“Dear Lord, I Pray I Get Home Soon.”

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Shortly before my father died, one of my daughters found a photo of his ship from WWII. He was a captain on the LSM 71, a medium size landing craft. One day my daughter was trying to prepare something special for my father’s birthday, and she went on a hunt for a photo of his ship. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, but miraculously, she found a documented photo of LSM 71 taken on August 20, 1945. Dad’s ship was anchored off Iwo Jima awaiting orders to go to Japan. Several months before, my dad and his ship had been on the shore at the Battle of Okinawa. Since then, two atomic bombs had dropped, and Japan had surrendered. Any day they would be leaving for Tokyo Bay. My daughter framed the photo and gave it to my father. He just stared at it in amazement and pure wonderment. He talked about just sitting out there off the shore of Iwo Jima and just saying over and over again, “Dear Lord, I pray I get home soon.”  I now have the photo, and I also look at it with amazement and wonderment. I look at it finding it hard to imagine that 69 years ago my father was just about to turn 21, and he was on that ship on the other side of the world, and he was just about to start the journey home. How many veterans have said the same thing my father said?  “Dear Lord, I pray I get home soon.”

How many mothers have prayed that prayer? How many brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and friends and church members have prayed that prayer? If I am honest, I have to ask myself, “Why don’t I pray that prayer?” Sure, I pray for our veterans on Veterans Day and even here and there throughout the year. But the truth is, I should pray that prayer every day. The truth is, if my son or daughter or niece or nephew were away serving our country, I would be praying that prayer every day throughout the day. I would be on my knees praying fervently for their safety and their strength and their spirit and their sweet, sweet return home. But I am too busy with life, and I don’t have a family member far away serving the country I love. So I forget. Sadly, oh so sadly, I forget. So today I pray for myself.  Really, I pray for myself. I pray that I never forget those who make sacrifices for me. I pray that I never get too busy to pray throughout the day for those far away. I pray that I never forget what my dad did and what other dads did and what moms and dads and brothers and sisters still do. I pray that from now on, as I leave home to go to my safe job, and as I drive home to go back to my safe home, that I will pray. I pray that God will forever remind me that he has given me a weapon also. He has given me the weapon of prayer, and it is a weapon to be used in a mighty way. Not using it is like turning my back on those who are risking everything for me. Dear Lord, I pray I never forget. Dear Lord, I pray they come home soon.

God Bless our Veterans.

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Praying for My Granddaughter

 

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“To clasp hands in prayer is the first step to an uprising against the disorder that is in the world.”

Karl Barth

There is disorder everywhere. There are the big disorders that are touching the world: the spread of new diseases, the sickness of suicide bombers, the fighting within governments and between political candidates. The disorder list is endless. But disorder also comes in the form of those events in our own personal lives that just cause us to worry, to fear, to question. In essence, our own little world is disrupted. Yesterday my 15-month-old granddaughter had a small heart procedure. Everything went well. In one day a doctor closed up a small open valve in her heart, and by the end of the day, she was home playing with her twin sister. But for all of us, the build up to the event, the anxious anticipation, the fearful speculation, disrupted our peace. I must admit, I personally was in a knot. I would tear up just thinking about it. The disorder was claiming the territory of my peace, and it was doing it in a very damaging way. Where was my faith? Where was my assurance that all would be fine? My prayers were filled with doubt. I needed an uprising against the disorder, and I needed it fast. God led me to Karl Barth. Or perhaps God led my minister to Karl Barth, and in a message on Sunday morning, the above quote was revealed. I knew the undeniable truth, but I was blind to it. My own disorder had paralyzed me to the truth. I needed the clasped hands of prayer. I needed to reach out and hold the hand of Christ, and I needed others to join hands with us. By the end of Sunday afternoon, I had reached out to dozens asking them to join hands, not physically, but spiritually. I asked them to join hands and pray for our little granddaughter. The uprising had begun. By the end of the night, the disorder that I felt in my own little world had begun to shrink. The shroud of doubt that covered my spirit was slowly being lifted, and the peace of Christ was once again warming my soul. My granddaughter did not need her Pops to be a man insecure in what his Lord could do. She needed her Pops to be a man totally secure in what his Lord would do. With the clasped hand of friends, I was able be that man.

