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Archive for the ‘Excellence’ Category

Given that everything in the universe has its origin in God [1], it stands to reason music originated with God. 

Granted, he could have bestowed the gift without participating himself, but scripture indicates otherwise.

In Psalm 42:8b we’re comforted with this assurance: “by night his song is with me.”  Our part is to pay attention to the lyrics that proclaim his perfections and good works—lyrics he sings over us straight from his Word. When we memorize verses of God’s Song, they can comfort our hearts even in the darkest of times [2].

In Psalm 32:7 we read of God’s “songs of deliverance” that encourage and inspire.  Where might we hear these songs?

In the calming sounds of nature.  Creation is full of God-Song—beyond the musical offerings of birds.  Think of burbling streams, the wind humming through evergreens, frogs ha-rumphing, crickets chirping, and the soulful underwater cries of humpback whales. 

Indeed, God-Song surrounds us in the air, on land, and in the sea, reminding us we’re enveloped in his love.  And because of that love, he provides deliverance from fear, trouble, distress, and the evil one [3].

Second, we hear songs affirming his goodness, dependability, and compassion in his Word [4].

Third, we hear God’s Song through the uplift of hymns and other Christian music. Men or women may be listed as the composers and lyricists, but surely all would give God the credit for his inspiration and empowering.

In Zephaniah 3:17 the prophet depicts God delighting in his people with song. 

“He rejoices with joy and joys with his singing,

which shows how delighted he is with his people . . .

his own righteousness upon them,

his own grace in them.”

— John Gill

Of course, God wants us to make music also, and not just with our voices and instruments.  God longs to come alongside, and within the sphere of his influence, make sublime music with our lives—much more beautiful and satisfying than anything we could accomplish on our own.

Perhaps you saw the video—based on an actual event (and available on YouTube):

A young father settles into his concert hall seat next to his wife, just as a performance is about to begin.

“Where’s Tommy?” he asks.

“I thought he was with you,” she exclaims, worry lines already criss-crossing her forehead.

At that moment the curtain goes up to reveal a little boy, oblivious to the audience, sitting at a grand piano, legs dangling above the pedals.  Tommy.

 One single note at a time—and rather haltingly at that—he begins to play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

“Go get him!” Mom cries in a stage whisper.

Too late.  A tuxedoed man is already approaching the piano from behind Tommy.

Will he reprimand the boy for touching the concert grand? Will he demand that the parents of the delinquent come to collect him?

No, he quietly leans over the boy and tells him to keep playing.  Then he envelopes Tommy with his arms, and begins to add Mozart’s intricacies to the simple melody.  Together they make sublime music, and both smile with pleasure.  So does the audience.

That’s a picture of how the Virtuoso of the universe delights to make music with us, to raise our paltry human effort into transcendent God-Song.  With his righteousness over us, and his grace in us, we can make beautiful music. 

And those around us will hear and smile with pleasure, including the Maestro himself [5].

If you’d like to watch the video:

Art & photos credits: http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pixabay.com.


[1] Colossians 1:16

[2] Psalm 23:4

[3] Psalm 34:4, 17; 107:6; Matthew 6:13

[4] Psalm 31:19; 145:17; 103:13-14

[5] Ephesians 3:20

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The internet offers plenty of advice for maximizing time and effort in order to achieve success. The suggestions include:

  • Prioritize and protect your agenda.  Identify the crucial tasks for each day and focus on those items first.  Limit interruptions; shut down distractions.
  • Build an efficient routine into your schedule to streamline how time is allocated.
  • Pursue your own goals; don’t let others set them for you.
  • Network—especially with influential people who can expedite your success.

Jesus failed to follow any of that advice.

Instead:

His agenda shifted often, and he allowed frequent interruptions.

People interrupted his teaching and traveling all the time with requests for miracles.  Jewish leaders interjected questions while he was speaking.  When he tried to take the disciples to a quiet place for rest, the crowds followed, eager to hear him preach. 

And out of compassion, Jesus complied. [1]

Sometimes even his interruptions were interrupted.

While answering a question of John the Baptist’s disciples one day, a ruler intruded upon the conversation, begging him to come and raise his daughter from the dead.  En route to the ruler’s house, another interruption occurred when a woman touched his robe in hope of healing.[2]

It’s a wonder he ever arrived at his intended destinations.

Jesus had no routine.

Scripture seems to indicate Jesus lived in the moment—teaching, building relationships, healing, and performing miracles as opportunities presented themselves.

However, Christ did make time for important habits, including seclusion, prayer, and worship.[3]

Jesus’ overarching goal in life was to accomplish his Father’s goal.

“For I have come down from heaven

not to do my will but to do

the will of him who sent me.”

–John 6:38

Jesus set his sights on the joy awaiting him, when all earthly pain, frustration, and humiliation would be over and he’d be seated at the right side of his Father’s throne.[4]

Jesus built relationships, not a network.

At the end of three years, he’d assembled 120 followers.[5]  That’s an average of 40 per year; less than one per week.  Not very impressive.

Yet Jesus was the most successful Person who ever lived because:

True success is excellent living—

when a person’s thoughts, decisions,

and actions honor God.

–Chrystal Evans Hurst[6]

And Christ accomplished that perfectly.  

