That’s Gratitude For You

A grandmother was watching her grandchild play on the beach when a huge wave came along and carried him out to sea.

She cried out, “Please God, save my only grandson. I beg of you, bring him back.”

Suddenly another big wave came along and tossed the boy back onto the beach, good as new.

The grandmother looked up to heaven and said: “He had a hat!”

That’s gratitude for you.

Have you noticed that there are some who just can’t be satisfied? There are some — and I’m talking about you and me sometimes — who have a hard time expressing gratitude.

Or even feeling it.

In 2001 Stephen Post, a medical school professor of bioethics, created a research group called the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, dedicated to testing and measuring the effects of love, gratitude, and other positive caring emotions in human life.

Dr. Post’s research has discovered that spending 15 minutes a day focused on things you’re grateful for can have the following effects on our physical health:

1. It increases your body’s natural antibodies.
2. It increases mental capacity and reduces vulnerability to depression.
3. It creates a physiological state of resonance, improving your blood pressure and heart rate.

That’s gratitude for you. It not only lifts up the recipient, it also gives life to the one expressing it.

This is why we’re told time and time again in scripture to give thanks: A thankful heart puts us in right alignment with God and one another.

Paul wrote…

And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:15-17)

There. That’s gratitude for you.

This is a Football

In 1960, the Green Bay Packers’ season ended on a disappointing note.

They were playing the Eagles for the National Championship. (This was before the Super Bowl era.) After squandering a lead in the fourth quarter, they were unable to capitalize on a last-minute opportunity. They lost the game, 17-13.

During the off-season, Coach Vince Lombardi came to the conclusion that his players, though talented, had failed to focus on the fundamentals of the game.

So, when training camp began in the following season, he decided to take a back-to-basics approach in rebuilding the team.

And he decided to start at the very beginning.

In the opening team meeting, he held up a ball and said, “Gentlemen, first things first. This is a football.”

Lombardi’s lets-start-at-the-beginning strategy might not have been the only reason the Packers won the 1961 Championship — defeating the New York Giants 37-0 — but it certainly didn’t hurt.

When we lose sight of our priorities, it’s time to get back to the basics:

• This is my job.
• This is my family.
• This is priority one for me.
• This is a customer.
• This is a to-do list.
• This is a new day.
• This is a Bible.
• This is the Christian life.

Has an area of your life become more complicated than necessary? Maybe it’s time to locate square one, identify step one, and begin again — at the beginning.

Working With a Net

Golden Gate Bridge netWhen the Golden Gate bridge was being built in San Francisco, a number of workers lost their lives by falling from precariously high positions.

As a result, the work proceeded slowly until someone hit on the idea of building a net under the construction area so that when a workman fell, he would not fall to his death but would be caught by the net.

A giant safety net was developed at a cost of $100,000. This was the first time something like this was used at a construction site.

With the security of the net below them, men were able to move about at a faster pace because they knew that if they fell their lives would be spared. With the security of the net below them, they could work without the dread of uncertainty.

We may not be able to see the net below us, but it’s there. Our security comes from a loving, all-powerful God who protects us every step of the way.

David said…

I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (Psalm 16:8)

Bobby Leach

A Legend of the Fall

Bobby Leach achieved fame and fortune when, at the age of 53, he went over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

After recuperating from his injuries, Bobby toured North America and the UK with the historic barrel in tow, recounting the experience for enthusiastic audiences in circus tents and lecture halls.

Leach had been a lifelong circus performer, so daredevil stunts were nothing new to him. Even into his sixties he was attempting crazy things, such as swimming across whirlpool rapids.

So how did he die?

He was the victim of a banana peel. No kidding. He slipped on it, injuring his leg. The leg became infected, leading to gangrene, requiring an amputation, but it was too late. He died within a couple of months.

It’s the little things…

Is it strange that the man who could survive Niagara Falls in a barrel couldn’t survive a banana peel?

Actually, no.

