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Archive for March, 2022

Raise your hand if you ever created frothy foam with vinegar and baking soda.

OK, hands down. Now, who can name five other common chemical reactions?

M-m-m. Not as many hands. To be honest, I couldn’t have named that many either. But a bit of research turned up these:

  • Plants turn sunlight into energy for growth—photosynthesis
  • Yeast causes bread dough to rise
  • Bacteria in old milk transforms the lactose into lactic acid, creating that sour odor
  • Combustion causes wood to burn; burnt wood becomes ash
  • In a wet or humid environment, iron and steel will develop rust

And just as marvelous turnings occur in the physical world, God initiates and fosters marvelous turnings in our lives—with spectacular results.

For example:

God’s love turns mistakes into miracles. Joseph’s brothers made a terrible mistake, selling their brother into Egyptian slavery and lying about it. They still carried the guilt two decades later, when the brothers traveled to Egypt for grain during a famine.

Little did they know that Joseph had risen from slave to prime minister, was overseeing the distribution of grain, and saving thousands of lives. What the brothers intended for harm, God turned to miraculous good (1).

God’s power turns weaklings into warriors. Gideon felt powerless against Israel’s enemy, the mighty Midianites. He required much reassurance from God to go into battle against them. But with God’s encouragement and enablement, Gideon led his small army to a rousing victory (2).

God’s grace turns devastation into distinction. Saul was a broken man, blind and no doubt confused when Ananias visited him that day in Damascus. But it wasn’t long before he was traveling the region, preaching passionate sermons, and drawing hundreds of people to Jesus (3).

In addition to his love, power, and grace, our Heavenly Father provides ways for us to turn negatives into positives, and dull into delightful.

For example:

Proper perspective turns irritation into exaltation.

“We can learn to overlook the trivial and fix our gaze on the eternal. What is an offense compared to [God’s] love? What is a rejection compared to His unconditional acceptance? What is a momentary trial compared to an eternity with Him” (4)?

Wonder turns weariness to WOW!

“Even in the familiar there can be surprise and wonder” (5).

(Who’s the fairest beetle of them all? This one!)
(How many folds on this mushroom, do you suppose?)
(A dandelion dressed in dewdrops)

Are you feeling a bit of reverent WOW right now?

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough” (6).

“The bedrock of our contentment isn’t the goodness of our day but the goodness of our God” (7).

Trusting in God turns uncertainty into adventure.

We can lament, “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this,” or we can pray, “Lord, I can’t wait to see how you do this” (8)!

Hope turns apprehension into expectation.

What’s more worthwhile: worrying about what can go wrong or being excited about what can go right, since God is always at work?

Prayer turns anxiety into peace.

“Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus” (9).

Worship turns turmoil into calm.

“We would worry less if we praised more” (10).

The question becomes: Will we choose those actions that turn negatives into positives and dull into delightful? Or will we live under a dark cloud of malaise, apprehension, and turmoil?  

God has shown us the way to the former; he leaves the turnings to us.

Notes:

  1. Genesis 37-50
  2. Judges 6-7
  3. Acts 9-28
  4. Emmanuelle Gomez
  5. Tierney Gearon
  6. Unknown
  7. Melissa Krueger, Growing Together, Crossway, 2020, 132)
  8. Unknown
  9. Philippians 4:6-7, Phillips
  10. Harry Ironside

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Betsy gasped at the revolting scene before her. Yes, she’d been warned by Stephen Grellet, a family friend, but even his graphic descriptions could not have prepared her for this.

In a space meant for sixty women, three hundred women and children[1] swarmed over every square foot, some barely clothed. Screaming and shouting assaulted the ears.

But the worst offense was the stench of unwashed bodies, vomit, human waste and more which saturated the meager straw on the floor. Small barred windows offered little fresh air for relief.

The place: Newgate Prison in London England. The time: 1813.

Newgate prison. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

In that first moment inside Newgate, Betsy knew that “God wanted her to minister hope to these women who were being treated like animals and had lost their desire to live.”[2]

The jailers told Betsy and her companion, sister-in-law Anna Bruxton, not to enter the cells, that the women were bound to attack her.

But Betsy insisted, and they marveled when her quiet presence actually calmed the women. Betsy read the Bible and then prayed for the prisoners. Many dropped to their knees.

After that first visit, Betsy began to dream of better ways to deal with prisoners—especially those guilty of nothing more than stealing apples to feed their starving children. She wondered, Instead of severe punishment as the only purpose of confinement, what if rehabilitation was provided?  