To God Be the Glory

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Living in the Longing

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“It was when I was happiest that I longed most. The sweetest thing has been life’s longing…to find the place where all the beauty came from.”

C.S Lewis

I must admit there have been many times in my life when I felt the enormity of a longing I could not clearly understand. There is a German word for that feeling. Sehnsucht. It means a longing or a yearning for something that is missing. C.S Lewis describes it as “an intolerable longing in the human heart for what we know not.” It was perhaps as if I were longing for home, but not knowing where that home was, but just knowing that it was somewhere. Sometimes the longing takes us down wrong paths. It has for me at times. I think it has for the world. The longing and the yearning that can never be fulfilled until you find the place for which you long. Finding the place doesn’t mean reaching the place, but knowing the place turns the longing into truly living. Reaching the edge of the knowledge unveils the enormity of emptiness or fullness. For C. S Lewis that knowledge was Christ. And for me that knowledge is Christ. Once I realized that my longing was indeed for my home in Christ, my love for Christ increased. As my love for Christ increased, so increased my longing. It is in the ever-growing longing for Christ that I find my living. It is in that longing that I find my joy. We have all been made for that longing. We may think it is for something else, but we can never be fulfilled in something else—perhaps momentarily, but not for long, because God has created us to yearn for Him. As St. Augustine says, “You have made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” The knowledge of our longing for God is, as C.S Lewis says, “the sweetest thing.” I believe that to be undeniable. We have been created with the sole purpose of loving God; truly, intimately, and passionately loving God, total abandonment to a Divine love. Our purpose is not to bow down and worship and praise God. That naturally springs forth from deep love, but worship and praise are not the purpose. They are the overflow of loving emotion, the signs of our love. Love for God is our purpose; not because God needs our love for Him, but because we need our love for Him. When we love God and when our love for God grows, so grows our joy, and so grows our longing for even deeper love and deeper joy. And in that joyful longing, our love for others springs forth. Even in our darkest days, loving God brings forth a light within, a light that warms the world around us. Embrace the joy in the sweet longing. Living in the longing for Christ is truly life. Therein lies the beauty. No longer an intolerable longing for what the heart knows not, but joyful, blissful, bountiful longing for what the heart knows is.

 

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When We Hear the Lord Walking in the Garden

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In the early morning this past weekend, I found myself sitting in the garden. As the fog lifted and the early morning light made its way in, I became acutely aware that I was not alone. It was a spot in the garden that I often sit in solitude; to pray, to meditate, to somehow just grasp an uninterrupted moment with God. But this morning, I truly felt I was not alone. Like Adam and Eve, on this cool morning, I seemed to hear God walking in the garden. These were not footsteps walking along the crushed stone path between the dew-soaked boxwoods. What I heard were His stirring movements within the garden of my heart. The leaves on the trees were being pierced by the rising sun, and as they softly drifted to my feet with the cool autumn breeze, I suddenly realized that the trees were now in a season of surrender. God’s sweet immanence is everywhere, but unlike so many other mornings before, on this morning my dull sensitivities allowed it in. There were things within my heart that God was calling me to surrender. New seasons await me, and I have wanted to stay within this season, but God clearly walked through the garden of my heart and encouraged me forward. The Celtics talk about thin places, those places where the space between heaven and earth is so close that the walls seem to vanish. They exist. They are all around us. And sometimes we have been in them before and just failed to realize it. I was now in one. Christ tells us that the kingdom of God is within us, among us. I believe that. I believe God’s garden is within us. The quest is to hear Him walking in it. Perhaps then we ourselves become thin places. When we sit quietly in expectation, we let God pierce the cosmic veil, and His footsteps mark the pathways of our life. We most often live in the reality of the shadowlands. The light can be dim, and the silence can be daunting. God wants to walk in the cool of the morning within us. In this place there are no shadows. The fog lifts, and the Light reveals and the Light warms. Perhaps that was the revelation on this special morning in the garden. The surrendering of ourselves allows us to not only hear God walking within us, it also allows us to walk along with Him. We don’t need to hide in the garden as God walks by. We can come out and walk. We can come out and dance.