More often than not, it’s the little things that beat us. It’s because they catch us off guard. When you know you’re going over the falls in a barrel, you’re fully prepared and prayed up. Something as mundane as walking across the room, however, you’re likely to think you’ve got it handled.

That’s when we’re likely to slip.

And that’s why Paul said…

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

I wonder how that banana peel got to Mr. Leach. Did he see it and think that the mere skin of a fruit couldn’t hurt him? Or was he simply not paying attention? Either way, the mistake proved fatal.

Think about the banana peels you encounter throughout the day. A missed devotional. A half-hearted effort at work. Spending without thinking. Carelessness in conversation. Neglecting those most important to you.

These things are more malicious than they appear. If you’re not careful, they can make you fall.

It works both ways…

The flip side of the coin is that these little things also have the potential to take you to the next level. Jesus explained it …

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” (Luke 16:10)

And he said…

“You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” (Matthew 25:21)

You will encounter many banana peels today. Or they could be stepping stones. Pay attention to each one, remembering that how you deal with this little thing will lead to the next big thing in your life.

[This post first appeared in 2012]
O Master Let Me Walk With Me

The Solution to Soul Fatigue

Here’s another hymn story. This one takes place in the year 1879, when a soul-fatigued pastor found himself overcome with discouragement.

Washington Gladden had been serving God for 20 years, but had yet to see much fruit in his ministry. He was also beset by personal problems and family problems. And now he was at the point of despair — frustrated and discouraged; weak and weary. He felt like a failure in ministry, and a failure in life.

I’ll give away the ending now and say that in the years to come, his life and ministry would be much different.

He would write dozens of books, hundreds of articles and editorials, and even publish a national magazine. He would become an influential voice in matters that shaped our cultural values in the early 20th century. He would also pastor a thriving church in Columbus, Ohio.

But in 1879 Washington Gladden couldn’t see what was to come. He could see only what was today. He could only see his discouragement.

That afternoon he climbed up to the top of the church bell tower to be alone and to think for a while. The thought even crossed his mind that he could jump from the ledge and make his troubles disappear.

But he didn’t jump. Instead, he poured out his heart to God, putting into words what would eventually become a hymn that has since appeared in more than 400 hymnals, and has been sung in hundreds of thousands of churches throughout the world for the last century and a half.

This is what he wrote…

O Master let me walk with thee
In lowly paths of service free.
Tell me Thy secret; help me bear
The strain of toil, the fret of care.

Reverend Gladden experienced what every pastor, every staff member, every missionary, every leader, every volunteer has experienced. He experienced what every person who desires to live a difference-making life has experienced.

I’m talking about Discouragement with a capital D. Disappointment. Frustration. Fatigue. Not the kind of fatigue where your body is worn out. The kind of fatigue where your soul is worn out. Where your will is worn out. And you’re not sure how much longer you can carry on.

Many times our fatigue is stoked by a lack of measurable success. The paradox, however, is that racking up results rarely resolves the problem. In fact, there is only one real solution to overcome soul-fatigue. It is found in the first line of Gladden’s hymn:

O Master let me walk with thee.

Results in ministry are always cause for celebration, but they’re not enough in themselves to give us the strength to face a new day. This strength can be found only in the presence of a daily walk with Christ.

As the new week begins, and you take aim at every item on your list, remember that priority one remains the same: This is a journey we are called to make with Jesus, not merely for him.

“Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go

The Love That Will Not Let You Go

Here’s another hymn story. This one takes place in Scotland in the mid-to-late 1800s.

It’s about about George Matheson who, at the age of 20, had what appeared to be a brilliant future ahead of him. He was an outstanding theology student, preparing for what would certainly be a distinguished career in academia. He was also engaged to the woman of his dreams.

Everything was just right … except he was beginning to lose his sight. Slowly, little by little, day by day, his world became increasingly dark. How can one become a scholar with no ability to read? Braille was still in its infancy; the options were limited.

