The Wisdom of Silent Cal  

Photo of Calvin Coolidge aged 52
Calvin Coolidge in 1919


 Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, was a man of few words. It was said that Coolidge could be silent in five different languages. There is an apocryphal story about a person sitting next to him at a dinner party who once said, “I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you.” Coolidge replied, “You lose.” Here are some of my favorite Calvin Coolidge quotes:

  • “It takes a great man to be a good listener.”
  • “Don’t expect to build up the weak by tearing down the strong.”
  • “We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.”
  • “I have noticed that nothing I have never said ever did me any harm.”
  • “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”
  • “Prosperity is only an instrument to be used, not a deity to be worshipped.”
  • “Don’t you know that four-fifths of all our troubles in this life would disappear if we would just sit down and keep still?”
  • “If you don’t say anything, you won’t be called on to repeat it.”
  • “You don’t have to explain something you haven’t said.”

Finally, Coolidge was a man of faith. It would do well for us to think for a moment about these words:
 
“Our government rests upon religion. It is from that source that we derive our reverence for truth and justice, for equality and liberality, and for the rights of mankind. Unless the people believe in these principles they cannot believe in our government. There are only two main theories of government in our world. One rests on righteousness and the other on force. One appeals to reason, and the other appeals to the sword. One is exemplified in the republic; the other is represented by despotism.
 
The government of a country never gets ahead of the religion of a country. There is no way by which we can substitute the authority of law for the virtue of man. Of course, we endeavor to restrain the vicious, and furnish a fair degree of security and protection by legislation and police control, but the real reform which society in these days is seeking will come as a result of our religious convictions, or they will not come at all. Peace, justice, humanity, charity—these cannot be legislated into being. They are the result of divine grace.”
 
“It is hard to see how a great man can be an atheist. Without the sustaining influence of faith in a divine power we could have little faith in ourselves. We need to feel that behind us is intelligence and love. Doubters do not achieve; skeptics do not contribute; cynics do not create. Faith is the great motive power, and no man realizes his full possibilities unless he has the deep conviction that life is eternally important, and that his work, well done, is a part of an unending plan.”
 
I was going to say something else, but, perhaps considering the subject matter, I’ve said too much already.

Prayer of an Anonymous Abbess

Here is one of my favorite prayers. It comes from the German children’s book author Margot Benary-Isbert (1889-1979). She moved to the United States from Postwar Germany in 1952 and became a United States citizen in 1957. While Benary-Isbert wrote for children, I especially like her “Prayer of an Anonymous Abbess,” which was written for those of us with “silver hair.” – John

QUOTES BY MARGUERITE DE ANGELI | A-Z Quotes
Margot Benary-Isbert

Lord, thou knowest better than myself that I am growing older and will soon be old. Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity.

Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples’ affairs. With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom, it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it. But thou knowest, Lord, that in the end, I will need a few friends.

Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others; help me to endure them with charity. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains – they increase with the increasing years, and my inclination to recount them is also increasing.

I will not ask thee for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn’t agree with that of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally, I may be wrong.

Keep me reasonably gentle. I do not have the ambition to become a saint – it is so hard to live with some of them – but a harsh old person is one of the devil’s masterpieces.

Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful, but not bossy. Let me discover merits where I had not expected them and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any. And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so.

Amen

Margot Benary–Isbert

Missouri Earthquakes

When we think of earthquakes, we think of California, but the most powerful earthquakes America ever experienced occurred in Missouri between December 1811 and March 1812. The strongest, a fantastic 8.8-magnitude, happened on February 7th, 1812.

Photo by Shefali Lincoln

“Church bells rang in Boston, thousands of miles away, from the shaking. Brick walls were toppled in Cincinnati. In the Mississippi River, water turned brown and whirlpools developed suddenly from the depressions created in the riverbed. Waterfalls were created in an instant; in one report, 30 boats were helplessly thrown over falls, killing the people on board. Many of the small islands in the middle of the river, often used as bases by river pirates, permanently disappeared. Large lakes, such as Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee and Big Lake at the Arkansas-Missouri border, were created by the earthquake as river water poured into new depressions.”[1]

Over 1,000 people died (although an accurate count is impossible to record). Residents began living in tents so the debris of a collapsing building wouldn’t harm them. During the February 7th trembler, the Mississippi River ran backward for several hours due to a fluvial tsunami!

There is something very eerie about an earthquake. We have learned to count on the earth being under our feet. We rely on it to be there, but earthquakes cause the earth to betray us. Some people develop seismophobia, “the extreme, often irrational fear of earthquakes.”[2]

On the other hand, Paul and Silas were rescued, and the Philippian Jailer became a Christian following an earthquake (Acts 16). Earthquakes herald the majesty of God throughout the book of Revelation (Revelation 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18).

