Encouragement for Thursday

We have many Christmas movies and specials that mean a lot to us for different reasons. Thanksgiving, not so many. When I was in junior high school, I believe, one of the local T.V. stations (probably channel 43) showed two movies on Thanksgiving day for a number of years in a row: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Snow White and the Three Stooges. I have to admit I liked both of them (although the Stooges’ shorts were much more artistic than their full length movies). How they related specifically with Thanksgiving is anybody’s guess. A number of years later a movie with Thanksgiving as the driving force of its plot appeared.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles was introduced in 1987. It was written, produced, and directed by John Hughes, who specialized in movies that focused on human relationships. The plot revolves around two men who meet by chance due to travel difficulties as Thanksgiving approaches. Neal Page (Steve Martin) is a straight-laced business executive that is trying to get back to his home and family in Chicago in time for Thanksgiving. Del Griffith (John Candy) is a shower curtain ring salesman traveling for business. They are polar opposites in personality. Neal is serious, reserved and restrained in his actions. Del is a joker, open and talkative. After their initial travel plans fall through due to bad weather, Del promises Neal he will get him home in time for Thanksgiving, because he feels at least partially responsible for Neal’s predicament.

Their trip becomes a comedy of errors and hardships, traveling on, yes– planes, trains, and automobiles, and also trucks. Throughout the journey Del remains focused on his goal of trying to get Neal home to Chicago in time for his big family Thanksgiving dinner. Neal also remains focused on his goal of trying to get home in time for his big family Thanksgiving dinner. Along the way Neal changes. He has to move out of his comfort zone. He has to learn to “fly by the seat of his pants,” so to speak. He has to adjust to things outside of his control, which seems foreign to him. He learns that he has to accept Del for who he is– he can’t change him to be the way he would like him to be. He also learns to laugh.

Eventually Del does get Neal back to Chicago on Thanksgiving day. He will make it in time for dinner. As the two men part ways on the platform of the El in Chicago they both appreciate what they have been through. The change in Neal becomes apparent as he rides on the train, reflecting on the past few days. As he remembers events and conversations his mind turns away from himself and toward Del. He returns back to the station where he got on the train and finds Del sitting in the station alone. When he asks why he is there he learns that Del’s wife had passed away 8 years ago and that he is alone and homeless. He takes Del home with him, so that his new friend can share Thanksgiving with his family.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4, CSB)

It would have been easy for Neal Page to continue home on the train, and forget about Del Griffith. The experiences of the past few days could have been a lost exercise in frustration. Instead they turned out to be a lesson in humility brought about from considering another man’s situation instead of his own. He gained a true friend.

Although Planes, Trains and Automobiles doesn’t quote Scripture and can’t really be considered a Christian movie, it has at its heart the message of Philippians 2:3-4. Del always seemed genuinely concerned for Neal’s welfare. For the majority of the journey Neal was oblivious to Del’s needs. His lesson in turning his mind to someone else rather than himself is a reminder that each of us needs from time to time. Pastor James’ emphasis the past month or two has been on considering others and being in harmony. Philippians 2 at its core emphasizes considering others and working together. From beginning to end, so does Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Even a Thanksgiving comedy movie can serve as a positive example, and lead us to remember Scripture!

I have attached a clip of the ending of the movie. It is about 7 minutes in length. If you have enough time, please watch.

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

This year Jim Sperry has shared a few messages with the church. Although the Scripture texts has varied the underlying message has been consistent: “God is awesome!” That theme reminds me of one hymn in particular—How Great Thou Art. Since I was young this hymn has been one of the most common hymns that would be considered among a small group of foundational classics that come immediately to mind (to my mind at least), including Amazing Grace, Sweet Hour of Prayer, Just As I Am, and A Mighty Fortress. Many hymns were written by noted hymn writers and musicians, and were originally written for use in worship services. How Great Thou Art took a longer, more winding path.

