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Excerpt for A Pause to Refresh by , available in its entirety at Smashwords









A PAUSE TO REFRESH


Take Five

to overcome the tyranny of the urgent that crowds out the importance of refreshing your spirit each day and

being “made new in the attitude of your minds.”

Ephesians 4:23




Ben Ferguson


A Pause to Refresh

© Ben Ferguson

All rights reserved


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Published by:

Ben Ferguson

1244 Rosalia Avenue

San Jose, CA 95117


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.


Scripture marked ESV is taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®). ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. The ESV® text has been reproduced in cooperation with and by permission of Good News Publishers.


Scripture marked KJV is taken from King James Version. Public domain.


Scripture marked MSG is taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.


Scripture marked NASB is taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.


Scripture marked NCV is taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Scripture marked NIV is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Editors: Lillie Ammann and Jan McClintock

Cover: Aundrea Hernandez


Also by Ben Ferguson


God, I’ve Got a Problem


Cover: Chaplain Brian Koyn takes a pause to refresh during 2008 deployment to Iraq. Photo used by permission.



Table of Contents


PREFACE

NIGHT AND DAY

PHONE HOME

EVERYBODY’S DOING IT

TAKE A KNEE

CARROTS AND STICKS

I’M OFFENDED

THE HANDS HAVE IT

IN THE HUDDLE

# THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS

HEART TROUBLE

SHOW ME...

TURBULENCE

WITH EYES WIDE OPEN

JUST A JANITOR

HEART OF A CHAMPION

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY

THE FONZIE SYNDROME

THE APPRENTICE

SCARS TELL A STORY

LOOK THE OTHER WAY

YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE

CIRCLE THE WAGONS

THE PATCH

A BLACKSMITH SHOP AND FAITH

IF IT WERE EASY

IMPOSSIBLE

AGAINST ALL ODDS

WAITING, AND WAITING, AND WAITING, AND...

GOD WILL GET YOU…

SECURE…INSECURE

IT’S NOT COMPLICATED

GOING IN CIRCLES

A FEW GOOD MEN

SEARCHING

GET ME TO THE CHURCH

NOT AGAIN

THE RIGHT QUESTION

GOING WITH THE FLOW

THE BLOOD BANK

STOP, THIEF!

I BELIEVE IN YOU

GOING FOR GOLD

WHEN YOUR WORLD FALLS APART

WARRIOR DOWN

GENERAL RULES...EXCEPTIONS

SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER

FIRST THINGS FIRST

TO BAKE OR NOT TO BAKE

I CAN’T, CAN I?

WE NEED TO TALK

THE CLOCK IS TICKING

FLYING BLIND

Special Devotions for Special Days

THE REST OF THE STORY

A MOTHER’S HEART

MY DAD IS...

GRATITUDE IS…

THE NIGHT BEFORE






PREFACE

The D’Arcy Company revolutionized the ad industry when their campaign for Coca-Cola changed focus from the product to the behavior of people. Their light bulb moment came when they realized people need breaks in their hustle-bustle lives…in 1929! That discovery produced a tag line for the ages: “The Pause That Refreshes.”

A 1941 print ad pictures a busy man at a soda fountain (Google “soda fountain”) with a glass of Coca-Cola in his hand and the pitch:

“The pause for people on-the-go. People on-the-go are never too busy to go to the soda fountain. It’s a place where the hurried are glad to take a minute for the pause that refreshes with ice-cold Coca-Cola…that refreshing little stop that keeps you going. The pause that refreshes.”

Millions of time-saving devices have been invented since 1929; yet the more time savers we have, we still run out of time with to-do items still undone, leaving us feeling like The Roadrunner with Wile E. Coyote in hot pursuit. We identify with the expression, “The harder I work, the behinder I get!”

Perhaps we need to rethink our priorities and ask, “Is spending a few minutes with God to refresh our spiritual batteries on our list, or do we allow the tyranny of the urgent to crowd out the important, convincing ourselves God will understand, and promise to make it up tomorrow?”

If people in 1929 needed a pause to refresh for people on-the-go, in today’s world the need is critical.

The Psalmist says: “As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1). “My soul thirsts for you’’ (Psalm 63:1). Soda fountains no longer dispense Coca-Cola for our thirst, but God invites us to grab a stool at His fountain, for that refreshing stop that keeps us going.

This series of devotionals is designed to give a pause to refresh your soul each day. Read one brief chapter, then return to it each day for a week before moving on to the next chapter.





NIGHT AND DAY

Spring 1958: Our aircraft carrier was operating under radio silence and zero running lights at night during war game exercises. One night I climbed a ladder to the 07 level, opened a hatch, and stepped out onto a catwalk, closing the hatch behind me. It was a moonless night; I couldn’t see anything, but I felt the wind and heard the sounds of the ship cutting through the sea. After a few seconds I opened the hatch, stepped back inside, and closed the hatch behind me, leaving the darkness behind—going from night to day. That experience and others in our lives can help us understand basic spiritual principles.

Try explaining spiritual concepts to someone using churchese, and they’ll need a decoder ring. Seriously, make a list of key words in Christianspeak, then try explaining using words all can understand. Jesus the Master Teacher explains spiritual concepts by using everyday experiences. His Rosetta Stone was using the familiar to explain the unfamiliar: sheep, farming, wine making, ….

