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A Masterwork of God

(From Morning by Morning, March 4.)

S. Truett Cathy (1921-2014) was just such a person, who grew up in poverty during the Great Depression to become a steadfast and unmovable masterwork of God.

At age eight he started his own business, inspired by a woman in his Atlanta, Georgia neighborhood. She sold cupcakes from her front yard.

M-m-m.  What could I sell to earn some money? Truett wondered. 

The answer: soft drinks. He purchased six bottles for a quarter and sold them for a nickel apiece. Just twenty six-packs, he figured, and I’ll have a whole dollar.

Truett quickly realized he could expand sales by enticing the door-to-door salesmen with cold drinks. He began to serve ice with the soda.

Soon the young entrepreneur had saved four dollars—enough to buy an old bicycle. Now he could make quicker profits by delivering newspapers.  But competition for customers was stiff with three well-established papers in Atlanta.

Truett had learned the value of customer satisfaction, however, so he made sure his papers landed on porches. On rainy days he put them inside the screen doors, and his customer list grew.

Truett delivered papers until high school graduation, after which he was drafted into the Army. Upon honorable discharge in 1945, Truett returned home to pursue his lifelong dream:  owning a business.

He decided to open a restaurant, knowing a bit about cooking for a crowd.  For years he’d helped his mother as she daily prepared meals not only for their family of nine but also for six boarders.

Truett and his younger brother Ben pooled their resources, took out a loan and bought a piece of land near a Ford assembly plant and Delta Airlines at the airport which provided a large customer base.

The tiny restaurant, aptly named the Dwarf Grill, included just ten counter stools and four tables.  The brothers served quick-to-fix burgers and steaks.

(The Dwarf Grill is still in operation, but in a new building with a revised name.)

They worked hard and the business thrived. But in 1949 tragedy struck. Ben, another brother, and two friends were killed.

Later Truett would remark, “I lost two brothers in an airplane crash, both of them leaving a wife and kids.  When I get to heaven, that’s probably the first question I’d like to ask: Why was it necessary?”[1]

The heartbreak did not erode Truett’s strong faith in God, which had been inspired by his devout mother and nurtured by Sunday School teacher and life-long mentor, Theo Abbey.

Then more trouble ensued.  In 1959 Truett was diagnosed with colon cancer. In an interview he explained that just prior to the successful surgery he experienced a new peace, knowing that whether he lived or died, he would be with God.[2] God granted another fifty-six years.

In 1960 the second restaurant burned to the ground, and then the original Dwarf Grill caught fire in 1965. But instead of becoming discouraged, Truett leaned on his God, growing stronger in faith and more determined than ever.

With only one restaurant to oversee, he focused his time on developing the menu. Truett remembered his mother’s impressive fried chicken, how she seasoned it the night before and put it in the ice box to marinate. 

He experimented with recipes, tried his efforts on regular customers and soon created a new menu item: the Chick-fil-A sandwich—a play on the word fillet, but also indicating the meat was grade A.

Customers loved the new sandwich, and in 1967, Truett opened the first Chick-fil-A restaurant. One successful opening followed another until, in the year 2000, the restaurant chain grossed one billion dollars in sales. By 2018, it surpassed $10 billion in sales.

(Enlarge this image to read about Truett Cathy’s winning habits
–based on Biblical principles.)

Today, the company generates more revenue per restaurant than any other fast-food chain, even though all locations are closed on Sundays. (Since his first day in the restaurant business, Truett set aside that day for his employees and himself “to rest and worship if they choose.”[3])

Truett’s commitment to put God first is expressed in the company’s statement of purpose: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”[4]

Truett also delighted to glorify God by spending his fortune to encourage others.

How do you identify someone who needs encouragement?

That person is breathing.

–Truett Cathy

Since 1973, Chick-fil-A has given more than $35 million in college scholarships to its employees. Truett also founded the WinShape Foundation, providing approximately $18 million dollars for the development of foster homes and summer camps.

His legacy of planting Christian ideals in the lives of others continues, even though Masterwork Samuel Truett Cathy now resides in heaven. (He is survived by his wife of sixty-six years, three children, eighteen grandchildren, and nineteen great-grandchildren.)