In 1885 a Swedish editor named Carl Boberg was walking home along a coastline. He was generally enjoying nature when a sudden thunderstorm arose. He found cover until the worst of the storm passed, and then rushed to get home. After he got home he opened his windows to see a clear beautiful sky. He listened to the birds and heard church bells ringing. He sat down and wrote a poem that he called. “O Store Gud” (which is Swedish for “A Mighty God”). He shared the poem, and it was eventually published in the local newspaper. A songwriter saw it and matched the words with a Swedish folk song. In the early 1900’s it was translated to German. Later a Russian version appeared. It was translated to English in 1925 by E. Gustav Johnson to a version unlike what we have today. In the 1930’s British missionary Stuart K. Hine heard the Russian version while he was in Ukraine. He translated that version into English. In 1949 he introduced his version with a new title, “How Great Thou Art.”

The hymn was published in a missionary magazine called “Grace and Peace.” J. Edwin Orr, an evangelist, was traveling in India and heard an Indian choir singing the hymn. He loved it and brought that English version back home to America. He had it performed at a conference he was holding for college students, where it was heard by Tim Spencer’s children. Tim was a singer formerly in the Sons of the Pioneers, Roy Rogers’ cowboy band. He owned Mana Music and bought the song rights. It was mostly unknown until 1954, when George Beverly Shea heard it.

He and Billy Graham loved it and used it as the theme song of a world crusade he was conducting at the time. From that point its fame spread and it was recorded by many, including Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn, and Tennessee Ernie Ford. Over the years since it has been performed and recorded an immeasurable number of times. It became a worship standard in English speaking churches.

I was motivated to consider this song because I heard a performance version of it that I had not previously heard. YouTube suggested that I watch a video of it performed by a group called GQ (“Girls Quartet”). I have watched several other performances by them. They are not very commercially famous to my knowledge. It is a group of women who met years ago while they were in college in Baltimore County, Maryland. They began singing together, writing and/or arranging a lot of their own music. They graduated long ago, and I believe at least three of them are now teachers in schools. They continued to perform after college.

I am usually a traditionalist about a lot of things. Sometimes I hear different or modernized versions of hymns and songs that simply turn me off. At other times I am motivated to appreciate one in a new light. This heartfelt version by GQ is in the latter category. It took me out of my comfortable place of hearing the same melody in the same style (great though it is), and caused me to focus on the words again, and feel the emotion behind the song. I hope it does that for you also:

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

Today’s date, November 10th, is one that catches my attention every year. It is the date in 1975 the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior during a terrible storm. The event is forever ingrained in the memory of those directly affected by it—surviving family members of the crew, friends of the crewmen, fellow shipping crews on the Great Lakes, and even shipping crews of the future through changed and updated safety regulations for shipping. Many who were not directly affected by the tragedy became familiar with it through a ballad written by Gordon Lightfoot, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The song is largely based on the facts of the event, but there are some details in the song provided through legend and poetic license.

“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy”

Lake Superior has an average depth of almost 500 feet. At its deepest it is 1,332 feet. The Fitzgerald rests about 535 feet from the surface. The average water temperature during the year is 40 degrees. At its deepest parts it is colder. The verse in the song above has a basis in fact. When a physical organic body–plant, fish, or human sinks to the bottom of a warm body of water, bacteria and other tiny creatures cause decomposition. As this happens tissue bloats and expands, which normally causes objects to rise to the top of the water. In water as cold as the depths of Lake Superior there is little to no bacteria to decompose organic objects. They stay at the bottom of the lake and are preserved for a long time. Therefore the lake never gives up its dead.

That characteristic of large and deep bodies of water is only one of the many reasons that deep water, and the oceans especially still hide mysteries from us. Every year scientists discover creatures and plants in the depths of the oceans that have escaped our gaze and study. During more ancient Biblical times even greater mystery surrounded the watery depths.

In the New Testament the Greek word translated as “sea” is “thalassa”. It generally indicates a natural body of water: an ocean, sea, lake, seashore, or body of water in general. It doesn’t always mean “ocean” in the largest bodies of water on Earth sense. The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake and is much smaller than any of the Great Lakes. Yet the fishermen and travelers of Biblical times were very wary of it and its weather and waves. Much more fear entailed as people entered the Mediterranean Sea. It is much larger and deeper, and held creatures in its depths that the Sea of Galilee did not. Reports in ancient times of fearful creatures like the kraken were probably not fanciful fiction but borne by encounters with creatures like the giant squid or octopus. A trip out on a boat or ship, especially on a large body of water brought no guarantee of a safe return home. A thalassa meant uncertainty, lack of control, danger, fear, and possibly disappearance and death to the people of the New Testament period.

