having a stroke? What is happening?’ look on her face. I’ve seen that face before, unfortunately. This is my life.

The song was never going to go well. The key was wrong; the melody was wrong. Everything about it was wrong.

Matthew 15:26- Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

Hang with me. In Matthew 15:21-28, we see a lady in a similar situation. Everything going on with her in this story is wrong. In that culture, women were regarded as lower in class and standing than men. That’s a strike against her. She was a gentile. She was coming to a Rabbi and she wasn’t even a Jew. Another strike. Topping that off, she was coming on behalf of her daughter (again, not a male). Strike three, folks.

Just as a side note: Where’s her husband for crying out loud? Dudes, where are you at on Sunday and Wednesday? There’s more I want to say on that topic, but I digress. She was singing Happy Birthday to the tune of Welcome to the Jungle. And at first, she got the same skunk/elephant poo reaction that I did. But her story doesn’t end there.

In the face of an impossible situation, there are at least three things we can learn from her and apply to our own lives:

  • When faced with a John Wick level impossible task, she worshiped and confessed her need for Jesus.
    • v25: But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”
    • Worship gets God’s attention.
    • Confessing our need for Jesus gets His attention.
  • She fought for something worth fighting for.
    • v27: She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs…”
    • She wasn’t deterred by silence. She wasn’t deterred by failure. She pressed on.
    • Fight for what’s worth fighting for, especially your children and your lost family.
  • She spoke words of faith.
    • v27: “…even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”
    • When faced with the impossible, she spoke of God’s ability and His goodness.
    • With God, all things are possible.

You may be in the midst of a ‘skunk run over by a truck made out of poo’ situation. If not, sorry to be a Debbie downer, but that day will come. I hope it doesn’t happen on a stage in front of a couple dozen people.

Either way, there’s a way to fail forward, or fail the right way.
Worship. He’s always worthy of praise based purely on who He is. Our situation doesn’t impact His worthiness.
Confess your need. You need Him- I know it. You know it. He knows it. There’s no honor in fighting on your own when there’s an army waiting to help you.
Keep fighting for things worth fighting for (people’s souls, your family, but probably not a single thing on social media hint hint, wink wink).
And don’t forget that our God is able and our God is good.

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What’s Your Calling? or Voicemail

Honest Sharing Time: I don’t answer phone calls when I don’t recognize the number. If I’m being completely honest, sometimes I don’t answer even when I do recognize the number. The person calling me and my relationship to them has an impact on how pertinent their call is and whether I’ll pick up.

‘Why is this guy calling? I haven’t spoken to him in months…hmmm, he only calls when he needs something…He’s probably moving or something and needs someone to help him move his fridge.’ And then I swipe left to send it to voicemail. Kidding. Kind of.

If I put you in my contacts list, it’s pretty good odds that I’ll answer when you call. When I was a kid, it was never a question if you would answer a call. You answered the phone. Back then, you had a phone line in your house, as in a phone that was connected to a physical phone line, that everyone in the house shared, and if the phone rang, you answered it. Someone you knew or someone related to you wanted to talk and you answered the phone. I don’t remember thinking, ‘Nah, let’s not answer this one. It’s probably not important.’

If someone was calling, we probably had some sort of connection or relationship, and so a call was significant. Today we have ‘Do Not Call’ lists and Robocallers and Telemarketing and Chat Bots. It wasn’t always like that. Calling someone, for those much younger than me, was weighty.

Calling a friend’s house, and one of their parents answering the phone- that was mildly terrifying. It was weird, like I had to pretend to be grown up for a second before I could see if my friend wanted to play. The first time calling a girl I liked- panic, pure panic. Do teenage boys even still call girls? Man, I’m getting old.
‘It meant something to call someone back in my day, sonny.’

1 Peter 2:20-21 (NKJV) “…But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. 21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps…”

In Christian circles, ‘calling’ is a big thing.
“I feel called to do missions.”
“Nah, I don’t feel called to do that.”
“Oh, what’s your calling?”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard folks at work talking about their calling (work as in any job I’ve ever had, ever), but in church circles, a calling is significant. We recognize and know from scripture that God has a calling for each of us. Each of us is part of a body, and each of us has a role to play. What is your calling?

“I feel like I have a calling to suffer,” said no one. Ever.
Ask 20 people at your church what their calling is. Do you think anyone would answer, ‘Oh, my calling is to suffer.’
‘Oh, brother Donnie. I’m just so excited! I really feel like I’m heading into a season of trials and suffering! Isn’t God good!’

