1531) Psalm 100 (a)

     Once upon a time there was a single dad named Ernie, who had two kids in elementary school.  His ex-wife had abandoned the family, was nowhere to be found, and contributed nothing.  Ernie’s factory job paid the bills, but just barely.  As long as there were no extra expenses, he was able to make it, but it was always living check to check.

     Then everything went wrong at once.  His daughter ran into a tree with her bicycle and broke her arm, and that cost him some money.  The transmission went out Ernie’s car and he had a big repair bill at the shop.  Then an old back injury flared up and the doctor told Ernie he needed surgery.  But Ernie did not know how he could pay for his portion of that bill along with everything else.  His back was getting worse and going to work was getting more difficult, and he was stuck with nowhere to turn.

     One day a retired man from down the street came to visit Ernie.  Ernie knew who the man was, but didn’t know him well.  The man told Ernie he had heard about his troubles and wanted to help; and then handed him ten one hundred dollar bills.  Ernie couldn’t believe it.  There were tears in his eyes as he thanked the man over and over, hugging him, telling him how the money came at just the right time, how badly he needed it, and how much he appreciated the help.  After a short conversation, the man left.

     The money did not solve all of Ernie’s problems, but it got the wolf away from the door for that week anyway.  A few days later, the man from down the street visited again, and, after a brief conversation, gave Ernie another thousand dollars.  Again, Ernie could hardly believe it, this time saying he could not accept the money.  The man insisted, and again, Ernie went on and on thanking him.  This helped pay off some more of his debts, but Ernie was still a long way from being able to afford the much needed back surgery.

     A week later, the man was there again, and after some small talk gave Ernie ten more one hundred dollar bills.  Ernie could not imagine why the man was doing this, but again expressed his gratitude.  The man never made a big show of his gift and did not insist on knowing all the details of Ernie’s finances.  He just gave him the money, said ‘you’re welcome’ after Ernie thanked him a dozen times, chatted a bit, and walked back home.

     This continued on and on.  Every few days, it was the same thing; a knock at the door, a little conversation, a thousand more dollars, and a friendly good-bye.  The expressions of gratitude went from saying thank you ten times in a row with tears in his eyes, to a single, sincere ‘thanks.’  One time, Ernie forgot to say thank you at all.  Ernie thought about it after the man left, and then called to say thanks.  Ernie was embarrassed, but, a few days later the man was there again and the pattern continued. 

     In time, Ernie had all his bills paid, was able to afford the surgery, bought a new car, and even started putting money in the bank.  Everything was going just great, and the money kept coming.

     But then Ernie started to get used to getting the extra money, and even began to expect it.  Not only that, but Ernie began to view the man’s visits with the money as an interruption, and sometimes he was even annoyed by that knock on the door.  “Same old thing, all the time, same old thing,” Ernie said to himself; “I have to stop what I’m doing, listen to him talk about the weather and whatever else is on his mind, act like I’m interested, try to remember to say thanks, and then get back to my TV show and wonder what I missed.”  Ernie added little to the conversations and never invited the man in.  A few times, he told one of the kids to answer the door and get the money.  But then they started to complain, and finally Ernie had enough. 

     The next time the man came by, Ernie suggested that he set up an automatic transfer of funds at the bank.  The man was quiet, looked disappointed, said ‘okay,’ and walked away.  Ernie wondered if perhaps he made a mistake, and hoped the flow of cash would not end.  But it didn’t.  The man did what Ernie asked, and the money kept coming.  And Ernie, now happy to be left alone, never once took the time to walk down the street to thank the man ever again.

     So, what do you think of Ernie?  I would guess your opinion of him changed as the story went on.  You probably liked him at first.  He was a hard worker, he was doing his best to play the bad hand he was dealt, and he provided for his family.  Then perhaps you felt sorry for him as the troubles piled up.  And then you were happy for him and his good fortune.  But then your attitude toward Ernie probably changed.  Once he started to take the kind man’s generosity for granted, Ernie’s lack of gratitude was outrageous and inexcusable and disgusting.  His response to this man who gave him so much and changed his life was, indeed, a most inappropriate response.

     Nobody had to tell Ernie to be grateful for that first $1,000 gift.  He knew where he was without it, and he knew what a difference it made in his life.  But as time went on, and the gifts continued, Ernie forgot to be grateful.  Someone from the outside looking in– someone not accustomed to getting $1000 every few days in an envelope from a neighbor– could sit down with Ernie and give him a little perspective, and remind him that he should be grateful. 