“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” (Revelation 21:1)

I believe that the sea mentioned in this verse represents the fear and uncertainty people feel for unexpected and unseen danger and death. Some apply a literal meaning to this term, saying that it means that the physical New Earth will have no seas or large bodies of water. I don’t believe this harmonizes well with the other obviously figurative language in the following verses of the chapter. Did John literally see the Holy City “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (v.2)? He is trying to describe what he saw in the most applicable human terms possible to show the beauty and grandeur of the occasion.

The disappearance of the sea coincides with the second sentence of verse 4: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” The theme continues in verse 5: “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” His “making everything new” doesn’t simply mean our physical home on Earth. It means the entire system in which we exist. We won’t have the separation from God, death, sorrow, sickness, and pain that we face now as consequences of sin. For true believers who have accepted Christ as savior this means being in His presence for eternity as a member of His family. The sea is no more. Hallelujah!

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

The picture above might not be a beautiful one. At first glance, it might not be an encouraging one. It is an image of what I saw on the forest floor a few days ago. The leaves signal the impending winter. I will be the first to admit that I do not enjoy winter. As I get older I become an even greater fan of warm, and even hot weather. The leaves that I saw above and all around me initially made me a bit sad. Considering them further made me appreciate God’s greatness and foresight for the Earth.

Why do leaves turn yellow or brown and fall off the trees? In our part of the world, they sense winter coming. Plants thrive on chlorophyll. When there is a lot of daylight, water, and warm weather, like in summer, trees are chlorophyll factories. They produce it to feed themselves, grow, and propagate. When the days get shorter and the temperatures colder, trees go into defense mode. In winter they lose a large amount of water because it turns to snow or ice, and is immediately unusable for their daily health. They don’t have long enough daylight or warmth to keep their chlorophyll factories running. The lack of chlorophyll, which produces the green color in their leaves, causes the other natural pigments to come out. Those are the reds, yellows, and tans we see in fall. As they lose more moisture they become brown. As the colors are changing, trees also create a layer of cells between the leaves and branches. At the point the trees can’t supply enough food or nutrients to support the leaves, the leaves drop off. Our trees remain in this state until the daylight grows longer and the temperatures rise in spring. More liquid moisture comes and trees begin to put out the buds that will become leaves. The cycle refreshes.

God had a considered purpose in designing the trees to operate according to their cycle of growth and temporary decay. Humans have been able to learn to understand this growth cycle. Unfortunately many either ignore or deny God’s role in designing the Earth and its systems. David wrote a poetic testament to God’s greatness in design and anticipation of our world’s needs in Psalm 104. He considered trees:

“The trees of the Lord are well watered,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
There the birds make their nests;
the stork has its home in the junipers.”

— Psalm 104:16-17

He planned for the lives and sustenance of the trees, which had distinct purposes. The cedars of Lebanon were used for building both buildings and boats for people. The cedars and juniper trees (and many others) are used by birds for nesting. Trees of all kinds are useful for both humans and animals.

“He made the moon to mark the seasons,
and the sun knows when to go down.
You bring darkness, it becomes night,
and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The lions roar for their prey
and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away;
they return and lie down in their dens.
Then people go out to their work,
to their labor until evening.”

— Psalm 104:19-23

Although David’s understanding of the specific “hows and whys” of how the world operates may be limited compared to what we have learned in the years since, he fully understands the source and cause of the world operating the way it does. He knows that God established the system in which our world operates– by day, night, and season. Each division or designation works to benefit a different part of His creation. Man generally works by day, while many animals hunt and live by night. The change of seasons brings balance to different parts of the world at the same time. The winter dormancy in our area coincides with the summer growth season in Australia. The moon affects our tides and the balance of the oceans on Earth. The path of Earth as it travels around the sun gives us a concrete measure for the year that is the basis for our measurement of time.

We can be thankful that God had us in mind when He created the Earth for us. The winter we endure here means that someone on the other side of the Earth from us is experiencing summer. The new green buds and leaves on the trees in the spring are reminders of His consideration and planning for us. So are the brown leaves on the ground and bare branches on the trees in autumn. God loves us!