Now, thousands of angels encircle his throne, giving Jesus praise, honor, and glory because of his triumph over sin and death.[7]

What about us?  Are we focused on the culture’s view of success or God’s? 

Do we accept—even celebrate—what he chooses to do through us and then leave the results to him?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Lord God, help me to be a failure like Jesus! I confess that worldly standards of success cloud my vision of what true excellence entails:  obedience to you. Remind me you know what you’re doing and you do all things well; circumstances are not reliable indicators.  I reaffirm my trust in you whose works are always perfect.

(Jeremiah 7:23; Proverbs 19:21; Deuteronomy 32:4)


[1] Matthew 9:18-19; 21:23-24; 20:29-34; Mark 6:30-34

[2] Matthew 9:14-26

[3] Mark 1:35; Luke 4:16

[4] Hebrews 12:2

[5] Acts 1:15

[6] Kingdom Woman Devotional, Tyndale House Publishers (2013), p. 49.

[7] Revelation 5

Art & photo credits: http://www.pixabay.com (2); http://www.freebibleimages.org (2); http://www.canva.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com.

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(In honor of Women’s History Month)

 

Hannah More (1745-1833)

 

The odds were stacked against her.

Like all young women of eighteenth century Britain, Hannah More would have to choose between marriage and a select few occupations for females. Universities did not accept women, most professions were closed to them, they couldn’t serve in government or even vote.

Yet the case has been made that Hannah More wielded strong influence in important arenas of her time. How could that be? God paved the way.

 

 

First, he gave Hannah a quick mind and a schoolteacher father who taught his five daughters at home. As the girls grew into womanhood Mr. More helped two of the older sisters open a boarding school for girls in nearby Bristol. Hannah attended for a while, but at age eighteen, became one of the teachers.

In addition to the ability to teach, God gave Hannah a gift for writing. Even at an early age she was composing poems and essays. Later she began to write plays for her students—dramas that included life lessons.

In her early twenties, Hannah became engaged to neighboring landowner, William Turner. Three times the wedding date was set; three times he backed out. The third time Hannah broke the engagement. To assuage his guilt, William gave her a monthly stipend, enabling Hannah to move to London and focus on her writing.

 

(www.azquotes.com/author/10363-Hannah_More)

 

God also provided opportunities for Hannah to meet people of influence. With her intelligence, wit, and charm, she was often invited to dinner parties and became a member of high society.

Meanwhile she made the acquaintance of John Newton, the slave-ship captain turned preacher who wrote Amazing Grace. They enjoyed a life-long friendship.

 

 

Newton was a member of the Clapham Sect, a group of passionate Christians, eager to release people from the oppression of poverty and slavery. One of the sect members served in Parliament, William Wilberforce. He, his wife Barbara, and Hannah also became friends for life.

 

     

William and Barbara Wilberforce

 

Hannah already despised the slave trade and joined the Clapham community. Their strong commitment to Christ greatly influenced Hannah and the practice of her faith took on greater importance.

At the suggestion of Wilburforce, Hannah wrote a poem to raise awareness about the treatment of slaves. It was published in 1788. One passage described the capture of Africans:

 

The burning village, and the blazing town:

See the dire victim torn from social life,

See the sacred infant, hear the shrieking wife!

She, wretch forlorn! Is dragged by hostile hands,

To distant tyrants sold, in distant lands.

 

As a result of reading Hannah’s impassioned account, thousands of people signed petitions demanding an end to the slave trade. The next year, Wilburforce used her poem in a Parliamentary debate concerning slavery.

Hannah helped the cause in other ways also. She encouraged a sugar boycott, since slaves provided the workforce on the British plantations of the Caribbean.

 

 

She even used her influence at dinner parties. Among people dressed in finery and focused on pleasure, Hannah would engage in cheerful banter, then pull out a folded piece of paper from her reticule, a drawstring purse.

“Have you ever seen the likes of this?” she might ask while spreading a print flat on the dining table—a diagram of the cargo hold inside a slave ship with Africans packed tightly together. The startling image helped garner more support for the cause.

 

 

Even as she campaigned for the abolition of slavery, Hannah took on another endeavor: education for the poor. She and her younger sister Martha established Sunday Schools since many of their students worked Monday through Saturday. (Child labor wasn’t prohibited in Britain until 1880.) They taught the three R’s and Bible lessons.

Soon three hundred children attended. Then adults were included and job placement provided. Within ten years, the sisters had opened sixteen schools, three of which still functioned into the twentieth century. Hannah involved herself in these schools for thirty years.

 

(Hannah More Academy, built 1834; closed 1974)

 

And of course, Hannah continued to write. She produced numerous pamphlets, plays of Bible stories that missionaries used around the world, as well as Christian novels and nonfiction. Her books outsold Jane Austen’s.

At age eighty-eight Hannah died peacefully in her sleep, just weeks after Parliament abolished slavery. The battle had taken forty years.

Even after her death Hannah’s positive influence lived on. She left the proceeds of her books, 30,000 pounds, for distribution to the poor—the equivalent of three million dollars today.

Hannah wrote in Practical Piety (1811):

 

“We must, while we keep our hearts humble,

keep our aims high . . . As God is unlimited in goodness,

He should have our unlimited love.

The best we can offer is poor, but let us not withhold that best.”