[1] https://www.quotetab.com/quote/by-s-truett-cathy/i-lost-two-brothers-in-an-airplane-crash-both-of-them-leaving-a-wife-and-kids-w

[2] https://www.11alive.com/article/news/thank-you-god-that-im-alive-in-book-chick-fil-a-founder-s-truett-cathy-shared-faith-affirming-brush-with-mortality/85-48c52862-7a53-4167-9e7a-1a37bd8d6185

[3] https://thechickenwire.chick-fil-a.com/inside-chick-fil-a/secret-menus-and-closed-on-sundays-chick-fil-a-fact-or-fiction

[4] https://billygraham.org/story/a-conversation-with-truett-cathy

Other Sources:

http://www.academicstar.us/UploadFile/Picture/2015-7/20157331854318.pdf

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/311452

http://www.giantsforgod.com/s-truett-cathy/

https://www.thextraordinary.org/s-truett-cathy

Photo credits: http://www.pixhive.com; http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.samiskelton.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pxfuel.com.

Liquid Love

“God’s presence flowed over me like liquid love.”[1]

Isn’t that delightful imagery?

Perhaps you’ve experienced God’s presence as liquid love—deep-down warmth drenching the soul through a God-enhanced moment, overflowing joy as he lavished favor upon you.

Looking back on 2021, I can identify such glorious moments and have included a few of them below.  Perhaps they’ll trigger memories of your own, when you experienced liquid love from God’s river of delights.

First, the highlight of 2021:  our youngest two granddaughters invited Jesus into their lives—one in August, one in December.  Nothing warms the heart more than seeing loved ones take this all-important step of faith!

Prior to Covid vaccines, a friend arranged a Zoom call for three of us to enjoy a cup of coffee together—virtually.  The delightful gab fest, mutual encouragement and prayer for one another did indeed generate the warm flow of God’s liquid love.

A week of balmy weather in April allowed us to bask in sunshine-amidst-bird-song much earlier in the year than usual.

(Deck view of our backyard, mid-April)

Inspiration for blog posts often comes at unexpected times.  One morning while getting ready for a women’s Zoom Bible study, an idea suddenly occurred to me. I smiled at the pleasure of it, knowing exactly where the notion came from!

After thirteen months of separation, we reveled in joining our son, daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters for dinner in their home.  The best moment:  reaching the third floor playroom, seeing the girls’ faces light up as they shouted, “Nana!” and tangling together in a glorious hug.

(Snuggling for a selfie)

Early May Steve and I were able to return to church. Though masks hid smiles and hugs were verboten (at first), we celebrated the togetherness of church family and the joys of in-person, corporate worship.

Mid-spring we watched four fox kits cavorting in the grass—a number of times.  Their jumping, wrestling, and teasing nips at one another made us laugh.  Better yet, such close encounters with God’s creatures feel like personal love-gifts from him.  Indeed, “God’s love notes are stashed everywhere.”[2] They even appear in our own backyard.

Speaking of love-gifts, one lies upon our living room floor—a new rug.  Though our wish-list was quite specific, and options studied online weren’t measuring up, the perfect choice presented itself in the first store we visited. (The discovery of a rug that appealed to both of us was a bit of miracle in itself!) 

A Ruegg family reunion (13 of us) in a large, rustic cabin took place in August.  What a glorious time of hiking, games, reading, long conversations, superb meals (planned and prepared by our older son and daughter-in-law), and even a song-fest around the fire pit one evening—all enjoyed in perfect weather no less.

Another cabin-adventure—this time with old friends–occurred in October.  The mountain view out the back windows took our breath away; the laughter, banter, and coziness of our relationship produced a considerable uptick of endorphins. 

(Mineral Bluff, Georgia)

Granted, people take pleasure in nature, family, friends, and delightful experiences all the time—without God. But for believers in Christ, the pleasure of each gift is richly augmented because God is in it with us.

Another gift?  The overflow of liquid love often becomes blissful tears.

Now it’s your turn. In the past year, how did God’s love flow over you like liquid love? Share your experience in the comment section below!


[1] Pat Chen, Intimacy with the Beloved, quoted by Linda Dillow in Satisfy Your Thirsty Soul, 82.

[2] Sara Hagerty, Unseen, 106.