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

Many years ago I was involved in a theological discussion of sorts from a post on a friend’s Facebook page. If I remember correctly, the general theme of the discussion was the continuity of teaching throughout the New Testament. After one of my responses, another man said the following: “Well, I follow Paul’s Gospel, not Jesus’ Gospel. It isn’t the same.” After lifting my jaw off the floor because of that heretical proclamation, I made a lengthier response explaining that Paul followed Jesus’ teaching and Gospel precisely. The man didn’t respond. He had a very faulty opinion of what constituted the Gospel along with a misunderstanding of Paul.

Pastor James’ sermon this past Sunday brought that discussion to mind. Paul’s words in Philippians 2:1-8 run a very strong parallel to the words of Jesus presented in John 15:9-15. I can easily imagine Paul having these words in mind as he wrote to the Philippians. Here are the words of Paul in Philippians 2:1-2:

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”

Following are the words of Jesus presented by John in John 15:9-11:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. How are we united with Christ, and how do we have comfort from His love, and share in the Spirit? “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (John 15:9-10).

Jesus reminds us that there is no separation between Himself and His Father, and acknowledges the Spirit later in His discussion: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.” (John 15:26). I believe this is the basis of Paul’s instruction to be “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” What is Jesus’ goal? “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11). In Philippians Paul is seeking the joy that Jesus promises from all of us being united with Him.

Jesus continues His message:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:12-14).

Jesus fully knew the meaning of His statement “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Even in the immediate days following His crucifixion I am not sure the disciples understood. After He met with them following His resurrection it became much clearer. This is where Paul’s mind was focusing when he wrote about Jesus humbling Himself and dying on the cross for us. He was in the form of a man yet still divine. Still, He considered us more important than Himself. Paul was looking to Jesus’ example as he wrote verses 3 and 4:

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Many times in the New Testament we have Scriptures from the Old Testament, or even other New Testament writers quoted. In Philippians 2 we see Paul not simply quoting other verses for the point of teaching. He is exhorting in a way that indicates that he has internalized Jesus’ teaching from John 15. Jesus’ way of thinking has become Paul’s way of thinking. That is the purpose and intention of the Bible. It isn’t just a historical record, or a rule book to follow. God’s ways must become our ways.

Lord, help us to make Jesus’ teaching part of our lives and being as Paul did. Let us share His love, tenderness, and compassion with each other. Thank You for Your love and compassion for us, and for considering us friends.

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

One of the areas I visited in northeastern Ohio this past summer was the Ashtabula, Ohio area. I was in the area to see and photograph some of the covered bridges that are still standing in Ashtabula and Trumbull counties. In the late 1800’s through the first half of the 1900’s Ashtabula was a busy industrial center. Its harbor on Lake Erie brought manufacturers due to the convenience of shipping materials and goods to and from the area. The Ashtabula River brought goods from further down state to the harbor. Railroads from the east coast passed through the city on their way west.

On December 29, 1876 the largest train disaster in the United States to that time occurred in Ashtabula. That night the Pacific Express, a Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway train, traveled through the area in the midst of a heavy snowstorm. The train was carrying nearly 200 people bound for different western destinations, in addition to the crew. Two locomotives were pulling 11 of a variety of types of cars. As the train crossed the Ashtabula River the iron bridge collapsed. Only the lead locomotive was able to reach safety on the far side of the bridge where it was not involved in the impending tragedy. The second locomotive separated from the first and was eventually dropped down as the last link in the chain of train cars that plunged 75 feet into the river. After the cars settled the coal fired boilers and oil lamps set the wooden train on fire. Around 64 people were able to escape with injuries. The remainder (exact count unknown) perished in the crash or the fire. Most of the victims were not identifiable. The railroad purchased a large plot in Chestnut Grove Cemetery in Ashtabula, and the remains that could be gathered were interred. A monument listing the names of the missing passengers was later added at the site to remember those who lost their lives.

We have heard the account of how Horatio Spafford wrote the words to “It is Well with My Soul” while passing the spot in the Atlantic Ocean where his 4 young daughters lost their lives when the ship they were traveling on sank. After writing the lyrics of the hymn he contacted his friend Philip P. Bliss to ask him to write the music to accompany them.

