Take a Break

Before daybreak the next morning,
Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.

Mark 1:35 NLT

When you’re spastic, taking a break isn’t easy.

I’ve never been one to sit and twiddle my thumbs. Sitting and doing nothing makes me feel lazy. Since I only have so much time in life, I want to make the best use of every minute. Having this tendency opens me up to the possibility of over-commitment and burnout. What others ask of me, I usually agree to do—often not pausing long enough to pray first. I love seeing how much I can accomplish in 24 hours. Not that I crave recognition or do things for recognition, but like most people I enjoy being appreciated. Sitting for hours watching a movie or relaxing in conversation with company is difficult. My mind races, thinking about all the things I could be doing that would seem more productive.

Jesus was a busy man. Knowledge of His ability to heal spread like a California wildfire. Crowds crowded around Him. Everyone wanted healing for themselves, a friend, or a family member. Had He taken advantage of every opportunity, He would have never gotten any rest or sleep.

After a long day and evening of healing, Jesus rose the next morning, went to an isolated place, and prayed. When some of the disciples found Him and told Him everyone was looking for Him, He told them He had other places to go. He couldn’t stay in this one place forever.

Breaks from the daily grind of life are essential for good health—mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. We can’t do everything everyone might ask of us. There’s not enough time in the day, nor does God expect that of us. Jesus knew He needed rejuvenation, and it came through a quiet time with the Father.

Quiet times—whether in the early morning, late morning, or evening, are crucial in our service for God. Not only did Jesus’ spirit receive refreshing, but He also received instructions from the Father about His next move. Ironically, it wasn’t where He was—even though there were many there who needed His help. Rather, the Father told Him to move to a different area.

Enjoying life and making sure we’re on God’s track only happen when we’ve taken a break long enough to discover God’s will. So go ahead, take a break—and don’t feel guilty about it.

Prayer: Father, remind us we need breaks to refresh our spirits so we can do our best for You.

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The Death Vigil

Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies,
for then we will be at home with the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:8 NLT

He lay almost motionless—a Superman tattoo on his arm.

My brother-in-law often kidded that he was Superman. And he had been. He had survived things that killed many people. Though a young man, several heart attacks had damaged his heart beyond repair.

Not only had he survived health issues, but he had also made it through many years of reckless living. He had endured beatings, robberies, and a near fatal shooting. He made it through work injuries. When the list was perused, I could understand the Superman tattoo on his arm as well as his mentality.

At last, the great leveler of all mankind had conquered him. Doctors had done all they could. Now he lay in a hospital bed in a local Hospice house. The doctor talked to the family. His body was shutting down. There was nothing else they could do but make him comfortable. My wife swabbed his mouth, used a machine to suck draining body fluids, held her phone to his ear while playing one of his favorite songs, and cried. Family members took turns talking to him and expressing their love.

Had his dilemma happened six months ago, we would have been more worried. A part of his reckless living was holding God at arm’s length. He grew up going to church but had left that part of his life many years before. Though filled with grief, we weren’t as worried now. He recently made his peace with God and spoke often of his readiness to meet his Savior. Our hearts were comforted.

Paul also took security in knowing that if persecution took his life he would immediately be in heaven with his Savior.

Losing a loved one is never easy, but knowing they will enter heaven’s gates and that we will see them again in eternity makes the process easier. Heaven isn’t a pie-in-the-sky fairy tale believed by those who need courage to face death but an actual place prepared for those who choose to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus said there are many rooms there—enough for as many as believe in Him.

Our family took comfort in knowing our loved one would be waiting on us. We invite you to join us. Believe today. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Dropout

For we are God’s masterpiece.
He has created us anew in Christ Jesus,
so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Ephesians 2:10 NLT

I hated school, so I decided to quit.

Elementary and middle school, I enjoyed, but when I got to high school, a sudden distaste evolved. By the time I reached my senior year, I’d had all I could take. I had no interest in learning, didn’t see how any of what I was learning would benefit me, and wanted out. So I pranced up to my parents and said, “I’m quitting school.” Dad didn’t take the news well and politely told me if I quit I would be going to work. I was okay with that. I had no plans to sit around and do nothing.

After three or four months, my high school dropout status wasn’t fun anymore. The job I found ended, and I was on the unemployment line. I decided I’d return to school. I couldn’t graduate with my class, but I did graduate that summer.