Photo credits: http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg (2); http://www.flickr.com; Steve Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com.

Deep Delight

One of the psalmists proclaimed, “I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight” (Psalm 43:4). The statement raises the question, How do you delight in someone who can’t be seen or touched?

Perhaps we can discover the answer by considering how we delight in the people around us. My father offers a perfect example.

First let me tell you: Dad worked miracles with his numerous tools.  He could fix or build practically anything, as well as paint and wallpaper like a pro.

We were probably among the first to have a built-in sound system.  Dad wired and hooked up a speaker in every room (each with its own on-and-off switch), so anything on the radio or hi-fi could be heard anywhere in the house. 

Dad also built custom-sized furniture:  in the living room–a bookcase (with open shelves above and enclosed shelves below) along with Mom’s music cabinet; in the kitchen—new cupboards and a storage cabinet; in Mom’s and Dad’s bedroom—a large dresser; and for my brother John and me—desks. Each project displayed his careful attention to detail.

But Dad’s admirable qualities weren’t only on display in his home improvement projects.  He demonstrated patience while teaching us how to play Muggins (an old card game), how to use his tools, and how to plant seeds.

He exemplified selflessness by taking us sledding and kite-flying in the park, swimming at the community pool, and biking around town. Dad proved his generosity by volunteering time and effort to help neighbors and fulfill various needs at church.  

When Dad said, “Who wants to pick up some lumber with me?” or “Who wants to go to the hardware store?” John and I were ready to drop whatever we were doing. 

It’s not that these were exciting activities in themselves, it was Dad who made them a special delight–conversing with us as we rode to and from, pointing out items of interest along the way, and holding our small hands in his big ones as we crossed streets.  

Now all this activity and industriousness took place decades ago of course, yet I still take pleasure in remembering his noteworthy undertakings and attributes. In fact, appreciation and admiration for him have only increased over time.  I consider myself privileged to have known Dad and spent time with him.

(Dad and me, mid-1960s)

To know our Heavenly Father we turn to the Bible, of course.  There we learn about his wonderful deeds and miracles. We see God’s glorious character traits on display, including his astounding abilities, his goodness, generosity, and love. We soon find ourselves delighting in all that he is.

We also delight in God as we spend time with him–celebrating what he’s done in our past and praising him for what he’s accomplishing today. We learn important life lessons from him.  And we consider the benefits bestowed by our Heavenly Father, his eternal commitment to us, unfailing love for us, and strength-infusing presence with us.

We find ourselves happily praising God:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 7335.jpeg

Then we turn all these contemplations into gratitude.

The daily practice of the discipline of gratitude

is the way to daily practice the delight of God.

–Ann Voskamp*

And what will be the result of such a practice?  Pleasurable wonder, resilient faith, and serene contentment—as a start. Doesn’t that sound glorious? Especially during these turbulent times.

In addition, we’ll bring delight to him also (Psalm 147:11). Imagine that!

Perhaps we’d do well to turn Psalm 43:4 into a New Year’s resolution for 2022:

[Daily] I will go to the altar of God,

to God, my joy and my [deep] delight.

____________________

*One Thousand Gifts, 82.

Photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.pixnio.com; Henry Mensinger (my grandfather); http://www.heartlight.org (2); http://www.pixabay.com.

Christmas in the Psalms

For most of us, the words Christmas scriptures bring to mind the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke.  We may even remember the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah.

Rarely will we think of the psalms as part of the Christmas story, yet at least a dozen passages from the Book of Songs include references related to Christ’s birth. A few qualify as outright prophecies; other statements are less direct, but hindsight allows us to make delightful connections.

So for each passage quoted below, see if an aspect of the Christmas story doesn’t come to mind!  (To keep this post from getting too long, I’ve included just six examples. Answers appear below.)

1. “The Lord said, ‘I have made a covenant with My chosen one, I have sworn to David, My servant, I will establish your offspring forever and build up your throne for all generations” (Psalm 89:3-4 HCSB).

2. “[The Lord] himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (Psalm 130:8).

3. “Light shines on the righteous and joy on the upright in heart” (Psalm 97:11).

4. “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples see his glory” (Psalm 97:6).