     Psalm 100 is a reminder to be grateful to God.  It is a reminder, perhaps for people like us, who might otherwise begin to take God’s gifts for granted.  You all woke up again this morning.  God gave you another day.  Do you always keep that in mind, remembering to be grateful to God?  Or, do you begin to take that for granted?  What is more valuable, $1,000 every few days, or the gift of the day itself, every day?  “It is God who made us, and God is good, and his faithfulness continues,” says the Psalmist.  It just goes on and on.

     Even a made-up story about someone getting $1,000 handed to them every few days is enough to get our imaginations going; thinking about what we could all do with that much money, and what an ungrateful fool Ernie was to take that for granted.  But what ungrateful fools we are when we begin to take for granted God’s gift of each and every day, and everything we have and are.

     Psalm 100 is a reminder to give a proper response to God for all his goodness, for the gift of life, for the forgiveness of sins, and for the gift of Jesus Christ our Savior.  It is a reminder that we all need once in a while, because in our sinful blindness we do tend to forget about, and even be annoyed with, our responsibilities to God, “from whom all blessings flow;” like Ernie, with his most improper response of greedy ingratitude.  Read the words of Psalm 100 and be reminded:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

   Know that the Lord is God.

    It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

   Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

   For the Lord is good and his love endures forever, and his faithfulness continues through all generations.  (continued…)

1484) The Good News is Life Isn’t Fair

     Many people complain that life is just not fair.  But actually, when you think about, that’s a good thing.  

     The way to begin thinking about this is to ask ourselves what we had before God entered the picture; and of course, God entered the picture at the very beginning to give us life in the first place.   Before that we had nothing at all.  As long as we stay focused on where we began and realize that life itself is a gift, and birth is a sheer windfall for every one of us, then a spirit of astonishment and gratitude will never leave us.  Before you complain to the Dealer about the hand that you have been dealt in life, you need to remember that if it wasn’t for the love and grace of God, you would not have been dealt any hand at all.  When you forget that fact, and begin to make comparisons not to what you had at the beginning but to what someone else has, then the gratitude turns to accusation and grumbling, and faith and trust disappear.  The ‘amazing grace’ of God isn’t only that your sins have been forgiven.  Everything you have and everything you are, including the fact that you were even born, comes by the grace of God.  There is no other source of anything.

     Depending then on my ultimate point of reference, the words “life isn’t fair” come to mean diametrically opposite things.  When I remember the nothingness out of which I came and that life is gift and birth is windfall, then I say: “Of course life isn’t fair.  It is all grace from beginning to end.  To be alive at all is to be ahead of the game, and even to be born is an undeserved blessing.”  But if my beginning point is a comparison to someone else, the words “life isn’t fair” take on a negative tone.

     The crucial issue is always the fairness or unfairness of life compared to what?  The conclusions we come to at the end will be determined by where we chose to begin.

     I once knew a family who had a beautiful baby girl born to them who was normal in every way except she did not have arms or legs.  There was no explanation for this genetic abnormality.  However, instead of wasting any energy feeling sorry for themselves or for the child, this courageous and resourceful family set about to take her home and provide her with every advantage that they could.  As a result, she developed into a remarkably intelligent and interesting human being.  Her mind and spirit were highly cultivated, even though she was never able to move herself one inch, feed herself, dress herself, or do any of the things that the rest of us tend to take for granted.

     When she was some twenty years old, a roommate of one of her brothers came home from college to spend a weekend.  He was shocked at the sight of such an extremely deformed human being.  At the end of three days he said to this girl, “What keeps you from blowing up in rage against whatever kind of God would have allowed you to be born into the world like this?”

     The young woman looked at the lad and said, “I realize that what I have may not seem like much when compared to what everybody else has, but I wouldn’t have missed the chance to be alive for anything!  I’m able to think, to see, to smell, to hear, to taste.  I have had access to the world’s great music and literature, and to a wonderful network of human relationships.  When compared to what everybody else has, I know what I have may not seem like much.  But when I compare what I do have to not having been given the opportunity to live at all, I am profoundly grateful to God for giving me this life.”

     Here was a person who learned the secret of staying focused on the astonishing fact that all of life is a gift.  Playing the hand I’ve been dealt, grateful to just be in the game, is far more important than comparing myself to other people and being jealous of the seemingly better hands they have been dealt.

