Archive for the ‘On My Mind’ Category

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. —Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Support

The first benefit of companionship is support: “If one falls down, his friend can help him up.”

At a Special Olympics race—where children with disabilities were competing—a cute kid named Timmy quickly took the lead and was far ahead. He was nearing the finish line when he looked back and saw that his friend had fallen and hurt himself. Timmy stopped. People shouted, “Run, Timmy, run!” He ran alright—back to his friend. He helped him up, brushed off the dirt, and the two jogged together, arms around each other’s shoulders, coming in last.

How can you tell the difference between a true friend and a so-so acquaintance? That’s easy: get in trouble. A true friend is a person you can call at two in the morning and tell her you need her. She doesn’t ask what the problem is before deciding whether or not to come. She asks, “Where are you?” while she’s getting dressed.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prv 17:17). Sooner or later trouble comes to all; it’s included in the price of the ticket to life. We need the support of others—and they need ours.

Comfort

The second benefit of companionship is comfort: “If two lie down together, they will keep warm.”

Travelers in Palestine often had to spend the night outdoors. From December to February the nights were often wet and cold. A hiker was fortunate if he traveled with a companion, because “If two lie down together, they will keep warm.”

In 1957, Sam Rayburn—the longest-tenured Speaker of the House of Representatives—learned late one night that a friend’s teenage daughter had died in an accident. Early the next morning Sam walked through his friend’s front door, went to the kitchen and started making breakfast. The surprised father said, “Mr. Speaker, I read that you and Senator Johnson were to have breakfast with the president at the White House this morning.” “We were supposed to,” Sam said, “but I called the president’s secretary and told her to tell the president that I have a friend who’s suffered a terrible loss and I have to be with him; I can’t come to the White House for breakfast.”

It’s a cold world at times. All of us skid through icy patches where we need the warmth of comforting companions.

Protection

The third benefit of companionship is protection: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

In Old Testament days, combat was mostly hand-to-hand. Soldiers went into battle with a partner they trusted. The two stood back-to-back, ready to take on an enemy coming from any direction. We all need a friend who has our back.

A cord of three strands may mean that when two stick together, they can do the work of three.

Or it may mean—and probably does—that the Lord joins the twosome: “Where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them” (Mt 18:20).

The companionship of supporter and Savior is peak protection.

Why This Waste?

Jul
2018
07

Following Matthew’s chronology, the dinner given in Jesus’ honor in Bethany was the last supper before the Last Supper. There were seventeen people present: Simon the Leper, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the twelve apostles, and Jesus.

While they were eating, Mary broke the seal of an alabaster jar of expensive perfume and anointed Jesus.

“Why this waste?” howled Judas. Other disciples joined in: they were indignant and harshly rebuked Mary, fuming that the perfume—worth more than a year’s wages—should have been sold and the money given to the poor.

These critics had often experienced the hospitality of the Bethany home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Did they ever high-five their hosts—and quip, “Why this waste?”

“Leave her alone,” Jesus said. “She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.”

Was Mary’s action extravagant? Yes. Was it wasted extravagance? No. Mary’s act of devotion honored Jesus. A “beautiful thing” done for Jesus is never wasted and never forgotten.

Judas bristled at Jesus’ rebuke to “Leave her alone!” He left the table, slithered out the door, and cut a deal to deliver Jesus to the enemy. A few hours later he would leave the Passover table, slip out the door, and make good on the traitorous transaction.

Judas had been given a privileged position. Of the thousands of residents of Judea, he was the only one chosen to be an apostle; all the other apostles being from Galilee. He had been a close companion of Jesus for three years; had seen the miracles and heard the parables. He was one of the few commissioned by Jesus to heal the sick, raise the dead, and drive out demons. And he held the trusted post of treasurer for the apostolic group.

He squandered all of that. The question he asked about Mary’s deed is the question that should be asked of his: “Why this waste?” His wasn’t the waste of a pint of perfume, but the waste of a position of influence and trust. It wasn’t the waste of things, but the waste of life. Jesus called him “son of perdition” (Jn 17:12), which Dr. Warren Wiersbe translated “son of waste.”