Suffering stinks. There, I said it. Suffering can get swiped to voicemail. Granted, my family is coming out of an extended season of sickness and suffering and trials, so I’m a little gun shy at this moment. Suffering? Ugh. One day? No problem, I’ll answer. A week of trials? Hmm, ok. Maybe I’ll answer this one time. A year? 2 years? 7 years? Swipe to voicemail.

I read where Jesus calls me to pick up my cross and follow Him, and my soul says, ‘Yes, Lord. If it means I get you, I’m down. I’ll do it. For real. I’m all in.’ But when He takes me at my word and starts dishing out some trials, portioning out some suffering, my pain and my mouth says, “What the world is going on, Lord? Don’t you even see what we’re going through down here? Don’t you even care? Where are you?”

There’s flailing.
There are tears.
There’s deep questioning of whether there’s unresolved sin in my life or what I’ve done to deserve this trouble.
There’s repenting and begging for forgiveness for every sin I may or may not have ever committed. It seems ridiculous as I type it all out. But it’s true. It gets ugly.

When pain reaches a critical mass, I don’t see trials or suffering as a sign that I’m on the right path, or that I’m following His example. My reactions are much more childish than that. I don’t know that I’d characterize my reactions as being patient in suffering, but who knows. God may see my stuttering and flailing steps as glorious since I keep coming back to Him, keep hanging in, keep praising, keep believing. God’s math is different than mine, so I don’t know that my scorecard is accurate. We may all be doing way better than we give ourselves credit for.

But in the midst of suffering and trial, my mind forgets what my heart and my soul knows all too well: to follow Him, to choose Him, to be raised up with Him- it is sending out an invitation to pain and suffering. It’s putting out a big neon sign for suffering that says ‘Open for Business’.

Do the right thing, follow Christ, and then patiently suffer? Is that the calling you’re looking for? Is that the alter call at your Sunday morning service? Will you answer when you get that call? You can do it. You can make it. Seasons change and the trial will end. The suffering will cease. I can already see light and blessing coming to us as our season ends. If we can do it, so can you.

Stepping in It Again, Or Trials

“Oh, gross. What’s that smell,” I asked. I ask stupid questions sometimes.

It was a brisk January morning and I was standing in the woods on an Army base, surrounded by 20 other Army guys, trying to act like we got a good night’s sleep and that we didn’t feel stiff, and sore, and cold, and miserable. When I woke up that morning there was frost covering my sleeping bag. It was the coldest night I’ve ever slept outside.

When it’s that cold out, and all you’re wearing is a set of BDUs, your mind is laser focused on one thing and one thing only, getting warm. The only thing that could pull my mind away from warmth was this horrible smell.

That smell could have been many things. None of us had showered in a day or so. That could have been the the cause of the overpowering stench, but it wasn’t. No offense to the good men and women cooks of the armed forces, but sometimes Army food can induce, let’s say, an abundance of human manufactured methane emmissions. We’re getting closer, but not quite a bullseye.

Yeah. It was poop. What is it with me getting covered in poop? “Ah, man! What? How…”. I couldn’t even form complete thoughts and put them into words.

I went to bed decidedly not covered in poop, slept the night not covered in poop, and woke up: you guessed it, not covered in poop. After a walk to the field kitchen for breakfast and back, somehow I’m a walking biological hazard.

1 Peter 4:12 (NLT) “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.”

I found out afterwards that a guy had some intestinal difficulty during the night, couldn’t find the port a’ pot in the dark, and just let it fly. Unfortunately, he let it fly right where we’d be walking, and wouldn’t you know it, I’m the lucky guy who stomped it, afterwards.

I was covered in it up to the knees. How does that even happen? Sometimes it seems that every time you turn around that you’re covered in poo. There are seasons where trials are as common as birds singing in the morning.

If there’s any comfort in it for you, it’s normal. There are trials. There are tests. It’s normal. It’s not fun, just like being covered up to the knees in human feces isn’t fun. But for us of the Household of God, trials are normal. Don’t let it shake you or keep you from marching to your next destination.

That Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means, or Transformed

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” — Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

It’s weird how meanings change. Does anyone even say ‘cool’ anymore? Does it mean the same thing? I have no idea. I’m probably using it wrong nowadays. Nice used to mean ‘silly’. Awful used to mean that something was worthy of awe. Used in that sense, I’m not an awful dancer.

