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Archive for the ‘Perseverance’ Category

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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(In honor of Black History Month)

 

No sooner did Mama open the front door than Marian was in her arms, sobbing.

“Oh, Mama! It was awful. There were so many empty seats, and the critics—one said I sang as if by rote.” Marian’s throat constricted around the hurtful words.

If anything, she always put heart and soul into her music. To be told she sang by rote was as painful as being told she sang flat.

“I’m done,” Marian announced through tears. “I need to find a different profession.”

Mama paused, then quietly suggested, “Why don’t you think about it a little, and pray a lot first?”

For a full year, 1924-1925, twenty-six-year old Marian didn’t sing a note.

But a gift for music like Marian’s isn’t easily put away. She’d been singing all her life, including church solos from childhood. Her proud Aunt Mary took her to other venues in Philadelphia so everyone could hear Marian’s glorious voice with its three-octave range.

She longed to develop the gift God had given her and sing the music of the classical composers. So at age eighteen, Marian waited in a long line of applicants for a nearby music academy. Finally someone told her, “You can’t attend here; you’re Negro.”

Of course, she understood. African Americans of the time were prohibited from many establishments. But the pain didn’t come just from the words; it was how they were spoken. The young woman seemed to take delight in deflating Marian’s hope.

“That’s all right,” Mama told her. “God may have something better in mind.”

Mama was right. The principal of Marian’s high school introduced her to esteemed vocal teacher Guiseppe Boghetti, and asked him to take her as a pupil.

“No new students!” he barked, but agreed to hear her sing one song. Marian chose “Deep River,” and Boghetti miraculously found time for her.

But how would she pay him? Papa had died when Marian was twelve; Mama took in laundry and cleaned for Wanamaker’s Department Store to support her three daughters. Marian contributed as she could from her sporadic earnings as a soloist. It was their church who paid for the lessons as members contributed pennies into a special fund for her.

Soon invitations to sing arrived from outside Philadelphia. But travel, especially in the South, presented challenges and indignities. Trains did not serve food or offer sleeping berths to African Americans; hotels would not provide rooms. Marian stayed in homes or at the YWCA. And she sang to segregated audiences—Whites on one side, Blacks on the other.

Marian absorbed the ill treatment—even deflected it—by standing tall and dignified on every stage, in front of those who respected her voice but not her personhood.

Then came the devastating concert at New York City Hall, and her hiatus from singing. But within a year, Marian had returned to Boghetti for more lessons.

In 1925, he entered her in a vocal competition with 300 soloists. Marian won first prize: a concert with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Positive reviews fueled her courage to leave home for Europe, where she not only studied singing but the languages of the music she loved: German, Italian, and French.

From 1933-1939 she toured the continent. As those around her focused on her talent, Mama kept Marian focused in her spirit. “Grace must always come before greatness,” she would say.[1]

 

(1940)

 

As the Great Depression raged, Marian concluded each concert with several Negro Spirituals. Many were brought to tears as she poured her own emotions into each word, each note.

In 1939, Marian’s agent sought to book a concert at Washington D. C.’s Constitution Hall, owned by the Daughters of the Revolution. They refused the request, asserting their policy forbade African Americans from performing there.

The incident became a national headline when Eleanor Roosevelt heard of their affront. She expressed disapproval in her newspaper column and announced withdrawal of her membership from the organization.

 

(Eleanor and Marian, 1953)

 

Meanwhile the Executive Secretary of the NAACP approached the Secretary of the Interior with an alternative venue. Could Marian sing from the Lincoln Memorial steps and the audience stand on the Washington Mall? Permission was granted.

Seventy-five thousand people gathered to hear her sing. Black and White attendees stood together that day, shoulder to shoulder—a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream—nearly three decades before his famous speech, given from the same location.

 

(April, 1939)

 

More tours abroad and across the United States followed, keeping Marian away from home and family. But her mission compelled her forward:

 

“I sing to all, of course, but to that one, that one over the ninety-nine

whom you’d like to bring back into the fold—

if I reach that one soul, and reach it well–

then the concert was not in vain.”

