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Eliza strained forward as her legs churned beneath her, the underbrush tearing at her long skirts. The small boy in her aching arms whimpered, sensing a danger he couldn’t see.

“Hush, chile,” she gasped in a whisper. “Mama’s gone keep you safe.”

Eliza dared a quick glance behind her. She could see nothing of the slave catchers who’d found her hiding place, a house near the Kentucky side of the Ohio River.  She’d slipped out the back door and into the woods as they approached the front. But they would surely guess her run for freedom, and their long legs, unencumbered by skirts, would quickly bring them close.

Runaways like Eliza Harris

Eliza dared not slow her pace toward the northern side of the river, where she and her baby had a chance to be together. Though her master had been kind, he was planning to sell her son. Eliza could not let that happen; her two older children had already died.

Finally, Eliza could see glimmering flecks through the trees as morning light danced on the water. But this was not what she’d planned. Eliza had expected to walk across the mile-wide river on ice, given the winter season. Instead she found the ice broken up into mammoth chunks, drifting slowly on the current.

With a prayer on her lips, Eliza made the choice to cross anyway, jumping from ice cake to ice cake. Sometimes the cake on which she stood sunk beneath the surface of the water. Then Eliza would slide her baby onto the next cake and pull herself on with her hands. Soon her skirts were soaked and her hands numb with cold. But Eliza felt God upholding her; she was confident he’d keep them safe.

On the northern bank stood William Lacey, one of those who watched the river for escaping slaves in order to help them. Time and again he thought the river would take the woman and child, but she miraculously reached the bank, heaving for breath and weak from cold and exhaustion.

When she’d rested for a few moments, the man helped her to a house on the edge of town. There she received food and dry clothing before being taken to another home and then another, along the Underground Railroad. Finally she reached the home of Quakers, Levi and Catherine Coffin, in Newport, Indiana.[1]

Note the mention of Levi Coffin

By the time Eliza arrived on their doorstep in 1838, the Coffins had been helping escaped slaves for more than a decade. In fact, the following year they would build a house specifically designed for their work as station masters on the Underground Railroad.

A Federalist-style house, similar to the Coffins’ home

In the basement they constructed a spring-fed well, to conceal the enormous amount of water needed for their many guests. On the second floor, they built a secret room between bedroom walls, just four feet wide. Up to fourteen people could hide in the long, narrow room.

Eliza Harris was only one of more than a thousand slaves (some say 3,000) that stayed in the Coffin home on their way to Canada. Had the Coffins (or others) been caught helping runaway slaves, they would have owed a $1000 fine (which few could afford) and would have spent six months in jail (which meant no income for the family during that time). Slave hunters were known to issue death threats as well.

But the Coffins held strong convictions concerning slavery. In the 1870s Levi wrote in his memoirs, “I . . .  risked everything in the work—life, property, and reputation—and did not feel bound to respect human laws that came in direct contact with the law of God.”[2]

For the introduction of Coffin’s book, William Brisbane[3] wrote the following about Levi and two other abolitionists:

“In Christian love they bowed themselves before their Heavenly Father and prayed together for the oppressed race; with a faith that knew no wavering they worked in fraternal union for the enfranchisement of their despised colored brethren, and shared together the odium attached to the name of abolitionist, and finally they rejoiced together and gave thanks to God for the glorious results of those years of persevering effort.”[4]

Should we face such hatred and endangerment in our day, may we stand in the midst of it like Levi and Catherine Coffin—steadfast and unmovable in the power of God.

Addendum:

In 1854 the Coffins visited Canada and happened to encounter a number of former slaves they’d helped. Eliza Harris was one of them–settled in her own home, comfortable and contented.

Her story may sound familiar because Harriet Beecher Stowe, a friend of the Coffins, included the slave’s harrowing escape in her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.


[1] Now called Fountain City

[2] https://www.indianamuseum.org/historic-sites/levi-catharine-coffin-house/

[3] a doctor, minister, author, and South Carolina slaveholder who turned abolitionist and moved north where he freed his slaves

[4]https://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/coffin/coffin.html

Other sources:

http://www.womenhistoryblog.com

http://www.rialto.k12.ca.us/rhs/planetwhited/AP%20PDF%20Docs/Unit%206/COFFIN1.PDF

https://mrlinfo.org/famous-visitors/Eliza-Harris.htm

Art & photo credits: http://www.nypl.getarchive.net; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.slr-a.org.uk; http://www.wikimedia.org.