 

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What’s Around the Bend?

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When I asked Joe Tonsmeire what was around the bend in the river before us, he just smiled. That is what he always did when I asked him that question. He was our guide on the Salmon River in Idaho. He had been our guide on trips before, and on this trip with family and friends as we traveled the river for five days, the same question was greeted with the same smile. I always knew it before I asked it. I guess I just wanted to see his smile of assurance, his smile of expectation, his smile of pure excitement, his smile of pure knowledge that what was around the bend was gong to be full of splendor, full of goodness, full of adventure. Joe wanted me to just wait. He wanted me to see his smile and rest assured that it was going to be good. And it always was. Around every bend for five days, there was always an adventure before us. There were majestic views, amazing wildlife, and starlit skies, which I have never since seen as brilliant. There were even rapids that tested us and rapids that even tipped us over. But Joe was right. What was around the bend was good. Even when it was scary, it was good. But waiting and trusting was the adventure. Not knowing what was around the bend was the most beautiful part of the entire trip. That was the adventure unto itself. I love the last two verses of Psalm 27. “I will remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Scripture tells me to BE CONFIDENT in God. I will see God’s goodness in my life. BE STRONG and TAKE HEART. Scripture tells us over and over again to trust the Guide and to not only not worry about what’s around the bend, but to expect it to be good. Over time, my questions to Joe Tonsmeire were not questions of doubt and fear, they were really my own affirmations of my expectation that whatever it was, it was going to be great. I knew it would be.  In real life, however, I must admit I worry about what’s around the bend more than not. In real life, I am not looking up at my Guide and looking for His reassuring smile. Instead I want to speculate in my own mind what might lie ahead. Is it going to be rough? Am I going to make it? How am I going to do it? What might happen? That is not living the adventure God promises. “Terry, I don’t want you to know what is around the bend, but be confident. Just be strong and wait, because it may be turbulent at times, but it is going to be so good, so very good.” I think God truly smiles when we live our lives in adventure and wonderment. Sure, there are thoughts and fears when we don’t know what is around the bend in the river of our life. But God wants us to be confident in Him. He wants us to wait and rest assured. Joe Tonsmeire guided friends and families down rivers and through mountains and deserts for 35 years. He started doing it in 1972 right out of college. He always had that big smile on his face. That big smile that seemed to always say, “I know you don’t know what is around the bend or what is over the hill, but I can’t wait for you to see it. It is going to be so great, and I love you so much that I can’t wait for you to see it.” Joe died of cancer in 2007. God brought him to my heart about a week ago, which brought this message to my heart that I share today. Joe is still guiding, I guess. Still reminding me that my Guide has an amazing journey for me around every bend in every day. Have confidence. Good things await me. Good things await us all.

Amen

TDS

When Hearts Are Refreshed

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“For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.”
Philemon 1:7