—Marian Anderson [2]

 

By the mid-1950s the Civil Rights Movement gripped the country. Marian received criticism for not using her influence more vehemently. Perhaps they didn’t know her quiet battle behind the scenes.

For example, when the DAR sought to correct the wrong from 1939 and invited Marian to sing at Constitution Hall in 1943, she graciously accepted—with the stipulation that seating be integrated. The DAR complied.

Marian has been described as “a silent fighter who quietly opened doors for others.”[3]

Others. That was Marian’s focus, whether she was singing, serving her community, or giving interviews. In fact, she was known for questioning her interviewers, taking genuine interest in their lives.

Her nephew James LePriest remembers that even into her nineties people would comment, “You look just like Marian Anderson!”

She’d reply, “You’re the third person who’s told me that today,” and never reveal her identity.

Grace before greatness indeed.

(You can access a recording of Marian singing here:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aO9yDb_9NVw&list=PL-J_hJ4fmXTik1Z1NuWrH2mXrTAk-8HVe&index=43)

 

Notes

[1] https://www.guideposts.org/faith-and-prayer/prayer-stories/power-of-prayer/guideposts-classics-marian-anderson-on-the-power-of-faith

[2] https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/Series/1165

[3] Ibid.

 

Other Sources:

  1. http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/ead/ead.html?q=year%20of%20first%20concert%20at%20New%20York%20City%20Hall&id=EAD_upenn_rbml_MsColl200&
  2. https://whittakerchambers.org/articles/time-c/marian-anderson/

 

Photo credits:  http://www.loc.getarchive.net; http://www.flickr.com (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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“So what do you think?”  Kemmons Wilson asked his friend and fellow home-builder, Wallace Johnson.  After talking nonstop for the first twenty minutes of their business lunch, Kemmons finally took the first bite of his ham on rye.   It had taken that long to share his idea for a new business venture, and he wanted Wallace to be a partner.

Wallace set his napkin down beside an empty chili bowl.  He was already catching his friend’s passion for the idea that definitely held promise.

The revelation had occurred while Kemmons, his wife, and five children had recently been on vacation to Washington, D. C. that summer of 1951.  Every night of their trip they experienced frustration because of the poor accommodations available.

 

 

Most motels of the day offered small, uncomfortable rooms with nothing for children to do.  To add insult to injury, they charged extra for each child, nearly tripling the price of a room for the Wilson family. 

What Kemmons proposed to Wallace was a revolutionary kind of motel.  First, kids under twelve would stay free in their parents’ rooms.  He and Wallace would provide spacious 12 x 26 accommodations, including the bathroom. 

There’d be free TV, a telephone in each room, and a motel pool—at no extra charge.  Oh—and they’d provide babysitting service too.  They’d even build an onsite restaurant with good, reasonably-priced food.  No one was providing so many amenities at the time.

But Kemmons’ entrepreneurial genius did not stop there. 

“I’m not talking about just one motel here in Memphis,” he enthused between bites.  “We’ll start here, but think about this, Wallace.”  And a big grin spread over his face.  “What if we built them all across the country, within a day’s drive of each other?”

Now it was Wallace’s turn to grin.  “Nobody can say you don’t dream big, Kemmons.  That sounds fantastic.  But where do we get the capital for such a venture?”

“I thought about that too.  That’s where you come in, my friend, as my gifted finance man and officer in the National Homebuilders Association.  All we have to do is get one homebuilder in each major city to build one of our motels.”

Wallace made no promise that day except to pray about the possibility.  Kemmons fully supported his friend’s decision, being a man of strong faith in Jesus Christ himself.

But it wasn’t long before the two men immersed themselves in executing Kemmons’ plan.

The name for the would-be chain came from a movie the draftsman had seen during the time he worked on the plans.  He’d jokingly written the title at the top of the document:  Holiday Inn.

 

 

The first motel opened for business in 1953.  On each nightstand was a Bible, a tradition the two partners maintained over the ensuing decades of growth.

