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Archive for August, 2015

Depressed young woman

 

“I don’t understand why this is happening,” Kelly cried. “Doesn’t God want me to be happy?”

*     *     *

“I’m not sure what God is doing, but business is bound to pick up soon,” Dave asserted. “I’m working harder than ever—like seventy hours a week. God helps those who help themselves, right?”

*     *     *

“I thought I was where God wanted me to be, but that loser job was not a good fit—such boring work and for such a lousy salary,” moaned Erika. “I just had to quit! But I’ll be OK. God loves me; he’ll take care of me.”

*     *     *

Ever hear comments similar to these? Each one represents a misunderstanding about God. The truth is:

  • God’s primary concern is our welfare, not necessarily our happiness (Philippians 4:19). The two are not synonymous.
  • God has not promised to help those who help themselves. That proverb is not in the Bible.
  • Neither has God promised to take care of us if we live irresponsibly (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

So, I’m sorry, Kelly, Dave, and Erika. Somewhere along the way you’ve heard these ideas about God’s ways which were misrepresented as truth.

But how can we know the truth of how God works in our lives? (They might ask!)

By becoming better acquainted with God’s Word. Within its pages we find such wonders as perfect wisdom, inspiring encouragement, hope-giving promises, and practical instruction.

For example:

Kelly, God loves you too much to grant everything you want. Over-indulgence leads to spoiled children. Discipline demonstrates true love; permissiveness demonstrates foolishness. Sometimes God exercises tough love in order to develop our characters, grow our faith, and prepare us to serve him in greater capacities.

 

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(“The Lord disciplines those he loves”–Hebrews 12:6a).

Dave, God is compassionate and good to his people (Psalm 103:4-5). He has promised to be our help, but it has nothing to do with our effort prompting him to come alongside. It’s the person who trusts in God wholeheartedly and follows his ways who may anticipate divine help:

“You who fear him, trust in the Lord—

he is their help and shield.”

–Psalm 115:11

and…

 

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(“May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts” –Psalm 119:173.)

 

Erika, God certainly does care for you (1 Peter 5:7), but he does not condone irresponsibility. A wise course of action would include prayerful assessment of the current job as well as other possibilities, while asking God for his guidance. Meanwhile:

“Do your best.

Work from the heart for your real Master, for God,

confident that you’ll get paid in full

when you come into your inheritance.

Keep in mind always that

the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ.”

–Colossians 3:22-24 (The Message)

To all of us: When our corner of the world is rocked by challenges and disappointment, our best strategy is to turn to God’s Word. We can steady ourselves with the truth about his character and his ways, even experience joy and peace as those truths soak deep into our hearts (Psalm 119:35, 165).

“It is only when we understand who God is

that we begin to understand what he does.”

– Selwyn Hughes

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *   *

Thank you, Father, for the precious gift of your Word, for the way it continues to minister afresh, day by day, year after year, with reliable truth and uplifting encouragement. As if that wasn’t enough, you reveal yourself through its pages, allowing us to know you, the King of the universe. Open my eyes that I may see even more wonderful things in your Word (Psalm 119:18)!

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(Art & photo credits:  www.med-health.net; http://www.kristamcgeebooks.com; http://www.biblepic.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

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(“Home is the nicest word there is.” –Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Five years ago, as Steve and I looked ahead toward retirement, the question of where we should spend those years had no easy answer. We’d lived in Florida, in six different locations over forty years.  We were ready for something different. Tennessee or even Kentucky appealed to us, where we could enjoy new vistas, the change of seasons (although not too severe), and best of all, be within a four-hour drive of our sons.

Lots can happen in five years. Our older son, Eric, and his wife, Hilja (Hill-ya) became a family of three.   During one visit they asked, “Where do you think you’ll retire?” We shared our tentative plans. “Well, if you’re going to move that close, why not just move here?”—here being Cincinnati, Ohio.

We hadn’t even considered moving so close, not wanting to impose ourselves on either of our boys. Nor had we thought of making our home so far north, back in the Midwest where we had grown up. But family (and especially that new grandbaby) was a strong magnet.