 

No one can say Hannah More did not give her best. May we follow her example.

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/hannah-more/
  2. https://www.acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-26-number-1/hannah-more-1745-%E2%80%93-1833
  3. https://www.str.org/w/hannah-more-guided-by-christian-convictions
  4. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/march/hannah-more-powerhouse-in-petticoat.html
  5. https://religionnews.com/2014/11/05/hannah-karen-prior-evangelical/
  6. https://www.christianheadlines.com/columnists/breakpoint/the-power-of-a-poem-hannah-more-and-the-abolition-of-the-slave-trade.html.
  7. https://mylordkatie.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/hannah-more-a-heart-for-the-poor/
  8. https://www.citieschurch.com/journal/culture-shaping-faith
  9. http://christianwomenonline.net/2020/02/18/hannah-more-changing-the-world-with-a-pen/

 

Art & photo credits: http://www.picryl.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.wikimedia.org (3).

 

 

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Our older son and his family enjoy a large magnolia tree in their backyard. Every spring it explodes into a breath-taking mass of pink and white blossoms, each one at least six inches across.

Unfortunately the dazzling display doesn’t last long. The petals soon fall to the ground, and thick, dark leaves begin to take their place. But when summertime heat arrives the family is grateful for the cool shade of that dense foliage.

 

 

In autumn, as the leaves take their turn to fall, the flower buds for the next spring become more visible. Compared to those on other flowering trees or plants, these are already about two inches tall—even in October. To form them, magnolias take full advantage of the sun’s energy during the summer months (1).

 

 

All winter long, those buds proclaim silent promise of the divine flowers to come. And then in March or April, as the days have lengthened and warmed, the furry buds begin to split open, offering a glimpse of their tightly-spiraled petals—a precursor of the stunning transformation just days away.

 

 

Were we to celebrate the magnolia tree for those few days she’s dressed in her chiffon-pink finery, we’d miss out on the joy of her shady embrace in summer and those hope-filled buds through fall and winter.

There is beauty in the becoming—whether it’s magnolia trees or people.

 

 

If those magnificent buds were capable of emotion, they would no doubt look forward to the glorious reveal in spring. Thankfully, we humans can anticipate our desires being fulfilled. And as God’s children, one of those desires is spiritual maturity–the day when we’ll be wise and self-sacrificing, calm and patient, peaceful and contented–to name a few traits we aspire to.

 

 

But if we’re always focused on the future, we’ll miss the wonder of what God is doing now. The question becomes, what can we celebrate as God carries out his beautification process within us? Here are two categories of possibilities to get us started.

1. Celebrate the moments when the fruit of the Spirit are on display.

For example, over the last few days can you think of occasions when you:

  • Spoke kind words or affirmation to others?
  • Shared the gift of smiles and perhaps laughter?
  • Held your tongue when tempted to argue?

Then you brought a bit of love, joy, and peace to others. Hurray for you!

 

 

2. Take note of the times when biblical truths guide your actions.

Again, review the last few days for such examples as these:

  • You found your mind wandering into negativity, then made an about-face when you remembered your goal to focus on everything excellent (Philippians 4:8).
  • You apologized for speaking harshly to someone, instead of pretending the offensive tone didn’t matter (Ephesians 4:2).

 

 

  • A stunning feature of creation grabbed your attention, and your first thought was to worship God for his incredible handiwork (Psalm 92:4).
  • The moment you recognized God’s protection, provision, or blessing, gratitude welled up in your spirit (Psalm 126:3).

 

Celebrate the growth of a renewed mind, humility, praise, and gratitude. You’ll be reinforcing the behaviors that contribute to your beautiful becoming.

 

 

“Growth, though silent as light

is one of the practical proofs of health.”

–Charles Swindoll (2)

 

Note Swindoll says growth is a proof of health—not perfection.

And when we honor God as the impetus behind the progress, we enliven our faith for the next steps of beautification he has in mind.

 

 

“Little by little

as God’s sanctifying grace works in us,

more territory of our lives becomes his.”

–Herbert Lockyer (3)

 

Right now we’re enduring the long winter of our development, but spring will come.

 

 

“He who began a good work in you

will carry it on to completion

until the day of Christ Jesus.”

–Philippians 1:6 NIV

(emphasis added)

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

I praise You, Almighty God, that as we grow in trust and surrender to you, we will become more like your Son, Jesus Christ. Day by day you are engineering experiences to that end. Thank you also we can enjoy the anticipation of that glorious day, when the beauty of becoming will finally be complete.

 

 

 

Notes:

  1. https://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/home-and-garden/ct-sun-0226-garden-morton-20170221-story.html
  2. The Quest for Character, Multnomah Press,  1987, p. 172.
  3. Seasons of the Lord, Harper & Row, 1990, p. 351.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.pxfuel.com (2); http://www.pickpik.com; http://www.pikrepo.com; http://www.pixfuel.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pixy.org; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pikist.com.

 

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Mention “Fiji” and our imaginations conjure up aquamarine waters, sugar sand beaches, and lush foliage.  Add to the delightful surroundings a slow-paced lifestyle and some of the happiest people on earth (1); it’s easy to understand why many describe the islands as paradise.

But that’s not what John and Hannah Hunt experienced when they traveled to Fiji.  They encountered villagers who cut off the fingers of those caught stealing.  The sick and infirm were strangled to death, and victors of village wars ate their enemies.