The statistics for high school dropouts are alarming. More than one million students drop out of school annually—one leaving every 26 seconds. An additional 25% don’t graduate on time. But school isn’t the only place people drop out from. Church follows on its heels. Among 18 to 22 year-olds, around 70% drop out. The reasons vary: life changes, move to college, work, judgmental Christians, changes in their religious views.

Dropping out of church, however, isn’t relegated to this group alone. Others do as well. Some burnout. They take on too much—perhaps because others aren’t doing their part. They try to pacify guilt over past mistakes or because they misunderstand salvation and think they can work to get it or keep it. Some drop out because they atrophy, like unused muscles.

God doesn’t intend or want us to drop out of His work. He saves us by His grace and mercy, creates us as His masterpiece, and wants us to do good works that will disseminate His love across the world. These works don’t save us initially or keep us saved thereafter, but they are proof of our faith connection with Him.

When asked, God will give me wisdom to balance my life so my chances of dropping out of His service diminish significantly.

Don’t drop out on God. With balance, serve Him faithfully to the end of your life.

Healthy Habits

Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin? Can a leopard take away its spots?
Neither can you start doing good, for you have always done evil.
Jeremiah 13:23 NLT

Old habits are hard to break.

For four years, we lived in a small townhouse. Our Chihuahua, Twix, was accustomed to the way the doors to the bedroom and outside opened and would stand at the appropriate side of the door to enter or exit. Then we moved. Although the townhouse we moved into had the same floor plan, it was a mirror image of our previous one. Our dog was confused.

On Twix’s first trip outside, he stood at the left side of the door. That’s what he had been accustomed to. But now the door opened from the right. He repeated the same action for the bedroom door and had to change sides when I opened it. After a week, he managed to break his old habit and stand at the proper side for entering and exiting.

Being born with dark skin was a genetic habit for the Ethiopian. So was having spots for the leopard. An Ethiopian has no power to change his color, nor can a leopard become spotless. According to the prophet, humanity has a genetic flaw of sorts as well. We can’t do good because we’ve all done evil. The reason is the sin nature we’re born with which leads us down the wrong path to sinful behavior and attitudes.

My dog’s habits were neither morally good nor bad. They were just habits. I’ve had a few habits like that myself. Among them, biting my fingernails. It took my grandmother giving me $20 and one finger getting infected for me to break that habit. But I’ve also had some habits that were morally wrong and difficult to break. Those habits emerged from the sinful nature I was born with. By myself, I was helpless to do good.

In my own power, I can’t break the habit of doing bad and adopt the habit of doing good. But it is possible when I appeal to a Higher Power. Christ in me enables me to change the color of my skin and lose my spots. He enables me to consistently do good things instead of evil things. Accepting His offer of forgiveness opens up new possibilities for an abundant life.

Accept Christ into your life so you can break the old bad habits and adopt new healthy ones.

God’s Safe Place

As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock
and cover you with my hand until I have passed by
.
Exodus 33:22 NLT

She had been abused and needed a safe place.

Johnnie was in a situation of her own making. For 13 years, she had endured an abusive marriage—one she entered to escape the harsh atmosphere of her upbringing.

When the opportunity came for Johnnie to move out, she took it. Jim seemed like a good guy when she dated him, but his true identity revealed itself shortly after she said, “I do.” Abusive words, demeaning remarks, bruises. They all became the norm. Johnnie tried to fend them off but had to admit they were taking their toll on her self-esteem.

Eventually, Johnnie decided she’d had enough, but she needed a safe place. She didn’t turn to a home for abusive women but rather contacted her parents. By this time, her dad had mellowed. She thought she could endure life with them until she could make other arrangements.

Moses needed a safe place too. While he was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people were below partying as if they had no God they were accountable to. When God told Moses to leave the mountain and take the people with him—but that He wouldn’t be tagging along, it was more than Moses could stand. God decided to give them another chance, but Moses needed reassurance. So God placed Moses in a crevice and let him glance at His presence as He passed by.

Life is tough and filled with many experiences I’d rather not repeat. Wallowing in self-pity or in the memory of the event only keeps me smelling the toxic nature of what I have experienced. A better course is asking God to put me in His safe place.

When God places me in His safe place, He reassures me of His presence. If separation has taken place, it’s because I left Him—not because He left me. He promises never to abandon His children. In God’s safe places, I’m also reminded of who He is and who I’m not. He is the all-powerful Creator who is qualified to lead me through any and every circumstance, protecting me in the process.

Moses had nothing to fear; nor do I. And neither do you. When life gets tough, ask God to put you in His safe place where you can find grace, reassurance, and peace.