The actions of Mary and Judas both had far-reaching (think eternal) consequences. Mary’s act of love filled the house and the world with a fragrance that will last forever. Judas’s act of betrayal left a stench that will also last forever.

Of Mary’s deed of love, Jesus said, “Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Of Judas’s deed of betrayal, Jesus said, “It would be better for him if he had not been born”—the eternal epitaph etched over the gate of his final purchase, the “Field of Blood.”

Mary’s devotion inspires us to live up to our best. Judas’s disloyalty warns us of the tragedy of living down to our worst. We have choices. And choices have consequences.

Life is a gift. It isn’t purchased. It isn’t earned. It isn’t deserved. It is given. And each life is custom-made. There are no mass-produced, assembly-line, off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all, lives. Your life is unique, one-of-a-kind, the only you in history. It’s your life. You can spend it however you choose—you can use it wisely or waste it.

The apostle Paul wrote: “God’s grace has made me what I am, and his grace to me was not wasted” (1 Cor 15:10 NCV).

God’s grace to Mary was not wasted. His grace to Judas was.

By the grace of God, you are what you are. “We beg you who have received God’s grace not to let it be wasted” (2 Cor 6:1 TEV).

Pray that examination of who you are, what you have, and what you do will never kindle the question, “Why this waste?”

Answering the following questions will jumpstart the next chapter of your life.

Is This In My Control?

You can save yourself a lot of agitation by sorting out what is in your control and what isn’t.

Your actions, words, and thoughts are in your control. Other people, the weather, and some life events are not.

Whatever you’re facing, ask, “Is this something I can control?” The answer will tell you if it’s worthy of your concern.

You’ll be happier and more productive if you focus attention on the things you can control and avoid getting bent out of shape by the things you can’t. Freedom comes from letting go of the things that are beyond your control.

“God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7 ESV).

Is This Worth Worrying About?

Worry saps stamina, triggers health problems, torpedoes optimism, impairs judgment, and smothers gratitude.

Worry doubles your trouble: if what you’re worrying about doesn’t happen, you’ve lived through it once needlessly; if it does happen, you’ll have lived through it twice.

Worrying will change neither your past nor your future but will poison your present.

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Mt 6:27 NLT).

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything . . . If you do this you will experience God’s peace . . . His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6–7).

Is This the Most Important Thing to Me?

What’s the most important thing to you? If you don’t know the answer to this question, you have no way of knowing if you’re putting first things first.

What is most important to someone else doesn’t necessarily fit you, so avoid living by their priorities.

When you know what the most important thing is to you, you are positioned to say “No!” to less important things and opt out of races that don’t move you toward your goal.

Nail down what the most important thing is to you; own it. The biggest danger is self-deception—telling yourself something is the most important thing when deep down it isn’t. Get honest.

The most important thing in life is to know what the most important thing in life is.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2).

Is This Who I Want to Be?

Blunt fact: you are what you say and do.

Blunt truth: you’re not good if your words and actions are bad.

Measure your stature by asking if what you’re saying and doing exhibit the kind of person you want to be. Do you judge? Gossip? Spew negative thoughts? Is this the person you want to be?

Stop yourself mid-stride when you’re about to say something critical or do something hurtful and ask if this the person you want to be?

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned, forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Lk 6:37).

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable . . . think about these things” (Phil 4:8–9).

John Glenn. Everyone knows the name of this American hero who flew fifty-nine combat missions in World War II and twenty-seven in Korea; first American to orbit the earth, and the oldest man in space when, at seventy-seven, he flew with the Space Shuttle Discovery crew; four-term U.S. Senator from Ohio.

His history of accomplishment is on exhibit at Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs. One panel features his high school civics teacher, Harford Steele, citing the prof as the person who taught him the importance of public service—in Glenn’s words, “igniting a fire in me that never did go out.”

Flags weren’t lowered when Harford Steele died, but it was his influence that caused American flags to be flown at half-staff for nine days all over the world when John Glenn died on December 8, 2016.

Remember Joseph, the Levite from Cyprus? Probably not, because you don’t know him by that name. You know him by his nickname, Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.”