First things first. The creation narrative (Genesis 1, NASB) opens: “In the beginning…darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was moving…” Bringing order to creation begins with darkness. “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” It’s no coincidence darkness is God’s first priority.

“God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening, and there was morning—one day.” The rhythm of all life involves God—darkness and light, day and night. God’s power brings the sunrise every morning to drive away darkness.

Truth for everyday life. Every sunrise/sunset is a visual reminder of God’s power. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John 1:5). Each sunrise is a reminder: light is more powerful than darkness. As the hatch opens, darkness recedes. Have you ever seen darkness shining under the door of a lighted room? Stores sell nightlights to help us see when we get up at night and sleep masks to block out light if we need to sleep during the day.

Writers, storytellers, and movies use light and dark to illustrate choices we make in the struggle between good and evil. In Star Wars, Darth Vader, the black-clad personification of evil, asks Luke Skywalker, Mr. Squeaky Clean, to make a choice: “Join me on the dark side.”

Truth for our spiritual life. John says: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (John 1:4, NIV). Jesus declares “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, NIV).

We make eternal choices every day. Speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus makes the spiritual parallel to a natural event and tells us why “The Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19, NASB). Daily we hear Darth Vader’s whisper, “Join me on the dark side.”

Looking at evil and corruption around us, we might question that “darkness can never extinguish it.” We’re living in dark times and may feel God has abandoned us. Israel was experiencing dark times when promised “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them” (Isaiah 9:2, NASB).

I chose to step from a lighted passageway onto a dark catwalk, then back into the light. We make choices between darkness and light daily, so

Choose light.





PHONE HOME

A group of aliens visiting earth fled in their spacecraft when discovered, leaving one behind. Elliot discovered the hiding alien and lured him to live with his family. ET looked out a window, pointed to the sky, and said, “Home.” He constructed a device capable of making intergalactic calls and said, “ET phone home.” The movie ended as he pointed a glowing finger to Elliot’s forehead, said “I’ll be right here,” boarded a spacecraft, and disappeared. A science fiction movie can teach eternal values.

Home. We can almost feel ET’s loneliness as he looks toward the sky, longing for home but not knowing when or if he might get there—a few days or a few months. We’ve read of the loneliness and anxiety of those stranded in foreign lands when all airplanes were grounded following 9/11. ET and the passengers know they’re away from home.

As Christians, we’re here on a temporary visa; our citizenship is elsewhere. Peter warns us to be careful how we live as we’re “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11). Paul adds “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20, NIV).

Longing for home. Each time ET looks up, he sees more than blue sky and clouds. In his mind’s eye he visualizes home and his family, and he longs to go home. We may think God is silent or has abandoned us, but he hasn’t. The Psalmist says, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world” (Psalm 19:1-4). God is never silent; every sunrise, beautiful sunset, thunder, or lightning is a reminder this world is not our home.

Phone home. Communication devices during my lifetime have gone from a phone with a tail to devices allowing communication around our world in seconds and reaching into space. Communication technology is improving at warp speed but is primitive compared to God’s. His network...

** is language sensitive. I don’t know how many languages are spoken today, but whether the call is from the US or a primitive hut in a jungle, no one will hear “Press one for….” God is multilingual.

** is personal. How personal is it when a recording says, “Your call is very important to us and will be answered in approximately x minutes” or “Please go to our website and solve your own problem”? God said to Jeremiah “Call to me and I will answer you” (Jeremiah 33:3, NIV). On the first ring!

** is never down. Open a Facebook page and that command is routed through about 100 servers in less than a minute. If you Google “heaven,” 641,000,000 links on the subject are generated in .54 seconds. The enormous volume during 9/11 caused some networks to crash. By contrast, the capacity of God’s server is unlimited.

** is open 24/7. We will never hear, “You have reached me after regular business hours. Please call back during normal business hours, or leave a message and I will return your call.”

Anyone who has been stuck away from home understands ET’s longing for home, but the physical illustrates the eternal as Abraham who “made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country...he was looking forward to the city...whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10, NIV). God is ready and waiting for us to phone home. So go ahead.

Make the call.





EVERYBODY’S DOING IT

My oldest daughter was in second grade when she came home and announced she needed a certain kind of shoes for school. When I said, “No,” her response was, “But Dad, everyone is getting them.” I responded, “Not everyone is getting them, because you aren’t.”

She wasn’t happy, but she never used that everybody’s doing it line again. It would be nice if everyone learned to avoid it, but they don’t.

Peer pressure: Herd instinct. The animal kingdom illustrates how it works. Predators looking for a venison dinner don’t attack the herd but wait until one deer wanders away from the group. Once a member separates from the herd, predators attack, the herd flees, and the one outside the herd becomes dinner for predators. The lesson: Be part of the herd—being alone can be dangerous!

My daughter faced the pressure to have the right shoes throughout her youth. Teens exhibit the herd instinct—expressing their individuality by dressing exactly like everyone else. Anybody who rejects the herd is subject to isolation and ridicule; the group (herd) becomes the predator, attacking anyone who doesn’t get with the accepted program.

