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When the Old Testament spoke about going into battle against your enemies, there was never a time when defeat was considered a blessing. God’s favor was always equivalent to victory.  Defeat came when there was sin in the camp.

I have been reading through the book of Judges and this principle is very clear.  When Israel was obedient to God, then He blessed her with success on the field of battle.  The enemy was defeated when God’s favor was enjoyed by the nation.

When faithful leaders like Joshua and the elders who served with him were alive, the nation did well.  However, when these key leaders died, the nation slid into rebellious self-centeredness.  God pulled His favor and let the enemies enslave the Jews.

It wasn’t as if the Jews had been hoodwinked.  They knew full well that the favor of God was dependent on their obedience to His Word. Instead, they prostituted themselves to foreign fake gods.

Still in her suffering under foreign nations, God was still merciful.  He would raise up judges to rescue the people in miraculous ways.  Yet, even then the Jews remained stubborn and self-righteous in their lives of spiritual erosion.

This principle, however, is not to be confused with victory.  We sometimes get carried away in this confusion with our world of sports.  There is a horrible assumption that winning on the field of sports is somehow tantamount to the blessings of God.  It is not.

God can give victory even when a sports team loses.  Does that sound odd?  It shouldn’t. 

Afterall, Christians can be on both teams of a competition.  Both sides want to play we and compete with integrity.  But, only one team can win. 

If character and integrity are demonstrated while doing their very best, haven’t they experienced victory?  Whether the team or individual wins or loses, they can still experience victory in what really counts, even in sport.

When we give God the glory, live obediently to His Word we will enjoy His pleasure and secure a victory.  Sports and play do not have to register a win just to enjoy the pleasure of God.  Live faithfully according to His Word and His victory will always be ours.

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It was my turn to prepare dinner.  My creative juices began to flow.  Yvonne would be coming home from work plumb tuckered out.  This would be a chance to relieve her of another rock on her wagon.

In my mind I knew that there were several options that I had at my disposal.  My work day was filled so I had a window of opportunity to make our meal work before returning to my work for an evening session.

Once inside of my rig I smiled as I roared past Burger King.  No, there would be no fast food tonight.  Then, I zipped past the local chain restaurant where we have eaten a few times in the past.  Tonight we would not pay others to do what I initiated.

There ahead of me was my destination.  I pulled into the parking lot, looked at my watch and concluded that I could get this all done in time to set up dinner by the time Yvonne rolled into the driveway.  This was going to be a slick dinner preparation and she would see my gift of service just for her.

I grabbed a grocery cart and pushed it to the back of the store.  Crowds of people filled the meat aisle.  It didn’t take me long to grab what I needed.

Next, I headed toward the produce section.  Green and more green surrounded me.  Frankly, I was at a loss.  Then, a novel idea splashed in my mind.  Reaching out I grabbed what I needed and headed to the cash register.

When I pulled up to our house, I was pleased that Yvonne was not yet home.  Inside I set the table and laid out the meal for our dinner for two prepared by my initiative.  It felt good to welcome her home and lead her into the kitchen.

She sat down with a smile.  It was a surprise dinner.  She was expecting to cook but now she could relax. 

I popped the top of the Costco roasted whole chicken and carved it with skill.  Then, I served the miso vegetable soup that Costco sells in packages of two.  Hey, it wasn’t cooked by me but I did do the gathering. 

Furthermore, I warmed it all up just to a perfect temperature.  Most of all, Yvonne really enjoyed the meal!  God may not have given me culinary gifts but He has given me several efficient bones in my body!

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It was time to go out for a meal.  We were feeling adventurous so we called up Yelp.com to look for a highly recommended restaurant. 

Tonight we found a restaurant that was highly ranked for great food.  Different people complimented the taste, friendliness and overall experience.  Several key dishes were highlighted as well.

We walked in about 5.20PM.  There were only three tables that were occupied but a buzz of activity was stirring around the cash register and the serving window to the kitchen.  Nothing in the restaurant was noticeable when it comes to decor just as reviews on Yelp had concurred.

After looking over the menu, we made our selections.  The waitress was also the cashier, packager of take-out foods and greeter of the take-out customers who came in with hunger on their faces.  During a break of delivering package after package of take-out items I waved her down.

It was almost like surprising her when I called her over.  Yes, we are areal customers in your eatery looking forward to our first dining experience with you.  She smiled, took our order and served us a pot of tea.

Ten minutes passed.  Customers for take-out kept streaming in and picking up their dinner.  I was impressed with the steady stream of customers.

Twenty minutes passed.  All of the food that the cooks were passing through the window were in styrofoam carry-out containers. I was getting hungry.