You might never have heard of the apostle Paul if Barnabas hadn’t given him a boost. On Paul’s first trip to Jerusalem after his conversion, he was shunned. The church wanted nothing to do with him; thought he was a fraud. But Barnabas stood up for him, and he was accepted. Later, when Paul was isolated in Tarsus, Barnabas recruited him, brought him to Antioch, and then accompanied him on his first missionary journey.

Then there was John Mark. You’d probably know nothing about him if Barnabas hadn’t taken him under his wing.

After jump-starting the careers of these two evangelists, Barnabas faded into the background. He never wrote a book or letter that found its way into your Bible, but it was his encouragement that launched the ministries of two men who, combined, wrote half of the New Testament.

A common ingredient in the lives of people who have lived up to their potential is the gift of encouragement. Someone believed in them, supported them, ignited the fire.

For John Wesley, it was his mother, Susanna.

For John Quincy Adams, it was his father, John.

For cleric Henry Ward Beecher, it was a teacher who taught only one year in the rural elementary school he attended.

For humanitarian and author Stanley Mooneyham, it was a County Superintendent of Schools.

For Paul Harvey, it was his widowed mother Anna and his beloved elementary school teacher, Miss Harp.

For American Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, it was her grandparents, Ron and Nellie Biles.

Not to take anything away from your fine gifts and commendable accomplishments, but you are who you are and are doing what you’re doing because of the influence of a parent, grandparent, teacher, friend—a Harford Steele, a Barnabas.

Most of us are not beacons, just small lights: not playing on the big stage, but filling an important, though unheralded, role on a small platform. Whatever the part, someone saw something in us, believed in us, encouraged us.

For me, it was parents, friends—and other early influences: Mrs. Womack, my First Grade Sunday School teacher; Vance Mitchell, my Jr. High Sunday School teacher; Clarence Nelson, an elder in my boyhood church.

For you, it was ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_______________________________________

Lower the flag. Thank the Father.

Alive Forever

Apr
2018
07

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend.
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.
—Louisa M.R. Stead

I love that old hymn. Trust isn’t easily achieved, and it doesn’t survive unchallenged. It’s tested when life dumps you in a dark patch where the wind blows cold, and your world is lonely.

The words of ’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus were written in the darkest stretch of Louisa Stead’s life. Louisa, her husband Malcolm, and their four-year-old daughter Lily were enjoying a beach picnic when a boy’s cry for help came from the waves. Malcolm rushed into the surf but was no match for the pull of the tide and the terrified youth. Malcolm and the boy drowned as Louisa helplessly watched.

In the excruciating days of emotional convalescence, the young widow wrote: “’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus . . . and I know that Thou art with me, Wilt be with me to the end.”

Jesus knows the helplessness—and desertion—you feel when your world is falling apart. He knows how painful it is to pray and wonder if you’re being heard. In the inky loneliness of Gethsemane, he prayed—three times—to be delivered from the agonizing ordeal coming at him.

The answer to his prayer was silence.

Instead of being saved, he was seized. Instead of being defended, he was denounced. Instead of being acquitted, he was convicted.

Instead of being answered, he was abandoned.

A few hours later he was impaled on a cross. Battered and bloody. Suffering and dying.

Had his trust been misplaced? “He trusts in God,” antagonists sneered; “let God deliver him now, if he wants to” (Mt 27:43 NRSV).

Silence.

“My God . . . why have you forsaken me?” he cried.

Silence.

Still, with his last breath, he declared his trust: “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”

Three days later, God honored that trust with a spine-tingling, heart-stirring, world-changing Sunday. Grieving women who had watched him die on Friday trudged to the tomb on Sunday. It was empty. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” an angel asked—“He is not here; he has risen!”

You, reader, are in that triumphant story. Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep . . . in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:20, 22). “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (Jn 11:25 NRSV). “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (Jn 6:47 NKJV).

Experiencing a tough time? Clothed in trust, you’ll get through it.

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word,
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Trust him. Take him at his word. Rest upon his promise.

Here is his promise: “Because I live, you also will live” (Jn 14:19).

And that life, my friend, will be forever.