      This is why we should thank God that life isn’t fair.  You see, it all begins in grace, not in entitlement, and staying close to this single fact is the best resource I know for making both the best and the most of the particular hand each of you have been dealt.

     German preacher Helmut Thielicke was right when he said, “The goodness of God can never be seen through jealous eyes, for this involves looking in the wrong direction for what is most important.  The goodness of God is only seen through the eyes of gratitude.”

     So what are you looking at:  your neighbors’ blessings, with envy; or your own, with gratitude?

–adapted from a piece by John Claypool, Episcopal priest  (1931-2005)

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Job 1:21-22  —  (Job said), “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”  In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Psalm 139:14a  —  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Proverbs 14:30  —  A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.

Psalm 103:2  —  Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Psalm 8:3-4  —  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

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O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

–Psalm 107:1

1323) ‘Much Obliged, Dear Lord’

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“We should devote 364 days a year to being thankful and set aside only one day for grumbling and complaining.”

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     Fulton Ousler (1893-1952) was a journalist, author of many novels (including The Greatest Story Ever Told), and editor of the Reader’s Digest.  He wrote in one of his books about Anna, born into slavery in Maryland, who as an old woman worked as a maid in the Oursler home when Fulton was a boy.

     Oursler remembered mealtimes with Anna.  She’d always begin by folding her hard, old black hands and praying, “Much obliged, dear Lord, for my vittles.”

     “What’s vittles?” he once asked.

     “Vittles is whatever I have to eat,” Anna replied.

     “But Anna,” he pointed out, “you’d probably get your vittles whether you thanked the Lord or not.”

     “Sure,” she responded, “but it makes everything taste better to be thankful.”

     “You know,” she said, “an old preacher taught me to play a game about being thankful– and the game is to just always be looking for things to be thankful for.  You don’t know how many of them you pass right by unless you go looking for them.  Take this morning for instance.  I wake up and I lay there wondering what I got to be thankful for now.  With my husband dead and having to work every day, I couldn’t think of anything.  What must the good Lord think of me, His child?  But the honest truth is I just could not think of a single thing to thank Him for.  Then, my daughter opened the bedroom door, and the smell of coffee came from the kitchen.  Much obliged, dear Lord, I said, for the coffee and a daughter to have it ready for an old woman when she wakes up.

     “Now, for a while I have to do housework.  It’s hard to find anything to thank God for in housework.  But when I dust the mantelpiece, there is Little Boy Blue.  I’ve had that little china boy for many years.  I was a slave when I got it as my one Christmas present.  I love that little boy.  Much obliged, dear Lord, for Little Boy Blue.

     “Almost everything I dust reminds me of something– even the pictures that hang on our cracked, unpainted wall.  It’s like a visit with my family who are all gone.  They look at me, and I look at them, and there are so many happy things to remember.  Much obliged, dear Lord, for my memory.  Then, I go for a walk downtown to buy a loaf of bread and some cheese for dinner.  I look in all the windows, and see so many pretty things.”

     Ousler commented, “But Anna, you can’t buy them.  You have no money.”

     “Oh, but I can play (pretend).  I think of how your ma and sister would look in those dresses, and I have a lot of fun.  Much obliged, dear Lord, for playing in my mind.  It’s a kind of happiness.

     “Once I got caught in the rain,” she said, “and it was fun for me.  I’ve always heard about rich people who take showers instead of baths, but I never had one.  But that day I did.  You know, God is just giving Heaven away to people all day long.  I’ve been to the park and seen the gardens, but I like the old bush in my back yard better.  One rose will fill you with all the sweetness you can stand.”

     Oursler finished the story.  “Anna taught me a great deal about life.  I’ll never forget when word came to me that Anna was dying.  I remember taking a cab over to her place and standing by her bedside.  She was in deep pain and her hard old hands were knotted together in a desperate clutch.  Poor old woman, I thought.  What did she have to be thankful for now?  She opened her eyes and looked at me.  ‘Much obliged, dear Lord, for such a fine friend who comes to see me when I’m dying.’  She never spoke again, except in my heart, but there she speaks to me every day– and I’m much obliged, dear Lord, for that.”

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The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a heaven of hell, or a hell of heaven.

–Milton, Paradise Lost

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Happiness is not created by what happens to us, but by our response to each happening.

–Water Heile

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Some people complain because God put thorns on roses, while others praise him for putting roses among thorns.

One can alter one’s life by altering one’s attitude.  Gratitude is the key.

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How small, of all that human hearts endure,

That part which laws of kings can cause or cure!