Events can change in meaning, too. Unfortunately, people are murdered every day. But the murder of one man in 1914 changed in meaning and led to WW1. A High School diploma used to carry a lot of weight in the job market, and nowadays you have folks with Masters degrees bagging groceries to make ends meet.

Matthew 26:6 (NLT) “Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy.”

There are various causes that lead to a change of meaning. Social. Political. Economic changes. One of the most powerful ‘meaning changing’ forces the world has ever seen is Jesus of Nazareth.

Leprosy has a meaning. Loss. There were many different afflictions lumped under the leprosy umbrella, but the effect of all of them was loss. If not loss of life, it meant loss of social, economic, health, and spiritual affluence.

But Jesus changes the meaning. What was a death sentence- something that brought social exile, loss of family, loss of wealth, loss of the ability to even worship- Jesus changed all that. He takes the things that otherwise meant death, and uses them to demonstrate His overwhelming life.

After Jesus, where once there was exile, now there was a friend staying over before a feast. Where there was death, now there was the author of life itself. What was meant to crush, to kill, to destroy, was now proof of the life that overflowed from a run in with the King of Glory.

Jesus uses the things meant for death, and changes the meaning. After He gets ahold of them, those things are transformed into proof of change, of life, of something amazing. Those things that meant death are the proof of the God of Transformation.

I just wanted to encourage you that even things that meant death can be transformed by Jesus. The meaning can change from death to praise, to life, to overflowing.

We all deal with things that our enemy means to use to crush us, kill us, or cover our hearts in sorrow. But when given over to Jesus, He can bring life into those things and those situations. Jesus is a meaning changer. Don’t dispair. Jesus gets the last word when we’re obedient to surrender all to Him.

The Stuff, or Why Do I Have 15 Hats

‘How did we get all this stuff?’ I thought. I’m surrounded by shoes, baseball caps, and other general odds and ends that I never seem to use. That blue hat on the shelf? I’ve never even seen that hat before. Seriously. Is someone sneaking in here and putting their junk in my closet? I hardly ever even wear hats. Why do I have 15 hats? Whose shoes are these? I wear maybe 3 different pairs of shoes. Why do I have 7 pairs?

You don’t realize how much stuff you have until you start thinking about selling your house. All of a sudden you see things with different lenses, and in my case, I see a lot of clutter. I see stuff I never use. I see all those weekend chores I put off because it was cold outside or I was tired. I see a lot of work, and cleaning up, and cleaning out that needs to happen. I see lots and lots of stuff.

Matthew 22:21 (NKJV) “And He said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.'”

It’s easy, maybe natural, for stuff to accumulate, for stuff to get put off for another day. But sooner or later, you have to face it: The Stuff. God has stuff. In Matthew 22, Jesus paints a clear picture of whose stuff belongs to whom. The bible is full of God’s stuff and stuff that we owe Him: honor, worship, love, fear, obedience, power, majesty, glory. I could go on and on for days. God has a lot of stuff, and man, His stuff is better than mine.

Healing: God’s stuff. Provision: God’s stuff. Love: both God’s stuff and stuff I owe Him. Obedience: definitely stuff I owe Him. We’re in the spring cleaning season, or maybe you’re in the spring ‘let’s sell our house’ season. While all that is going down, don’t forget that there is a spiritual aspect to almost everything. There are spiritual seasons as well and sometimes we need a good spiritual spring cleaning.

So, in this time of spring cleaning, of new life, of nature waking from its winter sleep, of taking care of things you’ve been putting off: You may bump into some of God’s stuff; you may bump into some unexpected blessings. Man it’s awesome when He just plops a good healthy portion of His presence or His stuff in your lap and you just get to enjoy Him, to bask in His glow and glory.

You just may bump into some stuff you need to give Him. We put stuff off; it’s what we do. Give God His stuff: love, worship, honor, praise, thankfullness. Or maybe it’s time to clean out some stuff you’ve been holding on to. Those 8 baseball hats? You don’t need them. Resentment, pain, and unforgiveness? Man, you definitely don’t need that. Give that to God and let Him clean that out.

On this beautiful South Carolina spring day, I want to encourage you. You are God’s stuff. He loves you. Take some time today to rededicate yourself to Him and let Him give you a good spring spruce up. Have a good day, guys.