Swallowed by Sorrow

He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.
Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Matthew 26:38 NLT

Sorrow can be a bitter pill to swallow, and I felt as if I was being swallowed by it.

Days stretched into months. An act of betrayal by another had turned my family inside out and headed it straight for dissolution. Though the situation could have been fixed, it wasn’t, and the shadow of depression soon hung over my head like a thunderous cloud.

Unemployment followed on the heels of everything else that had disintegrated. Months passed as I sent out hundreds of applications to various places, looking for anything that would help me support my family. Finally, a job opened, but the depression hung around. My outward appearance and actions seemed normal, but my insides churned.

Various trips to the emergency room for chest pains alerted my family doctor that something was wrong. “You’re depressed. Take the medication I’m giving you, and stay out of the emergency room,” he said. I followed his advice, and slowly the depression receded.

One translation has Jesus saying, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow.” I suppose He felt that way. He was overwhelmed by what was ahead, but His disciples couldn’t keep their eyes open to comfort Him. He felt alone…that He was fighting the battle by Himself. And He was. They could not go to the cross and die for humanity’s sins. Only a perfect person could. He wasn’t sorry He was doing it, but the weight of what was ahead had the power to swallow His soul in sorrow.

Situations that cause grief and intense sorrow aren’t easy to face, but they are faced in a healthier way when others support us. Trying to face sorrow alone often leads to depression, whereas having a support system tends to ward off the dark clouds of depression. If Jesus needed companionship in His time of sorrow, I do too.

Of course, my greatest support system is found in my relationship with Jesus. I can’t physically experience Him with my senses, but His presence is felt through my spirit. This spirit-to-Spirit relationship surpasses anything I might feel with my senses.

Don’t try to face times of sorrow alone. Depend on God and godly people to help you through your trying times.

Hot- and Cold-Running Christians

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV

The sign read: House for Rent. Hot and Cold Running Water.

Though laughable now, there was a time when having indoor plumbing was a luxury only the wealthy knew anything about. Water was drawn from a well or creek and carried indoors. Getting hot water meant cutting wood and placing cold water in pots in the fireplace or on a wood burning stove.

On a recent mid-August trip through the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, my wife and I noticed the tree leaves in the highest elevations turning. Odd I thought, this early, but then again that’s what tree leaves do. As the summer season draws to a close and the daylight hours get shorter, the leaves lose their luminescence and reveal their natural color. The yellows were shining through beautifully.

Christians shouldn’t run hot and cold or change annually like tree leaves. Paul encouraged the early believers to be steadfast in their love for the Lord as well as in their work for Him. Only by steadfastness would they be able to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

We hear a lot about pastors burning out and leaving the pulpit, but I’ve known quite a few regular Christians who burned out too. Burnout can come from trying too hard to alleviate feelings of guilt over past sins, from wrong motives for serving, or from trying to boost one’s self-esteem.

Another entire set tends to drop out rather than burn out. Among 18 to 22-year-olds, around 70% drop out of church after graduating high school. Reasons they give for doing so include life changes, needing a break, moving away to college, work interference, judgmental or unfriendly pastors or church members, a change in their views, or an acknowledgement that previously they were only trying to please someone by attending.

God’s work requires steadfast determination. The abundant life Jesus offers requires the same. Otherwise, we’ll change like the leaves or run hot and cold like water. The power to remain steadfast doesn’t lie in us, but in God’s Spirit indwelling us. He provides the want to that keeps us keeping on—and for the right reasons.

Don’t run hot and cold or turn like the leaves. Serve God with consistency and diligence.

Squirrel Determination

Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands.
So his hands held steady until sunset.

As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.
Exodus 17:12-13 NLT

His determination paid off; he had emptied my bird feeder and satisfied his hunger.

I decided to take my new cedar bird feeder to the church and hang it outside my office window. Soon, birds of many varieties showed up. So did squirrels.

On one of my trips to fill the feeder, I noticed both side panels were missing. I picked up the panels from the ground and carefully slid them back into the grooved slots. No squirrel could do this, I thought. Thinking someone was playing a prank on me, I silently blamed it on the young guys who maintain our lawn. But I was wrong on both accounts. The next day, I noticed the top of the bird feeder was cocked sideways, and again one of the panels was almost out. Now I knew who the culprit was. Because of his determination to get sunflower seed, Mr. Squirrel was destroying my feeder.

