Outlasting the Blues

During a dark period of Abraham Lincoln’s life, at the young age of 32, he wrote:

“I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on earth.

“Whether I shall ever be better I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.”

It’s hard to believe these words were written by one of our nation’s most significant leaders. And it’s hard to believe that years later this same despairing man was able to write:

“The year that is drawing toward the close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. These bounties are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come.”

Abraham Lincoln’s early years were filled with failure. Yet, the final years of life, though certainly not free from struggle, were years of happiness, fulfillment, achievement, and success.

Because of his capacity to outlast the blues, Lincoln experienced — in this life — the enormity of God’s blessing. He didn’t give up hope, even when it seemed he had no reason to hope.

The same could be said for King David. As you read through the Psalms, you get a glimpse of his struggles and heartaches. (Psalm 10, 38, 102 come to mind; there are many, many more.) And though his life was not without tragedy, David ended his days enjoying the benefits of God’s blessing in his life.

In a phrase, David outlasted the blues. His final words, recorded in 2 Samuel 23, were:

Is not my house right with God? Has he not made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part? Will he not bring to fruition my salvation and grant me my every desire? (2 Samuel 23:5)

It’s almost as if the reward for tenacity is that our problems eventually give up and leave us alone. We certainly see in scripture that clinging steadfastly to hope in God’s mercy ultimately pays off far beyond our greatest hopes.

Today, you may be facing an anguish that borders on despair. But there’s more to your story than just what you are experiencing today. God will bring to fruition your salvation, full and complete. And he will grant your heart’s desires.

This gives us a reason to keep on … to outlast the blues.

The Past is a Foreign Country

I recently began a sermon with a reference to opening lines in great books. While doing detailed research on the topic (ie, googling with my phone), one in particular caught my eye.

The title is The Go-Between, by L.P. Hartley. The opening line is:

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

I’m not sure how that phrase plays out in the remainder of the story, but it’s a message we should consider: The past is a foreign country.

Think of how it applies to every area of your life, in light of God’s mercy and transformational grace.

“In the past I was defeated and discouraged. But the past is a foreign country. I don’t live there anymore. I choose to be in a different place today.”

“In the past I often spoke harshly to my spouse. But the past is a foreign country. I don’t live there anymore. I do things differently now.”

“In the past I put my wants ahead of everyone else’s needs. But the past is a foreign country…”

“In the past I was overcome with resentment…”

“In the past I felt like my life was going nowhere…”

“In the past my prayer life was non-existent…”

Think of how empowering it would be to learn to say: The past is a foreign country. I don’t live there anymore. I do things differently now.

The Helmet of Salvation

When a gunman opened fire on the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando on June 12 2016, dozens of SWAT Team members responded.

One of them was Michael Napolitano, who soon found himself in the line of fire.

In fact, he took a bullet to the head — and survived.

How?

The helmet he was wearing.

It’s called a Kevlar Helmet. It’s made to be bullet proof, and in Napolitano’s case, it was.

Days after the shooting, images surfaced of Michael and his helmet.

The helmet had been damaged, but not destroyed. Michael had an abrasion on his forehead, but no serious wound.

The obvious comparison is to the helmet of salvation that Paul refers to in Ephesians 6:17.

It protects us from the enemy’s attack. In the midst of spiritual warfare, we may experience bumps and bruises along the way.

But spiritually fatal wounds? Never.

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17)

A Work of Restoration

In the four year period between 1508 and 1512, Michelangelo lay on his back on a scaffold in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, creating one of the greatest artistic triumphs in history.

Unfortunately, the magnificent work of art soon began to fade. Less than a century later, no one could remember what the original frescoes had looked like.

One person described it this way: “We see the colors of the Sistine ceiling as if through smoked glass.”

In 1981 a project began to clean the frescoes that adorn the chapel. After two art-restorers carefully cleaned a small corner of the painting with a special solution, they invited experts to examine the work.

The result was breathtaking. No one had imagined that such vibrant colors lay beneath the centuries of accumulated dust and dirt.

This was not the Michelangelo known by art critics, the one whose frescoes resembled sculpture more than painting. This showed the artist was also the master of color and nuance.

The success of this partial project prompted the restoration of the entire ceiling.

The task was completed on December 31, 1989. It took twice as long to clean the ceiling as it had taken the artist to paint it.

But the result was breathtaking. For the first time in 5 centuries, people were able to view this masterpiece the way it was intended, in all of its color and beauty.

Today, God is doing a work of restoration in your life.

It may take longer than you expect, but the end result will be the same: Your life will be filled with the vibrant colors that he has planned for you from the very beginning.