Wallace once explained, “The one reason why we’ve always had an open Bible in every room in the Holiday Inn motels is to help people find Jesus and the solution to their problems, no matter who they are” (1).   

By 1962, two Holiday Inns were opening each week. And today, they still remain an iconic sight along American highways and across the world.

Surely Kemmons and Wallace went to bed many a night, marveling at what God had done in their lives.  Both had grown up in dire circumstances, but escaped poverty with hard work and determination. 

Both experienced setbacks, but overcame them with faith and perseverance.  Wallace had once been fired from a good, stable job at a lumberyard and wondered what God was doing. 

But “later I saw it was God’s unerring and wondrous plan to get me into the ways of his choosing,” he explained (2).

Part of God’s plan included the 35-year partnership between Kemmons and Wallace, a partnership founded on their relationships with God and each other.  Together they gave liberally of their wealth to support numerous Christian ministries.

 

(Wallace Johnson (left) and Kemmons Wilson (right)

 

Some men and women who find great success in life are lulled into false security because of their financial standing and position.  Not Wallace Johnson.

“I am totally dependent on God for help in everything I do,” he emphasized.  “Otherwise I honestly believe I would start to fall apart in months” (3).

Such a statement reveals the foundation on which Kemmons and Wallace based their lives. Their decisions and actions grew out of a desire to honor God.

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

I thank you, Father, for such men as Kemmons Wilson and Wallace Johnson, who exemplified undying commitment to you in the midst of great success in the secular world.  In grateful response to your blessing upon them, they became conduits of blessing to others. May we do the same.        

 

Notes:

  1. Peter Kennedy, Copyright 2002, Devotional E-Mail DEVOTIONS IN ACTS, found @ www.sermonillustrator.com
  2. https://www.facebook.com/SMDP1/posts/bounce-back-abilityobstacles-don’t-have-to-stop-if-you-run-into-a-wall-don’t-t/701780540019915/
  3. Kennedy, DEVOTIONS IN ACTS, www.sermonillustrator.com

Other sources:

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com (3); http://www.fold3.com; http://www.canva.com.

 

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I read the poster, then checked my watch—again. It was time to notify.

“Excuse me, but my appointment with Dr. D. was at 10:30 and it is now 11:15.” I spoke in even tones that belied my frustration.

The receptionist referred to the schedule on her computer. “Thank you,” she responded pleasantly. “I’ll check to see what the problem is.”

Returning to my seat, I expected to be called shortly, but it still took ten to fifteen minutes. Another annoyance: no one ever explained the delay or apologized.

 

 

No doubt you’ve endured similar experiences. Waiting nearly always creates nuisance no matter how many magazines they provide. Who hasn’t been stuck in the waiting areas of car repair shops, office buildings, and airports—when we’ve places to go and things to do?

But those aren’t the only forced pauses we face. At one time or another all of us spend time in the waiting room of life—as we anticipate achieving a long-term goal, receiving that long-awaited email or phone call, or seeing an ongoing prayer finally answered.

How are we supposed to handle the interminable pauses in life?

The following truths promise to ease our frustration and offer hope.

 

 

In God’s view, to wait is not to waste.

There is always purpose in God’s delays. King David wrote, “A person’s steps are directed by the Lord” (Psalm 37:23 GNT). Next to this verse in the margin of his Bible, George Mueller wrote: “And the stops too” (1).

Just what might God be doing during the stops? He often uses wait time to work on our character, transforming pride into humility, doubt into faith, weakness into strength, and impatience into serenity.

 

A time of waiting provides a time for discovery.

As we turn attentive hearts toward gratitude for what is, praise for who God is, and satisfaction in serving him now wherever he has placed us, we’ll discover contentement.  With Paul we’ll be able to say:

 

 

“The heart is rich when it is content, and it is content when its desires are set upon God,” wrote Miguel of Ecuador (2).

On the other hand, a heart cannot be content if set primarily upon an attainment in the future.

 

Waiting is part of the wonder to come.