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So, Steve and I now hail from Cincinnati. And it’s a glorious privilege to watch little Elena grow, and spend much quality time with our sons and their wives. (As I’ve said before on this blog: If only our daughter and her family would move here from Washington State, life would be perfect!)

But moving back to the Midwest has been a coming home in other ways. We’ve reveled in familiar experiences from long ago:

  • The miracles of transition from one season to the next
  • The grand oaks, maples, and elm trees spreading wide through our neighborhood, over some of the streets, and in the numerous parks
  • The dance of the fireflies on a summer evening (Hundreds of them blink in the trees behind our house, resembling a Christmas display.)
  • The explosion of color on the hillsides as summer gives way to autumn
  • The silent beauty of a snow fall, especially as the accumulation creates frosty lace among the trees
  • The heavenly fragrance of lilacs in the spring
  • The clean scent of freshly cut grass (Florida grass produces no scent at all!)

Even the common robin causes delight as he hops across the lawn, pauses, and cocks his head to listen.

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There is something heartwarming about home—the way we respond to the familiar and to the memories that surface.

Memories are the crucial element, aren’t they. Surely if Steve or I had experienced great difficulty growing up, our reaction to this Midwest relocation would be much different.

But both of us grew up in strong Christian homes—such a wondrous privilege. And most of our recollections are positive ones. We associate the word home with peace, security, acceptance, and love.

I wonder…

…when we enter the gates of heaven, will we experience a similar warming of the heart? Will we almost burst with elation to realize that we’ve finally arrived in our true forever home?

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At last we will be in a place of:

  • Perfect peace, with no strife or harsh words (Revelation 21:4)
  • Total security, because we’ve reached our eternal destiny (John 6:37)
  • Complete acceptance by our Heavenly Father (Romans 8:1)
  • Absolute love, to be expressed over and over in countless ways, forever and ever (Romans 8:38-39)

As I enjoy all the beauty of God’s creation in this corner of the world, and glory in the companionship of family, I want to remember: these are just glimpses of the wonders that await!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

What glimpses of the wonders-that-await do you enjoy? Tell us about them in the Comments section below!

(Photo & art credits:  www.quoteswave.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.greenwoodwildlife.org; http://www.youtube.com.)

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Twenty-eight years ago today, I sat alone at our kitchen table in a quiet house.  It was the first day of school.  Each of our three children had been delivered to their classrooms for second, fifth, and eighth grades.

I hadn’t expected to be home alone that day; my plan had included my own class of elementary students.  For thirteen years I’d focused on raising our three, and had taken a hiatus from teaching.

Two years prior I’d returned to work part-time, and taken classes to update my teaching certificate.  Then came resume-writing and the application process.  I also started substitute teaching, in order to become known within the district.

But few positions were posted.  A candidate with no recent experience was probably shuffled to the bottom of the resume pile.  I did not receive one call for an interview.

Frustration and depression clouded my spirit.  Yes, the part-time job was still available (come October), but part-time pay was not going to cover college expenses for our three children.  It was time to grow the retirement nest egg, too.

That morning, I wrote the following in my journal (with some recent editing!):

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Dear God,

Today is the first day of school and I am without a teaching position.  Needless to say, I‘m frustrated, depressed, and confused.  Why did I put myself through such a hectic schedule last year, working part-time and going to school?  Why did I not receive even one call for an interview?  What am I doing wrong?  Am I supposed to be pursuing something else? 

These kinds of questions have plagued me for days.

Yet, Lord, you are in control, and you always work things out for my good (Romans 8:28). Intellectually I know that’s true, but emotionally I’m still struggling. 

Then last night, you led me to that article in Decision Magazine, written by the young woman who’d been ordained a minister, but had no church to pastor. 