Still to ourselves in every place consigned,

Our own felicity we make or find.

–Samuel Johnson  (1709-1784)

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I Thessalonians 5:16-18  —  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 9:1  —  I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

I Corinthians 15:56-57  —   The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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“A single thankful thought toward heaven is the most perfect of all prayers.”

–Gotthold Lessing, German author  (1729-1781)

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O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

–Psalm 136:1

1321) Reality Check, Right Between the Eyes

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By Robert Fulghum (1937- ), from his 1991 book “UH-OH!”  Fulghum was also the author of the best-selling All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (1989).

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     It was the summer of 1959.  At a resort inn in the Sierra Nevada of Northern California, I had a job that combined being the night desk clerk in the lodge and helping with the horse-wrangling at the stables.  The owner-manager was Swiss, with European notions about conditions of employment.  He and I did not get along.  I thought he was a fascist who wanted peasant employees to know their place.  I was 22, just out of college, and pretty free with my opinions.

     One week the employees were served the same thing for lunch every single day.  Two wieners, and mound of sauerkraut and stale rolls.  To compound insult injury, the cost of the meals was deducted from our paychecks.  I was outraged.

     On Friday night of that awful week, I was at my desk job around 11:00 p.m., and the night auditor had just come on duty.  I went into the kitchen and saw a note to the chef to the effect that wieners and sauerkraut were on the employees menu for two more days.

     That did it.  For lack of any better audience, I unloaded on the night auditor, Sigmund Wollman.

     I declared that I had had it up to here, that I was going to get a plate of wieners and sauerkraut and wake up the owner and throw it at him.  Nobody was going to make me eat wieners and sauerkraut for a whole week and make me pay for it, and this was un-American, and I didn’t like wieners and sauerkraut enough to eat them even one day for Pete’s sake, and the whole hotel stunk, and I was packing my bags and heading for Montana where they never even heard of wieners and sauerkraut and wouldn’t feed that stuff to pigs.  Something like that.

     I raved on this way for 20 minutes.  My monologue was delivered at the top of my lungs, punctuated by blows on the front desk with a fly swatter, the kicking of chairs, and much profanity.

     As I pitched my fit, Sigmund Wollman sat quietly on his stool, watching me with sorrowful eyes.  Put a bloodhound in a suit and tie and you have Sigmund Wollman.

     He had good reason to look sorrowful.  He was a German Jew, a survivor of three years in Auschwitz.  He was thin and coughed a lot.  He liked being alone at the night job.  It gave him intellectual space, peace and quiet, and, even more, he could go into the kitchen and have a snack whenever he wanted—all the wieners and sauerkraut he wished.  To him, it was a feast.  More than that, there was nobody around to tell him what to do.  In Auschwitz he had dreamed of such a time.

     The only person he saw at work was me, the nightly disturber of his dreams.  Our shifts overlapped an hour.  And here I was, a one-man war party at full cry.

     “Lissen, Fulchum.  Lissen me, lissen me.  You know what’s wrong with you?  It’s not the wieners and kraut and it’s not the boss and it’s not the chef and it’s not this job.”

     “So what’s wrong with me?” I asked.

     “Fulchum, you think you know everything, but you don’t know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem.  If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire—then you got a problem.  Everything else is inconvenience.  Life is inconvenient.  Life is lumpy.  Learn to separate the inconveniences from the real problems.  You will live longer.  And you will not annoy people like me so much.  Good night.”

     In a gesture combining dismissal and blessing, he waved me off to bed.

     Seldom in my life have I been hit between the eyes so hard with truth.  There in that late night darkness of a Sierra Nevada inn, Sigmund Wollman simultaneously kicked my butt and opened a window in my mind.

     For 30 years now, in times of stress and strain, when something has me backed against the wall and I’m ready to do something stupid with my anger, a sorrowful face appears in my mind and asks, “Fulchum, problem or inconvenience?”

     I think of this as the ‘Wollman Test of Reality.’  Life is lumpy.  And a lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same lump.  One should learn the difference.

     Good night, Sig.

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“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”

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Philippians 4:11b-12  —  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

I Timothy 6:6-8  —  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Hebrews 13:5b  —  Be content with what you have.

Romans 8:18  —   I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Colossians 3:15  —   Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.

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Help me, Lord, to see what I need to see.

Help me to learn what I need to learn.

Grant me the grace to apply these lessons in my life.

Enable me, Lord, to manage my thoughts and emotions so that I may have the proper perspective and response to my challenges.