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Prince Kaboo’s head hung over his chest. Every part of his body ached from being tied to a wooden cross and then beaten. His back stung like fire from whippings with poisonous vines that also caused chills and fever. 

All Kaboo could think about was death, and he welcomed it. Then the continual torture and starvation would stop, inflicted by the powerful Grebo tribe, who’d taken him captive in central Liberia. They used Kaboo to extort “peace payments” from his father, chieftain of the neighboring Kru tribe. He was only fourteen years old; the year, 1887.

(Liberia is located west of the Ivory Coast in southwestern West Africa.)

Suddenly, a bright light appeared over Kaboo. The ropes that held him to the cross fell off, and a voice called, “Kaboo! Run!” He felt miraculous strength return to his emaciated body.

Kaboo did as the voice commanded, dashing for the jungle and hiding inside a hollow tree until nightfall. Questions swarmed in his head. Where had the light come from? Who spoke to him? How did he become instantaneously strong? Kaboo had no answers.

The young prince did know he could not return home. The Grebos would just come for him again. So Kaboo determined to go in the opposite direction. At nightfall when he emerged from the tree, Kaboo was startled to see the light still shining above him. It guided him through the jungle.

Kaboo walked many days and finally came to a farm where he met one of the workers who happened to come from his tribe. That young man introduced Kaboo to the boss, who gave him a job.

The fellow tribesman took Kaboo to church on Sunday.

(Perhaps the church resembled this one.)

There he heard the story of a man named Saul who saw a great light and heard a voice.

“That’s what happened to me!” Kaboo exclaimed. He realized the same Jesus who spoke to Saul had spoken to him, and he invited Jesus into his life.  Soon after, an American missionary, Miss Knolls, gave Kaboo a new name: Samuel Morris, after her benefactor.

Months later Kaboo met a boy who’d been a slave in the Grebo tribe when Sammy (as he came be known) was held hostage. The boy told Sammy, “We didn’t know what happened to you. A bright light flashed over you, someone called your name, and then you were gone!”

Sammy explained the miracle of his escape and the boy became a Christian too.

A dream began to form in Sammy’s heart, to head for America where there’d be knowledgeable teachers and many books about God. He was hungry to learn. So Sammy set out on foot for the coast where he found a ship headed to America.

(Such a scene may have greeted Sammy as he arrived at the port in Monrovia.)

He offered to work in exchange for passage but the captain declined.

“Oh Lord,” Sammy prayed. “Change his heart!”

And God answered. One of the sailors became sick and Sammy was assigned his tasks. Others on board mistreated him, but Sammy’s kindheartedness won them over, and by voyage’s end many chose to believe in Jesus, including the captain.

Upon arrival in New York City, Sammy set out to find Stephen Merritt. According to his missionary friends back in Liberia, this superintendent of a homeless mission would gladly help him.

(New York City, 1880-1890)

Sammy stayed several months with Stephen, learning to know God better and assisting with the mission work. His passion for Jesus was contagious and many of the men who came through the mission also accepted Christ into their lives.

Stephen urged Sammy to go to Taylor University in Indiana to continue his education. The superintendent contacted the school’s president, Thaddeus Reade, on Sammy’s behalf.

This was the same university where the missionary, Miss Knolls, had attended. By December of 1891, Sammy had enrolled at Taylor and planned to become a missionary himself to the people of Liberia.

(Samuel Morris)

On May 12, 1893, the unthinkable occurred. Sammy died from a respiratory infection.

Some would say, “Why would God allow such a tragedy?”

But here’s what happened.

A few days after Sammy’s funeral, one Taylor student declared in a prayer meeting, “I feel impressed this moment that I must go to Africa in Sammy’s place, and I pray that as his work has fallen upon me, the mantle of his faith may also fall upon me.”[1] 

Two more of that group affirmed they felt God wanted them to go to Africa also. Instead of one missionary—Samuel Morris—there would be three. And many more have followed.