His fiancé decided that she couldn’t bear going through life with a vision-impaired husband, so she broke off the engagement, and George Matheson’s world came undone.

However, he didn’t let this setback hold him back. He decided, instead, to become a pastor, and began serving a small church.

His sister became his devoted assistant. She studied Greek, Hebrew, and Latin to help with his sermon preparation and his writing. She accompanied him throughout the day, assisting him in his pastoral responsibilities.

Over the years, George Matheson became quite successful in the ministry: he became the pastor of a large church, and he wrote several books of theology, poetry, and sacred music.

And then one day his sister told him that she had fallen in love. She had made plans to marry, and would soon be leaving to begin a new life and family with her husband.

George realized that he would be alone. For 20 years his sister had been his connection to the seeing world. She had read to him, she completed his research, she had been his scribe, as well as his partner in ministry … and now he was alone again.

On the night before her wedding, he said, “Something happened to me, which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering.” Those close to him understood that he was reminded of the time so many years before, as he was preparing to get married, and the love of his life let him go. And now he was losing his closest friend and confidant — his dear sister.

On that night, June 6 1882, as George Matheson thought about the love he had lost years before, and as he thought about the lonely days that lie ahead, he wrote these words…

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

There are many who understand on a deep and personal level the story behind this hymn, and what George Matheson felt, because you, too, have at times felt abandoned and alone. No doubt we have all felt this way.

In a psalm written later in life, King David wrote…

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:9-10)

Your right hand will hold me fast.

To say it another way: You will not let me go.

God loves you with a love that will never let you go. Even when you were at your worst, he sent his very best, his only Son, to die on the cross, so that you might live. No circumstance of life can separate you; nothing can take you from his hand.

… for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

Morning by morning new mercies I see.

The Morning-by-Morning Goodness of God

One of my favorite hymns is also one my favorite hymn stories, because it is almost a non-story.

Many hymns were written in response to a dramatic turning point in the composer’s life — a personal crisis, a lost love, the death of someone near.

But this hymn was not the result of a turning point as much it is the result of a lifelong reflection. While many hymns are born out of a dramatic experience, this hymn was simply the result of the author’s morning by morning recognition of God’s faithfulness.

The story begins in 1893, in the southern state of Kentucky. A young newspaper editor named Thomas Obadiah Chisholm surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. He was 27 at the time, and his dream became that someday he would serve God full time in the ministry.

Eventually he was able to serve as a pastor in the Methodist Church, but his appointment lasted only a year; he was forced to resign due to poor health. He then moved to New Jersey and began selling life insurance, while remaining active in his local church.

Over the years he wrote well over a thousand hymns and sacred poems, submitting them often to various periodicals for publication. A few made their way into print, though he himself never became well-known.

Later in life, at the age of 75, he wrote…

“My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me until now, although I must not fail to record the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”

Thomas Chisholm finally retired at the age of 87. He spent his last years in a retirement home. In 1960, at the age of 94, he went home to be with the Lord.

It was a song that he wrote years earlier, in 1923, at the age of 57, for which he is known today. If you’ve been in church very long, you no doubt know it.

It was written by a man who lived, by and large, an unremarkable life — knowing neither fame nor fortune. But he did know something about the day-by-day, morning-by-morning goodness of God in every area of life.

That’s what makes this hymn great. Virtually every line of this great hymn is pulled from the Scripture. It reminds us of how the God we serve is faithful in every way — even when things don’t work out exactly as we would like, we can see his hand at work in every moment of every day.

These are the words that Thomas Obadiah Chisholm wrote…

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father!
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not:
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

And this is the chorus…

Great is Thy faithfulness, great is Thy faithfulness,
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided —
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Thomas Obadiah Chisholm never achieved the accolades of success in this life. As a musician, you might call him a late-comer and a one-hit-wonder. But he lived a great life because he experienced, and he recognized, and he appreciated the morning-by-morning faithfulness of God in his life.

A lesson we can learn from his life: When you make it your habit to seek God’s presence every day, you begin to see evidence of his faithfulness all around you.