Peer pressure is alive and well today. Are you sure? Do you watch TV, listen to radio, surf the web? On these we’re bombarded with ads suggesting all the cool people have product X and you can’t be cool without it. Who doesn’t want to be cool? Politicians use peer pressure to silence disagreement by saying what you believe is out of the mainstream. If you don’t want to be outside the mainstream, you surrender your will to group think. Questioning someone’s behavior might offend them so just keep your judgmental attitudes to yourself—don’t challenge the herd.

Peer pressure: Resisting the herd instinct. Can it be done? Yes but “Just say no” is a hard sell for teens or adults. We prefer to be told what we want to hear. King Ahab asked Jehoshaphat to join him in combat operations, but before committing, he asked Ahab to consult the prophets. He did, and all four hundred of his prophets agree: Go ahead; it’ll be a piece of cake. But Jehoshaphat asks for a second opinion. “Is there not also a prophet of the Lord here?” and Ahab answered that there was. “But I hate him. He never prophesies anything but trouble for me!” (1 Kings 22). Four hundred told him what he wanted to hear; one told him the truth.

Peer pressure: Drawing a line in the sand. Pressure comes from people, possessions, or practices. Joshua addressed the pressure to worship idols instead of God, and the people declared, “No, we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:21).

Pressure by people. Daniel is one of a group of captives selected for training to serve the King of Babylon. All are to eat only food from the king’s kitchen, “but Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king” (Daniel 1:8). He stands apart from the crowd and God honors him.

Pressure of possessions. Jesus underscores this: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money” (Mathew 6:24). It’s not the money—it’s our attitude toward it.

Peer pressure may be subtle but seeks to mold us into its image in every area of life: people, practices, and possessions. Have you ever heard a parent addressing everyone’s doing it ask a child,

If everybody jumps off a bridge, will you jump too?





TAKE A KNEE

West Point 1891: Senator Burrows told cadets, "Soldiers should not be heedless to the sentiment of their songs…I would like to see every true American, soldier or citizen, when he hears the grand notes of our national air, rise to his feet in patriotic recognition and uncover." William Dana Orcutt described the scene in Burrows of Michigan and the Republican Party: A Biography and a History. When “The Star-Spangled Banner” began to play, “the entire battalion of cadets responded by springing to their feet with a common impulse…followed by every person in the audience and all stood with bowed heads until the last note had ceased.”

To honor America, please stand, and remain standing for our national anthem.” According to History.com, the debut performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a baseball game was at the first game of the 1918 World Series. Fans attending the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox were asked to stand to honor America—during World War I. It’s understandable that fans get angry when players take a knee to protest various injustices. Taking a knee has historical roots, but not as a tool for protests.

Honor. We’re familiar with the Knights of the Roundtable and the most famous knight of all, Lancelot. He took a knee as King Arthur tapped the flat side of his sword on each shoulder and said, “Rise, Sir Lancelot.” The legend of King Arthur and his knights is fiction, but men became knights as early as the fifth century. The honor of knighthood is still bestowed. You may recognize two men Queen Elizabeth II recently elevated to knighthood: Sir Elton John and Sir Andy Murray.

Respect. My grandson’s football game began with all players standing for the anthem. Two evenly matched teams were playing hard, but late in the game everything stopped when a player on the other team was injured. All players on and off the field removed their helmets and took a knee to show respect for the injured player. For a moment, they were one team. Once the injured player received medical attention and was helped to the sideline, the game resumed.

Recognition. “When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him, ran to meet him, and bowed low before him” (Mark 5:6). Historical reaction to God’s presence was to take a knee. “Before me every knee will bow” (Isaiah 45:23, NIV). Paul recognizes and frequently reminds us that taking a knee is an act of worship—not protest, and it is central in our relationship with God. Tim Tebow regularly took a knee on the football field following a good play. “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God’” (Romans 14:11, NIV).

“That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow … and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11, NIV). “I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Ephesians 3:14-15, NIV).

Old men wearing ill-fitting WWII uniforms were among the attendees at an American Legion memorial service; they were in wheelchairs, used walkers, or leaned on canes or the arms of someone younger. The service began with the entering and posting of the colors. As the colors were coming down the aisle, everyone struggled to stand as erect as their frail bodies would allow, with shoulders back. Raising gnarled hands, they saluted as best they could, holding their salute until the colors passed and were posted. Not one of these old warriors took a knee or remained seated. It’s hard to imagine how anyone who saw these elderly veterans stand to honor our flag would dare to take a knee.

You may take a knee during the anthem, but we’re reminded in Romans 14:10 that

We will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”





CARROTS AND STICKS

All who survive military basic training know the military frequently uses sticks rather than carrots; rewarding the one who messes up and punishing all who don’t. Midway through boot camp we’re all expected to march in formation without mistakes; if one gets out of step, it’s stick time. The guilty faces us, and we’re ordered to hold our rifle with arms extended. We’re young and strong; the Springfield rifle weighs only nine pounds. Piece of cake, right? As seconds, then minutes, tick by, the rifle gains weight until we can no longer keep arms extended.

Every event we experience in life, including boot camp, is an opportunity to learn life lessons, but we frequently miss them. At the moment, our thoughts are on surviving and on payback for the one causing our pain. Hindsight allows us to look beyond the pain and anger to glean some life principles.

Carrots and sticks are necessary. The pain isn’t pleasant, but it’s beneficial. Those of us holding our rifles think it’s necessary for the guilty, not us. After hours, we engage in corrective group therapy, allowing the guilty to share our pain. Without it, we would never function as a unit.