In addition, five books and a film chronicle his life. In Sinoe County, Liberia, stands the Samuel Morris Educational Resource and Conference Center—a joint project of Taylor University, the Sinoe County Association of the Americas (SCAA), and local agencies in Liberia. At Taylor, scholarships and a dorm bear his name, and the school still prepares missionaries to serve around the world.

“Samuel Morris was a divinely sent messenger of God to Taylor University. He thought he was coming over here to prepare himself for his mission to his people, but his coming was to prepare Taylor University for her mission to the whole world. All who met him were impressed with his sublime, yet simple faith in God.”[2]

Thaddeus Reade

 

[1] https://pillars.taylor.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=samuel-morris

[2] https://www.taylor.edu/about/samuel-morris

Sources:

https://www.taylor.edu/about/samuel-morris

https://www.taylor.edu/news/taylor-group-traveling-to-liberia-for-dedication-cornerstone-laying-of-samuel-morris-center

https://wellsofgrace.com/biography/english/morris.htm

Photo sources: http://www.picryl.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.wikimedia.org.

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(What follows is an imaginary conversation between God and me as I contemplated the verses above.)

ME:

O God, at face value this proclamation excludes me from your presence. How unthinkable! I can’t imagine life without you actively involved, providing strength, wisdom, encouragement, and more.

But I haven’t led a blameless life, I haven’t always done what is right, nor kept my mouth from lies or insincerity. Any effort on my part to warrant access to your presence would fall horribly short of your standard.

However.  You understand what I’m made of; you know I’m just dust! You’ve provided the Way for me to enter your presence—even enjoy relationship with you—through your perfect and blameless Son.[1]

Jesus’ sacrifice in my place provided a figurative, pure white robe for me to wear, constructed from his uprightness, which is more than sufficient to cover all the stains of my sins.

It’s not my failures and wrongdoing that you see, but that radiant, spotless robe. “Thank you” seem such paltry words for such a precious gift![2]

And yet, even though I’ve been forgiven of all wrongs and no longer stand condemned, I dearly desire to be pure before you, including my thoughts, motives, and desires. 

I want to please you in appreciation for all you’ve done for me. In addition, a pure life of wisdom and goodness will allow me to experience the fullness of your blessings like peace and joy, untainted by any sin, guilt, or shame.[3]

How do I become pure, Father?

GOD:

(Put your name in the blanks.)

It pleases me greatly, __________, that this is your heart’s desire. Remember, just as my Spirit led you to Jesus, he is at work within you creating good.[4]

This is a joint effort, however. You strive toward purity while I strengthen you for the task and augment the outcome. With each step you take, the next one becomes easier as you grow in self-discipline.[5]

Let’s begin with your thought life. I inspired Paul to include eight adjectives that describe the kinds of thoughts that will cleanse the mind of negativity, discouragement, and temptation:

And the purest, most noble truth you can dwell on is my Word.

Within the covers of your Bible you find the guidance you need and the wherewithal to heed it, the encouragement to press on and the strength to do it, the comfort for every wound and the faith to embrace it.

And then pray, dear __________.  Seek the quality of purity as King David did when he asked, “Create in me a clean heart within me, O God” (Psalm 51:10).

Thus empowered by noble thoughts, scripture-truth, and heartfelt prayers, you’ll learn to love the sound of your feet walking away from things not meant for you[6] and reveling in the pure things that are.

Then–such wonderful blessings I’ve reserved for you! Remember what Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount?

To see me is to enjoy intimate fellowship with me. You’ll sense my presence with you. Together we’ll enjoy my glory reflected in creation, in the events of your life, and in the lives of others.

I’ll open your eyes to see rare splendors of my glory.  From morning till night, __________, you’ll be praising my name and I will smile with delight.[7]

ME:

O Father, grow me in purity so I may present it as a love-gift back to you, and as a means of experiencing the blissful life with you that you so graciously offer.

In the powerful name of your Son Jesus I pray, AMEN.


[1] Psalm 103:14; 1 John 4:15, 2 Corinthians 5:21

[2] Isaiah 61:10;

[3] Romans 8:1; Romans 12:1-2; John 14:21; Proverbs 2:1-11; James 3:17

[4] Philippians 1:6, 2:13;

[5] 2 Timothy 2:22; 2 Corinthians 9:10; Galatians 5:22-23

[6] Based on quote, author unknown

[7] Isaiah 6:3; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Psalm 113:3; Psalm 147:11

Photo credits: http://www.canva.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.dailyverses.net.