Philip Bliss left home at a young age to try to find work. He found himself particularly interested in music and was eventually able to take enough specialized schooling to become a teacher. He became a traveling teacher, stopping in certain locations for limited periods to teach music to those who were interested. His faith in God led him to begin to write hymns. He composed the music and wrote lyrics. He began to perform sacred music concerts in addition to his teaching in schools and conventions. While attending one of Dwight Moody’s revival meetings he noticed that the singing portion of his meetings needed support that he believed he could provide. Mr. Moody gave him a chance and was grateful and impressed. He invited him to come to any of his Sunday evening meetings he could to share his musical abilities in improving the music worship. Dwight also encouraged him to become a singing evangelist, giving up his other lines of work.

He eventually did, dedicating his life to God’s service. Over the years many hymns that Philip Bliss wrote became standards used in many churches. Many of us have sung at least some of them: “Let the Lower Lights be Burning,” “Wonderful Words of Life,” “Hallelujah what a Savior,” “I Will Sing of My Redeemer,” “Jesus Loves Even Me,” “Dare to Be a Daniel,” “Almost Persuaded,” “In the Cross of Christ I Glory,” “Meet Me at the Fountain,” and many others. Some of the Titanic survivors reported that those in their lifeboat sang his hymn “Pull for the Shore” as they tried to reach safety.

You might be wondering what the Ashtabula train disaster has to do with Philip Bliss. He and his wife Lucy were passengers on the Pacific Express when it plunged into the Ashtabula River. He was on his way to Chicago to work with Dwight Moody in a series of evangelistic meetings. They were among the unidentified who perished in the wreck. Their trunk, which contained songs that Philip had been working on, survived. One for which he had only finished the lyrics was “I Will Sing of My Redeemer.” Friend and sometime colleague James McGranahan wrote the music to accompany it.

At the time of his death Philip Bliss was only 38 years old. It is easy to focus on the tragedy of his relatively early passing. I can just as easily look at his life and say, “Wow! He made quite an impact for God in only 38 years.” His words and music have educated and strengthened many believers; more than his evangelistic meeting contributions could have touched. I pray that I, and each of us, can also make an impact for God on people that we may never meet in our earthly lives.

I was prompted to remember Philip Bliss yesterday because of a posting by one of my Facebook friends, Changsoo Kim. He is a great ukulele player and educator in Korea. He is also a believer and has arranged and performed many hymns and Christian songs. His posting yesterday was an instrumental recording of “It is Well with My Soul.” As much as I love the words of this song, this version highlights the musical talent and contributions of Philip Bliss. Please listen:

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

Matthew 19:26 is a well-known verse, and one I remember hearing from my youth.

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’”

He said this after telling His disciples that it was easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, in answer to their question, “Who then can be saved?” (v.25).

I have heard and read this verse countless times. I know that it refers to our ability to be saved of our own accord without the sacrifice of Jesus and our acceptance of Him. For those with worldly wealth and status who can depend on their own strength for many things, it is even more difficult. I fear that familiarity sometimes makes me lose the impact of the meaning of Scripture.

By now you might be thinking, “Gee, what does this section of Matthew 19 have to do with mushrooms?” I am not a mushroom expert, but I have been photographing and studying them more the past couple years. Generally you find them close to trees or decaying wood. Sometimes they appear in certain grassy environments where their spores are carried and have enough moisture to provide a good environment. They are most common in shady woodland areas. I saw these in the Headlands Dunes Nature Preserve. This is the first time I have ever noticed mushrooms growing in sand. The nearest tree was about 10-15 feet away and it was a cottonwood, which are generally not known as being great hosts for mushrooms. There was no decaying wood that I could see nearby. They were not close to any sort of shade. By my understanding of mushrooms, they should not be growing there.

Seeing these in that location reminded me of Matthew 19:26. Humans are generally pretty good at learning and adapting to their environment. Being blessed with many of God’s attributes, we can reason, discover, develop, love, and even create in our limited way. We learn and feel confident in knowing how certain types of plants and animals grow. We propagate certain plants like corn or tomatoes and try to promote them and try to kill or discourage others like poison ivy. At this point in life I thought I had a pretty good handle on some things, for a non-expert. Then I found mushrooms growing in sand.