Though my burdens seem heavy, I pray that you direct all my steps toward you.  

In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.  

–Anonymous

1261) Nothing Left?

From The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale, 1952,  p. 20-22 (ed.):

     A man 52 years of age consulted me.  He was in great despondency.  He said he was all through.  He informed me that everything he had built up over his lifetime had been swept away.

     “Everything?” I asked.

     “Everything,” he repeated.  “I am through.  I have nothing left at all.  Everything is gone, and I am too old to start all over again.  There is no hope.”

     I said, “Suppose we take a piece of paper and write down what you have left.”

     “There’s no use,” he sighed.  “I told you I haven’t a single thing left.”

     I said, “Let’s see anyway.”  Then I asked, “Is your wife still with you?”

     “Why, yes, of course,” he said, “and she is wonderful.  We have been married for 30 years.  She would never leave me no matter how bad things are.”

     “All right, let us put that down– your wife is still with you and she will never leave you no matter what happens.  Now, do you have any children?”

     “Yes,” he replied, “I have three and they are certainly wonderful.  I have been touched by the way they have come to me and said, ‘Dad, we love you, and we’ll stand by you.’”

     “Well, then,” I said, “that is number two– three children who love you and who will stand by you.  Got any friends?”

      “Yes,” he said, “I have some really fine friends.  I must admit they have been pretty decent.  They have come around and said they would like to help me, but what can they do?”

     “That is number three– you have some friends who would like to help you and who hold you in esteem.  How about your integrity?”

     “My integrity is all right,” he replied, “I have always tried to do the right thing and my conscience is clear.”

     “All right,” I said, “there’s number four– integrity.  How about your health?”

     “My health is all right,” he said, “I have had very few sick days and I guess I am in pretty good shape physically.”

     “So let’s put that down as number five– good physical health.  How about the United States?  Do you think this is still the land of opportunity?”

     “Yes,” he said, “”It is the only country in the world I would want to live.”

     “That is number six– you live in the United States, land of opportunity, and you are glad to be here.”  Then I asked, “How about your religious faith?  Do you believe in God and that God will help you?”

     “Yes,” he said.  “I do not think I could have gotten through this at all if I hadn’t had some help from God.”

     “Now,” I said, “let’s list the assets we have figured out:  1.  A wonderful wife, married for thirty years;  2.  Three devoted children who will stand by you;  3.  Friends who will help you and hold you in esteem;  4.  Integrity; nothing to be ashamed of;  5.  Good physical health;  6.  Live in the U. S., the greatest country in the world;  7.  Have religious faith.”  I pushed the list across the table to him.  “Take a look at that.  I guess you have quite a lot of total assets.  I thought you told me everything had been swept away.”

     He grinned ashamedly.  “I guess I didn’t think of those thing.  Perhaps my life isn’t so bad at that,” he said pensively.

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     In his book The Lord God Made Them All English country veterinarian James Herriot tells of being called out on a particular Sunday night to a couple’s home some ten miles away to look at their dog.  When he got there, the wife of the family invited him into a shabbily furnished room, one end of which was partly curtained off.  She drew back the curtain and introduced her husband whose name was Ron.  Ron was in bed, a skeleton of a man with hollowed out eyes set in a yellow looking face.

     “That’s the patient” she said, pointing to a dachshund sitting by the bed, “He’s gone funny on his legs; he can’t walk.”

     The vet was struggling all this time with irritation for being called out on a Sunday for a case which could easily have waited a couple of days.  Then Ron said in a husky voice, “I was a miner.  Roof fell in on me.  I got a broken back.  Doctor says I’ll never walk again.”  After a pause he continued, “But I count my blessings.  I suffer very little and I’ve got the best wife in the world.”

     The vet couldn’t help wondering what those blessings were– the wife, obviously, the dog who provided companionship when his wife was out, and the marvelous view across the Yorkshire Dales where he used to tramp for miles.  That was all, but that was enough.  

     By then the irritation had seeped away.  Driving the ten miles home across the Dales, Herriot felt very humble.

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“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

–Charles Dickens

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(After Stephen commented on how Levin always seemed to be so happy):  Levin replied, “Perhaps that is because I rejoice in what I have and do not bother about what I don’t have.”    –Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina

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     I once asked Eddie Rickenbacker what was the biggest lesson he had learned from drifting about with his companions in life rafts for 21 days, hopelessly lost in the Pacific (after his plane was shot down in WW II).  He said, “The biggest lesson I learned from that experience was that if you have all the fresh water you want to drink and all the food you want to eat, you ought never to complain about anything.”  

–Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

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Psalm 103:1-2  —  Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

James 1:16-17a  —  My dear brothers and sisters, don’t let anyone fool you– every good and perfect gift is from God.

Psalm 136:1  —   O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

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When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

–Johnson Oatman, Jr.  (1856-1922)

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1180) The Luckiest Man On Earth

July 4, 1939

Three score and seventeen years ago today, Lou Gehrig delivered the ‘Gettysburg Address of Baseball,’ perhaps the most famous speech in all the years of the game.  It was one of the most moving moments in sports history.  It was his Farewell Speech at Yankee Stadium.  After 2,130 consecutive games with the Yankees, Gehrig had to retire due to the diagnosis of ALS, now commonly known as ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”  He received the diagnosis on his 36th birthday, June 13, 1939.  His Farewell Day was three weeks later on July 4th.  He died less than two years later, on June 2, 1941.

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     The 1942 movie The Pride of the Yankees portrays Lou Gehrig’s life story.  In the clip below, the final scene famously depicts Gehrig’s moving farewell speech to his teammates and fans (yes, that is Babe Ruth playing himself in the background):

     The recordings from the day were sketchy, so there’s some debate on what Gehrig actually said.  However, the movie does convey the same tone and attitude as the commonly accepted full transcript, reprinted here:

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got.  Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.  I have been to ballparks for seventeen years and I have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.  Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day?  Sure I’m lucky.  Who wouldn’t have considered it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert?  Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow?  To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins?  Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy?  Sure, I’m lucky.  When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat and vice versa, sends you a gift, that’s something.  When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in the white coats remember you with trophies, that’s something.  When you have a father and mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body, it’s a blessing.  When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that’s the finest I know.  So I close by saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an an awful lot to live for.  Thank you.

     What a tremendous example of the kind of gratitude to God we should all have as Christians!  Because of a “bad break,” Gehrig’s career was ended and he was about to lose his life in his prime years.  Yet instead of complaining, he expressed gratitude for all of the blessings he enjoyed, describing himself as “the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”  Gehrig chose to focus on being grateful for all he had been given, rather than resenting the fact that so much was now being taken away.
     The key to happiness is gratitude, and the key to gratitude is in focusing your attention on what you have, and not on what you lack.  Everything we have, including life itself, is an undeserved gift of God.

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I Timothy 6:6-8  —  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

James 1:17a  —  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…

I Thessalonians 5:16-18  —  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

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A thousand gifts Thou dost impart.  

One more I ask, O Lord:  A grateful heart.

–George Herbert  (1593-1633)

1121) Who Owes Who What?

Auschwitz Concentration Camp

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The following three quotes are from Jewish survivors of  Nazi concentration camps.  They are quoted by Reeve Robert Brenner in his book The Faith and Doubt of Holocaust Survivors, pages 102-3.

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     “It never occurred to me to question God’s doing or lack of doings while I was an inmate of Auschwitz, although, of course, I understand others did…  I was no more or less religious because of what the Nazis did to us; and I believe my faith in God was not undermined in the least.  It never occurred to me to associate the calamity we were experiencing with God, to blame Him, or to believe in him less, or cease believing in Him at all because He didn’t come to our aid.  God doesn’t owe us that.  Or anything.  We owe our lives to Him.  If someone believes God is responsible for the death of six million because he somehow didn’t do something to save them, he’s got his thinking reversed.  We owe God our lives for the few or the many years we live, and we have the duty to worship Him and do as He commands us.  That’s what we are here on earth for, to be in God’s service, to do God’s bidding, to be God’s holy people.”

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     “I know what kept me from going altogether mad in Sobibor (a Nazi death camp in occupied Poland).  What kept me from going under was my powerful and continuous faith in the nearness of God and in the existence of the hereafter.  It was my belief in God, and the fact that there was a belief in God held by others, that helped me retain my equilibrium and my sanity and some common sense as well.  My faith also kept my physical being from falling apart and, in fact, kept me from killing myself at once.  To me God is more than an idea, more than something that exists only in my head or my heart.  God must be physical and able to hear… I simply chose at one point that I would believe in Him, no matter what.  And that was that.  I don’t really know if that was true faith because of the way I went about it:  I refused then and continue to refuse now to summon God to a disposition.  If I went ahead and challenged God and my challenge was victorious, then I would be all alone.  I would have been utterly alone in the camps, and I could not have survived.  And I couldn’t survive today.”