It’s a basic principle of investment: the longer we wait, the greater our return. Delay enhances delight.

And one day we’ll finally receive the explanation for the pauses in our lives. No doubt our eyes will widen in wonder to see all that God accomplished when in our view, progress stood still.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

 

I thank you, Heavenly Father, that we can trust you during wait times.

You know the perfect sequence and timetable for events to unfold; we do not. You see the whole picture—the lives of others who will be impacted during this wait time; we cannot.

So may we rest on what we do know: You are a God of goodness, faithfulness, and wisdom. The one who trusts in you, whose confidence is in you, is blessed.

  

(Psalm 130:5; Psalm 139:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:24;

Psalm 100:5; Romans 11:33; Jeremiah 17:7)

 

Notes:

  1. George Müller (1805-1898) founded schools and orphanages in Bristol, England, in the early 1800s, providing care for thousands of children.  His testimony of great faith included numerous miracles of provision for the orphans under his care.
  2. Miguel of Ecuador (1854-1910)–teacher and author

 

Photo credits:  http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com (3).

 

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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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(www.thecove.org)

 

Have you visited the Billy Graham Training Center outside Asheville, North Carolina? You’d be hard-pressed to find a better place for retreat, relaxation, and renewal.

Ruth and Billy chose the location well, tucked as it is onto a peaceful Appalachian mountainside.

My husband and I visited years ago and reveled in five days of morning-and-evening teaching sessions under Warren Wiersbe. The afternoons were unscheduled—for the relaxation part.

One day we decided to tackle a long trail-hike and walk off some of the scrumptious food (and nightly, all-you-can-eat soft-serve ice cream!) we’d been consuming.

A staff member promised the mountain view from the lookout point at the end would be well worth the effort.

But in no time the hike became rough going. The miles we were accustomed to walking back home in the flatland of Florida hadn’t prepared us for the unrelenting incline of this trail.

 

 

I started to grunt and groan. My leg muscles begged for mercy until we had to stop and rest—several times.

For the entire distance trees surrounded us—lovely to be sure, but not once did we catch even a glimpse of the vista to come.

Finally we approached the rail of the platform lookout, and my grunts and groans turned to oohing and wowing.

 

 

Row upon row of gentle peaks stood sentry before us, stretching immeasurable miles to the horizon. Cumulous clouds above produced large patches of shade below—a jigsaw of light and shadow.

The staffer had been right. To see such a grand panorama of God’s handiwork was indeed worth the struggle.

 

 

“God has made everything beautiful in his time,” King Solomon wrote (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

“Everything beautiful” certainly includes the splendorous moments on that platform, especially in contrast to the arduous process to get there.

But equally wondrous, God knows how to create beauty out of difficult life-circumstances—circumstances like:

  • A disturbing diagnosis
  • Ongoing frustration at work
  • A hurtful relationship
  • Financial struggles

How can that be? Because those are the times that push us toward maturity (James 1:2-4)—and maturity is indeed a beautiful thing.

 

 

Our problem is, we crave a smooth pathway through life—level, broad, and full of pleasure. But God knows what spoiled, useless creatures we’d become on such a course.

So he allows uphill climbs as the training ground for developing patience, perseverance, persistence, and self-discipline—important facets of maturity.

All the while we can rest assured the day will come when we finally understand how our ugly struggles fit into God’s great and beautiful plan—“a plan so overwhelming, magnificent, and joyful, we will laugh with wonder and delight”—Arthur Christopher Bacon (1).

And how do we know that’s true?

Consider God’s attributes, including his

  • Love and faithfulness (Psalm 117:2)
  • Wisdom (Romans 11:33)
  • Rghteousness (Psalm 145:17)
  • Justice and fairness (Deuteronomy 32:4)

 

 

Such a God does not allow useless distress; there is always purpose.

And note the verse says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

 

Every detail of your life

is fitting together to create

a tapestry of praise.

–Jane L. Fryar (2)

 

Sometimes we do see the details of our lives fitting together in beautiful, praise-evoking ways.