She said, “I just don’t get it.  I told a group of friends, ‘God has given me a marvelous vision for my life, so much encouragement and training.  But now it’s as if he has put me on a shelf.  My talents are being wasted.’ ”

Months earlier someone had told her she’d have a long and illustrious career.  Articles were written about her achievements.  There were awards.

“But circumstances suddenly turned against me.  My search for a position went unrewarded.  I asked the Lord to intervene.  He was silent.”

The article included highlights from the story of Joseph.  He endured much greater tribulation than just waiting.  And though Joseph, too, must have had questions, he refused to quit believing.

The author expressed questions of her own:

“When God reveals his plans for us, aren’t the paths we take supposed to be smooth and sure?  Shouldn’t we go from Point A to Point B without a hassle?  Apparently not.”

A to B

Again, Joseph and countless others are our examples.  Yet I was beginning to think that  because no teaching position had opened up, my desire to return to the classroom was misguided, that somewhere I’d gone wrong. 

But this author says: “When we encounter seemingly insurmountable difficulties in striving to do God’s will, we may be certain that it is all part of a greater plan.”

And then she quoted Romans 8:28.  M-m-m.  The same verse you’ve been whispering to me.

In closing the author said, “The story of Joseph taught me the importance of putting my total trust in the Lord at all times and leaving it there, especially when the path ahead is covered by fog.

“Following Jesus is an adventure in living…At times we are confused by delays and detours.  We may think God is remote.  Yet the more intimate our relationship with the Master becomes, the more we will trust him for the business of our lives.”

Oh, Lord, thank you for speaking to me so directly through this timely article. 

“I WILL wait on you; I will (try to!) be courageous and allow you to strengthen my heart” (Psalm 27:14).

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The following Monday, August 31, I began a one-week substitute job at a nearby elementary school.  I’d subbed there before.

On September 11, the principal offered me a position; one of the third grade teachers was moving to another school.

I stood before my own class on September 15, breathless from the quick reversal of circumstances.

But my questions were never answered.  I don’t know if my resume was faulty.   I don’t know why no one called for an interview.  I don’t know why God didn’t open up a position sooner.

Here’s what I do know:

  • In that time of delay and disappointment, I experienced a small miracle.  Through that article I just happened to read, he provided the peace, hope, and comfort I needed.
  • God was perfecting my ability to trust in him—no matter what.
  • ·        He was also perfecting patience, humility, and submission.

Important lessons, right?

Note to self:  When Plan A does not unfold, it is likely a greater plan is being fulfilled.  Our Plan A is often circumstantial; God’s greater plan is most often spiritual.

Can I submit to that?

(Photo credits:  www.webmd.com; http://www.robertson.ms; http://www.tumblr.com.)

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“Grace and peace to you from God our Father

and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

–Romans 1:7b

 

With those words the Apostle Paul greeted the Christians of Rome in a letter.

Turn a few pages in your Bible to Paul’s next epistle, 1 Corinthians, and you’ll read:

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father

and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

–1 Corinthians 1:3

 

Notice any similarities?! In fact, all thirteen letters written by Paul and included in our New Testament begin with the same or similar greeting. Sometimes the wording changes a bit, but he always expresses the desire for God’s grace and peace to be upon his friends.

Was there purpose behind his choice, or was he simply following polite protocol for the day, much as we might say, “Hello, how are you?”

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GOD’S GRACE

Perhaps Paul’s intent was to highlight for his readers, first and foremost, the foundation-truth of God’s grace. It is only because of his loving kindness toward us that he:

 

“Grace is the overflow of God’s total self-sufficiency.”

–John Piper

 

And I would add, toward those with no sufficiency in themselves.

We deserve none of his benevolence.

“We’ve compiled a long and sorry record as sinners and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us” (Romans 3:23, The Message).

 And yet, his goodness to us, his grace, is mentioned 104 times in the NIV translation of the New Testament—that’s how overarching it is–woven throughout scripture; woven into every day of our lives.

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GOD’S PEACE

In addition to grace, Paul includes peace in his greetingspeace that indicates a state of untroubled tranquility, harmony, and well-being.