. . . . . . . .

Today’s memo was taken from Steve’s series Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs.

What’s the Use?

In February 2005 a Colorado county court judge ordered two teenagers to pay $900 for the distress they caused a neighbor the previous summer.

What distressing thing did they do?

They baked some cookies and adorned them paper hearts.

The teenagers, Taylor and Lindsey, had stayed home this particular Saturday night — some friends were having a party but they chose not to go since there might be drinking. Instead, they made cookies for several of their rural neighbors, dropped off the batches on their porches, accompanied by red and pink hearts and a note that said “Have a great night.”

One neighbor, however, didn’t appreciate their kindness. She filed a lawsuit complaining that the unsolicited cookies triggered an anxiety attack that sent her to the hospital the next day. Judge Doug Walker ruled that 10:30 was a little late to be ringing someone’s door bell, and ordered the girls to pay the “victim’s” medical costs.

I’m afraid this might have caused Taylor and Lindsey to think twice before they decide again to do something kind. Certainly no one could blame them. But I hope it’s not the case.

Even though good deeds sometimes bring back more trouble than we deserve, we must never be discouraged from seeking out opportunities to display random acts of kindness.

One Sabbath day Jesus healed a man who later went out of his way to inform the enemies of Christ that it was Jesus who had done this miraculous work. (John 5:15) This began a chain of events that led to…

Therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. (John 5:18 NASV)

Hardly worth the trouble to heal the man, wouldn’t you say? And yet, our all-knowing Lord healed him anyway.

Kent Keith said…

Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough; 
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

These sheep that we’re called to take care of—sometimes we discover they have really sharp teeth. But don’t let a few bite marks prevent you from continuing to do good every chance you get.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

Roy Riegels running the wrong way.

Running the Wrong Way

The Day Roy Riegels Ran the Wrong Way bookOn New Years Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played California in the Rose Bowl.

Late in the second quarter, Roy Riegels recovered a fumble for California. In his excitement he became confused and began running in the wrong direction — for sixty-five yards.

He thought he was about to score. Instead, one of his teammates tackled him at their own 2 yard line.

This meant that his mistake put California 98 yards away from where they needed to be; 98 yards away from where they could have been had he had a better sense of direction.

The mistake was serious. A few plays later, Georgia Tech got the ball back and scored.

In the locker room at half time, Roy Riegels sat in the corner with his face buried in his hands, humiliated. The rest of the room remained silent. The coach didn’t make his usual half-time speech, but shortly before they were to take the field again, he said, “The starting team will begin the second half.”

The players all left the locker room, except for Riegels, alone on the bench, his head hung in shame. He said, “I can’t do it, Coach. I can’t play. I’ve ruined the team.”

The coach simply said, “Get up Riegels. The game is only half over. You belong on the field.”

He did the take the field that afternoon, playing what he later referred to as the best half of football in his college career. He said, “I gained true understanding of life from my Rose Bowl mistake. I learned you can bounce back…”

It’s a lesson we can all put into practice. Even if all your life has been spent running the wrong way, even if your missteps have you 98 yards away from where you need to be, you belong on the playing field. There’s still some game left to play.

This reminds of what the Apostle Paul said…

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

This Is Not A Dress Rehearsal

This Is Not a Dress Rehearsal

My Fair Lady - dress rehearsalImagine that you’re involved in a play, in a community theater production of, say, My Fair Lady.

Maybe you’re ‘enry ‘iggins, or maybe you’re Liza Doolittle. Either way, you’ve spent weeks and months preparing your part. Opening night is right around the corner, and tonight is dress rehearsal.

You know what dress rehearsal is. It’s that low-risk run-through to an empty auditorium where the director gets a chance to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing.

But then, right before curtain, there’s a last-minute turn of events. The producer approaches you and says, “Tonight we have a special guest — a top talent agent has flown in from in New York to watch your performance. He’s considering you for this very role on Broadway.”