Human reasoning even with the best intentions is limited. We think we know all sides and angles about ourselves and our world. We regularly develop more ways to battle diseases and physical problems. We continue to learn more about the universe and how to extend our reach. Yet the more we explore the depths of the sea, the more we discover that we haven’t seen before.

Lord, thank you for all You have given us, especially Your Son. Thank you for our world, and all of the abilities you have bestowed on us. Thank you also for reminders that so much is possible in ways that we can’t see or haven’t discovered yet. Don’t let us become hardened to the ways you make things, small and large, possible. Help us to be an extension of your possibilities in the world.

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

Through the vast majority of my life I haven’t thought much about the British royalty. I have often been amazed by the attention the people of England and its allied countries give to them. In the past 150 years or so they have been seen mostly as “figureheads,” or people who carry a title but have no real purpose to go along with it. Since before I was born until very recently there has been only one queen in England– Elizabeth II. She left this earthly world on September 8 at the age of 96.

A couple Sundays ago Pastor James mentioned her long lasting friendship with Billy Graham. That motivated me to read some more articles about her and her faith. From an early age her mother (also Elizabeth, but not a queen) took her and her younger sister to church regularly. She encouraged regular Bible reading and study. She instilled the practice of prayer in them. This faith remained an important part of her life, growing stronger to the end. Her husband Prince Philip was also a man of strong faith.

In 1952 her father King George VI died, and she became queen. In her Christmas address before her coronation, she made the following request: “I want to ask you all, whatever your religion may be, to pray for me on that day—to pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve him and you, all the days of my life.” The coronation service has 5 parts: Recognition, Oath, Anointing, Crowning, and Homage. It is worth noting that the anointing that is the centerpiece of the service is done under a large veil by the archbishop. It is an anointing with oil intended to follow the example of the anointing of Solomon as king of Israel as described in 1 Kings 1:38-40:

“So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon mount King David’s mule, and they escorted him to Gihon. Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the sacred tent and anointed Solomon. Then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him, playing pipes and rejoicing greatly, so that the ground shook with the sound.”

The anointing, crowning, and homage in England’s coronation all seem to follow the example set by Solomon’s coronation. Even more impactful on me was the description of her her anointing:

“Dipping his finger in the holy oil, the Archbishop made a cross on Elizabeth’s hands, then her heart, before concluding, ‘Be thy head anointed with holy oil, as kings, priests, and prophets were anointed…. As Solomon was anointed king by Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet, so be thou anointed, blessed and consecrated Queen over the peoples whom the Lord Thy God has given thee to rule and govern’ “ (“The Faith of Queen Elizabeth– an Interview with Dudley Delffs”, Jonathan Petersen).

As Queen she took this charge seriously. She tried to live in a manner that exemplified her faith. She often used Scriptural references in speeches, especially in her Christmas addresses. One passage that she mentioned many times was Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan. She had an ongoing concern to try to provide for those who were less fortunate. In one address she boldly stated, “To what greater inspiration and counsel can we turn, than to the imperishable truth to be found in this treasure house, the Bible?” If only our own country’s leaders had the foresight and courage to be able to honestly say the same, I think we would all be in much better shape today!

I was wrong about the role of British royalty, and especially Queen Elizabeth. Although she did not make many political decisions, she led. She set an example of faith, constancy, and belief for the people in her realm to follow. She realized that her position had been granted by God, and she took it seriously. She was not afraid to share her faith and proclaim Christ. In her Christmas address of 2016, she said:

“Billions of people now follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them because Christ’s example helps me see the value in doing small things with great love, whoever does them and whatever they themselves believe.”

Thank you for your life and influence, Queen Elizabeth II.