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again. From the depths of the earth, you will again bring me up. (Psalm 71:20)

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Of Course You Can

In the Handbook to Short Story Writing,  Muriel Anderson says that four of the most important words in her life have been “Of course you can.”

Her father, she says, always knew how to say these words at exactly the right time.

She had begun to try her hand at writing articles, hoping maybe the local newspaper would publish them. She began thinking of all reasons why it most likely never happen: She was young and inexperienced; the local paper was on a tight budget; they rarely bought freelance material.

She told her father, “I doubt I can get this article published.”

He said, “Of course you can.”

And she did. This first article launched her career as a writer.

Four simple words from her father were enough to encourage her to keep trying.

Maybe there is someone in your life waiting to hear these words today: Of course you can.

Let’s never miss an opportunity to encourage one another.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.  (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

If I’ve Only One Life…

In 1961 an advertising copywriter named Shirley Polykoff was working for the Foote, Cone & Belding ad agency on the Clairol hair-dye account when she pitched this idea to a room full of executives: If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a blonde!

The rest, as they say, is advertising history.

Actually, Shirley had already created magic in previous campaigns. Her first big idea had been five years earlier. The slogan was: “Does She or Doesn’t She?” (Do you remember that it was an ad campaign for hair dye?)

She also came up with “The Closer He Gets, the Better You Look.”

But this line, If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a blonde, was, perhaps, her greatest — in terms of success in advertising, anyway.

It leads to an interesting question: How would you complete this sentence? “If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a …”

As a what? Devoted mom? Loyal husband? Faithful friend? Successful business leader? Committed Christian?

The truth is, we each have only life to live — and there are only a few goals worth pursuing.

And one is greater than them all.

In weighing the various measures of success, the Apostle Paul said…

I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:10)

Just a few paragraphs before, he said…

For to me, to live is Christ… (Philippians 1:21)

Paul was saying: If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a sold-out follower of Jesus Christ.

A Princess in Disguise

Today’s memo is about Sarah Culberson.

Sarah was born in 1976 in West Virginia. After being placed in foster care for a year, she was adopted into a loving family — the Culbersons. Both parents were teachers. She grew up active in the United Methodist Church.

Sarah had always wondered about her heritage, so after graduating from college, she hired a private investigator to find her biological parents.

Her birth mom, she discovered, had died of cancer in the early nineties.

But it was what she learned about her birth father that changed her life forever.

As it turns out, Sarah wasn’t just a young woman from West Virginia. She was royalty. A princess.

Her father was now a ruling member of the Mende tribe in Sierra Leone. They began to correspond, and soon he invited her to Africa to meet her family.

When she arrived she received a royal welcome, with hundreds coming to greet her.

She kept asking herself: “What did I do to deserve this? I’m just Sarah from West Virginia.”

But she’s not just Sarah from West Virginia. She was born Princess Esther Elizabeth; that’s who she is. She had lived her life not knowing that she was a member of a ruling class — a princess in disguise. And then she discovered her true heritage.

Today, Sarah lives an amazing life. After pursuing a career in acting, she now works in education, she’s a public speaker, and she maintains close ties to both of her communities and both of her families. (Here is her website)

I love this story because it is — incredibly — similar to our story. We, too, have a royal heritage. We’re king’s kids, you could say.

And yet some believers remain unaware of who they really are.

The Apostle Peter said…

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Today, take a moment to consider who you are in Christ, and who he has made you to be.

______________

The photograph of Princess Sarah Culberson by Elunaman is licensed under Creative Commons.

More Than Conquering

Recently I was reading about the 1938-39 University of Tennessee Volunteers football team — legends in NCAA history.

In ‘38 they went 11-0, won the SEC, beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, and claimed the National Championship. They didn’t merely win, they conquered.

The following year they went 10-0 in the regular season — undefeated, untied, and un-scored-upon. Not a touchdown, not a field goal, not a safety. Every game ended in a shut-out.

That’s not merely conquering. That’s more than conquering.

This is the phrase Paul used in Romans 8 to describe how we can approach life:

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)

It’s a great phrase, but the truth is that many of us don’t feel like we’re more-than-conquering anything right now. We’re more-than-overwhelmed with challenges we never saw coming — creating hardship in the present and filling the future with uncertainty.

For many, Paul’s assurance seems just beyond our grasp. But the answer is closer than it seems, and it’s closer than it often feels.

The Bible is filled with promises from a loving Father who is always near, who comforts us in our sorrow, strengthens us in our weakness, and lifts us up when we are down.

There may be battles, and more than a few close calls, but our victory is assured.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, 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)

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]