We’re members of God’s family, and discipline and training are even more important than in the military. “As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father?” (Hebrews 12:7).

Carrots and sticks make us stronger. During boot camp, companies compete with each other to earn streamers for their company flags. At graduation, the company with the most streamers is Honor Company; the negative stick therapy we received made us stronger as a unit. Company 298 is Honor Company, leading all other companies onto the parade field for graduation.

We experience hard times and may ask, “God, where you?” or “Why me?” The answer: “But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 12:10-11). Our first reaction may be to think that God has a grudge against us, but it’s not a grudge—it’s strength training.

Carrots and sticks build teamwork. The young man who caused our pain is part of our team; we need him with us. Soon after fleeing Egypt, a dust cloud in the distance alerts God’s people to an approaching army. Problem: Israelites don’t have a standing army, so what are they to do? Joshua organized an untrained group of men to meet the Amalekites in battle. As they go out, Moses and a few men go to high ground to watch. Moses holds his staff in the air, the battle is joined, and Joshua’s men are winning.

Moses’s staff becomes as heavy as our Springfield rifles, he lowers his arms, and the enemy is winning. “ Moses’s arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands” (Exodus 17:12). At day’s end, working together enables them to defeat a superior enemy.

My brothers and I thought Dad’s discipline was just to punish us, but when we became parents, we realized it’s necessary for parents to train children to respect boundaries, obey rules, and take care of each other. Likewise, God treats us as children and expects us to behave responsibly. To accomplish this, our training to become mature and responsible family members may involve both

Carrots and sticks.





I’M OFFENDED

The Duplex cartoon by Glen McCoy captures a social issue in a single cartoon: Fang, reading the paper, says to Eno, “This political cartoon offends me! It’s too opinionated!” Eno replies, “Well, it is the opinions page!” Fang replies, “But it’s not my opinion.”

Fang’s response is becoming typical as people play the I’m offended card to silence the opinions of others. Crowd-think singles out contrary views as hate speech or micro aggression, requiring a safe place for the offended to curl up in a fetal position. Express non-approved opinions, and the crowd will isolate you.

Truth and tradition. Tender feelings are part of the human condition, but self-appointed speech police with feelings radar set to identify any who might use potentially offensive speech are everywhere. A small restaurant erected a sign advertising their breakfast menu but was required to remove it because someone might be offended. The purpose: silence non-approved speech.

Jesus, of all people, is charged with offensive speech. In Nazareth, His teaching amazes some but offends others. The leaders challenge Him as just a hometown boy without the proper schooling. “And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him” (Matthew 13:57). A delegation arrives from Jerusalem to challenge Him over the accepted way to wash up for dinner. His response—truth triumphs over tradition—irritates the traditionalists. His disciples think He needs to lighten up a bit and ask, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?” (Matthew 15:12). God’s truth isn’t softened to be acceptable and may offend the elite, but it appeals to the people.

Truth and conflict. Living life as Jesus did (1 John 2:6) puts us in the sights of the speech police. The Christian message and experience involve the cross, and Paul says, “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction!” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Later he says we’re to give “no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited” (2 Corinthians 6:3, NASB). Does this mean we’re to soften the message so no one is offended? No. It’s not what we say, but how we say it. We’re to “speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

Truth and consequences. I learned as a young boy that telling the truth has consequences, but consequences of not telling the truth are more severe! Jesus is rejected by many in His home town and the religious establishment; when on trial for His life, He is given an opportunity to change His story and live. He chooses death over denial.

Stephen preaches Jesus, is accused of blasphemy, hauled before the religious bigwigs, and ordered to defend himself. Moment of truth: Does he stand firm or recant? He defends the message of the cross, which infuriates the council. “They shook their fists at him in rage” (Acts 7:54). He continues until “they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him” (Acts 7:57-58) Can’t you picture these guys in their robes, ranting like crazy people?

We fret over the possible loss of our tax-exempt status while Christians elsewhere must choose: Deny Christ or die. Untold numbers choose death. How will we respond when we face the same choice? Martin Luther King, Jr said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” The message of the cross may be offensive and dangerous to our health, but

It matters!





THE HANDS HAVE IT

A friend shared an interesting conversation he had with his bride soon after they were married. He asked her, “What attracted you to me?” Feeling confident it would be his looks, muscles, or brains. He was stunned when she replied, “Your hands.” Totally blown away, he asked why his hands. She replied, “They remind me of my father’s hands.”

Unless you’re very brave, it might not be a good idea to ask your wife that question. She might say, “I don’t know what I was thinking.” A young child was asked, “Why did your mom marry your dad?” She replied, “My grandma said she didn’t have her thinking cap on.”

Profound truths are usually simple. Look at your hands—if all you see are age spots, calluses, wrinkles, or dirt under your fingernails, you’re missing something profound. Now ask, “Why are my hands so important?” Our hands are the extension of who we are and are instruments of love, comfort, or discomfort. You can tell your bride you love her, but she needs a touch to verify your tell.

My friend didn’t have to wonder what his bride’s father was like. He saw her father’s hands demonstrate his love and care for her and welcome him into the family. Ever wonder what God’s hands look like? It’s hard, since “No one has ever seen God.” How can we see the invisible? John continues in the same verse “But the unique One, who is himself God… He has revealed God to us” (John 1:18). Jesus is God’s visual aid.