Peace is surely an aspect of God’s grace, one of the blessings he bestows upon us out of his loving kindness. So why did Paul choose to mention it separately?

Perhaps because we fail to appropriate it.  Paul wanted to remind his readers that God’s precious gift of peace is always available:

  • Peace with ourselves as we place our wills, our hopes, and our futures in his capable hands (Philippians 4:6-7).
  • Peace with circumstances, as we affirm that his perfect peace is available to those who think on God and trust in him (Isaiah 26:3).
  • Peace in our relationships, as he provides the grace to love as he loves (Romans 14:19).

GOD’S GRACE WITH YOU

As already mentioned, Paul began his letters with “grace and peace to you.” Turn to the end of each letter and you’ll read his signature closing: “Grace be with you.” For example:

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“The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” 

–1 Corinthians 16:23

Now why would Paul make that slight change? Is it important?

Perhaps he wanted his readers (including us!) to be mindful that God’s grace is always with us—day and night, in trouble or triumph, through the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. Maybe Paul chose the phrase as a worthy send-off.  After his listeners and readers had paid careful attention to the instructional content of his letters, came the time to apply it…

…by God’s grace, which was always with them.  And just as surely, God’s grace is always with us.

*     *     *     *     *    *     *     *     *     *

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the unmerited favor of your grace that has brought us salvation, strength, kindness, and incredible riches in the spiritual realm. All of your grace is always with us—no matter who we are, no matter where we find ourselves. In fact, you long to be gracious to us, to rise and show us compassion. You astonish us!

(Titus 2:11; 2 Timothy 2:1; Ephesians 2:7; Isaiah 30:18)

Art & photo credits:  www.suggestkeyword.com; http://www.knoxchristian.com; http://www.www1.usw.salvationarmy.org; http://www.inbetweenthepinesamightyoakgrows.files.wordpress.com.) 

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Many people these days hire personal trainers to help them achieve their fitness goals. The benefits they site include:

  • Motivation and encouragement
  • A personalized routine, designed to produce maximum benefit for the time and effort invested
  • Injury prevention
  • Up-to-date information on health, nutrition, and fitness

Actually I have a Personal Trainer (you do, too) but for a far more important aspect of life than physical fitness. God is at work to “enlarge my heart.”

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“I shall run the way of your commandments,

for you will enlarge my heart.”

Psalm 119:32, HCSB

In other words, God is working in me (Philippians 1:6) and with me (Psalm 23:4a) to develop my faith and mold my character into his likeness.

I do need his help to “run the way of [his] commandments,” just as the psalmist wrote eons ago (quoted above). Too often I’m side tracked onto self-chosen paths.

But how does God enlarge my heart to run his way?

First he initiates a change of heart.

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“For it is God who is working in you,

enabling you both to desire and to work out

His good purpose.”

Philippians 2:13, HCSB

And one day he will complete the process. We will be like Jesus (1 John 3:2). Can you imagine? One day we’ll finally become the holy and perfect people we’ve always wanted to be!

In between initiation and final transformation, we run:

The Christian life involves effort on our part, much as physical fitness requires effort. Just hiring a personal trainer won’t get us healthy and strong; we must take responsibility to follow the trainer’s instructions.

Similarly, while being responsible to exercise diligence and discipline in order to become spiritually mature, we also depend completely on what God supplies.

“We must work out what God has worked in.”

–John MacArthur

And what has God worked in? Everything we need for life and godliness:

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Yes, even our faith comes from him (Hebrews 12:2).

Now perhaps you’re one of those who have experienced the euphoria of being in “the zone,” during your workout. Once your heart rate is up, the blood is pumping, and your muscles are executing every move with precision, you experience a surge of energy and great pleasure in the activity.

I have never experienced that zone. My daily workouts involve uncomfortable huffing and puffing, aching muscles that beg me to “Stop with the push-ups already!” and downright boredom. (After decades of jumping jacks, they’re getting a bit old.)

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But it’s the results we’re after, isn’t it, including better heart health.