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     “Confined within the barbed wire of Auschwitz I understood to separate the wicked deeds of men from the workings of the entire universe.  The system of the world and the idea behind its functioning is (from) God.  I have always believed that…  And within the workings of the world, man can commit atrocities and murder, or refrain from atrocities and murder.  He is free to choose.  But the universe goes on regardless.  God is not a puppeteer pulling the strings and making man dance.”

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Job 1:21b  —   (Job said), “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Job 41:11  —  (The Lord said), “Who has a claim against me that I must pay?  Everything under heaven belongs to me.”

Romans 11:35  —  Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?

Isaiah 29:16  —  You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!  Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”?  Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?

Habakkuk 1:2-4… 3:16-18 (the beginning, and then the end, of the book of Habakkuk)  —  How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.  Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.  The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted…    I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled.  Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.  Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior.

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Lord, who knowest the deep places through which our lives must go:  help us when we enter them, to lift our hearts to thee, to be patient when we are afflicted, to be humble when we are in distress; and grant that the hope of thy eternal mercy may never fail us, and the consciousness of thy loving-kindness may never be clouded nor hidden from our eyes; through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Service Book and Hymnal, Augsburg Publishing House, 1958.

1104) Good Old Summertime

     Temperatures in the upper 70’s these last few days have Minnesotans thinking about summer, even though it is still mid-April.  The first warm days of Spring have people humming the tune of In the Good Old Summertime, which has been a favorite ever since it came out as a big hit in 1902.  Everyone can probably hum a few bars of the tune, and the phrase ‘good old summertime’ has become a cliche.  But most people do not know most of the words.  It is a pleasant little song, and since all the verses are not well known, I am including them here:

There’s a time in each year
That we always hold dear,
Good old summer time.
With the birds in the trees’es
And sweet scented breezes,
Good old summer time.

When your day’s work is over
Then you are in clover,
And life is one beautiful rhyme.
No trouble annoying,
Each one is enjoying,
The good old summer time.

Oh, to swim in the pool
You’d play hooky from school
Good old summertime
You’d play “ring-a-rosie”
With Jim, Kate and Josie
Good old summertime.

Those days full of pleasure
We now fondly treasure
When we never thought it a crime
To go stealing cherries
With faces brown as berries
In good old summertime

In the good old summertime
In the good old summertime
Strolling through a shady lane
With your baby mine
You hold her hand and she holds yours
And that’s a very good sign
That she’s your tootsie-wootsie
In the good, old summertime!

–Music by George Evans, lyrics by Ren Shields

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To hear this sung by a one-man Barbershop Quartet, go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKvLCwInPGA

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     There is no mistaking the message:  summer is the best part of the year and there is more time for everything.  The days are a pleasure, the breezes are sweet, and there is plenty of time for swimming, playing outside, or strolling through a shady lane with your tootsie-wootsie.

     There is more time for everything in the summer, except for worship, as Sunday morning attendance goes way down in many churches.  There seems to be two main reasons (seasons?) in Minnesota for missing church on a Sunday morning.  When the weather is bad, many people stay home because it is inconvenient to get out.  And, when the weather is good, and everyone has so many other things to do.

     Remember one thing in the ‘good old summer-time’ this year.   As you are treasuring “those days full of pleasure,” do not forget to give thanks to the One who gives you such pleasure, and who created that good old summertime in the first place–  the One who has given you your life and the days to enjoy such a wonderful time.  It happens all too often that the more God blesses us, the more likely we are to neglect him.  That is what usually happens in the summer at church.  It is in summer, that time of year that Minnesota is most richly blessed by God, that God is worshiped least of all.

     Enjoy the nice days of Spring and then the ‘good old summer-time.’  But also remember to give God your thanks and praise.

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Deuteronomy 8:10,11a  —  When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.  Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands.

Exodus 20:8  —  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Hebrews 10:24-25a  —  Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.

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For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies.

Refrain: Christ, our Lord, to you we raise
this, our hymn of grateful praise.

For the wonder of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale and tree and flower,
sun and moon and stars of light.  Refrain.

For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth, and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild.  Refrain.

For yourself, best gift divine,
to the world so freely given,
agent of God’s grand design:
peace on earth and joy in heaven.  Refrain.