On His last trip to Jerusalem, Jesus attracts large crowds along the way. At one point, parents bring their children to have “Jesus...place his hands on them,” but His handlers try to shoo them away. Jesus sees this, scolds them, says let the children come, and “he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10:13-16, NIV). Jesus takes time for little people.

Jesus models God; His hands touch the eyes of the blind and the diseased skin of a leper. His hands multiply bread to feed 5,000+, wash His disciple’s feet, and break bread for the Last Supper. During Jesus’s farewell instructions, Phillip asks Him to show them God. He answers, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” (John 14:9). He continues and then tells His disciples that if they can’t believe what He’s saying, “at least believe because of the work you have seen me do” (John 14:11). Jesus is Exhibit A of God’s hands.

When God wasn’t visible, Jesus modeled God. Jesus isn’t visible, so how can people see Him? To paraphrase a line from the feeding of the five thousand in Mark 6:37, Jesus says, “You show them what I am like.” Okay, but how? “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6, NIV). Jesus wants our hands to remind others of His hands.

A barefoot boy was looking in a shoe store window on a winter’s day when a well-dressed lady stopped and asked why he wasn’t wearing shoes. The little boy said he had no money, so the lady took him in the store, picked out some shoes and six pairs of warm socks, and asked for a pan of water. After she washed his feet and put socks and shoes on him, the little boy asked, “Are you God’s wife?”

The little boy understood that kindness is a reflection of God. People everywhere are looking in the window of life for someone to show them what God is like. Ask yourself,

Do my hands remind them of Jesus’s hands?





IN THE HUDDLE

The runner was wide open with the goal line in sight, but he took a knee on the one-yard line! The hometown crowd and coaches were understandably upset as they had no idea why he did this, but they were in store for a lesson no one would soon forget.

Keith Orr was the smallest kid on the team. He had learning disabilities and trouble with boundaries. His teammates wanted to make him feel like he belonged, but how? Between classes for several weeks, the players secretly planned and schemed how to make him feel like part of the team. With the ball on the one-yard line, the quarterback called, “Keith Special!” The team broke the huddle, one of the guys handed the ball to Keith, his teammates blocked for him, and Keith scored a touchdown!

Can anything good come out of middle school? Ask the students and community around Olivet Middle School, and you’ll hear a resounding “YES!” One player summed up the impact when he said, "I kind of went from being somebody who mostly cared about me and my friends to caring about everyone and trying to make a difference in everyone's day and everyone's life."

After reading this story, I wonder how many of our faith communities operate with a spiritual middle school mindset—it’s all about us. We gather week by week in our holy huddle to be nurtured, totally oblivious to a Keith sitting near us in need of a look, a word, or a touch as we rush by them on the way to our next Bible class or to lunch.

Jesus is never in a rush and never misses opportunities to touch the broken bodies and wounded spirits of those He encounters, leaving an example for us. His handlers think He’s too busy or important for some children and they try to keep them at a distance, but Jesus says, “Let the children come to me” (Mark 10:14). Jesus takes time to teach them and us that no one is too small or unimportant to be worth His time.

Touching a leper makes a Jew ceremonially unclean, so the crowds around Jesus step back as a leper approaches, kneels, and says, “Lord, if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean” (Matthew 8:1-2). The crowd is shocked into silence as Jesus reaches out and touches the leper and says, “I am willing. Be healed!” (Matthew 8:3). What a story to tell! But Jesus tells him to not talk about it, but to go show himself to the priests, and let them see he is healed as a public testimony.

Jesus said we’re to follow His example and get out of our holy huddle—give food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, invite a stranger in for the night, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison who are the least among you (Matthew 25:31-40).

Following a general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis was approached by a man severely disfigured with neurofibromatosis, who asked for a blessing. Individuals with this disease are shunned, but Pope Frances stunned everyone by immediately embracing the man, kissing his head, and blessing him.

The football players at Mt. Olivet Middle School broke the huddle and changed a community. The pope left his holy huddle and touched the untouchable. Those needing a touch are outside our holy huddle. We won’t make a difference until we

Break the huddle!




# THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS

We’re experiencing another change in attitudes toward God and the practice of faith. How many times have we heard a report of an individual or group tragedy and hear a commentator say, “We’re sending our thoughts and prayers.” Although it sounds like a cliché, I don’t recall it being attacked—until now.

Following the church shooting in Texas, the political class openly bashed these expressions, saying in effect, “We’ve banned God from the public square. Now you shut up and keep any faith to yourself.” Representative Paul Ryan said the people of Texas “need our prayers right now” and was chastised by Khary Penebaker, who said, “You’re paid … to act & legislate, not for your #ThoughtsAndPrayers.” Governor Cuomo of New York told us to outsource prayer to the professionals: “We have pastors, priests, and rabbis to offer thoughts and prayers.”

Prayer is personal. “Prayer is not a refuge for cowards.” It’s where we “partner with God for good” (Right Reverend Robert Wright). Forget the critics and learn what Jesus did when a Roman Centurion comes with a request for a young boy who “lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.” The soldier asked Jesus to send His thoughts and prayers. “Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, ‘Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.’ And the young servant was healed that same hour” (Matthew 8:6-13).