This changes the dynamic quite a bit, doesn’t it? No longer is it a mere dress-rehearsal. It is now the performance of your career — up to this point, anyway. How well you do tonight will determine your future on the stage.

Suddenly you’re profoundly aware of the significance of the next two hours. And, of course, you give it all you’ve got.

Next, imagine that it’s not just a local community theater production of My Fair Lady that we’re talking about. Imagine, instead, that it is your life we’re talking about, and where your “performance” today has the potential to take you.

This is, in fact, how it really works.

A lesson we learn throughout scripture is that this is not a mere dress rehearsal that we’re experiencing today. It’s not just a dry run. It’s the real thing. This day. Every day. Day after day.

We have a tendency to live, sometimes, as if today doesn’t really matter all that much. We live as if we’ll have another chance on another day to do things the way they ought to be done … so for now we can coast.

But the Bible teaches that today is the day. Today matters — and as long as it’s called today, it matters more than any other day in your life.

So what shall we do with today?

Let’s strive to follow the example of the Apostle Paul…

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

A Life-Changing Invitation

One day while Jesus was passing through Jericho, a man named Zacchaeus came to see him.

If you grew up in Sunday School, you know that Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he. You may also know that he wasn’t a particularly good man; he was a tax-collector with a reputation for being dishonest.

Since he couldn’t see in the crowd, he climbed a sycamore tree to get a better view of Jesus. The Bible says…

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately, I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5)

I love the urgency in Jesus’ words: “Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

Jesus was saying, “Zacchaeus, don’t wait. Don’t put this off. Something big is about to happen.”

How, then, did Zacchaeus respond?

So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. (Luke 19:6)

He made no excuses: “I’m not prepared. Can we do this later, after I’ve had time to get my life in order?” Instead, he seized the opportunity to have Jesus come to his home.

What happened next?

This spur-of-the-moment meeting led to a life-change for Zacchaeus. He said, in effect, “Jesus, I want to start doing things right. I’ll give half of my money to the poor, and I’ll pay four times the amount to anyone I’ve cheated.” And Jesus said…

“Today salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19:9)

Salvation came today, because Zacchaeus responded to the invitation today. He might not have felt completely prepared to have the King of Kings enter his home, but he didn’t put it off. And his life changed as a result.

Every day brings a life-changing invitation that is our to accept or ignore. Something big is on the horizon. How you respond makes all the difference.

When the Angel Said ‘Fear Not…’

Last week I talked about the show-stealing scene in the Peanuts special A Charlie Brown Christmas, the one where Linus reads from the gospel of Luke.

Today I want to say a little bit more about it.

There’s a detail in this scene that I never noticed until a friend pointed it out last year. Since then I’ve seen it referenced by several others; it’s just too good to overlook.

As you remember, Linus is the one who always carries the blanket. It’s called a security blanket, but it doesn’t really symbolize security. It symbolizes insecurity — the fear of uncertainty, the fear of inadequacy.

In this scene, Linus takes the stage with his ever-present blanket and begins to recite the story…

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid…(Luke 2:9)

And then, when he gets to the part that says Fear not, he lets go of the blanket. That insignificant piece of cloth representing all of his insecurities suddenly becomes unnecessary in light of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so the blanket falls to the floor.

The blankets we carry aren’t nearly as conspicuous as his, but ours exist nonetheless:

The security blanket of needing more money.

Or needing a drink to make it through the day.

Or needing to build yourself up by putting others down.

Or needing to win at all costs.

We carry these blankets with us because we think they will shield us from fear. But they never can, and they never do.

There’s only one way to escape fear — and that is to drop the blanket, once and for all, and decide that you will dare to live this day in the power of Jesus Christ. He has promised to be with you always, and he has promised to see you through every uncertain moment. And his promise is worth the risk.

Linus shared with Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas: Because of this child born in Bethlehem — the one who came to bear our sorrows and take away our sins — you can drop the blanket and embrace God’s presence in your life.