Thirty minutes passed.  Now, my hunger was getting me grumpy.  I waved at the hostess.  She smiled and waved back, “Soon!”

The waitress disappeared into the kitchen and returned to bring us some hot soup that we did not order.  It was complimentary to soothe our hunger pangs.  This was a nice gesture and it worked.

Forty minutes later she brought our first dish.  She apologized and said that the take-out orders flood their place from 5-630PM.  That was accurate since after all of our food was on our table, she and cooks were relaxing, sitting down and reading the paper.  It was stunning to see the transformation.

By the way, the food was very good.  There’s nothing about the ambiance of the place but the taste and portions were worth returning, just not during this madhouse take-out hour.  God tests our patience.  Hunger is one of those testing grounds that is a huge challenge for our demanding appettites.

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Groan.  My gas gauge was dipping below a half-full.  Some time soon I would have to stop at a station and fill up. 

I drove past a few gas stations.  The high price of gasoline made me shake my head in disappointment.  Quickly I estimated how much it would be to fill up.

After a few days I couldn’t wait any more.  To do so would be unwise.  Just when I had to run off to an appointment I would run out of gas. 

To keep from missing an appointment and wasting a day making up for my oversight I pulled into a station with gasoline marked over $4.00 a gallon.  No, I thought; there is no way that I am better off than I was three years ago.  It’s not even close.

But, the one on top has told me and my fellow Americans that there is little that he can do.  Rumors fly that he and his are orchestrating rising prices in order to advance non-fossil fuel industries.  It is possible; goofy but certainly possible.

Can the free be punished enough to change their lifestyle from liberty to subjection?  Does the choice of the citizens of the land possibly abdicate their pursuit of happiness to be quietly aligned with values chosen by another?

It is strange that gasoline keeps on climbing.  The news of high prices keeps creeping up.  Once in a while a momentary relief comes.  But, the certainty of the constant growth upwards is undeniable.

For the news there is a slim margin for making the noise to capture an audience.  People feed on the moaning of others who feel the same pain at the pump.  Everyone gets a momentary fix on sharing in the complaining, then its off to the next disaster or piece of bad news. 

Oh, well.  Whining never accomplished much, eh?  It has a short-term satisfaction but doesn’t do much in the long run. 

Nobility gains much more.  In spite of the limits that impose themselves on our circumstances, cheer, optimism and eternal priorities are all that we need to make it to through the next day.

It’s not about taking shots at D.C., no matter who is there or what party fills that role.  Instead, it is about the eternal King of Kings who rules at the side of the Father in the hearts of those who by faith put their trust in Him.  High gas prices is a reminder that we just aren’t home yet.

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The invitations were sent out.  All of the expenses had been covered.  Details for transportation, housing, meals, programming, reservations, et cetera had all been meticulously administrated.

At the appointed time the meal for our local area San Francisco pastors had arrived.  The aroma was mouth-watering.  All of the tables had been set up, name tags were in place, coffee was brewing, tea was seeping.

Our guest of honor arrived.  Dr. Gene Getz, teacher extraordinaire walked through the doors of our church.  A very alert staff ushered him into my office where we warmly greeted each other.

Once my appointment was done we scanned the area and began welcoming our very busy pastors.  They came in pairs, some solo but they came.

Lunch time came at the top of the hour.  We paused to thank the Lord for the food.  Then, pastors made themselves a plate of food.

As we fellowship others came through the doors.  Some were late trying to find parking. Others had last-minute appointments to finish.  Finally, we could all rest and have a wise experienced fellow pastor teach us from the Word and his life.

We were riveted to Getz’s presentation.  It made perfect sense.  The challenges that each of pastors faced were linked to the lesson that was being presented.

Function over form was the lesson for the day.  Forms change with culture and history.  But, the deeper and lasting principle for life is to discern the function that should be practiced in every generation.

If we allow Scripture and function to rule the day we can indeed be leaders who are effective.  If we can discern what is tradition and adjustable to satisfy the primary path of our ministries, then we can be confident that we are doing His will.  Human origins for praxis must never supersede what is given by God for man to do.

Soon after the presentation, the shepherds of our city gathered around this proven servant of God.  They were filled with questions.  In their hearts were inquiries that longed for answers.

With kindness and patience Dr. Getz fielded every searcher’s query.  All of us learned so much from his wisdom and clarity.  The light went on for so many who could now decipher problems in their churches with this simple template.

The teacher had come.  We who teach so many all learned as students once again.  Forever, seeking.  Constantly, discovering.