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(From Morning by Morning, March 4.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you identify someone who needs encouragement?

That person is breathing.

–Truett Cathy

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

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


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

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

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

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

Other Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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Sanders’ statement above begs the question:  where might seeing eyes focus?  No doubt there are a number of areas, but for today, let’s look at—or rather, see (!)–just two:

Seeing Eyes Focus on the Evidence of God

First, all areas of science from astronomy to zoology are grounded upon such laws of nature as gravity, the 24-hour cycle of light and dark, and the evaporation / condensation cycle of water.  Such regularities beg the question, why is everything in the universe so structured?

“There is no logical necessity for a universe that obeys rules,”[1] and yet it clearly does. Someone had to give order to what would otherwise be chaos.

Second, the more cytologists study the structure of cells, the more complexities they discover. Even so, five years ago they did create a cell with 473 genes.  However, they have a long way to go to match God’s engineering skills.  The single-cell organism, E. coli bacteria, contains 4,000 genes; a human cell, 30,000.[2] 

Third, all around us are examples of God’s artistry, but, “for lack of attention, a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day.”[3]  Such loveliness—right outside our door–includes:

  • A sunrise back-lighting the tree-tops
  • Ethereal mist swathing the woods’ undergrowth
  • Dewdrop jewels sparkling in the grass
  • Scampering squirrels making thin tree limbs dance
  • Hydrangeas transforming their finery from shell pink to deep salmon

And seeing eyes turn heavenward in worship.

Seeing Eyes See People

Perhaps a true story will illustrate best:

There I stood over my son’s open suitcase, staring at the tag on his new school uniform pants. They were the wrong size. J. needed those pants the very next morning when all the sixth graders of his school would head to Washington D. C. for a three-day field trip. 

We’d ordered those pants the previous week when the uniform store didn’t have his size in stock.  They’d arrived on Saturday, but I never checked the tag till that moment. A glance at my watch confirmed:  if we left immediately, we might arrive at Harris Prep Shop (a half hour away) before it closed.

But a long night lay ahead with another hour added to the agenda. And what if they still didn’t have J.’s size?  Several scenarios played in my mind while I called the store.

Mrs. Harris apologized for the mix-up, then informed me a shipment had arrived that morning, including pants. I told her we’d get there ASAP, but it would take thirty minutes.

“Wait a minute,” she replied.  Her voice became muffled while she spoke to someone else, then came back to me. 

“Mrs. Ruegg?  There’s another mom here from your school, and she says she’ll pick up the pants for you. You can return the others another time.”

“Oh—that would be fantastic!” I cried.  “What’s her address?  I’ll meet her there.”

More muffled conversation ensued, then Mrs. Harris relayed, “She says, give her your address and she’ll drop them off.”

An hour of precious time was suddenly regained by this thoughtful mother.  Granted, she didn’t see my eyes widen upon discovering the size-tag, or my brows furrow as I fretted over several less-than-satisfactory solutions to our dilemma.

This woman was able to see me across the miles with the eyes of empathy and responded with gracious kindness.

Now that kind of sight is rare indeed.


[1] https://www.everystudent.com/features/is-there-a-god.html

[2] https://kenboa.org/apologetics/scientific-evidence-of-gods-existence/; https://www.nist.gov/news-events/news/2021/03/scientists-create-simple-synthetic-cell-grows-and-divides-normally

[3] Evelyn Underhill

Art & photo credits: http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pixaby.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.facebook.com; http://www.piqsels.com.

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Long ago one of my cousins (Alice, I think) knitted her brother a sweater for Christmas, and had almost finished it by the end of November when the extended family gathered for Thanksgiving.  However, the sweater had turned out much too big, and Alice was stymied how to downsize it.

“Give it to me,” suggested Aunt Orsie, the most skilled knitter in the group.  “I think we can fix that.”  As she chatted away the afternoon with the other aunts and older cousins, Aunt Orsie helped Alice take apart the sweater, undo the extra rows, snip, knit, and bind off the shortened rows until the sweater had miraculously shrunk to proper proportions.  (That terminology and order of steps is likely inaccurate—I’m not a knitter!)

