Take Heart for Jesus Has Overcome

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”—John 16:33 (NIV).

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When a dear friend phoned me recently, she asked for prayer, specifically for her son-in-law and daughter who were preparing to travel out of the country for a family emergency. The sister of her son-in-law had been murdered. My friend was not only grieving this senseless crime, but she was concerned for the safety of her loved ones who would be entering a foreign country where the laws and customs are vastly different from our own.

The couple and their families have been in my daily prayers. My friend has also kept me updated on their situation.

We live in a fallen world where life sometimes makes no sense. We often question, “Why, God, why?” My heart aches when I read or hear of those who are battling diseases or when loved ones are taken from us too soon or when a tragedy takes the lives of an entire family, a group of people or a segment of the population.

We wonder why people make the choices they do. We question how a loving God could allow these things to happen, especially to those who have done no harm. We even question our faith sometimes.

Keep Pressing Heavenward to Win the Prize

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”—Philippians 3:14(NIV).

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Today, I’m pressing on. It’s Friday morning. I’m in my usual spot facing my computer screen. I’ve prayed, “God, please give me the words to reach the people You want me to reach.”

When I began this journey, I had no idea I’d still be writing a weekly column almost 12 years later. I don’t share this out of pride but out of humility. While I’ve always loved writing and reading, my post-retirement plans from a 30-year teaching career didn’t include a weekly Christian column. But God had a better plan.

Recently, I was visiting with a fellow classmate. We both graduated from a rural Oklahoma high school in 1971. Like me, Duane doesn’t see retirement as a time to sit and rust.

When I speak to groups, I always share with them something I learned from a man who is still going strong in his 90s. When I first met Jack, he was in his late 70s. Because of my relocation to a new community, I was attending a different church and was changing my membership.

What Can Unity Accomplish?

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”—Psalm 133:1(NIV).

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These people are not drowning today!” This thought entered Jessica Simmons’ mind when she watched as six members of a single family struggled after a powerful riptide had swept them away at a Panama City Beach.

Others had tried to reach the family in trouble, but each previous rescue attempt left more people stranded. A lifeguard was not on duty. A rescue boat had not yet arrived. People began to use boogie boards, surf boards and their arms and legs to attempt a rescue.

When someone shouted, “Form a human chain,” five people volunteered, followed by 10 more. Then dozens more joined as the rescue mission grew increasingly desperate. Simmons and her husband, Derek, swam past the 80 or so human link and headed for the stranded swimmers. The couple managed to reach the children first, passing them via the human chain toward the beach.

Nearly an hour later, through the efforts of the growing human chain, linked together with wrists, legs and arms, the last of the 10 stranded swimmers were rescued. One of the adults rescued said, “It actually showed me there are good people in this world.”

Whether all of the rescuers that day were believers or not, their selfless act should be an example to everyone. Through their unified actions, 10 people are still alive.

Baseball, Blackberries and Bless to Me Moments

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise will always be in my mouth”—Psalm 34:1 (CEB).

Carol Round

It was a game “where the real action took place off the field.”

This subtitle appeared above an article titled “Take Me Out to The Blackberry Patch” in a recent edition of Reader’s Digest. The article was written by Ernie Johnson, Jr., sportscaster and host of NBC’s “Inside the NBA.”

In the article, Johnson recalls a little league game of eight-year-olds when the baseball score was tied. During a time-out, so the coach of Johnson’s team could discuss strategy, they noticed two of their outfielders had disappeared into the brush to retrieve a fastball.

During the search, the two missing players discovered a blackberry patch, delaying the game as they feasted on the “mother lode of ripe and apparently delicious blackberries,” he says.

Johnson doesn’t recall the outcome of the game, but the incident struck a chord for his father, a major league pitcher in the 1950s. From then on, says Johnson, “it simply became ‘the blackberry moment.’”

When his father transitioned from the playing field to a sports broadcaster, he became a popular speaker at events.  While his dad shared stories about the notable stars he had played beside during his career, he always ended his speech with “the blackberry moment.”

The story, writes Johnson, “has become, in many ways, central to my perspective on work, relaxation—shoot life. It’s a kind a parable about not being afraid to step away from the game (translated: the job, the meeting, the list of e-mails, the seemingly pressing matter at hand) to appreciate the unexpected, unscripted moments.”

What is Your Focus in Life?

“But God has blessed you, because your eyes can see and your ears can hear!”—Matthew 13:16(CEV).

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When I was in sixth grade, I was diagnosed with myopia or nearsightedness, meaning I had the ability to see near objects more clearly than distant objects. To compound the diagnosis, I also had astigmatism, an imperfection of the cornea preventing part of it from focusing light onto the retina.

At 10-years-old, I was fitted for glasses. Because my eyesight was so bad, the lens in my glasses were thick in appearance, almost like the bottom of the classic soda pop bottle. As usual, children forced to wear glasses earn the nickname, “Four Eyes.” I was no exception. I admit, it hurt at the time.

When I reached high school, my vanity led me to ditch the glasses out in public. My parents wouldn’t buy contacts until I graduated and headed to college. I put up with the hard lenses in my eyes for three or four years until allergies made me forgo them. I returned to glasses.

During the next three or four decades I tried contacts again, this time the soft ones. Again, allergies made me miserable and the contacts were uncomfortable. Finally, I decided to stick with glasses. By this time, the material used for lenses had improved. Although I still needed a strong prescription, the lenses were thinner. I no longer looked as if I were sporting pop bottle bottoms in my frames. I actually looked forward to picking out new frames each time I visited my optometrist.  It was almost as good as shopping for new shoes.

Praising God Through the Trials and Turmoil

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God”— Psalm 43:5 (ESV).

Gulley-washing rains have plagued parts of the country during the past months, leaving a path of destruction behind in many areas. Lives have been lost and property has been destroyed due to the flooding.

Living close to the lake, I’ve seen the aftermath. My house is on higher ground but some of my neighbors have had to contend with rising water because their homes are lakefront property. One neighbor has even been fishing off his front deck, and a road running in front of his property is no longer passable.

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While on my daily walk through the neighborhood, I’ve watched as the rising waters have left the neighborhood lakeside picnic area unusable. The three concrete picnic tables and the large fire pit were swallowed by the rising lake levels.

When the rain abated for a week, the tops of the picnic tables came into view, as did part of the fire pit. The torrential rains returned and they disappeared once again. Now, as the water begins to recede, driftwood debris graces the shoreline. Some of the pieces are beautiful, even with the ugliness left behind.

While I contemplated the mess left behind by the storms, I thought about the trials we face in life. They come and go, just like the lake water levels rising and falling with our capricious weather.