The young newlyweds arrived on the island of Rewa in 1839, sent as missionaries by the Methodist mission board of England.  In spite of the obvious danger of living among cannibals, John wrote in his journal, “I feel myself saved from almost all fear though surrounded with men who have scarcely any regard for human life” (2).

Fijian Warriors (1915)


Though still in his twenties, John had been a well-respected preacher in England.  He was able to continue the same kind of work on several Fiji islands. 

The young missionary was quick to learn the language.  Soon he was preaching three sermons on Sunday and teaching throughout the week.  John also established a small medical clinic.  And during spare moments, he continued to study the Fijian language.

After six years of preaching, teaching, and building relationships, John felt led by God to hold a special prayer meeting.  The villagers came. 

He invited them to be set free from the fear and darkness of their violent practices and enjoy a new way of life with Jesus, as well as accept his gift of eternal life.  More than one hundred Fijians accepted that invitation, including the queen of their island.

Not long after, an enemy tribe attacked their village, intent upon killing them all.  But the war party inexplicably fled in fear.  Later these men admitted their plan failed because they suddenly knew the missionaries’ God was stronger than they were.

Not far away lay the island of Mbau, the highest seat of Fiji power.  The ruler, King Thakombau, was called “the butcher of his people.” 

But over time, the king’s respect for John Hunt grew.  When Thakombau’s general of war asked Jesus into his life, the king tried to dissuade him, but did not resort to violence.

 

King Thakombau


Excitement about Jesus spread from island to island, and brutal cannibals became transformed into peaceful, devout Christians.

One evening, as Fijian villagers worshiped, a band of thirty chiefs surrounded their church and threatened to kill everyone inside.  The congregants said and did nothing. 

Finally one of the chiefs entered the door, brandishing his club, but immediately fell to the floor in a swoon.  Other warriors entered, and they too collapsed until all thirty lay helpless.  By morning, every young man of that murderous mob had received Jesus.  

John soon turned his attention to translating the New Testament into the Fijian language.  With the help of others, he strived to express scripture with idioms and terms from Fijian culture.  The volume was published in 1847.

Old Fiji (1860)


John also trained villagers to teach the Bible.  The lectures were compiled into a manual of theology and used for decades.

On December 1, 1847 John wrote to friends in England:  “We can now report upwards of three thousand who attend our ministry and that of our teachers every Lord’s Day.”

During these ten years of ministry in Fiji, five children were born to John and Hannah.  Three are buried there, all before their second birthdays.

At age thirty-six, John succumbed to dysentery.  But according to historian, Rev. Joseph, Nettleton, John had “crowded the work of a lifetime into ten short years” (3).

A page from Christian Herald and Signs of Our Times (1886), honoring the work of John Hunt (top left) and colleague, James Calvert (top right).


The next day, King Thakombau came to pay his respects to the missionary.  He was given a letter, written by John not long before his death, expressing love and including a prayer for the monarch.  Thakombau was deeply moved and later he too came to faith in Jesus.

At the king’s baptism, a most unlikely crowd gathered:  widows of husbands he had killed, relatives of men he had eaten, and adult children who had formerly vowed revenge against Thakombau for the deaths of their fathers. 

God had rescued all of them from the dark power of Satan, had forgiven their sins, and set them all free (Colossians 1:13-14).


In 2012, two hundred years after John Hunt’s birth, Fijians held a grand celebration in honor of the man who had brought happiness to their islands—happiness in Jesus (4).  To this day, most indigenous Fijians are Christian (5).

Notes:

  1. https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/travel/6-reasons-fiji-is-one-of-the-happiest-places-on-earth
  2. https://lights4god.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/john-hunt/
  3. John Hunt, Missionary and Saint by Rev. Joseph Nettleton, p. 114.
  4. https://www.methodist.org.uk/downloads/wcr-julia-edwards-newsletter-junejuly2012.pdf
  5. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/religion-in-fiji-important-facts-andfigures.html#:~:text=Christianity%20in%20Fiji,Europeans%20than%20Fiji’s%20indigenous%20population.

Additional Sources:

  1. The Life of John Hunt, Missionary to the Cannibals in Fiji by George Stringer Row, 1874. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moa/AQY9133.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext
  2. “A Missionary Evangelist,” Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine, 1877, pp. 266-270. https://books.google.com/booksid=T29MAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA266&dq=Frank=Leslie%27s+pCdUQ6AEwAXoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=Frank%Leslie’s%20Sunday%20Ma

Art & photo credits: http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org (3); http://www.heartlight.org

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And just what might that decision be?

A. Your food choices to stay healthy and energized?

B. The tasks you’ll complete to use your time wisely?

C. The attitudes you’ll adopt to influence your emotions?

Author/pastor Charles Swindoll chose C: “I believe the single most significant decision I can make on a day-to-day basis is my choice of attitude” (1).

Now why would that be? “Attitude is that ‘single string’ that keeps me going or cripples my progress,” he added.

Zig Ziglar explained the impact of attitude this way:

 

 

Science actually supports such statements.

According to an article in the British Medical Journal, “There is not a tissue or an organ in the body that is not influenced by the attitude of the mind and spirit” (2).