Alterations make a significant difference, and not only in the way clothing fits.  As we know, standard counter height can be altered to accommodate those especially short or tall, and the print in books can be altered to accommodate the visually impaired.

Some alterations, however, are much more challenging to accomplish—even more difficult than downsizing a sweater.  Take attitudes, for example.  How do we alter negativity into positivity, a critical spirit into grace, discouragement into hope, or frustration into gratitude?

Here are a few possibilities:

Negativity can be altered by a different viewpoint.

Poet Langston Hughes wrote:

How altered our attitude could be if we searched for the rainbows and refused to focus on the dust of life.

A critical spirit can be altered by truth.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the family on a beach vacation.  While building a sandcastle their first day, the children spotted an old woman wearing a faded dress and floppy hat, bent over and mumbling to herself as she approached.  Every now and then she picked bits out of the sand and put them in a burlap bag.  

Though the children called hello to her, the woman didn’t respond.  She appeared lost in her own world. The parents watched warily, expressed their doubts about her mental state and a hotel that would allow her on their premises. They warned the children to stay away from her.

Each day the woman combed the beach, muttering and plucking as she went.  Finally the family asked the concierge if he knew about this strange woman.

“Oh yes,” he said.  “That’s Mrs. Thompson, a retired schoolteacher who lives up the road. She’s made it her mission to rid this section of beach of anything that might cut people’s feet, and while she walks, Mrs. Thompson prays for the people nearby.  No doubt she prayed for you!”

Discouragement can be altered by hope.

And in what do we hope? 

  • The promises of God
  • The development of our character, growing us into our best selves
  • The fact that God executes good plans even through our suffering 
  • That for those of us who know Jesus, the best is always ahead*

We know these routes to hope; it’s the determination to take them that requires our diligence.

Frustration can be altered by appreciation.

Sometime during our younger son’s toddler days, he scribbled on several pages of my Bible–splotchy eyesores among my straight-edge underlinings and carefully written comments. 

As the years went by, however, when I’d encounter one of those scrawls, my response completely altered.  “Aw, there’s one of Jeremy’s notes,” I’d smile, remembering the rambunctious and ever cheerful little boy he once was, just trying to be like Mommy and Daddy.

My frustration not only disappeared but became appreciation.

No matter the attitude that needs altering there is a means to transform it.   We can snip away at undesirable attitudes (like negativity and a critical spirit) with proper perspective and truth.  We can bind off the damage of harmful emotions (like discouragement and frustration) with hope and gratitude.

Most beneficial of all, we can invite God to miraculously shrink our erroneous ways of thinking until we’re good and pleasing to him.

What attitude-alteration have you witnessed or experienced?  Please share in the comment section below!  


* See the previous post, Promises Kept as well as Romans 5:3-5 and 1 Corinthians 2:9.

Photo credits: http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.canva.com; http://www.quotefancy.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.canva.com.

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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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Most of us have asked at one time or another, “Why does God allow so much suffering?  Why doesn’t he intervene?” 

Surprisingly, people of the Third World where suffering is common don’t ask these questions.  They accept the fact that no one leaves this life without enduring times of trial and distress [1].

Even God’s own Son endured suffering. Unimaginable suffering.  And it didn’t begin with the physical torture inflicted by Roman soldiers or the horrific crucifixion sanctioned by Pilate.

It began the night before, in the garden of Gethsemane, as he experienced overwhelming desperation and sorrow, and his sweat fell like drops of blood [2].

BUT!  God Almighty takes the worst deeds of man that cause the greatest pain and turns them into glorious victory with eternal benefits.

As we wait for that day, God uses our suffering to fulfill higher purpose beyond our comfort and prosperity—purposes such as these:

God doesn’t intervene so we can learn to surrender and obey.

Even Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered” [3]—poverty, hunger, temptation, pain, exhaustion, derision, and stress.  Anything we face, he faced.

God knows if we don’t learn to surrender to his ways and purposes, we end up living to please ourselves—and not liking the selves we’ve pleased.

On the other hand, obedience does lead to confidence in God, prosperity of soul, and the ability to face life with resilience and poise.