Prayer is our refuge. An injured child runs crying to mother who wraps her arms around him, wipes away the tears, and holds him close where he feels safe. God is our safe place: “The name of the Lord is a strong fortress; the godly run to him and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10). “And because we are His children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Galatians 4:6).

We’re never promised a tragedy-free life, but we are promised we don’t stand alone. Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens … you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Prayer is our comfort in troubled times. Politicians believe we should turn to them in times of tragedy rather than praying, but their track record isn’t good. Jesus shares hard truth with his disciples and many turn away. Turning to His inner circle, He asks, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life” (John 6:67-68).

Two days after the church-shooting tragedy, the lieutenant governor of Texas put things in perspective and offered hope to the community when he said, “An entire church went to heaven together on Sunday morning.” During very troubled times a prophet told the nation, “Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. … They will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

Ravi Zacharias said tragedy is “the boomerang of sin, and the only way to stop it is at the foot of the cross.” The story is told of an old woman who was walking along the road with a huge bundle of sticks on her back when a truck stopped, and the driver invited her to get in the back with others. She got in, and the truck went down the roadway. Before long, someone suggested the woman lay her bundle of sticks down. She responded, “Oh no, it’s enough he’s carrying me. I can’t expect him to carry my bundle of sticks.” We’re invited to bring our burdens to the cross and

Leave them there!





HEART TROUBLE

Some friends think I was born before dirt—not quite, but dirt was relatively new. By today’s standards, life was primitive. When I was born, electricity hadn’t yet come to our farm; telephones didn’t fit in a pocket and had a tail; TV had no color, no remote, no mute, and no DVR. Apples came from trees; we didn’t ask Siri anything; texting while walking or driving wasn’t a problem; communication was face to face or snail mail, not smoke signals. Knowledge of our world came from books, Saturday newsreels, radio, or someone who had traveled to faraway places like California.

A popular weekly radio program began with eerie music, then the question: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” More eerie music, then the answer: “The Shadow knows!” Fast forward a few decades, and we no longer ask the question. Evil is beamed into our homes on the big screen and in vivid color. We’re repulsed by the new ways people devise to express their evil. We ask, “Can it get any worse?” but the right question to ask is “Why?”

God’s diagnosis. We step into God’s examining room, and He asks, “What are your symptoms?” We begin describing what we’re seeing, but we’re told those are expression of a disease, and again we’re asked, “What are the symptoms?” He opens His GDR (God’s Desk Reference). “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5). Jesus says, “What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45). Finally, Solomon adds, “Guard your heart … for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23).

God places His stethoscope on our chest and says, “Breathe deeply.” Diagnosis: We have a heart problem. How bad is it? “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

God’s patience. When a doctor diagnoses a heart problem, depending on the severity, he may recommend lifestyle changes like diet and exercise before surgical intervention. God says we have a heart problem and allows us time before intervention. Abraham is promised the land of Israel, but after years the deed hasn’t been recorded. He asks God, “When?” and God says it’ll be four generations before the current occupants will be evicted and “your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction” (Genesis 15:16).

God’s solution. A fifty-four-year-old man was near death with a diseased heart when Dr. Christian Barnard made an offer the patient couldn’t refuse—a new heart. On December 3, 1967, the first heart transplant gave him a healthy heart and a new life. The world celebrated the historic event, but God has been in the transplant business since Eden. Speaking through Ezekiel, God says they have a heart problem and makes an offer they can’t refuse: “I will give you a new heart … I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (36:26).

Barnard later wrote, "For a dying man it is not a difficult decision because he knows he is at the end.” We have a similar offer; ask and we’ll receive a new heart. David, a man after God’s own heart, tells us how to maintain spiritual heart health. After failure, he confesses to God, then asks, “Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). The question is

How’s your heart?





SHOW ME...

In the “old” Navy, between wooden ships and nuclear power, (1956–1958), I was a yeoman administrator with an aviation squadron. In addition to the daily duties, I prepared the weekly, monthly, and quarterly reports for the Admin Officer. After about a year, Lieutenant Gudal, our new Admin Officer, called me into his office to question whether a report on his desk was done properly. When I assured him it was, he leaned back in his chair, smiled, and said, “Show me!” I show him the regs. He said, “You’re right; I’m wrong” and never questioned me again.

Lieutenant Gudal taught a nineteen-year-old Texas farm boy a valuable life lesson: “If you can’t show me, don’t tell me”—the opposite of “Those who can’t, teach.” The best teachers are those who teach from their experience, not from their reading.

A worldwide movement begins when an unknown rabbi observes two professional fishermen at work and calls, “’Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!’ And they left their nets at once and followed Him” (Matthew 4:19-20).

Jesus shows them: “He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out” (Mark 3:14, NASB). The twelve are in a three-phase internship. Phase 1: “Be with Him” 24/7, observing how He engages both friendly and hostile people, breaks protocol by touching the unclean, violates rules of Sabbath rest. Phase 2: TDY (Temporary Duty). “Send them out” to practice what they’ve learned at His side; after-action reports indicate it goes well, indicating they’re ready for deployment (Luke 9:10). What now?

Graduate school. Phase 3: Plans for key posts in the family business hit a snag; joy and anticipation turn to terror as Jesus is arrested and charged with treason. Former cheerleaders now demand His execution, a reluctant judge relents, and disciples go underground.