So the question becomes, how do we foster a positive attitude when circumstances conspire against us, or our days are a treadmill of monotonous routine, or we’re just glass-half-empty-kind-of-people by genetics?

The fact is, it’s still a matter of choice. And that choice alone wields great effect because:

“The inward impacts the outward” (3).

This principle is even evident in nature. Did you know that the color of silk can be altered depending on what is fed to the silkworms? Red dye in their food results in pink silk. Even the worms turn pink.

 

 

What we feed our minds and spirits colors our attitudes. We can choose to feast on the delights of God’s grace—his love, provision, promises, and blessings—or we can gorge ourselves on pig slop—disappointments, hurts, injustice, and the failures of others.

 

 

The Apostle Paul provided the perfect example while imprisoned in Rome. He never referred to himself as prisoner of Festus or Caesar or a victim of the Sanhedrin’s unjust treatment. He called himself a prisoner of the Lord (Ephesians 4:1), and saw his detainment as helping to spread the good news about Jesus (Philippians 1:12).

Paul also told his readers to pattern their lives after his (3:17). Years ago I wrote Wow! next to that verse in my Bible. Such a claim. But the book of Acts provides the evidence of his selflessness, integrity, and passion for Christ.

So when he wrote to the Philippian Christians from prison to rejoice in the Lord always (4:4), we can be sure he was choosing the same habit. When he recommended they focus on what’s excellent and praiseworthy (4:8), it’s a given that’s what he was doing too.

 

 

And now neuroscience has proven what God inspired Paul to write centuries ago: think positive thoughts and the brain will produce serotonin, which creates a sense of well being and helps the brain function at is best.

Think on negative thoughts and the brain produces cortisol, diminishing brain function and even causing depression (4).

 

https://www.azquotes.com/quote/662828

 

But controlling our thoughts is not easy.  Here are several strategies I’ve found to be helpful:

 

1. Keep in God’s Word.

We’ve considered this important step before (5); it’s number one for a reason.

 

2. Keep coming back to the center.

Ever play tennis or watch it on TV? After every shot a player returns to the center of the court, so he’s not caught too far afield when the ball comes back. When you find your thoughts crouched in a back corner, come back to the Center: Jesus. Keep your mind happily occupied on all the ways He is excellent and praiseworthy.

 

 

3.  Keep a record.

We can train ourselves to see God all around us as we keep a journal of God’s faithfulness. I began mine in 1983, in response to a Bible study (6), and now there are over 1300 entries. Just the weight of that notebook encourages my spirit.

How about a gratitude journal, to record at least one thing every day for which you’re thankful? I didn’t start that one until three years ago. It’s a delightful exercise to review God’s gifts of the day and choose one to highlight (7). It’s also fun—and spirit lifting—to look back and remember previous gifts.

 

 

Slowly but surely, the most amazing thing happens. Our joy begins to expand and we start to become transformed into our best selves—with an increased ability to live freely and enjoy God’s presence—just by choosing a better attitude through the way we think (Romans 12:2 NLT).

 

 

Notes:

  1. Strengthening Your Grip, p. 207
  2. Quoted by Selwyn Hughes in Every Day Light, p. 132.
  3. Charles Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 335.
  4. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prime-your-gray-cells/201108/happy-brain-happy-life
  5. https://nancyaruegg.com/2018/08/23/perfect-trouble/
  6. See  https://nancyaruegg.com/2012/11/12/proving-gods-presence/   for the full story.
  7. The post that started my gratitude journal: https://nancyaruegg.com/2017/03/30/eating-live-frogs-and-other-blessings/

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.canva.com; http://www.wallpaperflare.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pickpik.com; http://www.heartlight.org.

 

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If we could gather in large crowds right now, and if our plans had included a baseball game yesterday, we would have witnessed in interesting phenomenon: every player wearing the same number—42.

 

 

Yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day, when all major league teams celebrate his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, April 15, 1947, wearing #42. As you may know, for the preceding seventy years, all players had been white.  Jackie Robinson was African-American.

 

 

You may also know how such an opportunity opened up for Jackie, through president and general manager for the Dodgers, Branch Rickey.

 

 

But perhaps you didn’t know (because many books and films have omitted this information) both Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson were Christian men of high integrity.

So what inspired Branch Rickey to put his faith in action by fighting against racial prejudice? It began with an incident in 1906.

Rickey coached the college baseball team at Ohio Wesleyan. When they traveled to South Bend, Indiana to play Notre Dame, his star catcher Charles Thomas, a black player, was denied lodging with the rest of the team at the Oliver Hotel.

Rickey asked if Thomas could stay in his room on a cot. With reluctance, management agreed. Later that evening when Rickey returned to their room, he found Thomas crying and rubbing his skin.

“If only I could make it white; if only I could make it white,” he sobbed.

Rickey made a vow to God that night. If he ever had a chance to combat racial prejudice, he would take it (1).

Not until 1942 did the opportunity present itself, when Rickey was hired to manage the Dodgers. The timing seemed perfect.

 

 

All races of Americans were fighting against the racist Nazi regime in Europe—even as racism continued in the States. The incongruity was obvious to anyone who considered the evidence.

Rickey spent two years contemplating the impact of integration on baseball and looking for the best candidate—a man of athletic ability and godly faith who could withstand the maelstrom of trouble sure to come.

