She named the dog “Mercedes.”

It’s an unlikely name, given the way he looked and where he was found. But I suppose that the name itself reflects the nature of the gift given. True mercy often runs contrary to the expected, and the greatest acts of grace always smell of scandal.

But then, I’m getting ahead of myself.

My cousin Leslie – an adventurous, thoughtful, smart and talented woman – holds a soft spot for animals. One afternoon, while driving down a four-lane highway in Mississippi, she spotted a dog in the dried grass of the median and decided in an instant to launch a crusade to save him. This was no curried and pedigreed show dog that caught her attention. No, this was a homeless and forsaken mongrel scrounging for something to eat. Skin stretched tight across his bones. Ticks and fleas hanging onto his lank frame. Large patches of missing hair and hide scratched raw from the mange.

Then along came Leslie in her high heels, fitted dress and luxury sports car. She pulled over and chased the dog around on the median of Highway 19. A law enforcement officer stopped to tell her that she could not park on the median, and she promptly enlisted him to help her catch the dog and tossed her new pet onto the padded leather backseat of her car.

The next stop was the veterinarian’s office where instructions were given: “This is my dog. Clean him up, treat him for the ticks and mange, and give him his shots. I’ll be back to pick him up in a few days.”

After collecting Mercedes from the vet, she put him on a plane and sent him to her parents’ home in Malibu, where he resides currently.

Not so long ago, I asked how the dog was doing. “He is doing well,” was the reply. “He loves to cross the fence into the yard next door and run around and play. I guess it is ok for him to do that, but it has not been discussed with the neighbor.”

“Oh, so who is the neighbor?” I asked.

“Bob Dylan.”

Dylan.

Bob.

Dylan.

Can we all just take a moment and consider this narrative from a dog’s point of view? For if dogs had an oral history, told and retold to the aged and pups alike while bones were gnawed around the midnight fires of the hunting camps, Mercedes would be a canine legend…

A dog, clearly rejected and abandoned, forages for cast-off bits of food in the dusty grass along a Mississippi highway. He is a survivor being consumed by hunger from within and parasites from without. Appearing suddenly, a beautiful woman pursues him and snatches him from the life he knows. A short time later, he finds himself surrounded by the bright lights and stark walls of the vet’s office. Needles are pressed into his muscles, medicines are sprayed on his skin, and a wire enclosure becomes home for a time. It seems that his freedom might have been taken, both with speed and finality. He is shuffled to another enclosure in the hold of an airliner for what we can safely assume is his first-ever experience of flight. The dog defies gravity and is transported to another land, to another life. Touching down again and emerging from the dark belly of the machine, he is welcomed into the arms of a family never before seen. Now he has the joy of playing on the palatial grounds belonging to a Nobel Prize recipient who is one of the most influential and brilliantly creative artists in modern history. The dog is not concerned with the 27 miles of pristine coastline surrounding him, the exclusive boutiques lining manicured avenues or the celebrity status of those a stone’s roll away; all he knows is that he eats well, sleeps in peace and moreover, is deeply loved.     

Such a beautifully surreal turn of events altogether sounds like a Dylan song.

It also speaks to how we often do not get what we deserve, yet receive what we could never earn.

And that…is grace.

This I know to be true: the distance between the median of Highway 19 to Bob Dylan’s lawn is far shorter than the distance between where I was before I knew Christ and where I am now.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight… (Ephesians 1:7-8).

____________________________________________

Thanks DW, for sending me this link to Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize lecture. Take a minute and give it a listen; it’s well worth your time.

Two Words

By most standards, he blew it.

He seems to have been a bold one — charging ahead, seemingly without concern, the proverbial bull-in-the-china-shop with his own foot firmly in his mouth. Misspeaking was common, his overstepping of bounds was likely expected, and if one knew him, it seems that his generally-brash demeanor would come as no big surprise. Peter was quick to say exactly what was on his mind at any given moment. But then he went too far, even for himself.

Jesus had been taken captive and the mock trial before His crucifixion had begun. There, in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter was warming himself by a fire (John 18:18). And it was there that the accusations against Peter began from the bystanders…

“This man was with Him too.”

“You are one of them too!”

“Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean too.”

Just a little while earlier, Peter had proclaimed that he would never fall away from Jesus. In the presence of Jesus, he had “said emphatically, ‘If I must die with you, I will not deny you’” (Mark 14:31). Now, later the same night, when faced with potential harm in being identified as a follower of Christ, Peter began to protest when the accusations came. Ultimately, he swore to those around him and said, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:74).

The one Peter walked upon stormy waves to meet.

The one he had watched raise the dead.

The one Peter himself had proclaimed to be the very Son of God.

And yet he said, “I do not know the man.”

Only in the book of Luke do we find a little detail about the response of Jesus to this denial: “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61a). No words, no head-shaking — just a look. Peter’s response was to leave and weep bitterly over his actions.