Betsy went to work immediately.  She organized her Quaker friends (a group which quickly expanded) who made clothing for the inmates and their children.

Betsy recruited volunteers to visit the prisoners, read the Bible and tell them about Jesus, then pray with them, just as she did. No doubt many chose to believe in Jesus as a result.

Mrs. Fry reading the Bible to prisoners.

Betsy arranged for clean straw to be brought in regularly. A prison school was established, paving the way for children and mothers alike to escape destitution. Betsy also convinced prison authorities to hire a matron and female monitors for the women.

It’s no wonder people began to call her the Angel of Newgate. But financial backing proved difficult. None of the male-dominated organizations were interested. Nevertheless, Betsy was able to raise support through friends.

As she worked, Betsy prayed:

“Lord, may I be directed what to do and what to leave undone, and then may I humbly trust that a blessing will be with me in my various engagements—enable me, O Lord, to feel tenderly and charitably toward all my beloved fellow mortals.”[3]

News of Betsy’s reforms began to spread. In 1818 Betsy was invited to speak before a House of Commons committee concerning prison conditions. She was the first woman ever brought before such a body as a witness.

Her experience as a Quaker minister helped Betsy deliver a clear and powerful speech. And members of Parliament responded affirmatively. But when she spoke against capital punishment, any action toward prison reform stagnated.

Disappointed but not discouraged, Betsy continued her efforts toward further reforms. At the time many prisoners were shipped to Australia. Women were chained, then transported to the docks in open carts. Crowds gathered to mock and throw all kinds of filth at them.

Betsy initiated change by offering to escort each convoy and keep order if prison officials used covered carriages. They agreed.

She also supplied each woman with a bag of useful items including materials for a patchwork quilt, giving them something to do on the long voyage. Better yet, when the women arrived they could sell the finished quilts.

Inside the hull of the Edwin Fox, the last surviving convict ship. Just 157 feet long, she transported at least 180 prisoners each voyage.

Also in 1818, an American emissary John Randolph visited England to see Betsy’s work firsthand. He wrote, “I have witnessed there miraculous effects of true Christianity upon the most depraved of human beings. Bad women, sir, who are worse, if possible, than the devil himself: and yet the wretched outcasts have been tamed and subdued by the Christian eloquence of Mrs. Fry.”[4]   

Five years later sympathies in Parliament had changed and the Gaols Act of 1823 was passed. It included many of Betsy’s recommendations from three years before.

The new reforms didn’t apply to local jails or debtors’ prisons. Betsy and her brother Joseph traveled the British Isles to gather evidence of the conditions and then presented additional reform legislation.

And yet Betsy accomplished still more. “She established night shelters for the homeless, libraries for coast guards, societies to help the poor, and the Institution for Nursing Sisters to modernize British nursing. She also influenced Florence Nightingale’s training program.”[5]

For more than thirty years Elizabeth Fry championed these causes in the name of Christ. And to think, one year before that first visit at Newgate, she wrote in her diary, “I fear that my life is slipping away to little purpose.”[6]

But of course God would never let that happen to someone who trusts in him.

Addendum: Elizabeth Gurney (1780-1845), married Joseph Fry in 1800; they had eleven children.


Notes:

[1] The youngsters had no one else to care for them

[2] https://setapartgirl.com/story-elizabeth-fry/

[3] From Great Women of the Christian Faith by Edith Deen, quoted at https://setapartgirl.com/story-elizabeth-fry/

[4] https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/to-act-in-the-spirit-not-of-judgment-but-of-mercy

[5] https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/to-act-in-the-spirit-not-of-judgment-but-of-mercy

[6] (https://christiansforsocialaction.org/resource/heroes-of-the-faith-elizabeth-fry/ ).

Sources:

https://christianfocus.org/elizabethfry

https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/to-act-in-the-spirit-not-of-judgment-but-of-mercy

https://christiansforsocialaction.og/elizabethfry

https://setapartgirl.com/elizabethfry

https://encrustedwords.ca/elizabethfry

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Fitness experts will tell you, strong core muscles of the mid-section greatly enhance your physical well-being, contributing to stability that prevents falls, minimization of strain that causes pain, as well as effective breathing that optimizes oxygen flow.

When core strength is absent, a person is likely to:

  • have difficulty getting up from a chair without leverage
  • struggle to bend down and tie his shoes
  • find himself slouching
  • lose his balance
  • experience back pain

But it’s never too late to reverse such ills. Those same fitness experts recommend exercises: crunches, planks, and bridges—to name a few—although just a brisk walk engages core muscles and contributes to strength.