There is a monastery in Northern California that I go to when I find myself needing those times of quiet retreat. Most of the time I am there, the evenings are very cold. On one evening as I sat in solitude, I heard a soft knock on my door. It was one of the monks. He had a small load of firewood in his hands. He smiled and asked if he could make a fire in the fireplace for me. In moments a nice warm fire warmed the room, and a soft glow seemed to radiate off his face. He smiled and simply said, “I hope this refreshes you.” And then he quietly bid me goodnight. I often think of that brief encounter of brotherly love, and I have never forgotten his use of the word “refresh.” Paul uses it two times in his letter to his friend Philemon. He talks about the hearts of others being refreshed by Philemon, and then later on in verse 20, Paul makes his own request to Philemon, “Refresh my heart in Christ.” I think that is what Christ calls us to do for one another. We need each other to refresh the hearts of each other. Therein lies the joy and comfort of love. How many times have we as Christians done just the opposite. I have probably done more spoiling than refreshing, more distressing than refreshing, more disabling than refreshing. How sad that is. The indwelling spirit through Christ has provided me the refreshing stream of life-giving love to refresh, and I let my own needs, desires, anxieties, or whatever, stop the flow. It is like the Dead Sea. Nothing lives there. Water flows in, but it just stays there. It never flows out. On the surface it looks refreshing. Underneath it is barren of life. Christ calls me to be the Sea of Galilee. The water flows down from the heights, and it flows out to refresh the dry, parched landscape. Life flows. The reality is that the world around us is that parched landscape. The person next to us may be barren with sadness. The friend we think is alive, may in fact, be dying on the inside, spiritually and physically. The person we see at the checkout counter may have burdens beyond belief. The client we are serving may be dealing with pressures that are catastrophic. We come in contact with one another all throughout the day. Christ calls us to refresh each other. We all need it.  We are hungry for it. It is like the monk on a cold, California night. The love of Christ, kindled by another, is a warmth that refreshes us. It brings us to life. But we have to be willing to walk out in the cold ourselves to bring the firewood to the door. It takes intentionality. And we then have to do more. We have to go inside and stack the wood and then light the fire. The warmth of Christ’s love will fill the room. All in the room will be refreshed. Even the one who carried the wood and lit the fire.

Amen

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Leaving the Driving to God

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“‘For I know the plans that I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans for your welfare and not calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”

Jeremiah 29:11

When I was 12, my parents put me on a Greyhound Bus to go see my grandparents 200 miles away. I was to be traveling by myself. It was 1964, and I would be traveling from South Alabama to the big city of Birmingham. Even before I knew what a tagline was, I remember liking the slogan, “Leave the driving to us.” It was in big letters on the side of the bus. I remember the bus driver giving me a big smile and a big thumbs up as I stepped onto the bus. I think he could see that I was a little nervous. But I think it was more excitement. I was heading on an adventure, and I had faith that the bus and the bus driver were going to get me there. Before I left I remember my mother telling me, “You are going to have an amazing trip. Don’t worry. Have fun. Nothing bad is going to happen. In fact, great things are going to happen.” It was as simple as that. I believed her. I had a new transistor radio and some earphones, and I was just going to watch the scenery and listen to music. There were some snags along the way. We hit a dog outside of Troy, and an old lady on the bus made the driver stop and check on the dog. A little boy on the bus got sick and threw up as we stopped in Prattville. But just riding on the bus was an adventure. The new people who boarded the bus at stops along the way, the small towns, the cacophony of conversations, funny things the bus driver said over the microphone, all made the trip like a story with small chapters. I didn’t know all the roads we took, and I didn’t even think about it. I trusted the bus driver, and I trusted my parents. The destination was wonderful. The time with my grandparents was magical. But as good as the destination was, the journey itself was perhaps even better. I think God wants us to think about our Eternal destination. But I also think He wants us to enjoy the journey. I think that can only take place when we leave the driving to Him.