How many times do we do the same? Given an opportunity to stand for Christ, we take the fearful way out. When confronted about our beliefs, we opt for a timid response. Presented with a temptation, we say “no” to Christ instead of denying ourselves. 

When we do those things and experience failure, it is easy to believe that we have blown it for good. We think there is no coming back from that kind of mistake.

But another chance is still available to us…just as it was available to Peter.

When the women who first entered the tomb of Jesus found it empty, an angel told them that He had risen from the dead. Then the angel gave them a command, “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee” (Mark 16:7a).    

“And Peter…”

Only two words, yet packed with infinite grace.

“And Peter…”

A statement of mercy offered to a disciple torn by his past actions. Peter was singled out in the message and shown that even in his denial, Christ would never deny him. Forgiveness was available and free.

“And Peter…”

Jesus had not forgotten him.

Where is it that you have failed? How have you denied Christ by your actions, words or attitude? What weighs heavy on your heart as a mistake of epic proportions?

Maybe you need to write your name in the space where Peter’s name was and be reminded that you can experience the mercy offered after a hurtful mistake, an ill-spoken word or a tragic sin. He has not forgotten you, so remember His grace.

“And __________________…”         

The Silence of Saturday

(Originally published in 2016.)

Blind Willie Johnson seemed to know early on that his future lay at the crossroads of two vocations. He built a cigar box guitar for himself when he was only five and told his father that proclaiming the things of God to the masses was his desire. He grew to become a preacher, and yes, a bluesman too. The story goes that, when he was seven, his father beat Willie’s unfaithful stepmother; she took bitter revenge by throwing lye in the young boy’s face, permanently blinding him.

Continue reading

A big thanks…

To all of you who have followed, commented and taken the time to read these posts since this blog began. Your support means more to me than I can express. I wish I could sit down with you over a cup of coffee and hear your story. Maybe one day…

And a special thanks to all the international readers spanning the globe. Through connecting in this way, we have made the world seem like a much-smaller and much-friendlier place. Continue reading

How To Pray for Your Future Wife – Part 2

(Click here for “How To Pray for Your Future Wife – Part 1”)

(Or here for “How To Pray for Your Future Husband”)

(Available on Instagram: @prayingforyourfuturewife and @prayingforyourfuturehusband)

A while ago, I wrote the post “How To Pray for Your Future Wife” here on my blog. What started as my own prayer list turned into something more. The response was overwhelming at the time, and it still stands as the most-viewed and most-shared post on the site. Since the original posting, I have received emails from numerous countries and have partnered in prayer with others across the globe who connected with me because of how God used that single post. I am deeply humbled by the encouragement, the stories and the prayers that you, the readers, have shared with me.

In my original post, I encouraged men to remain sensitive to God’s leading when He gave new prayer topics personally applicable to each individual situation. Taking my own advice, I began praying in new ways in addition to those mentioned in the first “How To Pray for Your Future Wife” post. Most of these 31 “new” prayer points were the result of the prompting of God during reading the Bible, some came from listening to the struggles and concerns voiced by women I know, and some arose during my own prayer times. So, in the same vein as the post that started this journey with the readers, I invite you to step into the deeper waters of prayer for your own “Miss Pending.”

But before we begin, can I ask you a personal question? It is a question that has been pressed upon my heart as of late… Continue reading

Heart to Heart

 

img_8683

Do you find yourself single on this Valentine’s Day?

Kinda’ stinks in some ways, doesn’t it?

The overblown marketing began at the local mega-mart sometime around New Year’s Day, so you have been living with the reminder of your solo journey for a month and a half already.

Your Instagram feed is rolling along, a saccharine visual river of flowers, gifts and romantic dinners.

Facebook churns out reminders that everyone “in a relationship” is blissfully happy and that any given bf/gf/beautiful wife/amazing hubby is the greatest person to ever walk the earth, if indeed their deified feet have ever once touched the ground.

Then there are the well-meaning but ill-executed attempts at encouragement… Continue reading

The Hopes and Fears

You likely have those things that, when they come along, you know that Christmas will be here soon. Maybe it is a decoration, or a food, or a song, or a smell in the air—whatever it may be, when it is present, Christmas is not far behind it.

For my brother and me, when we were children, it was The Wish Book. My mother would bring home that thick catalog, The Wish Book, full of nothing but toys. Continue reading

He Loves You in Silence

It is one of the loudest things you will ever hear.

The silence of God.

The battle-torn heart-cry rasps your voice, your cheeks redden, salt-burned with tears, and you raise your face, hoping to hear a word…hoping to hear anything at all…

But there is only the sound of the blood pulsing in your ears and the rise and fall of your breath marking out the moments of no answers. Continue reading

Who’s In(to) Control?

There’s an old joke about a church hosting a visiting pastor who was very passionate about his message and roved about the stage limited only by the reach of the long cord running from his lapel microphone back to the sound system. While waving his arms and shouting loudly, he came very near to the edge of the stage more than once as the microphone wire pulled taut. A little girl on the front row leaned over and asked her mother in a panicked whisper… Continue reading