5. “Send me a sign of your favor.  Then those who hate me will be put to shame, for you, O Lord, help and comfort me” (Psalm 86:17 NLT).

6. “Praise the LORD and pray in his name! Tell everyone what he has done” (Psalm 105:1).

7. “Because of your temple at Jerusalem, kings will bring you gifts (Psalm 68:29). 

(The second Jewish temple; a model in the Israel Museum)

Answers:

1. Jesus’ lineage and reign described in Matthew and Luke fulfill this prophecy perfectly (Matthew 1:1; Luke 1:32-33).

2. Psalm 130:8 sounds very similar to Matthew 1:21, doesn’t it?

3. The Light of the world began to shine that night in Bethlehem, and the angel of the Lord proclaimed great joy for all people (Luke 2:9-10).

(by Philip James de Loutherbourg, 1740-1812)

4. The psalmist may have thought he was writing about the stars, sun, and moon—all declaring the power and glory of God.  Little did he know his words foreshadowed events on the night Jesus was born, when the heavenly host proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (Luke 2:9) and the shepherds saw the glory of the Lord shining around them (v. 9, 13-14).

5. This verse also brings to mind the lowly shepherds (whom others often despised) as well as the angel’s words, “This shall be a sign unto you . . .” The birth of the Messiah brought great help and comfort to all his people, but perhaps especially the marginalized. For everyone, the long wait for his appearing was over.

6. The shepherds followed this directive as they left Jesus’ birthplace and “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17).  They glorified and praised God for all the things they’d seen and heard, just as they had been told (v. 20).

7. That’s exactly where the Magi went first—Jerusalem—seeking the one born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-2.)  And of course they came bearing gifts–gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:10-11).

Isn’t it amazing–from the Book of Songs written eons ago, come the distant strains of the exquisite, eternal Christmas Song that we celebrate to this day:

All your works declare Your glory;

all creation joins to sing.

Praise resounds as earth rejoices

in the birth of Christ the King (2)!*

*the last four lines of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” stanza 2)

Art & photo credits: Steve Ruegg; http://www.stockvault.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.pixabay.com.

A Personal Magnificat

The first Christmas carol ever composed rarely appears in a collection of Advent songs.  But you will find it in the Bible, Luke chapter one.  It’s Mary’s song, shared with her cousin Elizabeth soon after she arrived at the older woman’s home.

Using much scripture, Mary artfully wove this prayer-song to praise God for his work in her life and in the world-at-large, especially now that the Messiah would soon be born.

Mary’s prayer is often referred to as the Magnificat, because in a number of translations it begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” as if Mary is holding up a magnifying glass to God’s attributes while she draws attention to each one.

I too have seen God’s attributes at work, and have experienced countless blessings.  While contemplating Mary’s song recently, I wondered: could I compose a Magnificat? What follows is the result.

My soul proclaims your greatness, O Lord . . . (Luke 1:46 HCSB)

. . . on display in the wonders of creation, events that defy explanation, and in the transformed lives of people—including my own. 

“You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples”[1] as needs are met, disasters avoided, and the way forward provided. You alone are omnipotent, with all resources at your disposal.

My spirit rejoices in God my Savior (v. 47 NIV).

I praise you for saving me from the consequences of my sin through the sacrifice of your Son.  Upon my last breath, you will take me to heaven to live with you forever. In that moment I’ll be healed of all ailments and released from all adversity.

Until that day, you gladly save me from worry, fear, discouragement and stress when I trust you and follow your ways. Thank you, dear Father!

You have looked [with loving care] on the humble state of your maidservant (v. 48 AMP).

By the world’s standards I’m a nobody–no wealth, no fame, no power. Little do some know my true status, the daughter of the King of the universe, and the numerous delights I enjoy as a result:

  • glorious moments in your presence
  • generous gifts not even asked for
  • friendships with your other children (augmented by your involvement and influence)
  • your frequent intervention in difficult circumstances, as only a powerful King could arrange

From one generation to another you have demonstrated your mercy (v. 50 GNT).

I think of my grandparents, each of whom you sustained and helped through difficulty.  I think of my parents who also experienced your faithfulness as they were faithful to you.

And now we can testify of your gracious kindness. You have dealt compassionately, especially in times of distress.