The function of our spiritual hearts is also improved by the application of exercise in the form of difficulties, hurt, illness, discouragement, and more.

Wait a minute! How does hardship improve spiritual heart health?

God uses such circumstances to produce such results as fully developed maturity.

“When troubles of any kind come your way,

consider it an opportunity for great joy.

For you know that when your faith is tested,

your endurance has a chance to grow.

So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed,

you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

James 1:2-4, NLT

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I may never experience the euphoria of the zone during physical exercise, but James’ assurance here promises a zone of joy as I allow God to enlarge my heart and choose to persevere through the challenges of life his way.

Talk about perfect results!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Heavenly Father, I praise you for working into my life everything I need in order to become “perfect, complete, and needing nothing.” With your gracious provision, may I pursue the way of your commandments, and experience your euphoric joy!

(Art & photo credits:  www.tampabayathletics.com; http://www.successandfailure.net; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.knowing-jesus.com; http://www.321delish.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

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One steamy July afternoon, Steve, Jeremy (our younger son), and I headed to a wedding at our new church. We’d only lived in the community about a month; it was the first nuptials my pastor-husband would perform there.

Jeremy was in college at the time and close to the age of the bride and groom.  He’d already become acquainted with them since our arrival.

The service was simple and relaxed, the gathering intimate. Afterward, a reception was held in the large foyer of the church, providing us an opportunity to visit with members of the congregation.

One young lady chatted with the three of us for quite some time. She laughed easily, and listened well. Her strawberry blond hair, blue eyes, and warm smile added to her charm.

On the way home, I was thinking about our pleasant conversation and said to Jeremy, “I think that cute girl likes you. Otherwise, why would she have talked to us for so long?”

“Oh, Mom.  That would be so weird,” he countered.  “I could never date a girl with the same name as my mother!”

Yes, her name was Nancy. And to make matters worse (as far as Jeremy was concerned) it was Nancy Ann, the same as mine. I had to agree; it was a strange coincidence.

“Besides,” Jeremy continued, “I happen to know she’s dating someone else and, of course, I am going out with Jennifer.”

But guess who broke up? And six or seven months later, Jeremy did ask Nancy out. Eighteen months after that, they were married.

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Now we have two Nancy Ann Rueggs in the family.  And it’s been great fun.

First, we joked through the process of creating different nicknames or titles or something so we both wouldn’t swivel our heads or come running when our name was called at family gatherings. We rejected Junior/Senior, the Younger/the Older, and derivatives such as Nanny. We didn’t care for Nancy One and Nancy Two either.

But the bride from the wedding, where we met our daughter-in-law, came up with a clever idea. Nancy could add “2.0” (Two-Point-Oh) to her name, in honor of the graphics design degree she had just earned. The added humor of “Point-Oh” made the nickname acceptable. We didn’t use it often, but it helped in a pinch.

The problem resolved itself when our first granddaughter was born, and I became Nana. Now that derivative I like!

The year after Jeremy and Nancy were married, our daughter, Heather, and her husband, Tim, were married. Steve, Jeremy, Nancy and I flew out to Washington State together for the wedding. The double take on the face of the baggage handler was quite entertaining as he processed one ticket, and then another with the same name. He got a chuckle out of our unique situation.

And then there were the years while we were still members of the same church that Nancy and I would receive cards on each other’s birthdays. No harm done; we’d pass them along to each other with a hug and a giggle.

Now I tell that story because: number one, I love to tell it. The fact Jeremy was so adamant he could never date Nancy, and now she’s his wife, tickles me every time I think about it.

Number two: It’s proof that God does indeed have a sense of humor. He’s not some stern, sullen Being whose supreme pleasure is punishing people or making life difficult.

No.

He’s the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17)—gifts like a sweet daughter-in-law*, a uniquely fun situation, and a humorous story to tell.

Truth is: God designed us to take delight in him, to enjoy his gifts, and even find amusement in those gifts (Ecclesiastes 3:13).