They’re in shock and disbelief. When women report that Jesus is alive, Thomas says, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25, NIV). Jesus shows up. Done!

An additional forty days of intensive training before He turns over the family business to them: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NIV). How did they do? Of the original twelve, one was a traitor and committed suicide, ten died as martyrs, and one lived out his life in exile—but the family business went global. Now what?

Jesus sends us. The internship program continues. Young Timothy travels with Paul as he shows him how God’s business operates. Once Timothy is on his own, Paul reminds him what ministry success requires: “And the things you have heard me say...entrust to reliable people who will...teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2, NIV). Paul’s ministry allows him to visit many judges, jailers, and jails, including the big one in Rome.

Hostility to Christ’s message of the cross was brutal in the first century and continues unabated in our so-called civilized world. Efforts to shut down God’s business, the church, continue with the brutal execution of many around the globe who refuse to deny Christ. We’ve not experienced it on our shores, but worldwide TV images bring its brutality to screens in our homes. Will it come to our shores? Only God knows, but one thing is certain: we too are sent. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21) hasn’t been rescinded. The Church has been

In business under the same management since Pentecost!





TURBULENCE

The flight to Dallas-Fort Worth was smooth until the final approach, when the plane started bouncing violently. The pilot informed us we were landing with a fifty-mile-an-hour crosswind. I was thinking, “Abort, Abort,” as out the window I saw the ground, the sky, and the ground, until the tires hit the runway hard, bouncing down the runway to a stop. The landing was safe but not smooth!

Anyone boarding a plane expects a smooth flight and landing; if told ahead of time to expect extreme turbulence or a hard landing, many would opt out. The life of faith is a lot like boarding a flight; we expect a smooth journey and a safe landing. The problem is our expectations aren’t always met, and we experience extreme turbulence in life.

Why Not Me? It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to realize Jesus dispels the notion of safe spaces for His followers. He says God “gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45). Later the disciples hear, “The time is coming…when you will be scattered…. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (John 16:32-33).

We have a twisted sense of the trials and sorrows Jesus talks about. Speaking to a New Jersey group of Catholic lawyers and judges on March 15, 2017, Supreme Court Justice Alito warned of hostile winds ahead for religious freedoms. The threats come from an increasingly secular society trying to silence us and take away cherished perks like tax-exempt status, the right to practice our faith without government interference, and efforts to force conformity to a worldview without God. For these indignities we want…

Witness Protection. A witness with information critical to an upcoming trial whose life is in danger may be put in a witness protection program, getting a new identity in an undisclosed location. Search the Scriptures and no such program is available for believers whose life, liberty, and property are threatened by the force and might of the government. What we’re experiencing in the US is the tip of the iceberg of persecution experienced around the world.

Jesus experiences suffering; His disciples experience it and are told they ain’t seen nothing yet! His words: “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. … I chose you … so it hates you. … Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you” (John 15:18-20). “The time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God” (John 16:2). Christians have been the target of persecution since Jesus’s earthly life. We’re shocked to see such hatred and barbarity overseas, but it will come to us.

Promise. One must be blind to reality to ignore Jesus’s words about hate, persecution, and trouble for His followers. It’s real and is increasing, but we’re on the winning team. “Take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And we’re not alone: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). We will face turbulence on our faith journey but

We will land safely.





WITH EYES WIDE OPEN

We planned to leave San Diego in time to miss the rush hour traffic through Los Angeles, but when we arrived at eleven in the morning, traffic was six lanes across, going seventy MPH, bumper to bumper! I was in a middle lane, with white knuckles and a heart rate of about two hundred. If ever there was a time I needed to pray, that was it. But I needed my eyes wide open, both hands on the wheel, and total concentration on the road—no time to pray!

When our stress meter is on red alert, it’s hard to remember that prayer is a conversation with God as a father. We have a check list: folded hands, closed eyes, bended knee, and formal voice and words. Jesus said, “This is how you should pray”: focus on content, not phrases, position, or place to pray (Luke 11:2).

Prayer isn’t a Twitter message or status post on Facebook. It’s a conversation, speaking to God and listening for His response. God speaks languages other than King James English! Imagine talking to your own father the way we’ve learned to talk to God our Father. Had I talked to my dad the way some come to God, he would have thought I needed psychiatric care. But how can we talk to God?

During one service the worship leader was to lead us in prayer. The lights were dimmed, and all was quiet when the silence is broken with, “Hey God!” I don’t remember the rest of his prayer; I looked up expecting to see a pile of smoking ashes on the platform.

If I had ever taken that tone with my dad, I’d probably still be flying through space. God is our Father, not our buddy!

Does “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10, NASB) mean we should approach God with fear and trembling? No! Consider Eden; Adam and Eve have close fellowship with God without any fear, but when they break a command, “they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’” Adam answered, “I heard … so I hid. I was afraid” (Genesis 3:8-10). An alternate translation of the Proverbs passage is this: “Wisdom begins with respect for the Lord” (NCV). The only time to approach God with fear is when we’ve broken His law.

I never approached my dad as a buddy, and I had total respect for him. We talked every day, and I was never afraid unless I had done something wrong—whether he knew of it or not. I believe God wants us to have that kind of relationship with Him.