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 Life for most of us needs to be simplified.  If we don’t regularly reassess our priorities, intricacies and demands make life ungainly.  Instead, we must choose a center and not deviate from it.

Those who follow Christ can make this choice simple.  Jesus Christ is the center of all that they do.  He has given them new life by grace through faith and deciding to live life with Him as the primary focus is both reasonable and commendable.

It’s not about people.  If we look to people and decide something positive or negative about them based on appearance we will get it wrong.  People in history did that with Jesus and erred greatly.

Instead, we who are followers of Christ refocus that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.  What is past is past. Our identity and those in the body of Christ now find our identity in Him.  It is refreshing to be new!

The world is hungry for miracles.  He made us one of them.  We are now reconciled with an Almighty God whom we offended deeply because of our selfish sinful way of living.  He did this through Christ’s great sacrifice on the cross where our sins were paid.

Forgiveness is a relief in life that has no comparison.  Not only can we breathe a sigh of relief, we can rejoice in His grace.  But, with blessing comes responsibility.

As a recipient of amazing grace, we now represent Him to others who need this same mercy that has been given to us.  We tell others is if God is actually speaking through us.  The message is now personal and we are charged to share it with others.

It’s time to embrace what Christ made possible.  Enjoy fellowship with the Father in Heaven.  Take in the reconciliation benefits of being a friend of God.

Always remember Jesus Christ.  His obedient sacrifice made it possible for us.  Love Him for loving us. 

He has given us peace.  Embrace it, celebrate it, enjoy it.  But, most of all share it with others.  Let others gather the conclusion that our lives have been saved and now are secure in HIM.

2 corinthians 5.16-21

Ah.  The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is a great day to take as a vacation day.  Getting ready for this family holiday is very relaxing. 

We ran all of our errands.  It was fast and efficient.  There were lots of holiday crowds that filled the aisles, waited in long check out lines and honked during traffic congestion.

With everything done we pulled into a strip mall for lunch.  The burrito was yummy.  Yvonne’s fried chicken was wonderfully fragrant.

Traffic around me was busy so I waited before backing out of my parking slot.  When the coast was clear, I put my truck into reverse and backed out.  Just when I was about to brake and shift my rig into drive, there was a slight jolt and a bang.

Doesn’t that sound and feeling make for a horrible combination?  There was no vehicle behind me.  No one was screaming.

But, there was an unmistakable certainty that I ran into something that gave way under Bubba’s strength and girth.  I pulled back into to my parking spot and climbed out of my cab.  There behind me on the opposite curb was a sign for Starbuck’s drive through entry. 

Yeah, I backed into a sign.  Dumb sign!  Who makes a sign so low that you can’t see it when you’re backing up?  The Seattle Coffee people do, I guess.

I’m a guy.  This kind of thing is irritating.  It happens but it is a nuisance, annoying and frustrating.

Inside the Starbuck’s store I talked to the shift supervisor.  I told her what happened.  She was very pleasant.  I gave her all of my pertinent information. 

Yvonne and I drove home.  There we enjoyed our lunch.  At least she did.  I was feeling kind of low.

A phone call to my insurance agent was helpful.  She was very accommodating and assured me that they would take care of everything.  But, it was still a disheartening moment.

Insurance is a good thing to have.  No, it is a necessary protection to have.  We pay the monthly premiums for these kinds of accidents.  It’s part of life.

The odds makers are betting that we will have an accident.  We are betting that we won’t.  I’m not really sure who wins that bet.

Oh well.  It is Thanksgiving and I have a lot of big blessings to be thankful.  I’ll start counting them one by one. 

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Racism follows the formation of the 332nd Fighter Group from recruitment, training and deployment.  This is the Tuskegee training program that forms an all African-American fighter pilot combat group.  They were highly decorated and amassed an impressive record of successes protecting bombers.

Prejudiced senior officers managed to give the 332nd behind the lines unimportant missions.  Those who are born with an ethnic identity, learn how to expect the blind-sided hits, being marginalized or the disrespect constantly shoveled out by the bigots who fill positions where they have no moral right to be.

People are people with challenges, trials and interpersonal conflict.  When outside challenges threaten, they band together.  Danger brings out their loyalties to each other.

Behind the scenes is their commander who fights for their opportunity to fight.  They get their chance to face German fighters.  Our gunned and out-classed in experience they manage to deal a mortal blow against the Luftwaffe. 

Their air battle success earns them the chance to be assigned the mission to protect the first bombing of Germany.  The Red Tails will be protecting the bombers from the best of Germany’s air force which now includes the first jet fighter aircraft.  Courage wins the day for the American fighters. 