Finally, in 1945, Rickey found Jackie. Not only could he play ball with the best of them, he was a strong Christian.

 

 

The two men met and Rickey offered Robinson a place on the team. He warned the recruit that racially motivated abuse would likely occur. “I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back,” Rickey told him (2).

That meant Jackie could not retaliate. Only then might their experiment succeed, so more players of other races would be able to join major league teams. And once the color-barrier in sports was broken, perhaps change would come in business, entertainment, education, and more.

In October 1945, Branch Rickey told his friend and well-known broadcaster Lowell Thomas he was about to announce the signing of an African-American to the Dodgers.

“Branch! All H-___-___-L will break loose!” Thomas cried.

“No, Lowell,” Rickey responded, “all heaven will rejoice” (3).

Thomas’s words seemed prophetic. That first year, Jackie Robinson suffered vehement loathing—ridicule, defamation of character, death threats, and more–not just from baseball fans or opposing teams. His teammates added their own abuse with snide remarks and exclusion.

How could Jackie withstand such contempt day after day, week after week?

He prayed—on his knees—asking God for strength to resist fighting back, and Jackie trusted God to guide him and sustain him.

 

 

“I can testify to the fact it was a lot harder to turn the other cheek and refuse to fight back than it would have been to exercise a normal reaction,” he later wrote. “But it works, because sooner or later it brings a sense of shame to those who attack you. And that sense of shame is often the beginning of progress” (4).

Progress was enhanced by the support of Leo Durocher, Dodgers’ player-manager, Ed Stankey, second baseman, and PeeWee Reese, shortstop and team captain.

 

(PeeWee Reese)

 

By the next season, a few black players were hired by other teams and two more by the Dodgers. Pressure on Jackie eased.

Years later, Jackie wrote of Branch Rickey: “Others have insinuated that he is not sincere because he speaks so frequently and so emotionally about the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. It is the way of some people to make light of sincerity of this kind, because they themselves are too small to speak, think, and live big” (5).

As for Jackie, sportswriter Red Smith wrote, “[Jackie Robinson] would not be defeated. Not by the other team and not by life. The word for Jackie Robinson is ‘unconquerable’” (6).

 

______________________________

 

We too can be unconquerable in our challenges if we remember:

 

 

Jackie Robinson showed us the way.

 

Notes:

  1. https://godreports.com/2013/04/jackie-robinson-how-god-used-two-faith-filled-believers-to-desegregate-baseball/
  2. https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/jackie-robinson-100th-birthday-his-faith-in-god-was-the-secret-ingredient-to-his-success
  3. https://www.investors.com/news/management/leaders-and-success/branch-rickey-revolutionized-baseball-in-more-ways-than-one/
  4. https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/jackie-robinson-100th-birthday
  5. https://sportsspectrum.com/sport/baseball/2017/07/18/jackie-robinsons-faith-god-detailed-new-book
  6. https://goodnewsmag.org/2011/03/the-life-and-faith-of-jackie-robinson/

 

Other sources:

http://www.davidprince.com/2015/04/15/the-ferocious-christian-gentleman-behind-jackie-robinsons-famous-moment-2/

https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/04/11/jackie-robinson-a-man-of-faith-column/2075367/

 

Photo credits: http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.militarytimes.com; en.wikipedia.org; http://www.canva.com; www,wikimedia.com; http://www.canva.com.

 

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h63568

 

(In honor of Black History Month)

 

In the predawn hours of May 13, 1862, Robert Smalls’ experienced hands gripped the ship’s wheel of the Planter, though his heart was pounding. Ahead were five checkpoints along the Charleston River, and then the open sea. Within a few hours he and the fifteen others onboard would be free from slavery.

Or, failing to succeed, they would be sinking the ship, jumping overboard and perishing together. They had already decided: being captured was not an option.

Smalls prayed aloud, for the benefit of his crew and passengers: “Lord, we entrust ourselves into thy hands. Like thou didst for the Israelites in Egypt, please stand over us to our promised land of freedom” (1).

The first checkpoint came into view, its lanterns gleaming gold against the darkness. Even though the sentries would not be able to see him clearly, Smalls had taken the precaution of wearing the captain’s coat and straw hat. He even assumed his captain’s posture. And when Smalls gave the correct whistle signal, they allowed him to pass without question.

Robert whispered another prayer, this time of gratitude and praise. He marveled how God had engineered events–starting in his youth–to bring him to this moment:

  • At age twelve, Smalls’ master, Mr. McKee of Beaufort, South Carolina, had rented him to an employer in Charleston. Smalls had worked in the city ever since, as waiter, lamplighter, and then wharf hand.
  • Currently he was employed as wheel hand aboard the Confederate supply ship, Planter, under command of Captain Ripley. His circumstances had allowed him to learn how to sail and how to make the correct whistle signals at checkpoints.
  • The captain and white crew members frequently spent their nights in Charleston, not on the ship. This night was one of them.

 

charleston_s-c-_-_street_scene_-_nara_-_525179

(Charleston street scene by Matthew Brady)

 

  • Smalls enjoyed good rapport with the other ship-hand slaves of the Planter. Without them, this daring getaway would have been impossible.
  • The opportunity for escape presented itself when a pre-dawn mission was scheduled for May 13. Smalls’ 3:30 a.m. departure, although earlier than actually scheduled, did not alert the harbor guards.
  • Smalls had time to notify his wife and children that he would pick them up at a prearranged wharf nearby, prior to the first checkpoint.