Of course, even more important than our physical fitness is spiritual strength, which raises a new question:

How strong is your core–of the soul?

Just as we can identify symptoms of physical weakness, we can identify soul-weakness when challenge mires us in such thoughts as: Why me? This is so unfair. If God cared, this wouldn’t be happening.

However, it’s never too late to reverse such ills. Our spiritual Fitness Expert, God himself, has provided exercises to strengthen our souls, including:

Bible Meditation

More than just reading a passage, meditation includes taking to heart God’s Word and responding personally.

For example, how might you respond to Psalm 147:5, “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit?”

Perhaps your response would be similar to my own.

I praise you, O God, for your omnipotent power. Nothing is impossible for you (Luke 18:27)! Just that knowledge alone can settle my anxious heart and foster sweet hope.

I praise you also for your unlimited understanding. You are a God of infinite wisdom and you generously offer to bestow wisdom to me–if I just ask (James 1:5).

Thank you for coming alongside, ever-ready to expend your power and wisdom for my good. You are a gracious God beyond what anyone could hope for!

Such an exercise develops the muscle of faith, contributes to stability of soul, and helps prevent falls into worry and fear.

Positive Prayer

Even the tone of my prayers can impact soul-strength. If I focus on the problem, the emotional pain is likely to remain:

Lord, I don’t know what we’re going to do. I keep trying various scenarios in my mind but there seems no way out of these circumstances. You’ve got to help us, although I don’t see how. What a mess!  

On the other hand, if I focus on God’s attributes at work and his promises that apply, the strain of the situation diminishes:

“I praise and thank you, Father, that I have no reason to fear. You’ve given our family the promise that you’ll fight for us; all we have to do is stand firm and see your salvation (Exodus 14:13-14). YOU are our strength, providing the wherewithal to rectify this situation. YOU are our very present help in this time of trouble (Psalm 46:1).

As positivity is expressed in our prayers, the spiritual muscle of hope develops.

Gratitude & Joy

It stands to reason: if we focus on the problems surrounding us, discouragement will weaken our spirits.

But if we focus on all the good things flowing to us from God’s loving heart, we’ll find plenty to be joyful about. It’s just a matter of engaging our praise and gratitude muscles.

Most sets of the physical exercises I do each morning include twenty repetitions. I wonder if we could name twenty of God’s attributes, providing twenty reasons to be joyful in him?

Skim through the psalms with me, and let’s see what we find:

1. Watchfulness (1:6)

2. Righteousness (5:8)

3. Protection (5:11)

4. Encouragement (10:17)

5. Unfailing love (13:5)

6. Security (16:5)

7. Perfect ways (18:30)

8. Victorious power (20:6)

9. Goodness (25:8)

10. Uprightness (25:8)

11. Faithful ways (25:10)

12. Strength (28:8)

13. Splendorous holiness (29:2)

14. Justice (36:6)

15. Ever-present help (46:1)

16. Guidance (48:14)

17. Great compassion (51:1)

18. Power (62:11)

19. Forgiveness (65:3)

20. Sovereignty (71:16)

We did it—and long before reaching the end of Psalms!

Do you find the strain on your spirit relaxing, just in reviewing his surpassing greatness?  Is renewed strength, stability, hope, and joy flowing into your soul?

Keep up those soul-core exercises!

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Have you been pillow-shopping lately? If not, be forewarned: the number of options may cause nausea, dizziness, and high blood pressure.

There are pillows made with down, fiberfill, foam, latex, gel, and even buckwheat hulls. Manufacturers also provide different levels of cushioning, and now pillows come in different shapes, depending on your sleep position or special needs such as neck pain.

All they want is for you to get a good night’s sleep, right? Oh, and sell you lots of different pillows until you find the one best for you!

For proper rest though, we need a different kind of pillow—not made from feathers, foam, or buckwheat hulls; not made by Mike Lindell. The pillows I’m thinking of can easily be taken with us wherever we go and never need to be replaced. They’re free too!

These special pillows have been available a long time, but perhaps Charles Spurgeon, the famous preacher of Victorian England, was the first to make note of them. He suggested we “use the Lord’s words as our pillows,” and lie down upon them in restful faith [1].

We’d do well to understand:

God wants us to rest—physically (Psalm 127:2) and especially spiritually (Matthew 11:28-30).

In fact, the word rest, when referring to spiritual relaxation, is used over 200 times in scripture [2].

Spiritual rest brings tranquility of soul.

We can experience rest from anxiety and fear—even fear of death—as we place our confidence in God, our all-wise and powerful, ever-merciful and gracious, wholly-trustworthy and faithful Heavenly Father.