Our stories of struggle-turned-into-beauty can:

  • Inspire someone to start their own journey with Jesus
  • Offer comfort to another who’s struggling on the same stretch of pathway
  • Provide guidance for a wanderer
  • Encourage a hiker-believer to keep climbing to the heights

 

 

But I have a feeling God is saving the best and most beautiful revelations until we’ve reached the lookout of heaven.

For now we can cling to this:

All things are from him—for a purpose (Romans 11:33-36), and we will behold the beauty—when the time is right.

 

Notes:

  1. From Streams in the Desert, edited by Jim Reimann, Zondervan, 1997, p. 72.
  2. Be Blessed, CTA, Inc., 2009, p. 60.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.thecove.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.bible.com; http://www.canva.com;  http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.maxpixel.net.

 

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Joanne examined the young woman again, hopeful that after another hour of labor, she would show signs of progress toward birthing her child. But change was imperceptible.

The prolonged labor was sapping the young woman’s strength.  If intervention didn’t occur soon, Lorsan and the baby would die.

Even so, Joanne smiled reassuringly at the mother-to-be and announced, “We’re going to get some help for you, Lorsan.”*

 

 

Joanne had been midwife for many women of the Biliangao jungle-village in the northern Philippines.  But she didn’t have the training or equipment for a C-section.

As a Wycliffe Bible Translator, her expertise lay in linguistics. Granted, her preparation for remote mission service had included a modicum of medical training, but certainly not for surgery.

Praise God we can arrange for help, thought Joanne. She asked her colleague Anne to use their newly acquired radio (no generator needed for this one) and call for an airlift from JAARS–Jungle Aviation and Radio Service.

 

(Founded in 1948; still in operation today.)

 

Meanwhile, Joanne prayed for her patient, and the villagers who’d gathered listened with wary attention.

Their faith was in the spirits of the jungle and the frequent sacrifices offered to appease them (even though the practice gravely depleted their food supply). The villagers were convinced that all trouble was due to angry spirits, including Lorsan’s difficult delivery.

Of course the JAARS operator who answered Anne’s distress signal knew the missionaries well. They were two of the most courageous women she’d ever met, living as they did in a remote, mountainous region, with people who’d been headhunters in the not-so-distant past.

 

(Mangyan village, Philippines)

 

But Joanne and Anne had been confident this was the people-group God wanted them to reach, and had talked the reluctant Wycliffe director in letting them go–despite their youth and gender. That was in 1962.

Now it was 1967. For five years Joanne and Anne had been learning the language, determining a way to transcribe it, and then translating the New Testament into the Baliangao language.

All the while they built relationships, helped the people as they could, and told them about Jesus.

The villagers were anxious for their language to be available in written form. But a New Testament about a new God? They had serious doubts about his significance and power.

Only a few villagers had accepted Jesus; everyone else feared what the spirits might do in retaliation.

The JAARS radio operator soon dispatched a plane to transport Lorsan to a lowland clinic. Days later she and her healthy baby were returned to the village.

 

 

The people were amazed that mother and child had survived.  Perhaps some also wondered at the kindness of strangers to help a young mother.

They began to ask Joanne and Anne, “Who is this God, the one you’re always talking about?” Among them were several spiritists–witch doctors–desperate for release from their fear and the evil spirits who tormented them.

Joanne prayed as they acknowledged God, the powerful One over all spirits, accepted Jesus into their lives, and committed to end the useless practice of sacrificial appeasement.

Soon there were enough believers to start a church in Baliangao. Joanne’s village “father” and protector soaked up her Bible teaching and became a teacher himself.

By this time, Joanne’s coworker, Anne, had accepted a marriage proposal back in the States. The Wycliffe director recommended that Joanne leave also, but she refused, wanting to complete the New Testament translation for these people she’d grown to love.

While she worked, villagers traveled to near-by villages, telling them about the one true God and his Son Jesus. These neighbors were enemies who warred one another frequently. Many had died in the skirmishes.

But the message of a God who loved them (John 3:16) and offered peace of heart (Psalm 85:8), turned these enemies into brothers and sisters.