I am a firm believer that challenges are opportunities. Yes, I duck for cover during an earthquake, but perhaps earthquakes teach us the only One we can truly rely on is the Lord God Almighty!

[1] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/earthquake-causes-fluvial-tsunami-in-mississippi

[2] https://www.fearof.net/fear-of-earthquakes-phobia-seismophobia/

Connecting the Dots

An opinion is different from a doctrine. Opinions are matters of personal interpretation, while doctrines demand obedience. Sadly, opinions are often elevated into doctrines that can be divisive when people demand everyone agrees with their interpretation.

Today, let’s think about another contributing factor that elevates matters of opinion to matters of doctrine: personalities. We all know Christians must treat others better than we treat ourselves (the Golden Rule). However, if someone is a false teacher or a heretic, some people believe we can boot them out of the church and say awful things about them. Thus, if you don’t want to be around Brother Different Opinion, just change his name to Brother Heretic – elevate a matter of opinion to a matter of doctrine.

How can you tell the difference between an opinion and something that is doctrinal? We don’t have time to go deeply into this issue but start with this example. Draw a point on a blank sheet of paper. Now ask someone to draw a straight line through that point. How do you know if that line is correct? You can’t. From one point, the line can go anywhere, north, south, east, or west! However, if you draw two points, there is only one line that will connect them. The more points you can establish, the more confident you are of the line. The same is true in Bible study. The interpretation of one point is an opinion. Two or more points can define a doctrine.

Here are two examples. The importance of baptism is without question. There are so many points of Scripture; the answer is sure: “Be baptized!” However, the “doctrine” that Jesus descended into hell and “preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago” is only based on 1 Peter 3:19. This “doctrine” became the basis for the “Harrowing of Hell” that “first appeared in fourth-century formulas and eventually was incorporated into the Apostles’, Athanasian, and Nicene Creeds.”[1] Where Jesus went and what he did while he was in the grave is uncertain at best. However, the benefits of his death though are widely celebrated, and we are on much firmer ground because so many different Scriptures discuss it.

It is much easier to make judgments than it is to be tolerant, but unity is what Jesus prayed for his disciples:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20 – 21).


 Be a Blessing,




 [1] Brueggemann, D. A. (2016). Descent into the Underworld, Critical Issues. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, L. Wentz, E. Ritzema, & W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Lexham Press.

Gas That Glows in the Dark

By Bronco925 – Took the picture on an OHV trip to Battlement Reservoirs, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19960262

Sometimes the old ways are best. In September 1969, the government set off a 40 kiloton nuclear device in an 8,400-foot deep hole eight miles southeast of Grand Valley, Colorado. It was part of Operation Mandrel “which explored peaceful engineering uses of nuclear explosions. The peaceful aim of Project Rulison [part of Operation Mandrel] was to determine if natural gas could be easily liberated from underground regions.” [1] The experiment was a success! The explosion released natural gas; however, none of it could be used because it was radioactive. The Department of Energy began a clean-up of the site in the 1970s and completed the project twenty-some years later, in 1998. “A placard, erected in 1976, now marks the site where the blast took place. It is accessible via a gravel road, Garfield County Route 338.” Although a Houston company applied for a permit to drill for natural gas there, none has been recovered.

The Bible is full of examples of people trying to improve on God’s ways, probably with good intentions. “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD” (Leviticus 10:1 – 2). They were both priests and had been carefully instructed in how to offer the incense. So why didn’t they follow the instructions? Perhaps they weren’t paying attention, or they may have thought they knew a better way to do it. However, the result was deadly.

Likewise, when David tried to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, the results were disastrous! God gave specific instructions about how to transport the ark. It was to be carried on poles, but instead, the priests decided to use a wagon.

“And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:5 – 7).

Sometimes the old ways are better. For example, I’m not saying 8-tracks tape players or Princess phones are coming back, but God expects us to take his commandments seriously.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Rulison

The Holiday that Almost Wasn’t

John on VacationLeigh Eric Schmidt writes in her fascinating little book, Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays, “The success of Mother’s Day was an inspiration.” (Mother’s Day was first celebrated as a recognized American holiday in 1908 after Anna Jarvis led a national campaign. Later Jarvis campaigned against the holiday claiming it had become too commercial!) In 1910 Sonora Dodd promoted the idea of Father’s Day among churches in Spokane, Washington. It only seemed fitting to honor Dads as well as Moms. Father’s Day was celebrated first at the local YMCA, but people were opposed to Father’s Day on two counts. First, it was too feminine. For Mother’s Day people were encouraged to wear carnations. For Father’s Day they were told to wear red roses.

