Two boys were playing in the Atlantic Ocean on a holiday weekend not far from their Florida home when they were caught in a rip tide. Bobby saw them and without hesitating swam to his fourteen-year-old and eleven-year-old sons. He got them on their boogie boards but could not overcome the pull of the current. Bobby Klein died while saving his boys.

This tragedy took place a little over ten years ago. Bobby and I were two of a group of friends who constantly played football, basketball, and baseball in the neighborhood. We also spent a lot of time at each others’ houses. Bobby’s dad William owned a grocery store in Chattanooga. He did not talk about it, but we all knew William Klein was a survivor of the Holocaust.

I was thinking of Bobby last week and found his dad’s recorded testimony in the archives of the Holocaust Museum in Washington D. C. Later in life, Mr. Klein decided he needed to share his story of growing up as a Jew in a small town in Czechoslovakia and the terrible persecution from Hitler’s evil regime. He visited schools and spoke on radio and television programs.

I had not heard Mr. Klein’s voice in over forty years until I listened to the ninety-one minute recording. Jews were forced to wear the yellow star of David in his town early in 1943. Then in 1944, William, his brother, a sister, both parents, and a brother-in-law were forced into a crowded cattle train for a three day foodless journey to Auschwitz. Separated upon arrival, Mr. Klein never saw his parents or sister again. After two months in Auschwitz, William, his brother, and brother-in-law volunteered to work in Warsaw, Poland. A few months after arriving in Warsaw, 11,800 prisoners were forcibly marched to Germany; only 800 survived. The three relatives were imprisoned in Dachau until the war ended in 1945.

Mr. Klein told his story in a matter-of-fact manner. He said Jews should remember, but not hate; hatred only destroys the one who hates. He recalled his childhood when Jews and non-Jews in his town looked out for one another. Minimalizing his own suffering, Mr. Klein often gave credit to God for allowing him to survive. Fifteen-hour work days, beatings, injuries, and inhumane living conditions were viewed as obstacles to overcome. He, his brother, and brother-in-law tried to help others as much as they could while witnessing cruelties beyond description.

Mr. Klein died at the age of eight-three, six months before his son died rescuing his grandsons. I think he would have praised Bobby for reacting as he was taught to live. Mr. Klein’s only boasting was about his family in Czechoslovakia and his family in America. His simple analysis: “We loved one another.”

I learn these lessons from my neighbors, the Kleins:

  • Do not hesitate to rescue someone in danger, even at risk of losing your life
  • Do not hate those who are consumed with hatred
  • Do not seek pity, even though you have suffered greatly
  • Encourage others through your own experiences
  • Treasure your family; honor your parents; love your children

“My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within, my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed… Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait on Him.’” Lamentations 2:11, 3:22-24

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Some opponents of a life in close fellowship with God are not necessarily wrong in and of themselves. For example, it is good to be aware of what is taking place in the world so we can share kingdom-centered thinking with others, but when troubling news and endless quarreling detract from our joy in the Lord, we can easily grow depressed with problems we will never solve. In communion with Him, God wants to give His children the ability to walk in the light and be peaceful voices of hope in a dark world.

Opponents of fellowship with God often tempt us to only seek pleasure in the temporal. As a coach, I’ve seen many benefits of athletics. Young people learn to work hard, to work together, to persevere though hardship, and to show good sportsmanship in all types of situations. But when a sport or other activity consumes all our thinking and time, a person can easily forget the eternal purposes of God.

Even work can be an opponent to fellowship with the One who loves us most. “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered. ‘You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:40-42)

Incredibly, Jesus says ‘only one thing is needed’… surely the one thing is Him! The late Henri Nouwen had a chance to visit with Mother Teresa one time. Here’s the account of his experience:

Once, quite a few years ago, I had the opportunity of meeting Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I was struggling with many things at the time and decided to use the occasion to ask Mother Teresa’s advice. As soon as we sat down I started explaining all my problems and difficulties – trying to convince her of how complicated it all was! When, after ten minutes of elaborate explanation, I finally became silent, Mother Teresa looked at me quietly and said: “Well, when you spend one hour a day adoring your Lord and never do anything which you know is wrong… you will be fine!”

When she said this, I realized suddenly that she had punctured my big balloon of complex self-complaints and pointed me far beyond myself to the place of real healing. In fact, I was so stunned by her answer that I didn’t feel any desire or need to continue the conversation. The many people waiting outside the room to see her could probably use her time better than I. So I thanked her and left. Her few words became engraved on my heart and mind to this day.

As we live on this earth, let’s not forget the ‘one thing’ that is needed.

“Come to Me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Quote from Here and Now by Henri Nouwen, The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1994, pp 118-119

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img_0787Susan and I spent the holiday weekend with Kinsey and Karlyn at the beach. Two-year-old Owen was there, as was his baby sister who is waiting to be born. Perhaps there is nothing we enjoy more these days than having fellowship with our children.

One evening in July, Taylor came to see me in the hospital. We talked a long time… about family, kids, school, coaching, and memories. I felt great while we visited, but after he left the chills and fevers returned. That sleepless night, God impressed upon me the joy of fellowship He has with His children.