Back to the freeway example and praying with our eyes open. Everything is going great for Peter as a water walker until he looks at the waves instead of Jesus and is terrified. With no time to fold his hands, get on his knees, find his religious voice and the proper words and right time, he shouts, “Save me, Lord!” (Matthew 14:30).

Can we pray without using words? Yes. Otherwise, “Never stop praying” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) makes no sense. God knows our hearts and thoughts (a sobering fact), and prayer is an attitude. When we’re speechless and “don’t know what God wants us to pray for… the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will” (Romans 8:26-27).

We can pray in heavy traffic, during a job interview—any place, any time, in any position, and yes, we can pray

With our eyes wide open!





JUST A JANITOR

Bill Crawford moved slowly, sort of shuffling as he went about his chores mopping and buffing floors, cleaning toilets, and picking up after 100 young men in the dormitory at the Air Force Academy. The cadets went about their daily activities, barely noticing him, as he worked to keep the dorm spotless. Cadets were too important to pick up after themselves; soon they would become officers and gentlemen by an act of Congress, but Bill would still be just a janitor!

One Saturday, Cadet Moschgat was reading about a battle on Hill 424 near Altavilla, Italy, in 1943. After his retirement as a colonel, he wrote about the experience in the March 2012 issue of Officers Christian Fellowship. “In the face of intense hostile fire...with no regard for his personal safety, and on his own initiative Private Crawford…” stopping him cold. He showed it to his roommate, and they could hardly wait until Monday to show Bill, who quietly said, “Yes that was me.” Bill was more than a janitor; he was a Medal of Honor winner!

We judge by what we see. Israel clamors for a king like the other nations and is given Saul, “the most handsome man in Israel—head and shoulders taller than anyone else” (1 Samuel 9:2). God tells Samuel to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as Saul’s replacement. When he sees the first son, he thinks “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” Nope; second son, nope; third son, nope. Seven sons are rejected when Samuel asks, “Are these all the sons you have?” No, but David is just a shepherd (1 Samuel 16).

Jesus returns to his hometown and is teaching in the synagogue when the elders ask who does He think he is? They’ve known him since childhood, and “He’s just a carpenter. … They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him” (Mark 6:3).

God judges by who we are. God gives Israel a looker in Saul, who is tall and handsome. But when the chips are down, he fails “because you have not kept the Lord’s command” (1 Samuel 13:14). Choosing based on looks doesn’t work out because “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” 1 Samuel 16:7). David is more than “dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes” (1 Samuel 16:12), he’s “a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do” (Acts 13:22).

Imagine being a fly on the wall observing Jesus’s frequent encounters with the religious wordsmiths. They challenge His teaching, He answers, and they declare He’s demon possessed. Not playing by their rules, He breaks the Law of Moses, and He says, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly” (John 7:24).

The shortest distance between Jerusalem and Galilee in Jesus’s day isn’t a straight line through Samaria. Samaritans are considered racially and religiously unclean by Jews who take a longer route around to avoid any contact. Jesus ignores tradition and travels through Samaria for a noon appointment with an outcast woman who needs to know God loves her, not for what she does but for who she is.

When those cadets learned Bill was a Medal of Honor winner, they treated him differently, invited him to squadron functions, spoke to him daily, and lightened his load by picking up after themselves. Bill was no longer just a janitor—he was one of them!

We go about our busy lives, and like the cadets, we unconsciously judge people for what they do rather than who they are. They’re just a clerk, cook, mechanic, businessman, or housewife. Like Bill, everyone we encounter is more than what they do. Remember, each is

One for whom Jesus died!





HEART OF A CHAMPION

Athletes train hard for each competition, whether it’s a high school track meet or the Olympics, the ultimate in competition. Do Olympians train year-round for years and go through tough competition just to get to the big stage? No! They train to win. I have yet to see an interview with an Olympian who said, “I’m just proud to be here.”

Paul says, “In a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. So run to win!‎” (1 Corinthians 9:24). I wonder if we haven’t taken “So run to win” so literally that every aspect of life is a competition. Perhaps this is how we developed a win-at-any-cost mentality, including elbowing a neighbor out of the race. Has it ever occurred to you that it’s possible we can win by losing?

Meghan Vogel, a seventeen-year-old high school student, was competing in the Ohio State Championship track meet. An hour after completing a one-mile run with a personal best, she lined up for a two-mile race. She was tired and in last place when she caught up with a competitor, Arden McMath, who was exhausted. Her legs were cramping, and she had fallen a couple of times. Instead of running past her to avoid a last place finish, Meghan put Arden’s arms around her shoulders and carried her thirty meters as the crowd erupted. When they got to the finish line, Meghan pushed Arden across before her, winning even though she came in last. Meghan displayed the heart of a champion, winning by losing.

In our drive to win, do we take notice of others ahead who have fallen down, giving us a chance to get ahead? I know we may never see a person lying by the roadside wounded and bleeding as in the story of The Good Samaritan, but how many times do we see someone standing by the road holding a cardboard sign asking for help and drive by, avoiding eye contact? Do we have a neighbor who is hurting and in need of God’s touch, but we don’t want to get involved?

Those expecting Jesus to arrive for dinner at a given time are usually disappointed. He stops and helps anyone who has fallen down. Dinner is less important than one in need. He talks about caring for the hungry, thirsty, sick, and those in prisons, then He shows us how. They ask, “When did we do these things?”


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