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

Last night after work I had the opportunity to take a walk through the woods in the Rocky River Metropark. I always enjoy these walks because they help to take my mind off of my personal concerns and job pressures. I am reminded of the greater world that God created. Last night I have to admit a bit of sadness because I could tell that the change of seasons is beginning. I will admit now that I am a summer kind of guy. I like the warm weather even more as I age. I like the activity that I can see in nature, with plants in bloom and producing fruit. Animals and insects are in their active stages, reproducing and preparing for the colder seasons that are coming. Last night I could tell that many of the wildflowers have stopped blooming. There are still some beautiful ones, like the jewelweed and black-eyed susans. Leaves have fallen from some trees. There are far fewer insects active. I saw the bodies of many bees and wasps that have ended their lifecycle as cold weather comes.

There is still beauty in nature. You might have to look a little harder or in different places to find it. There is a picture attached to this message. Some of you probably looked at it and said, “Ewww….is that a slug?” Yes it is. It is a gray garden slug, one of Ohio’s most common ones. They live in many places outside of gardens, like the woods. I happened to notice this one as I was looking at mushrooms. They are known to chew up many types of plants in gardens. You might ask, “What good are they?” Remember that the manicured gardens that people have planted various flowers and vegetables in are not exactly natural. In their natural habitat like the woods, slugs stay close to the ground in the moist, dark areas that not a lot of other creatures like to visit. Why? That is where they find their food and fulfill their role in God’s scheme of things. They eat things like this mushroom and other decaying plant matter. They eat dead insect bodies and other rotting things that only their relatives the land snails, worms, and other insects would eat. Think of them as God’s tiny natural vacuum cleaners. He knew what He was doing in creating the creatures that exist on Earth. When I looked at this slug, I even saw a natural beauty in it. It has some beautiful natural color, and a nice shiny, yet ridged texture. When you zoom in really close on the picture you can even see its tiny eye at the end of one of their stalks, and the tiny fringed edge on its body that, along with its slippery covering, enables it to move. What an amazing design!

People are often repulsed by slugs. They think they are ugly and gross. In God’s purposes, there are things more important than outward beauty. I am reminded of a chapter in Scripture that we have all heard probably many times—1 Samuel 16. In this chapter Samuel has come to Jesse’s house to meet the one that God has chosen to be the next king of Israel. Jesse brought in seven of his sons to meet Samuel. They were strong, impressive and good-looking men. Yet none of them were the one that God chose. Only after asking was the youngest son, who was tending the sheep in the field, brought in. David was God’s chosen one. I think it is rather symbolic that he was tending the sheep when he was brought in. At first Samuel thought Jesse’s son Eliab might be the chosen one. God soon corrected him:

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

By nature, people tend to be affected by outward appearances. This principle applies to everything in our world. We favor the lovely and reject the unlovely. We love butterflies and don’t love slugs. I believe this extends to how we see people, even if it is unconsciously. Thankfully God doesn’t have this characteristic. Beauty to Him is in the heart. Even though we might feel more like a slug than a butterfly, we are beautiful to God because of what is in our hearts. Never forget than even slugs have a purpose that God intended to benefit the world He created. How much greater is our role in His world!

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement For Thursday

A little over a month ago I mentioned that the quarterly production period that we were working through was the most difficult we had faced. Since then, my team and our systems partners have been trying to do what we can to help head off similar problems this quarter. We learned yesterday there are some systems architecture changes being processed (outside of any of our control) that will delay our testing process. This type of change makes us all very concerned with the possible impact. It already has me praying for patience and endurance for the quarter end period.

In the grand scheme of things of my life, this is a temporary challenge. It still makes me weary. I am reminded of a Scripture that is often used when people are challenged:

“God is our refuge and strength,
An ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
And the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
Though its waters roar and foam
And the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
The God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:1-7).

In retrospect, my problems are tiny. The writer of Psalm 46 doesn’t specify certain problems that people might face. He does make the point that whatever they are, God is still in control. He is ever-present, which means that I can call on Him for strength no matter what is bothering me. He is with me. Not even a major earthquake that could destroy and upheave the earth itself is beyond God’s power. He is the source of joy for His own city and holy place. Though things look like a lost cause I know that I need to trust Him.

Lord, we get caught up in the problems of our own lives. Please help us to remember Your presence and care. Even though it looks like the world might be crumbling You are still the source of joy, ever-present with us. Keep our minds, hearts, and spirits clear. Remind us to be still and know that you are God. We need your help, and know that you will help us.

Take heart and be encouraged!