Sooner or later nearly every church is contaminated by contention. Like cancer, it infiltrates furtively at first and goes undetected. But eventually, it metastasizes and permeates the body, resulting in severely depleted strength. Or death.

Toxic Intruders

Paul used a lot of ink exhorting Christians to encourage one another, build each other up, love one another. He was following up on Jesus’ instruction: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34–35).

Satan’s most effective tactic for destroying a church is to infiltrate it with those who are divisive. He chooses intruders carefully: they are often persuasive, charismatic, invariably wearing a mask of love.

And they are toxic!

Don’t ever be influenced by destroyers of unity. They are contagious—a hazard to your spiritual health. “I urge you, brethren,” wrote Paul, “note those who cause division . . . and avoid them” (Rom 16:17).

If you give a sympathetic ear to the disrupter of unity, you become a partner in the crime of conflict. “[D]on’t invite him in and give him the run of the place. That would just give him a platform to perpetuate his evil way, making you his partner” (2 Jn 10–11 MSG).

Paul counseled Titus that after trying twice, “have nothing more to do with a person who causes conflict, because you know that someone like this is twisted and sinful” (Ti 3:10–11 CEB).

If you get sucked in by a divisive person, you will be polluted. Don’t bathe in dirty water.

Proverbs 6:16-19 tags seven things that are detestable to God; the final one being a person “who stirs up trouble among brothers.”

Don’t give a divisive person the keys to your church.

Friends or Foes?

Now, let’s switch gears and talk, not about church matters, but about those you hang out with. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, widely considered Germany’s greatest literary figure, said, “Tell me who you spend time with, and I will tell you who you are.”

You may think you’re strong enough to buck the pull of the profligate, but that’s naïve. The apostle Paul said it this way: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Cor 15:33 ESV).

The words and actions of those you spend time with influence your disposition, decisions, and direction. It goes both ways: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prv 13:20).

The character of your companions rubs off on you, for good or bad: work behind the perfume counter, and you’ll smell like perfume; work in the fish market, and you’ll smell like fish.

Ask this question about the company you’re keeping: Is this relationship moving me closer to the Lord or further from him?

Nor is it just about personal relationships. You are also influenced by what you read, what you watch, where you go. The environment you choose sculpts you into its image. It’s been called “the proximity effect.”

Choose your company carefully. “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow evil men’s advice, who do not hang around with sinners, scoffing at the things of God” (Ps 1:1 TLB).

Don’t Be Afraid

Feb
2018
03

To Abram, God said, “Do not be afraid . . . I am your shield” (Gn 15:1).

To Joshua, God said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Jo 1:9).

To Isaiah, God said comfort my people, telling them, “do not fear, for I am with you . . . I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you . . . (Is 41:10).

To his disciples, Jesus said, “my peace I give you. . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn 14:27).

Now, reread those four verses—but this time, insert your name in each as the recipient of the message.

God is just as powerful and concerned today as he was in the days of Abraham, Joshua, Isaiah, and Jesus?

Do you believe God is in charge: all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful? That’s a “yes” or “no” question, not a question with conditions attached: not, “Well, yes I believe that . . . but . . .”

Another question: Do you trust God to do the right thing?  “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” asked Abraham (Gn 18:25). It’s a rhetorical question, the obvious answer being, “Of course he will.” Do you believe that?

When people listen to you talk, do they hear faith or fear? If they could read your thoughts, would they see serenity or despair?

Behavioral scientists assert that we see things that we’ve conditioned ourselves to see. If you’ve disciplined yourself to see God in control, that’s what you will see—you’ll be pleasant company and sleep well. If you’ve conditioned yourself to see doom and gloom, that’s what you will see—you’ll be unpleasant company and won’t sleep well.

Are you limping through life, worrying (synonym for fear) about everything from global warming to political corruption to catastrophic accidents to hangnails to you-name-it; refusing to face the uncomfortable truth that this deadly cancer is poisoning your faith? It’s not incurable but can be fatal left untreated.

Fear and worry suck the oxygen out of faith. When worry takes up residence in the mind, it resists sharing the space with faith.

God can change you if you’ll let him: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). That’s an inward change that God can make in you . . . but he won’t make it without your consent and cooperation.