A small pinpoint of pale light appeared ahead. Checkpoint Two. Again, the Planter slid by without incident as Smalls signaled to those on shore. Three, four, and five also allowed them to pass.

By sunrise they were sailing into safe Union waters. Upon sighting the first vessel of the Union blockade, Smalls took down the Confederate flag and hoisted a white sheet—just in time before sailors aboard the Onward began firing at the Confederate vessel.

His plan had worked; the little band onboard had escaped to freedom. No doubt their shouts of celebration included, “Thank you, Jesus!”

Smalls surprised the captain of Onward with his knowledge of Rebel fortifications and their locations. Also of value: a book of secret flag signals used by the Confederates, and a full cargo of armaments.

It wasn’t long before Smalls had joined the war effort for the Union, helping to enlist Black men to fight. Nearly 5,000 former slaves fought courageously for the North.

For his part, Smalls became the Union Navy captain for the CSS Planter, the ship he had sailed to freedom. He also captained the ironclad, USS Keokuk.

 

uss_keokuk_h59546

(The USS Keokuk)

 

Smalls led Union ships into waters the Confederacy had protected with mines—mines that Small had helped to plant while enslaved in Charleston. Soldiers deactivated the mines, opening those passageways to Union vessels.

Smalls courageously conducted seventeen missions in and around Charleston, which included assisting in the destruction of railroad bridges in the harbor area.

After the war, Smalls and his family returned to Beaufort, South Carolina. He was awarded the rank of Major General of the South Carolina Militia during Reconstruction, and turned his attention to business, education, and finally, politics.  He opened a general store and started a newspaper. He helped establish the first school built for African-American children in Beaufort County.

 

robert_smalls_-_brady-handy

(Robert Smalls)

 

From 1869 to 1889 Smalls served in both houses of the South Carolina Legislature, and five terms in the U.S. Congress. Referring to his political service, one commentator said, “His record was brilliant, consistent, and indeed he led in all the most prominent measures” (2).

One story in particular highlights Smalls’ Christ-like attitude that impacted his entire life:

 

robert_smalls_house_beaufort_south_carolina

(The McKee/Smalls House in Beaufort, SC)

 

He eventually acquired enough wealth to purchase the house in Beaufort where he and his mother had been slaves of the McKee family. Sometime after Smalls and his family moved in, Mrs. McKee came to the door. By this time she was elderly and perhaps suffering from dementia. She thought the house still belonged to her.

The natural inclination would have been to send her away or have her delivered to her current home. But that was not Robert Smalls’ way. He invited Mrs. McKee inside, gave back to the woman her old bedroom, and then served her.

Robert Smalls died in 1915 at age 76, and was buried with great honors.

In 2001 a Logistics Support Vessel was launched with his name, the Major General Robert Smalls. It was the first ship named for an African-American.

A worthy honoree, indeed.

 

Notes:

(1) Boone, Bishop Wellington, Black Self-Genocide, p. 165.

(2) http://www.docsouth.umc.edu/neh/simmon/simmons.html

 

Sources:

 

Art & photo credits:  www.ibiblio.org; http://www.wikimedia.org (4)

 

(Reblogged from February 2, 2017.  Jury duty has interfered with writing time this week.)

 

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Ask a group of young adults to name three of their life goals, and many of them will mention: success in their careers, loving families, and good friends.

Few if any will say, “to lead a quiet life.”

Yet God inspired Paul to write:

 

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”

–1 Thessalonians 4:11a

(emphasis added)

 

First, I suppose we ought to establish what a quiet life might include—qualities such as:

  • Composure
  • Humility
  • Kindness
  • Gentleness
  • Peacefulness

 

 

Equally valuable?   An understanding of what the quiet life would not include:

  • Boasting
  • Being easily-ruffled or offended
  • Whining and Complaining
  • Bossiness
  • Being argumentative

 

 

It’s easy to see: those who lead calm, kind, gentle lives are the ones we like to be around.  The second group of boasters, whiners, and arguers–not so much.

But there are many more benefits to the quiet life than offering pleasant company for others, honorable as that is. Consider the following:

 

A quiet life produces inner strength.

 

“Strength is found not in busyness and noise but in quietness.

For a lake to reflect the heavens on its surface, it must be calm.”

–L. B. Cowman (1)

 

Have you noticed that those with great inner strength and tranquility are most often grounded in faith?

 

(Grandma Rachel, circa 1910)

 

My grandmother(2) was just such a person.  Her strength through tragedy and challenge came from calm confidence in God and complete dependence upon him (Isaiah 30:15).  As a result, serenity and peace radiated from her life.

She was a 1 Corinthians 13 sort of woman—quietly patient, loving, and kind–not boastful, proud, or easily-angered.  I never heard her raise her voice, gossip, or complain. And she consistently thought of others before herself.

Those qualities of the quiet life Grandma exhibited, still radiate in my heart today.

And that leads us to the next benefit:

 

A quiet life provides resounding impact.

 

 

Sunbeams silently rest on plant and tree, generating photosynthesis and growth. Dewdrops silently form in the night, refreshing the ground. Gravity silently presses all matter to the earth.