God doesn’t intervene so we can develop character.

Suffering works for the believer, not against, producing perseverance which leads to character; and character to hope [ 4].

So we strive to act wisely and in the process learn self-control.  We withstand discomfort and learn fortitude.  We endure self-sacrifice and learn how to love.

God doesn’t pour the rains of affliction upon our souls for nothing.  “Springing up beneath the pounding rain are spiritual flowers.  And they are more beautiful and fragrant than those that ever grew before in your stormless and suffering-free life” [5].

God doesn’t intervene so we can inspire others.

Some of you may know the name Bill Sweeney, a popular blogger diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1996.  He graduated to heaven just after Christmas 2021. 

Bill outlived many others with the same diagnosis, but he suffered much.  For years his entire body was immobile.  Eventually Bill was composing his posts on a computer that tracked eye movements—posts that reflected deep faith, great strength of spirit, and delightful humor.

Commenters affirmed again and again Bill’s impact in their lives as he provided stellar encouragement and inspiration, all the more impactful because of his deteriorated health.

God doesn’t intervene so we can exhibit faith.

Bill Sweeney exhibited great faith even though he was incapable of anything beyond typing with eye movements.  But it wasn’t the suffering itself that produced spiritual strength.  It was his response.  Without self-pity he lived his life and shared his heart—humbly and honestly. And thousands of people found hope.

It’s important to understand: Christ did not suffer to exclude us from suffering; he suffered to exclude us from the consequences of our sins.  However, we can be confident of this:

That means Bill Sweeney’s sacrifice of suffering counts for all eternity.

And God will make your sacrifices of suffering count for all eternity too [6].


[1] Philip Yancey, Grace Notes, p. 69.

[2] Luke 22:44; Mark 14:34-36

[3] Hebrews 5:8

[4] Romans 5:3-4

[5] L. B. Cowman, Jim Reimann, ed., Streams in the Desert, June 15.

[6] F. Elaine Olsen, Beyond the Scars, p. 163.

Photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.hippopx.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.dailyverses.net.

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My nephew is training for an Iron Man competition taking place in April.

Every day Preston follows a carefully prescribed regimen of exercise, riding his bike, running, and/or swimming. He eats a specified diet, and strives for proper rest. Recently he purchased a new bike based on current research for achieving top speed.

Much of this is according to his trainer’s recommendations, from his acquired knowledge and experience as a competitor. The trainer knows what it takes to finish the race.

Over the last forty-plus years of Iron Man Triathlons, participants have learned strategies for success. For example, they use their arms almost exclusively for the swim portion, saving leg strength for the bike ride and run.

 

 

Months ago Preston had to choose: should he embark on this test of endurance or opt for an easier goal? And if he did tackle an Iron Man race, would he seek guidance or train on his own? You already know his choices.

Now Preston is within weeks of the race. He’s in the best shape of his life and pushing his body to accomplish far more than ever before. But any current contentment will be multiplied many times over when he crosses that finish line and celebrates the completion of this extreme challenge.

What Preston is experiencing in the physical realm, God would have us understand in a spiritual sense, as laid out in Jeremiah 6:16:

 

 

Like Preston, we face a choice, but of much greater consequence than a competition.  Will we follow the ancient paths of God’s good ways or not? And like Preston, we can experience contentment now—not just when the race is complete. God offers us peaceful rest within our spirits (Philippians 4:6-7).

Meanwhile, many around us suffer from discontent and restlessness–the result of sin and following one’s own path. Jeremiah proposes a better plan: follow the good ways of God and contentment of soul will result.

But there’s a broader meaning to this verse. Jeremiah was addressing the entire nation of Judah. As he spoke the words quoted above, a national calamity loomed. Within a few years the people of Judah would be taken captive to Babylon, because the people had not listened to God’s words and they rejected God’s law (Jeremiah 6:19).

 

 

Our nation also stands at a crossroads, but few Americans seem to be looking to God for how to proceed. Instead they’re engrossed in self-interests. They don’t ask for the ancient paths that led us to security, prosperity, and blessing in the past.[1] They reject biblical values as out-of-date and stifling.