Addendum: Pacing

More for your money: If I’m honest about it, this sprinting off ahead of Him, this mechanism in my brain that causes me to run myself ragged, it’s a symptom of an issue that needs deal with: doubt. We doubt. We doubt that He’ll come through for us, so we try to ‘get it done’. ‘He works miracles and He does for others but I have to do this or it won’t get done.’ It’s fear. We’re afraid that we’ll sabotage ‘it’ so we run ourselves ragged as if God’s plans for us could be defeated when we are walking with Him.

Keep in step with the Spirit. He won’t fail you. How could He? Did Israel ever fail or lose a battle when they were walking with God in obedience? Never. How could the God of All Glory, the Maker of Heaven possible fail? It’s when we sprint off ahead of Him that we fail or get ourselves in trouble. ‘But what if I fail? What if I do something to mess it up?’

1 John 5:14-15 (NLT) “And we are confident that He hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases Him. And since we know He hears us when we make our requests, we also know that He will give us what we ask for.”

I believe without a doubt, according to the scripture from Old Testament to New Testament, that He wants you to walk with Him, at the pace He walks, where He walks, when He walks. I believe it pleases Him when we walk with Him, follow Him, and are obedient to His leadership. Make that your goal and prayer, and know that He has given His word to get it done. He will make it happen. The results are God’s.

Will you mess up? Sure. Will God make it work anyway. Absolutely. Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged.

Pacing, or 35 in a 55

“You’re walking too fast. Dad, slow down,” she said. She was huffing and puffing and grabbing her side the way kids do in gym class when they’re running laps. ‘Girl, your legs are eight feet long. Keep up,’ I thought. We weren’t running. We weren’t jogging. We need to work on her cardio. Kidding. Kind of.

We were in the grocery store, darting through the traffic of buggies and shoppers like a professional NASCAR driver maneuvers through lazy Sunday traffic. I move with a purpose. I don’t like to be slowed down, even in grabbing a bag of chips and a carton of eggs. When I get slowed down, I get fussy. I get annoyed.

Honest confession time: When I have a goal, I am a mechanism of perpetual motion towards that goal. Be it a carton of eggs, a new hobby, a task at work, a finish line of any sort- when that switch gets flipped to ‘go mode,’ I will not stop until I either collapse, die, or exceed that goal. It’s a dangerous trait to have. And because of that, I was reminded again this morning about pacing.

I have a long commute to work. 40 minutes one way on a two lane country road. 40 minutes on a good day. Timing is everything. Luck helps. It’s a mixed bag. On one hand, I’ve got at least 40 uninterrupted minutes with nothing to do but pray and sing and praise, and honestly, sometimes complain to God. On the other hand, man, sometimes 40 minutes can feel like 40 days in the wilderness. Today was one of those days. 30 mph in a 55 mph zone.

‘A plague on all your houses!!’ I thought to myself. I was two cars behind some dude completely unconcerned with the speed limit. 35 in a 55. I couldn’t pass him. He wouldn’t turn off onto another road. My initial reaction was one of wanting to smite him with an unholy indignation. True story. Me and the 20 cars behind me were locked into his pace, and his pace was as stagnant as a back woods swamp.

As I was praying, and surrendering my anger for this dude to God (hey, I’m shooting straight with you and at least I recognized that I needed to surrender that to God), I said, “35 mph with a 55 mph speed limit. Good grief!” I’ve got places to go, people. I’ve got things to do. 35 mph was not on the itinerary today.

Then something checked in my spirit, and I said, “Lord, help me move at your speed limit.” As soon as I said it, I knew God had set me up. He does that, sometimes. If He doesn’t do that to you, I congratulate you. You are Super Saint- hero among us all. For the mere mortals who read this and get set up by God and some old joker in a pickup truck, you’re not alone. He sets me up, and I fall for it every time.

Galatians 5:25 (NIV) “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

Instead of keeping in step with him, created in His image and walking in harmony with Him and at His pace, I’ll go mechanism-robototron on it. I’ll take off running, and I’ll run myself ragged. In my 20’s, I ran- not metaphorically but literally. One of the first things you have to learn when running for any kind of distance, is pacing. Set a pace; keep your pace. When you feel fast- slow down and stick to your pace. When you’re tired and you feel slow- pick it up and stick to your pace.

In distance runs, the best thing you can do to ensure you get to the finish is to find your pace, and keep it. Ours is a spiritual race, and this race is not a sprint but a distance run. Keep His pace. Keep in step with the Spirit.