I haven’t thought of that trip in years. It came back to my mind this past Wednesday after our noontime Sustain service. The service had just ended, and as our small crowd walked out from the chapel, two men walked in. It was somewhat obvious that perhaps there had been some tough times. They came in and sat down in the empty pews. As I was packing up my belongings and as Brian Authement, our music leader, was packing up his guitar, we went over to talk with the men. Another member of our Sustain congregation joined us. Both men had different journeys that had led to the same destination. Homelessness. They both had no place to go, and now they found themselves in the only place they felt safe. In tears, one of the men told us, “I have just given up. I don’t think God wants me to be happy.” I found myself on my knees praying with the men. The prayer was like the send-off my mother gave me back in 1962. It was God’s words in Jeremiah. I prayed, we all prayed, with words of great expectation. We prayed with assurance that God had an amazing plan for these men and that their future was bright. We prayed that these men would see that God wanted them to have a bright future. We prayed that these men would trust in that truth. After the prayer, the men seemed to come alive. There were smiles. There seemed to be hope. The men said they were trying to find their way to a specific, small town in Florida where there might be work. A new future so to speak. They said the bus ticket was $45 each. I rarely carry much cash in my pocket, but for some reason this morning I had gone to get $100 from the ATM. I had bought some coffee and breakfast. When the men told me the fare, I reached into my pocket. It just so happened that on this day I had $90 and some change. I handed it over to them. Brian smiled and said he would take it from there. Later on that afternoon, Brian told me that the bus ticket was quite a bit more. He joyfully paid for their ticket and made sure they felt good about getting on the bus. The men told him that things like this just don’t happen to them. Brian told them that this day was a new day. God had big plans for them. I asked Brian what he told them as they departed. He paused and smiled. “I told them I was putting them on Greyhound, and they just needed to leave the driving to God.”

I love that tagline.

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Too Busy Not to Pray

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Today’s message is really quite simple. I believe Martin Luther truly did this. My question is, why don’t I?

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The Impact of a Shining Star

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“…Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life..”
- Philippians 2:15,16

On the opening day of college football, I really don’t think much about what the season will be like for my alma mater, Auburn, or for my second love, The University of Alabama. I certainly care about the season for both, but that is not what I think about on the opening day of football season. I think about Pat Trammell. Pat Trammell was my hero. He became my hero in the fall of 1961. I was nine years old. Truth be known, Pat Trammell was the hero of most every Alabama boy in 1961. He was the quarterback for the Crimson Tide. He was no ordinary quarterback, and the season of 1961 was no ordinary season. Pat Trammell led the Tide to a perfect season and an NCAA championship. I remember watching him accept an award on behalf of the team from President Kennedy on our small black and white television set. Pat Trammell was no ordinary quarterback because Pat Trammell was no ordinary man. 1961 was Pat Tammell’s senior year. Vince Lombardi tried to get him to join the Packers. Lombardi had already been blessed with another Tide quarterback in Bart Starr. The Bear told Lombardi, “Pat is too smart for professional football.” Perhaps he was. He graduated with honors from the University and decided to go to medical school instead of playing professional football. In his senior year of college, Pat Trammell was a contender for the Heisman Trophy, a winning quarterback for the best team in the country, sought after by the best of the best in professional football, but Pat Trammell decided to be a doctor. In 1961 we needed to see decisions like that just like we would love to see decisions like that today. The courageous decisions, the selfless decisions, the harder decisions, the extraordinary decisions. We need to see them because they are like shining stars that guide us. They point us in a better direction. The Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 2 to be humble, to be selfless, to be obedient, and to do it with a great attitude because we will be doing it for God’s good pleasure. And then Paul tells us that in doing so we will be children of God shining as bright stars in a twisted world. Pat Trammell was a bright star. He was my hero in 1961, but it was in 1962 that he became my friend.

In 1962 while he was in medical school, Pat Trammell came to my small hometown. He was to speak on Tuesday evening at the Quarterback Club at our local multi-story hotel, The Houston Hotel. The father of one of my close friends was the President of the club and a staunch Tide supporter. I was invited to be their guest. We would not only be going to hear Pat Trammell speak, but we were going to go up to his hotel room to meet him before the event. I remember it raining that night, and I remember being nervous. I remember being so very nervous. We knocked on his door, and no sooner than we had knocked, a big Pat Trammell with a beaming smile opened the door. We sat around the small hotel room and just talked. He didn’t want to talk about himself. He wanted to talk about us. What was our favorite subject? Did we play sports? What was our favorite sport? When the conversation came to an end because he had to head downstairs, my friend’s father took a picture of us. Then Pat Trammell took his pen and a small slip of paper by the phone and wrote a note and handed it to me. I smiled, he grabbed his coat, and we all walked downstairs to the ballroom. In the small note Pat Trammell had called me his friend, and as I watched him speak that rainy night in 1962, I truly felt like I was his friend. To a 10 year-old boy he was not a shining football star, he was a shining human being. To a 10 year-old boy in 1962, he was a North Star. To me Pat Trammell pointed true north. Six years later Pat Trammell died of cancer. He was only two years out of medical school and only 28 years old. It has been said that the only time anyone saw Paul Bear Bryant cry in public was at Pat Trammell’s funeral. I know I cried. Science tells us that many of the bright stars we see at night are so far away that as the light from them shines down upon us, the reality is that they have actually died. Even though the star has been dead for perhaps thousands of years, we can still see its light. That for me, and for many of us, was Pat Trammell. A bright light still shining in the darkness. And perhaps that is God’s desire for all of us. He wants our light to shine eternal. On earth and in heaven, God wants our light to shine.