 

 

Bible classes grew into village-style conferences, and during the twenty-two years Joanne worked to translate the New Testament, she witnessed several thousand Baliangao people turn from fear of spirits to peace in Jesus.

As for the original village, they are now sending out a second generation of missionaries into other parts of Asia.

And as of February 2019, Joann was still serving God as a speaker with Scripture Engagement International, presenting workshops around the world.

The author of Hebrews wrote:

 

 

Joanne Shetler is certainly a heroine to consider and imitate–for her courage, perseverance, and faith.

 

*Real name unknown

 

Sources:

https://www.jaars.org/updates/my-story-jaars-was-there-for-me/

https://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/june-2006/a-message-for-all-people/

https://bulletininserts.org/inspiration-from-a-bible-translator-whose-work-was-offensive/

http://www.thetravelingteam.org/articles/joanne-shetler 

https://www.westsidebiblechapel.ca/1_3_109_missions-history-joanne-shetler.html

http://magazine.biola.edu/article/16-summer/meet-the-2016-alumni-award-winners/

https://www.checkitout.org/check-it-out/speakers/

 

Photo credits:  http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pikrepo.com.

 

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Cinematographer Conrad Hall won three Academy Awards during his fifty-year career. His genius produced such classic films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and more recently, The Road to Perdition.

When Hall died of cancer in 2003, his colleagues declared him “one of the great cinematographers and a master of light.”  Yet toward the end of his career, Hall stated, “You are always a student, never a master. You have to keep moving forward.”

Another cinematographer, John Bailey, affirmed the same truth: “A lifetime commitment to learning and studying…is real important.  It’s a constant process…you’re a student for your whole career.”

I wonder…

Might the dynamic of continual learning be important for us as believers in Jesus?

 

 

He seemed to think so.

During one of his last teaching sessions with the disciples (recorded in John 14-16), Jesus inferred they would always be students—even though these men had been under his tutelage for three years (the time it takes to earn a degree in ministry today).  Consider also, their Master was the Son of God.

But even they required more –a Helper to guide them into all the truth (16:13).

And so do we.

Now some might be discouraged by the reality we can never attain full understanding about God or achieve perfection of character this side of heaven.  Even the great Apostle Paul asserted he had not arrived:

 

 

But there is a positive side…

I can imagine that cinematographers Conrad Hall and John Bailey (mentioned above) enjoyed ever-increasing satisfaction in their work, as their knowledge expanded and their competence developed.

We too can enjoy ever-increasing satisfaction in working out our salvation (1), as we expand our knowledge of God and his Word, and develop the competence of a mature believer.

It’s a process that continues as long as we live on earth. The better acquainted we become with God, the more we want to live by his wisdom. The more we live by his wisdom, the sweeter and more satisfying life becomes.

 

 

Just as cinematographers cooperate with their directors to bring characters to life, we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and he brings to life the character within each of us, developing a mature person–complete and not lacking anything (James 1:4).

His Word becomes the joy of our hearts, obedience becomes a delight, and peace rules in our minds (2).

 

 

 

So…

“Don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others.

“With these qualities active and growing in your lives…no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus (3).”

You know who wrote that? The Apostle Peter—one of the disciples at that last Passover meal with Jesus. And for several decades after that memorable dinner, Peter did allow the Helper to guide him through the maturing process. He knew the rewards.

Now it’s our turn to learn, study, and cooperate.

Together let’s keep moving forward–and revel in the process as we do.

 

 

This post is based on a mini-devotional written by our son, Pastor Jeremy Ruegg.

 

Notes:

  1. The clause, “working out our salvation” comes from Philippians 2:13: “Work hard to show the results of your salvation (NLT).” By no means can we earn a place in heaven by working hard (Ephesians 2:8-9).  We could never work hard enough to deserve its magnificent riches.
  2. Psalm 119:111, 35, 165
  3. 2 Peter 3:5-8 (MSG)

 

Photo credits:  http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.thebluediamondgallery.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pexels.com

 

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