Similarly, a life of tranquility provides a quiet, positive influence on others through calm demeanor and gentle speech.

Limited speech is also impactful. We’d never think to apply the adjective quiet to a nonstop talker, would we? Thinking-before-speaking includes this advice:

 

“Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.”

–Spanish Proverb

 

Columnist Robert Brault seeks to accomplish that feat this way:

 

“I like to think of myself as a finely aged wine,

and one thing that keeps a wine finely aged

is to put a cork in it” (3).

 

A quiet life wins respect (1 Thessalonians 4:11a, 12a).

 

 

Tirades and obnoxious behavior may garner rapt attention, but composure and self-restraint earn high regard.

We’d do well to remember:

 

“The only way to demonstrate

that Christianity is the best of all faiths

is to prove that it produces

the best of all men [and women].”

–William Barclay (4).

 

A quiet life is blessing.

 

1) Composure and contentment result as we grow in tranquility—highly desirable qualities in this world of unrest, discontent, and anger.

 

2)  A quiet life also steers us toward the blessing of maturity, where trivial annoyances no longer infuriate, giving is more fun than receiving, and building up someone else is more satisfying then bragging about ourselves.

 

https://quotefancy.com/quote/1557578/

 

3) The best blessing of all for humble, gentle, and peaceable individuals? The commendation of God himself (Matthew 5:3-9).

 

“How slow many are to learn

that quietness is a blessing,

that quietness is strength,

that quietness is the source

of the highest activity—

the secret of all true abiding in Christ!

Let us try to learn it

and watch for whatever interferes with it.

The dangers that threaten the soul’s rest are many.”

–Andrew Murray (1828-1917)

 

“Abide in me and I will abide in you” (John 15:4 ISV).

 

Notes:

  1. Streams in the Desert, p. 450
  2. I’ve written about her before: https://nancyaruegg.com/2013/02/18/1106/
  3. http://www.quotegarden.com/speaking.html
  4. The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 234.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.pxfuel.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

 

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Biology defines life as

“the metabolic activity of protoplasm.”

But there are times when it seems even worse than that.

–Unknown*

 

Truthfully, a day of mere metabolic activity—going through the motions but without any delight or satisfaction—can hardly be called life. That’s simply existing.

What we really aspire to is a life of vitality, purpose, and joy.

The question is, how do we find it?

Some pursue pleasure, accumulate wealth and possessions, and/or fight against the effects of aging. But these activities provide momentary satisfaction at best.

 

 

Then there’s a different kind of living—life in Jesus.

I am the life,” he proclaimed (John 11:25, 14:6).

And millions upon millions of people through the centuries have lived out the truth of his statement—with the vitality, purpose, and joy he offers.

That’s because:

 

Jesus is our source for life.

 

 

To be alive with Christ is to have eternal life.

That could be a curse if it meant enduring intolerable conditions decade after decade, century after century.

But what we’re promised is God’s eternity–heavenly bliss–when we pass from this life to the next.

Until that moment we’re privileged with God’s presence and his activity in our livesIn addition, he delights to saturate our imperfect inner selves with his own excellencies (Ephesians 3:19), transforming us into his likeness.  And that in turn provides delight for us.

 

Jesus is our sustenance for life.

 

 

“I am the bread of life.

Whoever comes to me

Will never go hungry.”

–John 6:35

 

As bread supports physical life, Jesus supports spiritual life.

How? Sustenance occurs as we meditate on him—his attributes, acts of power, and wonderful works.

Just thinking about the vastness of his creative genius, the splendor of his miracles, and the overflow of his blessings breathes new life—strength, stamina, and joy—into our spirits.

 

 

Jesus is our solution for life.

 

 

Breathe in the assurance of God’s truth and the hope of his promises:

“The Lord is strong and mighty, therefore overwhelming victory is mine through Christ who loves me” (Psalm 24:8; Romans 8:37 NLT).

“From him and through him and to him are all things, therefore all circumstances are in the capable hands of my great God and Savior” (Romans 11:36; Titus 2:13).

“With God all things are possible, therefore he will fulfill his purpose for me” (Matthew 19:26; Psalm 138:8, emphasis added).

Such statements revitalize faith and attitude.

 

Jesus is our solace for life.

 

 

Take comfort in who Jesus is:

  • Our indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15). All we have to do is accept.
  • Our constant companion (Matthew 28:20). All we have to do is acknowledge his presence.
  • Our wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6). All we have to do is ask.
  • Our burden-bearer (Matthew 11:28). All we have to do is come to him.
  • Our all-powerful overcomer (John 16:33). All we have to do is avail ourselves and remember our enemy is already defeated.

 

There is no protoplasmic subsistence with Jesus.

You are a member of God’s royal family because of Jesus (John 1:9)–even during days of mundane repetition or unrecognized contribution.

As a result of your standing, all things have become new.  You’ve been revitalized into an extraordinary creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and bestowed with cosmic significance, a personalized place in the scheme of meaningful events and divine purposes (Philippians 2:13).

 

 

All because of Jesus.

He does indeed make life worth living.

 

*from Quote/Unquote, compiled by Lloyd Cory, Victor Books, 1977, p. 181.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.heartlight.org (3).

 

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