And so once again another football season kicked off on a Saturday afternoon. Once again I thought of Pat Trammell. As a 62 year-old man, Pat Trammel’s light still shines on me. This year, like every year, I have the same feeling. I miss my hero. And like that great line in Shawshank Redemption in which Red says as he reminisces about Andy, “I guess I just miss my friend.”

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Photo Caption: Pat Trammell and me in 1962.

The Right Tools in the Right Hands

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“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

I have always had a love affair with beautiful old tools. I know it started in my grandfather’s workshop. This was a magical kingdom for me. It was less about what he was building and more about the tools he used. They were beautiful. There were different tools for different tasks and just holding the tool set an expectation for something beautiful. When my grandfather died, my mother gave me his tools. Thus, my collection was born. Since then, I have added many tools to that collection. But the reality exists: I really don’t use the tools. I just look upon their beauty. Indeed, some of the tools are works of art unto themselves. The old tools were crafted in such a way that even before they were put to use to create a masterpiece, they were themselves a masterpiece. As beautiful as they are, it really is kind of sad that they no longer do what they were created to do. They were made to create good work. Here’s the thing. Put into the right hands, they could still do that. Put into the wrong hands, they couldn’t. God has created us as true works of art. We are beautifully and wonderfully made. But we are beautifully and wonderfully made to ourselves do beautiful and wonderful things. We have not been created to just sit up on a shelf and look good. We have been made to get down off the shelf and to do good. In 1900, a man by the name of John Rusby went out to see a friend to help him work on his dairy barn. They came to a difficult task of trying to bore a hole in a very narrow spot, a spot that no drill in existence could even reach. So John Rusby went back home and within a week he had conceived and built a special tool that would reach such difficult spots. He patented the drill and made a living selling them to other barn builders. John Rusby created a beautiful tool for a specific task. I think that is what God has done with each of us.  Before time began, God created a purpose for us and in His exact time created us as a special tool, a special instrument. And like those beautifully crafted tools of old, God made us beautiful. Truly, He made us in such a way that even sitting on a shelf doing nothing, we are His workmanship. But in His hands, the magic happens. The thing is we forget that at times. We may be slumped over in the daily grind of life thinking we have missed something. What is our purpose? Are we really God’s workmanship created to do good? The truth is undeniable. We are. The God of the universe has such faith in us that He brought us into the world in order to help Him craft His world. God loves beauty. He loves excellence. And that is what He wants His world to be. But He needs the right tools. He needs us. That is what is truly awe-inspiring. God needs us. To create a beautiful world, God needs each and every one of us. And that is why He created each and every one of us. God knows that in His hands we will be heavenly tools. We have to just remember that truth ourselves. In God’s hands we will truly make this world more beautiful. Outside of His hands, we will over time just rust away. About a year ago, I pulled out one of my grandfather’s old pruning saws. Rust had gathered along the edges. I polished it up and went outside and used it to prune our small apple tree. The saw was a small, old pruning tool. It was stuck in a corner rusting away. I put it to use. This year we finally had a bushel of Granny Smiths. The right tool in the right hand will always bear fruit.

 

Amen

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