Your mighty power has been on display (v. 51 GWT) . . .

 . . . through healings that doctors can’t explain, needs met in miraculous ways, monetary gifts arriving just in time, and moments of desperation turned around in an instant.

“You satisfy the hungry with good things” (v. 53, HCSB). 

The list is lavishly long: your undeserved love, comforting presence, inexplicable peace, fullness of joy, heartening encouragement, fulfilling purpose, undying hope, sure promises, abundant provision, generous blessings, wise counsel, abiding strength—to mention a few! “In your giving we have a sea without a shore.”[2]

My God, the King, I exalt you for your glorious attributes,

and will praise your name forever and ever.

 Your ways are absolutely holy—no one is like you. 

You are the God who performs miracles!

Your power is on display in glorious ways all over the earth,

yet you have chosen to do great things for me and those I love.

My heart is filled with joy!

(Psalm 145:1; 77:13-14; 126:3)


[1] Psalm 77:14

[2] Herbert Lockyer, Seasons of the Lord, 255.

Photo credits: http://www.pixabay.com (twstringer); http://www.pxhere.com (dorothe); http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixaby.com (Simon); http://www.wikimedia.com (VinceTraveller); http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com (nastya_gepp); http://www.pix4free.

To say I love decorating our Christmas tree would only be partly true.  If an assistant could arrange the prickly branches of our artificial tree and then drape and tuck the lights so they’re evenly dispersed, I’d be thrilled.

For me, the fun doesn’t begin until I unpack our collection of beloved hodge-podge ornaments—from family, friends, members of the churches my husband pastored, and students of the elementary classes I taught. It’s a delightful challenge to find the perfect spot for each one.

Some I hang where a tree light can serve as a tiny spotlight.

Other ornaments are perched over a light . . .

 . . . and still others are lit from within.

The aim is to create a tree that glows with reflected light.

One year, on a mid-December afternoon, Steve came home to find the tree collapsed on the floor.  Strings of lights snaked outward in uneven loops, and decorations lay scattered hither and yon. (Thankfully only a few ornaments shattered; the most prized survived.)

Our tree was much bigger with many more decorations,
so you can imagine the mess!

A moment later I arrived home.  Steve met me at the door, a pained expression on his face. “I have some bad news,” he began.

Immediately our two college-age children Eric and Heather came to mind—due to arrive home for winter break at any moment. Had there been an accident? Or maybe it was our youngest, Jeremy, who still lived at home.  Had something happened to him?

However, Steve’s expression didn’t indicate that level of emergency.  In the split second before he continued my mind riffled through other scenarios. Maybe one of our incoming Christmas cards included sad news, or perhaps something untoward had happened to a church member.

When Steve did reveal the problem, I actually felt relief and gratitude. A toppled Christmas tree was nothing compared to those other conjectures.

While taking my turn to evaluate the damage, Steve said, “I’m so sorry; I know how much you love the tree.  Listen–I’ll go to CVS and pick up that prescription you called in this morning; you wait here for the kids. We can figure this out later.” And off he went.

Unbeknownst to me, as he was pulling out of the driveway, Eric and Heather pulled in. They rolled down their windows to greet one another, then Steve told them, “Be extra nice to your mother—the Christmas tree fell down. I’m on my way to CVS to pick up a prescription for her.  I’ll be back in a few minutes!”

Steve continued backing out toward the street; Eric and Heather looked at one another in astonishment.

“Whoa!” Heather exclaimed.  “I can understand Mom’s upset, but she needs a prescription?”

They pictured me in full grieving mode.

Moments later the three of us laughed uproariously over the misunderstanding, then again when Steve returned, and once more when Jeremy arrived. 

Little did we know that all these years later we’d still be laughing about that toppled tree and Mom needing a prescription. In fact, just two weeks ago on Thanksgiving the story was repeated and everyone chuckled–again.

No doubt you have your own stories of imperfect Christmases. Interesting isn’t it–those are the ones that especially warm our hearts and make us smile.