As a result, many Americans experience dissatisfaction in life, relying on drugs or alcohol to numb the emptiness and soul-strife.[2]

And what of us who believe in Christ and do seek the ancient paths? We stand at the crossroads of these choices:

 

 

  • Will we defend our faith even though ridiculed?
  • Will we remain on the ancient path of righteousness, or bend to blend in?
  • Will we stand for absolute truth or succumb to the relative truth of the culture that says it all depends on perspective?

 

Uncomfortable repercussions may result when we stand for our faith and absolute truth. But our souls will rest in the peace and contentment of a clear conscience.

When Preston finishes his race, family and friends will be ready to congratulate him.

 

 

When we finish our life race, God will be ready to congratulate us with, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

IF we remain steadfast.

 

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,

for when he has stood the test

he will receive the crown of life,

which God has promised to those who love him.”

James 1:12 (ESV)

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Help us all, O God, to be on guard against the lies of the enemy, to stand firm in our faith, to remain courageous and strong in all circumstances. Our heart’s desire above all is to honor you—by finishing strong. 

(1 Corinthians 16:13)

 

 

Notes

[1] The security of settled minds (Psalm 112:7-8), the prosperity as God’s people (Jeremiah 29:11), and the blessing of his provision (2 Corinthians 9:8).

[2]   a. In 2017, 12.7% of Americans were taking antidepressants, up 64% since 2014 (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/11/numbers).

b. About 38% of adults in 2017 battled an illicit drug use disorder (https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics ).

c. 14.5 million people, or 5.3% of the population had AUD, alcohol use disorder, in 2019 (https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics).

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Thanks to inventor Hans Busch, physicist Ernst Ruska, and electrical engineer Max Knoll, we’ve enjoyed the benefits of their invention, the electron microscope, since 1931.

With its superior magnification power (up to 10,000,000x), scientists can capture images like those below. See if you can identify the object in each photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Photo #1–the cross section of a plant stem; Photo #2–butterfly eggs; Photo #3–butterfly scales; Photo #4–olivine (rock); Photo #5–tomato plant leaf; Photo #6 rose petal.)

 

“The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

–Psalm 19:1

 

First, the heavens include our planet, of course.  And everything on the earth and in it also tells of the glory of God.

 

 

Second, what exactly is the glory of God? Theologian Charles Ryrie described it as “the manifestation of any or all of God’s attributes on display.” Puritan preacher Thomas Watson said it’s “the sparkling of the Diety.”  I love that, don’t you?

Just in those few microscope-images above we see evidence of his dazzling wisdom—in the design of a plant stem that moves water and nutrients upward against gravity to the leaves. And then the products produced by photosynthesis in the leaves are taken back through the stem to other parts of the plant, including the roots.

We see evidence of God’s stunning artistry in those butterfly eggs with the eye-catching ridges.

And we see his creative use of shape and color in the butterfly scales, the olivine sample, the tomato leaf, and rose petal.

Billions more examples can be found all across our varied planet, manifesting his goodness in the variety of plants, animals, landforms, and more that he’s given us to use and enjoy.

 

 

I wonder—do you suppose God smiled when he created those tiny eggs with dozens of ridges?  That tomato leaf with hundreds of sprouts? (No wonder they feel rough to the touch!)  That rose petal embroidered with ovals? Did he smile to think about the day when someone would discover the infinitesimal splendor he’d designed eons before?

And yet, even more astounding than the magnificence of God revealed in nature is God’s glory revealed in you and me.

 

 

All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces;

and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit,

transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.

1 Corinthians 3:18 GNT

 

We’re a bit like those watches with phosphorescent numbers. The more light those numbers absorb, the more they glow.

Similarly, the more we bask in God’s presence through prayer, praise, and worship, the more we’ll manifest the glow of his attributes:

 

 

  • his perfect wisdom guiding our life choices, what we do, and what we say
  • his marvelous artistry in our positive imprint on others
  • his divine creativity manifested in the unique shape and color of our gifts and talents
  • his absolute goodness in the blessings we bestow to those around us

 

And imagine our faces, glowing ever brighter as we continually reflect more of the sparkling of our Diety.

 

 

What could be more delightful and satisfying?

 

Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.wikimedia.com (4); http://www.rd.com (2); http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.snappygoat.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.

 

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