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Thank you, God, for creating humor, and giving us the ability to appreciate the ludicrous, the amusing, the play on words. Thank you, too, for the gift of laughter. I love how a chuckle-inducing story makes us feel good and brings teller and listener together with bonds of understanding. Finally and most important, thank you for coming alongside and augmenting the joy of humor, because “in your presence there is fullness of joy.”

(Proverbs 17:22, Psalm 16:11)

*Actually we have two sweet daughters-in-law, and a delightful son-in-law as well.

(Photo credits:  www.weddingsontheamalficoast.com; Nancy Ruegg, biblepic.com.)

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(In honor of the beginning of another school year)

Have you ever tackled a long-term project that lasted five or ten years? How about twenty years?

And as part of that undertaking, did you learn twenty-eight languages?

Few if any of us could answer yes to those questions. But at least one person of history could: Noah Webster (1758-1843).

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Webster was a student at Yale during the Revolution. But he left school twice to fight in battle. Upon graduation he became an attorney and a schoolteacher. It was the latter position that prompted him to write textbooks for many disciplines, including: spelling, grammar, history, geography, government, agriculture, economics, meteorology, medicine, zoology, and morality. (Whew!) He earned the title, “Schoolmaster of America”, as a result of advancing education in the fledgling country.

And then, of course, there is his iconic dictionary, the project that took twenty years to complete. As part of his research for that volume, he learned the twenty-eight languages mentioned above, including Anglo-Saxon and Sanskrit. Webster also traveled to England and France in order to access ancient works in their libraries that were not available in America.

Once completed, Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language contained 70,000 words. Not only were the etymology, pronunciations, and definitions included for every word, he added a sample sentence of how each word should be properly used.   Many of his examples came from the Bible.

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Webster also dedicated the work to God: “To that great and benevolent Being…who has sustained me…and given me strength and resolution.”

As if all those textbooks and a meticulously researched dictionary weren’t enough for one lifetime, Noah tackled yet another project, a modern-language Bible. This volume he was able to complete in just five years, taking advantage of all he had learned about words while developing the dictionary.

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Why did Webster feel another translation of the Bible was warranted? He explained in the preface to his Common Version of the Holy Bible (1833):

 

“The Bible is the chief moral cause of all that is good and the best

corrector of all that is evil in human society—the best book for

regulating the temporal concerns of men and the only book that

can serve as an infallible guide to future felicity [happiness].”

 

No doubt there are many who would refute those remarks by saying, “That’s just one man’s opinion.”

But when, for example, the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule are applied, who can argue that society does not benefit?

Noah Webster also credited Christian principles for the civil liberties enjoyed in the world:

 

“Almost all the civil liberty now enjoyed in the world owes its

origin to the principles of the Christian religion…the religion

which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and

His apostles, which enjoins humility, piety, and benevolence;

which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and

a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to

this we owe our free constitutions of government.”

(from Webster’s History of the United States, 1832)

 

Again, can it be argued that a religion which encourages humility, piety, benevolence, fairness and equality is bad for society?

It is for these reasons Webster believed that a Christian education was beneficial:

 

Any system of education…which limits instruction to the arts

and sciences and rejects the aids of religion in forming the

characters of citizens, is essentially defective. In my view, the

Christian religion is the most important and one of the first

things in which all children under a free government ought

to be instructed.”

(from a letter to David McClure, October 25, 1836)

 

Webster also gave this advice to civic students which is appropriate for every citizen:

 

When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for

pubic officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God

commands you to choose for rulers just men who will rule in

the fear of God (Exodus 18:21).

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If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men

in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be

made not for the public good so much as for selfish or local

purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to

execute the laws; the public revenues will be squandered on

unworthy men; the rights of the citizens will be violated or

disregarded. 

(from The History of the United States, “Advice to the Young”)

 As we begin the countdown to Election Day, 2016, I find Noah Webster’s advice to be just as applicable today as it was then.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.biography.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.baumanrarebook.com; http://www.buzzquotes.com.)

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