So clean out the garage; take the negative junk to the dumpster. Purge the closets; get rid of the old duds and put some color in your wardrobe—you’ve been wearing drab long enough.

You choose what you believe . . . and what you don’t believe. Go back to the top of this essay and drink a dose of those four verses again. Put some zip in your faith.

If you truly believe God is all-powerful and that he will do what is right, that’s quite enough to ensure a calm and peaceful life.

Let’s write a prayer together. I’ll start. You finish.

Dear God, Many things in our world—excuse me, Your world—seem to be falling apart. Please grant that our faith may not fail. Help us believe in you unconditionally. When our faith falters, remind us to say, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid” (Ps 56:3–4).

You take it from there . . .

A century or so down the road, if the Lord’s coming is delayed until then, people will look back at our time on this planet with as much fascination as we look back on the time of George Washington, Thomas Edison, or the Wright Brothers.

They’ll wonder what life was like for those of us who were alive when John Kennedy was assassinated, Christiaan Barnard performed the first heart transplant, and Neil Armstrong became the first person to plant boots on the moon.

They’ll wonder what it was like to ride in a car that required a human driver and to fly the friendly skies in a tube that required a human pilot.

They’ll wonder what it was like before robots did the household chores, the refrigerator placed the grocery order, and ocean farming provided a big chunk of the world’s food supply.

They’ll wonder what it was like before 3D printers were as common and affordable as laptops, enabling ordinary mortals to sculpt a pair of shoes or a new kidney.

They’ll wonder what it was like before the DNA composition of patients was precisely mapped and medical treatment targeted to each individual.

And they’ll wonder what it was like in a world where average life expectancy was less than 100 years.

Fascinating!

But those of us living in the here-and-now have a full plate navigating the next twelve months.

So cheers to a New Year and another chance to get it right.

It’s too late to change your past but not too late to change your future. At the beginning of a New Year, you have 365 blank pages—each to be scripted with God’s guidance: “his mercies begin afresh each day” (Lam 3:23 NLT). What plans does he have for you this year? Have you talked to him about that?

Time is beyond your control. You can’t bring it back once it’s gone. And you can’t stop its progress—can’t slow it down or turn it off. All you can do is use it. It’s like money in your pocket—you can spend it however you wish, but you can only spend it once.

With the flip of the last page of last year’s calendar, you buttoned down the end of what was and signaled the beginning of what is to be. You will be creating memories in this New Year. Make them good ones.

A lot of things happened in 2017 that you weren’t expecting. The same will be true this year. But that doesn’t mean you are left alone to helplessly face an uncertain future. “The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand” (Ps 37:23–24 NLT).

On Christmas Eve 1939, four months into the gloom of World War II, King George VI calmed jittery Brits in a BBC radio broadcast. He closed his oration with the preamble to Minnie Louise Haskins’ The Gate of the Year . . .

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God,
trod gladly into the night.

As the old year died and the new one is born, surrender the old to history, and seek God’s guidance for the new.

Reach for his hand; put yours in his: “That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

Happy New Year!

 

Only Six Miles

Dec
2017
02

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”   —Matthew 2:1–2

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We know very little about these Magi [wise men]. In fact, all we know is in Matthew chapter two: they appear in verse one and disappear in verse twelve.

We don’t know for sure where they came from; just “from the east.” Most likely Persia or Babylon: in either case, a trip of close to 1,000 miles.

We don’t know how long it took them to make the trip. Best guess among commentators is about two years.

We don’t know if they travelled alone, or with an entourage. Probably the latter.

We don’t know how many there were. Every Christmas pageant you’ve seen and Christmas card you’ve received pictures three, an assumption based on the three mentioned gifts they brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. A Far Side cartoon had four instead of three—but they sent the fourth packing, because he brought fruitcake as his gift.

We do know that “Magi” was the name given to priests and wise men of the Medes, Persians, and Babylonians (see Daniel 2:12, 18, 24, 27; 5:7–8) and that they were students of the stars; experts in astronomy and astrology.

And we know they made a very long trip to pay homage to baby Jesus and worship him.