St. Augustine was right when he prayed:

The key to spiritual rest is acquainting ourselves thoroughly with God’s Word (Psalm 119:52).

It’s there we find the pillows of encouragement, hope, and peace we need in order to experience rest.

And what might some of those scriptural Word-pillows be? Here are three examples.

Pillow #1

My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.

–Exodus 33:14

Each moment we can choose to focus on God and his attributes, or on our problems and their difficulty. When we choose the former, He wields his attributes on our behalf.

  • His wisdom offers perspective, and keeps discouragement in check.
  • His power affords strength to endure.
  • His attentive care provides blessing in the midst of challenge.
  • His protection shields us from deep despair.
  • His provision supplies all that we need [3].

Pillow #2

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths,

ask where the good way is and walk in it,

and you will find rest for your souls.

— Jeremiah 6:16

The more we know of God and his attributes, the better-equipped we’ll be when adversity strikes.

Pillow #3

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.

Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Then you will experience God’s peace,

which exceeds anything we can understand.

His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

–Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

Such truths become all the more meaningful when we remember: the apostle Paul was in prison when he penned these words to the Philippians (1:14). From his own experience he wanted his readers to know that prayer and gratitude produce peace, as we depend upon our sovereign God whose ways are always right.[5]

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

O God, help me rest in you and upon your Word-pillows of scripture.

 I thank you for the pillows of promise, reminding me of your sovereign power to provide whatever I need.

I thank you for the pillows of assurance, affirming your glorious attributes, always at work for the best conclusion.

And I thank you for the pillows of encouragement, reminding me that with you all things are possible, with you I can stand firm through life’s trials, and with you I am NEVER without hope.

(Psalm 23:2-3; Proverbs 30:5; Psalm 145:15-16;

John 5:17; Job 42:2; Ephesians 6:10-17 and 1:18)

What Word-pillow from scripture gives rest to your soul ? Please share it in the comment section below!


[1] Faith’s Checkbook, January 3.

[2] Herbert Lockyer, Seasons of the Lord, 241.

[3] Proverbs 2:1-11; Isaiah 40:31: Jeremiah 17:7-8; Psalm 33:17-18; Philippians 4:19

[4] Psalm 18:30; Psalm 22:28; Deuteronomy 32:4

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Because God says we’re forgiven (Psalm 103:8-12), let’s refuse to dwell on past sins.

Sins are so remitted, as if they had never been committed.

Thomas Adams

Because God proclaims us righteous (1 Corinthians 1:30), let’s refuse to be haunted by past failures.

Do you know what you imply when you say that you are a Christian? It is that you are as guiltless in God’s sight as Christ Himself.

G. V. Wigram

Because God has already asserted his 100% approval of us (Ephesians 1:4-5), let’s stop pursuing perfection.*

Because God has made clear his love for us (Romans 5:8), let’s not tarnish that love with disbelief.

All shall be well, all shall be well . . . For there is a force of love moving through the universe that will hold us fast and never let us go.

Julian of Norwich

Because God pronounces each of us his masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10 ISV), let’s not berate his workmanship.

All who are in Christ form the highest, finest, and most beautiful expression of [God’s] thought and purpose. They are masterpieces upon whom he bestowed his best.

Herbert Lockyer, Seasons of the Lord, 330

Because God says, “Fear not” (Isaiah 41:13), let’s not doubt his unlimited power to help.

Because God affirms he’s our unfailing source of strength (Isaiah 40:29-31), let’s refuse to say we’re weak.

It is impossible for that man to despair who remembers that his Helper is omnipotent.”

Jeremy Taylor

Because God declares he’ll instruct us and watch over us (Psalm 32:8), let’s not strike out foolishly on our own.

With the goodness of God to desire our highest welfare, the wisdom of God to plan it, and the power of God to achieve it, what do we lack?

A. W. Tozer

Because God promises to work for our good (Romans 8:28), let’s not fret about the what-if’s.

Because God provides the way for victorious living (1 John 5:4-5), let’s not live in defeat.

Daily living by faith in Christ is what makes the difference between the sickly and the healthy Christian, between the defeated and the victorious saint.

A. W. Pink

This means, my friends, we can live each day guilt-free, grace-imbued, love-wrapped, purpose-filled, worry-free, strength-infused, fully-equipped, highly blessed, and victory-assured—because God Almighty says so!

*We don’t have to earn God’s love and acceptance. Neither do we have to pursue perfection, as if it’s necessary in order to please God or be accepted by him.

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