The first Christmas story includes its share of imperfect moments too—although certainly not the humorous variety:

  • A grueling trip to Bethlehem at the very end of Mary’s pregnancy
  • No place to stay when Mary and Joseph arrived
  • The birth of the Messiah-King in a stable-cave
  • His first bed–a feeding trough
  • His first visitors–scruffy shepherds

Little could Mary and Joseph have known that the story of Jesus’ birth –full of imperfections as it was–would warm our hearts and make us smile all these years later. Why?  Because the Lord of heaven became one of us—born into the imperfect circumstances of this world. He understands completely every imperfection we face.

He also knows our internal flaws–our weaknesses, failures, and sinfulness—yet loves us anyway, and offers His perfect gift of salvation and eternity in heaven with Him.

One day—perhaps soon–all imperfections will be erased when Jesus returns to earth. 

May these truths of the ancient Christmas story warm your heart and make you smile—all season long and beyond.

_______________

(Other related scripture:  John 1:14; Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 9:15; James 1:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 21:1-4)

P.S. We never did determine exactly what caused the tree to fall!

Photo credits: Nancy Ruegg (4); http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.jeffholcomb.com; http://www.pixhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

Faith and Fear

If asked to name a theme from the Christmas story, most people would probably mention one of these:

  • Love—expressed by God when he sent his Son to be born a man, then die in our place (John 3:16)
  • Joy—that the Savior of the world has come (Luke 2:10-11)
  • Peace—because Jesus is our Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)
  • Hope—in the knowledge that our future is secure in heaven, when we believe in Christ (1 Peter 1:3-5)

But another word is mentioned more often in the account than any of the four mentioned above.  Perhaps you’ve already discovered this theme: 

FEAR.

You’ll remember:

  • Mary was greatly troubled when Gabriel appeared. He had to reassure her, “Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:29-30).
  • Joseph received an angelic visitor in a vision. “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,” he was instructed (Matthew 1:20).
  • The shepherds were terrified when an angel materialized before them.  They too heard: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:9-10).
Annunciation to the Shepherds
by Edouard Joseph Dantan (1848-1897)

I jump and shriek if my husband walks into the room and I haven’t heard him coming. What must it feel like to witness the sudden appearance of an angel?    

And just so we understand:  Angels are formidable beings—quite different from the delicate, winged creatures or sweet little cherubs often found in paintings or nativity scenes. (See Daniel 10:5-6 for one description of a fearsome angel.)  

The Nativity by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)

One of our pastors said Sunday, “In my imagination, I see Gabriel about the size of Dwayne Johnson!”

No wonder these Christmas-story participants were afraid, to be confronted with such a large, commanding presence.

But surely the angel’s message of “Do not be afraid”–spoken three times in the narrative–is not just happenstance.  Perhaps God would have us learn how to respond to fear from the examples of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds.

First, Mary would teach us to counter fear with faith.

It’s doubtful the fear brought on by the angel’s appearance just evaporated at his command. Yes, his message contained good news, including great honor for Mary, but it also came with risks: “scandal, misunderstanding, lunacy charges, and possibly stoning.”[1]

Yet this young girl responded, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

Mary demonstrates:  Faith and fear can coexist as we exercise the former to control the latter.

Second, Joseph would teach us:  “Do it afraid.”[2]

Courage is not the absence of fear; courage acts rightly in spite of fear.

Joseph is a prime example. He’d face scandal himself as news of Mary’s pre-marriage pregnancy spread through Nazareth. Would his neighbors whisper in the shadows as he passed?  Might people refuse to employ him as their carpenter? Would his reputation as an honorable man (Matthew 1:19 GWT) be sullied forever? Surely such questions plagued Joseph.

Yet he chose to do the right thing.

Third, the shepherds would teach us to fight fear with truth.

Even while cowering in fear, the shepherds listened to the angel.

“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people,” the angel announced.  The shepherds’ hearts that had pounded with fear the moment before must have continued racing, in anticipation of what this glad celestial news might be:

I imagine the angel’s voice boomed with emphasis upon each phrase.  And now all-out excitement coursed through the shepherds’ veins.  Fear had been eradicated by the truth of what God’s messenger had told them.

In our time we’ve no need to wait for an angelic visitation to bring us good news. Our Bibles provide all the truth, wisdom, and encouragement necessary to meet all circumstances—even those that cause fear.

Like Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, we have a choice: give in to fear and become disheartened, paralyzed, and useless, OR we can exercise our faith to become encouraged, empowered, and useable.