–F. S. Pierpoint  (1835-1917)

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Listen at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGt4-KyFwe4

1051) The Black Dot

     One day, a professor entered the classroom and told his students he had a surprise test for them.  They all waited anxiously for the exam to begin.  The professor handed out the exams with the text facing down.  He then asked the students to turn over the papers.  To everyone’s surprise, there were no questions– just a black dot in the center of the sheet of paper.  The professor said, “I want you to write about what you see there.”

     The students, confused, got started on the inexplicable task.

     At the end of the class, the professor took all the papers and started reading each one of them, out loud, in front of all the students.  All of them, with no exception, wrote about the black dot– describing it, explaining its possible purpose, or trying to account for its position in the center of the sheet.  After all had been read, the professor started to explain.

     “I’m not going to grade you on this,” he said, “I just wanted to give you something to think about.  No one wrote about the white part of the paper.  Everyone focused on the black dot.  And the same thing happens in our lives.  Life is like that whole sheet of white paper to observe and enjoy, but we always focus on the dark spots.  

     “Our life is a gift given to us by God, with love and care.  We always have reasons to celebrate, such as the beauty of nature, family and friends around us, the job that provides our livelihood, good food, the miracles we see every day, and so much more.  However, we insist on focusing only on the dark spots– the health issues that bother us, the lack of money, the complicated relationships with others, or the disappointment with a friend.  The dark spots are very small when compared to everything we have in our lives, but they’re the ones that get all our attention.

     “Do not look only at the black dots in your life.  Enjoy each one of your blessings and each moment that God gives you.”

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Psalm 103:2  —  Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Psalm 136:3  —  Give thanks to the Lord of lords.  His love endures forever.

Lamentations 3:22-23  —  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

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A Child’s Evening Prayer

Ere on my bed my limbs I lay
God grant me grace my prayers to say:
O God! preserve my mother dear
In strength and health for many a year;
And, O! preserve my father too,
And may I pay him reverence due;
And may I my best thoughts employ
To be my parents’ hope and joy;
And O! preserve my brothers both
From evil doings and from sloth,
And may we always love each other,
Our friends, our father, and our mother:
And still, O Lord, to me impart
An innocent and grateful heart,
That after my last sleep I may
Awake to thy eternal day!  Amen.

–Samuel Taylor Coleridge, English poet and philosopher  (1772-1834)

1024) Jealousy

I Samuel 18:5-9  —  Whatever mission Saul sent him on, David was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army.  This pleased all the troops, and Saul’s officers as well.  When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine (Goliath), the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing,with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres.  As they danced, they sang:  “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”  Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly.  “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands.  What more can he get but the kingdom?”  And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.

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WHEN GOD BLESSES OTHERS

     Jealousy is a destructive attitude that poisons the way you view life.  It is so harmful that God condemned jealousy in the Ten Commandments.  King Saul was a jealous and insecure man.  He had been elevated to the highest position in Israel.  He had been blessed in numerous ways.  But Saul saw that David was gaining the attention and praise of the Israelites.  The Israelites recognized Saul’s accomplishments, but they also praised David, whom God was using to accomplish even more.  Rather than rejoicing that God had empowered another to defeat their enemies, Saul became murderously jealous and sought to destroy David.

     Jealousy is an abomination in the life of a Christian.  God has made us His children.  None of us deserves to be God’s child, so there is no need to compare our blessings with those of other children of God.  Jealousy is self-centeredness at its worst.  Jealousy robs us of joy and chokes our contentment.  Jealousy hardens the heart and stifles gratitude.  Jealousy assumes that God’s resources are too limited for Him to bless another and still bless us.

     Watch over your heart!  If you find yourself unable to rejoice in the success of others, beware!  Do not let jealousy taint your heart.  Repent before it robs you of any more of the joy and contentment God desires for you.  When you are tempted to compare your success in life to that of another, ask God to remind you of all the ways He has blessed you undeservedly.

–From Experiencing God Day-by-Day, by Henry and Richard Blackaby

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The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves.  –William Penn

Don’t waste time on jealousy.  Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind.  –Mary Schmich

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Exodus 20:17  —  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Proverbs 14:30  —  A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.

Galatians 5:26  —  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

James 3:16-17  —  Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving,considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

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Lord, I perceive my soul to be deeply guilty of envy.  I would prefer your work not done at all, than to be done better by someone else other than myself.  Cleanse me, Lord, of this bad spirit, and turn my envy into gratitude, making me thankful to you for other people’s gifts, as well as for my own.  Amen.

–Thomas Fuller  (1608-1661), English clergyman and historian  (adapted)