There are individual battles throughout the film.  Some are between friends who have their own escapes from the demons of life.  Booze dulls the pain for some.  Others live on the wild side to ventilate their energy.

Multiple layers of challenge deepen the threads that the story follows.  Jr. is shot down.  He follows his own adventure as a POW. 

Whether it was with his fighter group or on his own, the prejudices surrounded him.  Even in his attempted escape from the Stalag, he never lost the awareness of the racial tensions that he must live by in order to survive and succeed.  His dog tags were returned to his commanding officer by a fellow POW who successfully escaped.

Over the life of the fighter group in the European theater history records that loss of 66 flyers.  It is more than a number.  Each life that is lost in battle tears at the soul of all who know them.

This movie was so well done.  The characters were multi-dimensional, complementary to each other and intriguing.  It is a movie worth watching.

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It wouldn’t have taken much to make me change my mind.  The wind was brisk.  Wind is one of those four letter words that bicyclists have high on their list of unfavorable conditions.

But, it’s the Pacific Ocean.  When doesn’t the wind blow?  The constant pummeling of the waves on to the shores of the California coast are proof that the wind is always rolling the surface of the waters to start their march to land. 

There were good features about today’s ride.  The sun was shining brightly.  It’s rays would help offset the cool temperatures brought about by the relentless winds. 

I saw a few joggers and cyclists who were already into their workout regimen.  They were all bundled up well.  Collars were turned up, jackets were zipped up to their necks and some even wore a balaclava. 

My mount was ready to roll into action.  My helmet was on, gloves tightened and peddle cages adjusted to hold my feet into place.  Into the wind I pushed.

Only a few strokes into my ride and I was stunned at how deafening it was.  Wind noise was loud and pulsating.  That alone would wear and tear on my ride.

Chilly winds seeped into my jacket whenever unprotected folds opened even a small crack with the bending of my gear.  That initial coolness disappeared when my internal furnace warmed up my core with each stroke of the crankset.    But, the noise never stopped.  It was relentless.

It was like riding in a storm.  Gusts made the noise crescendo and force my thinking to bend to wonderment if riding today was a bad choice.  No one likes to get stuck in one of God’s weather moments that defies human comfort and safety.

However, everything changed when I reached my end point and turned around.  Now I started riding with the wind.  The contrast was even more shocking.

Now, there was NO noise.  I looked around to see if I had ridden into the eye of a storm where everything is calm and free from inclement weather.  The only thing that had changed was my direction.

Peddling was so much easiest that I dropped my shifting into a downhill combination.  The stout breezes now carried me along.  Swiftly the terrain melted on both sides and the asphalt drummed beneath my wheels.

Riding is both work and a breeze.  Today, the wind was both a foe and a friend.  All in all it was a great day to be outside and go with whatever was given.

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His countenance wasn’t beaming with its usual cheery and carefree optimistic glow.  I missed seeing that for months.  Something was wrong.

When it was right, I shouldered up to my friend and smiled.  Let’s grab a Pepsi sometime soon, ok?  He was free on Thursday so we set up a rendezvous.

It was a dive of a place but it was always quiet there.  We ordered and did the small talk until the food arrived.  Usually we did the guy thing and scarfed the food down between jawing and exaggerating.

This time we just pushed our food around from one side of the plate to the other.  We had other things on our minds besides our appetite.  It was time to broach the subject.

What’s got you down?  You’re carry a burden that is too heavy for any human.  Let me know how I can help.

There was no specific allegation against him.  But, the insinuation was loud.  There was no sin but extreme bias was locked into place.

His accuser had very few facts but lots of emotions.  He was facing a barrage of anger, insults and speculation.  It would mean a major change in his life.

He looked up without tears, “Are you going to abandon me too?” 
“Why would you ask that?”
“They made it sound really bad but it’s all speculation.  It’s like they wanted me out and I had no chance.  Now, that I’m gone so many are treating me like a pariah.”
“Of course I’m not going to abandon you.  We are friends.”
“Thanks.”

It’s odd how we forget that we have been redeemed and accepted by the One whose righteousness was offended by our choices.  He accepted us unconditionally through HIS Son Jesus.  Yet, we talk ourselves into abandoning others for far lesser offenses.  We slip into a self-righteous judgmental mode and turn our backs on a hurting friend.  I know Jesus would not do that.

My friend and I shook hands.  It was a strong shake and it lasted longer than courtesy suggests.  Our eyes met and locked into our souls.  It was a grace moment.

His loneliness would not be deepened by me.  That dark experience in life had wounded him but it was a gash that would not be allowed to fester.  Friendship and loyalty would help him climb out of that awful pit.  He would not be alone.

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