[1] Patsy Clairmont, Joy Breaks, p. 109.

[2] Suzanne Eller, A Moment to Breathe, p. 43.

Art & photo credits: http://www.freebibleimages.org; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.pxhere.com; www. rawpixel.com; http://www.pixhere.com.

The Greatest Saints

May we be those saints who daily give thanks with all our hearts

for God’s wonderful deeds (Psalm 9:1).

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Art credit: http://www.canva.com

A Taste of Heaven

Ask a group of people to name a taste of heaven and likely answers will include a favorite meal, a beloved quiet spot, or a happy get-together with family and friends.

But British minister William Romaine (1714-1795) suggested a different way to experience a taste of heaven that doesn’t involve cooking, traveling, or gathering.  His recommendation:  gratitude to God.

Gratitude to God

makes even a temporal blessing

a taste of heaven.

–William Romaine

Such tastes of heaven are not few and far between either. During every one of the 1,440 minutes of each day, blessings descend, including such privileges as:

  • Just getting out of bed in the morning and being able to move about
  • enjoying the privilege of communicating with others–including with God himself
  • receiving adequate strength to fulfill the day’s responsibilities
  • taking in helpful information and experiencing delight through our five senses
  • encouraging others with kindness and increasing our own joy in the process

Though none of these are rare blessings, they still hold great value.

If you remember the dignity of the Giver,

no gift will seem small or mean,

for nothing can be valueless that is

given by the most high God.

–Thomas á Kempis

Not only do the gifts themselves hold value, they demonstrate the depth and value of God’s gracious love toward us—when we’re grateful for them. 

To be grateful is to recognize

the love of God in everything He has given us—

and He has given us everything.

Every breath we draw is a gift of His love,

every moment of existence is a grace,

for it brings with it immense graces from Him.

–Thomas Merton

Therefore, we’d do well to follow the advice of nineteenth-century Scottish minister and author J. R. MacDuff: 

Little did Reverend MacDuff know what secular researchers would discover about gratitude a century beyond his lifetime. The benefits include more than a sense of well-being.  Grateful people enjoy:

  • Better sleep
  • A stronger immune system
  • Improved mental health
  • Increased optimism
  • Better relationships*

In addition, a few discerning Christ-followers have noted:

1. Gratitude soothes over the irritations of life as attention is directed away from trouble and toward the blessings that remain.

We would worry less if we praised more. 

Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.

–Harry Ironside (1876-1951),

pastor, author, theologian

In other words, a grateful heart is a contented and satisfied heart.  Doesn’t that sound like a taste of heaven?

2. “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter every day epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world” (John Milton).

Every day epiphanies?  Transcendent moments of awe? These too sound like glorious tastes of heaven.

3. “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life” (Melody Beattie) . . . as we begin to see the wealth we already own, the blessings we already enjoy, the prayers God has already answered.

The unthankful heart discovers no mercies;

but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and,

as the magnet finds iron, so it will find in every hour,

some heavenly blessings!”

–Henry Ward Beecher

Imagine naming a blessing for each iron shaving here!

In this week leading up to Thanksgiving 2021, what tastes of heaven are you enjoying? Please share a sample with us in the comment section below!

* https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-gratitude-practice#takeaway

Photo credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.maxpixel.net (2); http://www.wikimedia.org.

Hound of Heaven

“Father, please try to understand. I cannot go back to medical school. I’m not well-suited to be a doctor.” Francis looked hopefully into his father’s eyes. Perhaps this discussion would finally convince Father to let him follow his heart’s desire:  to become a writer.

“Son, you’ve spent six years in training,” began his father, a physician himself. “It would be foolish to throw away all that time and effort. Besides, think of the security provided by a position in the medical field. If you pursue this notion of becoming a writer, there is no guarantee of success or even a steady income.”

Once again, father and son had reached an impasse. And so, with only a few coins in his pocket, Francis set out on his own.  He traveled more than 220 miles to London, found a job as a bookseller, and wrote in earnest as time permitted. The year was 1885.

Francis’ health began to suffer and he lost one job after another until he ended up selling matches in the Whitechapel slums of London’s East End.