Tittle tattle may lose the battle—and so will laziness. Moses and his counterparts, Aaron and Hur, were not about to let that happen. As Joshua the military commander carried out God’s command to fight and defeat the Amalekites because of their wickedness, Moses mounted a mountain and raised his arms. When his arms tired, Aaron and Hur sat him on a rock and held up his arms. As long as his arms were raised, the Israelite army prevailed.

Determination can apply to any number of life areas, but it is a must where my spirituality is concerned. Without determination, I won’t prepare financially for my or my children’s future. Without it, I won’t do my best in my profession or place of employment. Apart from determination, life will topple me instead of me conquering it.

More drastic, if I’m not determined, my focus on developing spiritual disciplines, serving, worshiping, and loving others will suffer. And this will affect my existence more than slacking on anything else. The Israelites battle with the Amalekites was more than a physical encounter; it was a spiritual war. Only with squirrel determination—fueled by the power of God’s Spirit within me, can I win my daily battles with temptation and make choices that please God.

Be determined to be the person God created you to be and to get what God has planned for you.

Serving with Joy

Don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature.
Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.
Galatians 5:13 NLT

I noticed the handicap van they drove and knew it was my time to serve.

Saturday morning. My wife and I were in the middle of packing for our move later in the month when we ran out of boxes. She suggested I stop by McDonald’s and grab us lunch after I picked up a few boxes. As I waited in the drive-through line, I noticed an older couple in a handicapped accessible van pull slowly through the parking lot and take their place behind me.

Monthly, my daughter pays for the person behind her when she buys food from Chick-fil-a. I had never done this before but on this day felt God’s Spirit nudging me. I questioned myself. What if they have 10 more people in the van with them? I decided to act rather than doubt. When I approached the window to pay for my food, I told the attendant to put their tab on mine. It was an insignificant amount, but the feeling I received by obeying God’s prompting was unsurpassed.

Believers have been freed from sin’s penalty. The blood of Christ has washed their sins away. Rather than using that freedom to indulge in sinful practices, Paul says we should use it to serve others. By doing so, we are obeying the second greatest command—serving Christ, and advancing God’s Kingdom.

Serving others will bring joy if I do it with the right attitude. Serving with reluctance won’t work. When I serve reluctantly, I feel hesitation because I’m doing something I really don’t want to do. Serving with joy requires letting God change the way I look at situations. What I give through my act of service is not being forced from my hand. Rather, I’m allowing the act to slip away as a form of appreciation for what Christ has done for me.

Nor should I serve with ulterior motives. If I brag about what I’ve done, the spotlight shines on me instead of God. Jesus said not to let my right hand know what my left hand was doing. He also warned about standing on a street corner and announcing what I’ve done for Him. My motive in serving is for God to receive praise, not me.

Serve with joy, not because you feel forced or because you want recognition.

Loving a Neighbor

The second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Mark 12:31 NLT

The note was attached to the door; the decision had been made.

At nine years of age, he was doing what most boys his age did in the summer: romping and playing. Until his sister noticed his yellow eyes. She ran inside to tell their mother who took him to the emergency room. The local hospital transferred him to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Two days later, he had a new liver.

This family was our neighbors, but we knew nothing about their tragedy. We only knew we hadn’t seen anyone home for three weeks. Initially, their youngest son did well. Then his body rejected the liver. They made several trips back and forth to Charleston, and each time we waited for an update.

During their last trip, my wife noticed the local power company tape a notice on their door. She knew what it was, caught the deliverer of bad news, and asked how much the bill was. The mom had not been able to work due to the circumstances, and the dad had missed numerous days himself. If $450 dollars wasn’t paid by the next day, their power would be turned off.

“Why don’t we take a love offering at church,” my wife asked.

Since no one but us knew the family, I didn’t know how the people would respond. But I decided to take a chance. We’d had the child on our prayer list. On Sunday morning, the church gave $406. When I announced the total at the evening services, someone quickly donated the remaining balance. As soon as the power company opened Monday morning, my wife paid the balance.

Loving my neighbor is a good feeling—whether they live right beside me or not. Doing so also helps me obey what Jesus said was the second greatest command. Only loving God with my entire being surpasses it.

Opportunities to love my neighbor—whoever and wherever they might be, abound. But like my wife, I must be attentive to the working of God’s Spirit in my innermost spirit if I’m to see them. If I live life selfishly, I’ll miss most, if not all, the opportunities God sends.

Ask God to open your eyes so you can see opportunities to love your neighbor.