We know there is great benefit in prayer. We make our requests, we intercede for others, and we ask for blessing. But fellowship involves a different dimension of prayer life. If Taylor had simply entered my hospital room, asked for things he wanted me to do for him then exited, I would have felt a little sad. Of course I would have loved my son, but I might have wondered why he didn’t want to hang out a little longer.

That night I also realized how many decisions I make without ever consulting the One who knows all. I was thinking of a particular situation when it seemed the Lord said: “If you had asked Me, I would have said…” This was not a rebuke and there was not an ounce of condemnation, but it made me realize that, though the Creator of the universe constantly invites me to His throne, I rarely take advantage.

It is not uncommon for Taylor, Kinsey, or Karlyn to call for a little advice. “Dad, here’s the dilemma… what would you do?” They want know what I think. When Jesus went by Himself to pray, He must have spent much of His time listening and watching. “I tell you the truth, the Son can only do what He sees the Father doing, for whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19) “Whatever I say is just what the Father has told Me to say.” (John 12:50)

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ teachings, His good works, and His love flowed from constant fellowship with His Father. “Lord, help us not forget to sit at Your feet and listen and learn. Thank you for offering us fellowship with You.”

“It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Me.” (John 6:45)

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A close friend who lives in another town texted: “I’m sorry you had to go back in the hospital. Was that expected or is this a setback?” I picked up a sinus infection several days ago and because my immune system is so compromised, I ended up spending five more days on the ninth floor at Emory. Here’s a great ‘setback’ story from the Old Testament:

So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. (Exodus 17:10-13)

Moses discovered that when his hands were down there was a setback; when his hands were up, there was victory. If this is the complete secret to success, surely my hands will always be up… and I’ll go undefeated. And if it works on the battlefield, then perhaps I can find a way to keep my hands up when I play my neighbor in checkers. And when I anticipate a long argument with my wife, I’ll invite Aaron and Hur to my house.

As far as we know, this is only time such battle tactics were used, but surely there is a message for God’s children. After the battle, “Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is My Banner. He said, ‘For hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord.’” (Exodus 17:15-16)

I recently woke up in the middle of the night with these thoughts, and started feeling one of the lingering symptoms of the sinus infection. Two Tylenol always help with the headaches, so I rose, took two tablets and went back to bed. Twenty minutes later, I was still thinking about this story and my headache was much worse. Laying on my side, I lifted up my free arm and gained immediate relief from the pain. “Hmm,” I thought, “I don’t think Susan will appreciate me waking her up with the request to hold my hand toward the ceiling the rest of the night.” Thankfully the headache did not return.

Setbacks are a part of life, but God wants us to always live with Him as our Banner… and we need brothers and sisters like Aaron and Hur to do it. We cannot live victoriously without members of the Body of Christ reminding us of the Father’s heart and holding our hands up when we are weak.

To live as The Lord is My Banner, we must keep our eyes lifted up. “God is over all; He is not worried or confused; I will exalt Him.” The world cannot be expected to think or act this way, but God’s children can… because “we know and rely on the love God has for us.” In the last verse of 10,000 Reasons, Matt Redman says such living sustains us to the end of our time on earth and into life eternal.

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come.
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore.

Bless the Lord oh my soul. Oh my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before, oh my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name.

“I look up to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

10,000 Reasons ©2011 Atlas Mountain Songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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Toward the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien’s first book in his Lord of the Rings masterpiece, Gandalf faced a monster in the mines of Moria to stop its advance upon his friends. “You cannot pass!” was Gandalf’s bold declaration… spoken with the authority God gives His children against the enemy. The resulting struggle caused both the monster and Gandalf to fall into the abyss.  The eight remaining members of the Fellowship were overwhelmed with sorrow at the loss of their leader.

In The Two Towers, the second book of the trilogy, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas were shocked beyond belief in the dreaded Fangorn Forest when a shining figure revealed himself as the friend they thought had perished. Gandalf had survived the fall and defeated his foe. He declared, “I have passed through fire and deep water, since we parted. I have forgotten much I thought I knew, and learned again much that I had forgotten.”

I told Susan that it seems God knows that every few years I need to be shut away in the hospital for a couple of weeks. He teaches me best when my full attention is on Him with the sure understanding that He alone is the Sovereign Lord who holds everything in His hands.

One night of chills and fevers, I opened my eyes to see that I was receiving an infusion of red blood cells, which supply oxygen to the body and give us energy. My immediate reaction was to raise one arm and say, “Thank you for the blood!” (Anyone who has experienced the boost of energy from receiving blood can relate.)

“I learned again much that I had forgotten.” Despite having a blood disease… and despite being reminded of blood’s importance every time I visit the doctor… and despite participating in Communion every Sunday… I tend to forget.

“Thank you for the blood,” triggered every good thought of what Jesus has done for me. He gave His blood… to cover my sins. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22) The life of the innocent Lamb of God was willingly laid down for our wrongdoing. Jesus’ blood cleanses us… and this gift should never be forgotten.

“Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” Matthew 26:27-28

“If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.” I John 1:7

(Quote from The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien, ©1954, p 98)

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