That barely provided food much less rent.  Soon Francis was homeless. To make matters worse, he found himself addicted to the opium he had first taken for relief of neuralgia pain. At one point he attempted suicide.

In 1887 Francis sent some of his poems, “scribbled on sugar paper,”[1] to Wilfred Meynell, the editor of a journal, Merrie England. Meynell was highly impressed, in spite of the humble presentation, and agreed to publish them. But the proceeds were meager.

The following year Jack the Ripper stalked the streets of Whitechapel. Francis did what he could to protect the murderer’s would-be victims, the prostitutes of the make-shift brothels. Perhaps it was one of these women who saw Francis collapse in the street one day.  She allowed him to stay with her and even cared for him for a while. (Francis later referred to her as his “savior,” though he never revealed her identity.)

When the publisher Meynell discovered Francis’ dire circumstances, he arranged for the young poet to live at a monastery where he could regain his health and overcome his addiction. The process took five years. As Francis began to heal physically, Meynell and his wife helped Francis renew his faith in God. Sometimes as he walked the peaceful grounds of the monastery, Francis would become overwhelmed by God’s grace to save him, and he’d break out into songs of praise.

(Perhaps scenes such as this caused Francis’ outbursts of praise.)

During this time Francis continued to write—poetry, essays, and short stories—including his most famous work, “The Hound of Heaven.” The autobiographical poem recounts his experience of being lost and God’s persistent pursuit of him.

“Hound of Heaven” begins:

I fled Him down the nights and down the days

I fled Him down the arches of the years

I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears.

(Such a monastery chapel as this may have inspired line 2 above.)

Later in the poem Francis described God’s pursuit:

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after

But with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat–and a Voice beat

More instant than the Feet–

‘All things betray thee who betrayest Me.’

Another section provides God’s explanation for removing certain pleasures from the speaker’s life, because they were leading him in the wrong direction. God’s purpose was to guide him toward choosing the right path.

In the end God tells the speaker that “the happiness he sought by running away was following him all the time” (Cummings).[2] And the darkness of deprivation had been but “the shadow of the Divine hand stretched over him in love” (Blamires).[3]

Once Francis had regained his health in 1893, the Meynells invited him to stay with them. That same year Meynell helped Francis publish his first book of poems. “Hound of Heaven” was included.

“It was immediately recognized as a masterpiece.”[4] One critic called it “one of the great odes of which the English language can boast.”[5]

Over the ensuing years, “Hound of Heaven” was praised by such respected authors as Oscar Wilde, G. K. Chesterton, Eugene O’Neill, and J. R. R. Tolkien. O’Neill showed his high respect for the poem by memorizing it—all 182 lines. Chesterton said, “it is the most magnificent poem ever written in English,” to which Tolkien responded that Chesterton wasn’t giving the poem the credit it deserved.[6]

Francis Thompson subsequently became a well-known, respected poet, essayist, and spiritual writer. But his health suffered due to the hardship of those years in Whitechapel, and he succumbed to tuberculosis in 1907 at the age of 47.

Across the decades since his homegoing to heaven, Francis would surely have us remember these words of the apostle Paul:

Notes:

[1] https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1901-2000/heavens-hound-got-francis-thompson-11630688.html

[2] https://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides3/hound.html

[3] Harry Blamires as quoted in Oxley, The Hound of Heaven: A Modern Adaptation, 81, as quoted by

www.hopechristianchurch.org

[4] http://houndofheaven.com/product/the-hound-of-heaven-the-story-of-francis-thompson/

[5] https://www.patheos.com/catholic/hound-of-heaven-pat-mcnamara-07-10-2012

[6] https://reasonsforhopejesus.com/is-hound-of-heaven-a-name-for-god/

Additional  Sources:

  1. https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/601/faith-focus/poet-return-god
  2. https://www.christiantoday.com/article/opium-addict-and-derelict-the-extraordinary-life-of-francis-thompson-christian-poet/130930.htm
  3. http://www.teleiaphilia.com/a-modern-adaptation-of-thompsons-hound-of-heaven/
  4. https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/currentstudents/undergraduate/modules/fulllist/second/en227/texts/thompson-hound.pdf

Art & photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.geograph.org.uk; http://www.pixabay.com (2); http://www.canva.com.

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