They didn’t know his name, or exactly where he was, but assumed that information would be easily obtained in Jerusalem.

When news reached Herod’s ears that these foreigners were asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” he was alarmed and laid plans to eliminate the pintsize competition. Herod’s M.O. was to execute anyone who was a threat to his throne. He orchestrated the murder of his brother-in-law, his mother-in-law, his wife, and his sons, among others. Now an old man, with only months to live, he was on the hunt for a wee baby.

Herod called a meeting of the chief priests and teachers of the law [scribes] and asked where Christ was to be born. The answer was a no brainer for these authorities in Jewish religion; they knew the prophecies regarding the Messiah by heart. He would be born in Bethlehem, they said, for that’s what the prophet Micah had announced seven hundred years earlier. That’s the information the king and the wise men wanted.

Bethlehem was only six miles from Jerusalem; less than a two hour walk.

So off went the wise men on this last leg of a long trip.

Wouldn’t you think the teachers of the law would tag along—if not outrun—the Magi to see this child of prophecy? They had been teaching about the coming Messiah for years. Now they hear that he has been born—just six miles south in Bethlehem—and not one of them slipped on his sandals.

Herod feared him. The Magi sought him. The scribes ignored him.

Six miles from the fulfillment of prophecy. Six miles from salvation. Six miles from eternal life.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come . . . Only six miles.
Let earth receive her King . . . Only six miles.

O come, all ye faithful . . . Only six miles.
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem . . . Only six miles.
O come, let us adore him . . . Only six miles.

Six miles from the Savior . . . Only six miles.

University freshman Ben Byrum was lonely.

Ben had been to a nearby church a few times but didn’t feel connected or wanted. He decided to go one more time. He would walk in and sit down. If no one spoke to him before the service started, he would walk out and not return.

A countdown timer at the front of the sanctuary indicated the time remaining before the service would begin; five minutes to go.

People wandered in, gathered in cliques, slapped backs, gossiped, chuckled. No one spoke to him. Occasionally someone looked his way. He hoped they would smile or nod; he would count that a greeting and stay. Didn’t happen.

With thirty seconds remaining, Ben got ready to leave. He would go back to his room and stay there alone for the rest of the day.

With fifteen seconds left on the countdown clock, his math professor, seated two rows in front of him, turned around, smiled and said, “I’m glad you’re here, Ben.”

He stayed.

He doesn’t remember the sermon or what hymns were sung. What he remembers is being noticed. “People may forget what you say,” said Maya Angelou, “but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Don’t make the mistake of limiting this to Sunday morning church. Everyone wants to be wanted. Everyone needs to be noticed. Being ignored is rejection, pure and simple. And it hurts.

♦     ♦     ♦

A man in his thirties left his San Francisco apartment, walked to the Golden Gate Bridge, and jumped to his death.

A suicide letter, found on the dresser in his apartment said, “I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I won’t jump.”

You have to wonder how far the walk was from his apartment to the bridge and how many people he passed on the way—any one of whom could have saved a life with a smile.

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At 9:00 p.m. on a November night in 2015, Desmond Powell was walking home from a basketball game in Manchester, New Hampshire. Approaching the Granite Street Bridge, he saw a man sitting on the cement railing over the Merrimack River, 100 feet below.

“Hey buddy, what are you doing?” Powell asked.

“I’m gonna jump,” the man said.

For the next ten minutes they talked, the stranger alternating between crying and staring at the churning black water below. “I’m having a rough time,” he said. “I don’t have a job, I’m hungry, and I’m addicted to heroin.”

Powell inched closer, expressed his concern and told him the two-year-old daughter he had told him about loved and needed him. He held out his hand. The fellow gripped it and climbed down.

“I’m Desmond,” Powell said. “Let me buy you something to eat.” They ate and talked. After a while, the man said, “Desmond, can you call the police so I can get help?”

Fifteen minutes later, the police arrived. As he climbed into the patrol car, he turned to Powell. “Thank you,” he said. “You are my hero.” (This story excerpted and edited from Reader’s Digest, September 2017.)

Today let it be your smile, your “hello,” your word of encouragement that makes someone’s day.