It took some strong sermons to make Father’s Day masculine. One of the first was by a Presbyterian, Conrad Bluhm who titled his sermon, “The Knight That Never Retreats.” Fathers were “rugged, husky, [and] stalwart.” He went on, “It was Father’s Day when Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees. It was Father’s Day when Noah built the ark. It was Father’s Day when Christ chose the Twelve… The Bible is a man’s book and its lessons are his life-task.” Bluhm continued, “The word Father is found in the Bible 1650 times; mother but 311 times. It is a Father’s book!”

Father’s Day may have become more manly, but people were also tired of commercialism and it seemed like Father’s Day was just another ploy by retailers to sell pipes, socks and neckties so by the 1920s the fire of Father’s Day had nearly gone out – even in Spokane. Schmidt observes, “Father’s Day exchanges appeared as a kind of practical joke; Dad was bewildered by the attention or even somehow duped by these tokens of affection (some of which were clearly purchased more with the giver than the receiver in mind). Also, and this was a source of popular satire, Dad was seen as the one who, in the end, would have to pay for all these gadgets and trinkets. The bills for Father’s Day gifts were viewed as circling back to him, so that he was made to pay, quite literally, for his own undoing ….”

No wonder then it took so long for Father’s Day to be recognized as a national holiday. The first bill was introduced in congress in 1913. Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane to speak for Father’s Day in Spokane in 1916. Calvin Coolidge recommended it in 1924. The bill was defeated three times in congress. (The last one was rejected in 1957.) In 1966 Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day, but it wasn’t until Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972 that Father’s Day became a national holiday.

Of course God was way ahead of congress and told us to “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12) As Paul observed, this is the first commandment with a promise. Happy Father’s Day Dad!

 

Humble

 

“In a society where fortune favors the strong, modesty is often seen as a weakness. Climbing to the top of a corporate ladder is our modern version of ‘survival of the fittest’ — and for that reason, meekness is often under-appreciated. But turns out, the secret to success and fulfillment may very well lie in the ability to express humility.” — Lindsay Holmes

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek,” but that’s a virtue we no longer seem to value. Americans tend to equate meek with weak, but true humility is a virtue of success. Later, Jesus told his disciples, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted,” (Matthew 23:12). So how can I learn to be humble?

Humble People Focus on Others

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” – Peter, 1 Peter 5:5

While it’s true that humble people tend to reflect inward, but they focus their energy on other people. C.S. Lewis said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

Lindsay Holmes observes, “Because there’s this lack of self-absorption, humble people also have more courage to try new things. With a focus on others, there is less pressure to be perfect.”

Humble People Act on Their Compassion

Research has shown that humble people are more likely to help others in need. They are more charitable and generous, and, studies show compassionate people live healthier and happier lives.

Humble People Make Moral Decisions

Stuck between a rock and a hard place? Humble people look to their “moral compass” when they are making decisions. A proud man’s arrogance causes them to blunder, while the wise man humbly looks for guidance from above.

Happiness is a Journey

Everyone wants to be happy, but it is a strange paradox that people who pursue happiness often don’t find it, while people who don’t focus on happiness find it along the way. Mike Austin, Ph.D., professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University, explains, “Human nature is such that we want to be happy, however we tend to define that, but … people that are the happiest are the ones that don’t think so much about trying to be happy …. They get caught up in projects, people and things that they consider bigger and more important than themselves and then they get more happiness anyway as a byproduct.”

Humble People Make Great Leaders

“Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth,” Numbers 12:3.

Humble people give other people credit inspiring the best from their followers. They are open to collaboration. Time Magazine reported humility actually makes people better employees and bosses. James reminds us, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up,” (James 4:10).

Humble People are Patient

Because humble people are focused outwardly, they do not require constant affirmations. They are willing to wait and enjoy the journey. The Apostle Peter said, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” Modesty fosters patience.

Humble People Enjoy Stronger Relationships

Humility creates a sense of “we-ness” in relationships. Modesty and genuine graciousness fosters true friendships and builds stronger relations. The Apostle Paul reminds us to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love,” (Ephesians 4:2).

 

Thanks to Lindsay Holmes and a wonderful article in the Huffington Post, July 13, 2015.

The Cowardly Christian

Mountain Climbing on Mt. Rainier, Washington, USA

There is a passage in the Apocalypse that startles me. As the book is drawing to a close, Jesus tells John:

 “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death,” (Revelation 21:6-8).

The list startled me. I expected murderers, sexually immoral and liars to burn in hell, but cowards? As I continued to think about this, it dawned on me just how important courage is. Do you remember the Parable of the Talents? The one servant with the one talent failed because he was afraid:

24 “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you,’” (Matthew 25:24, 25).

“I was afraid.” How often has fear kept us from doing what we know is right? James, the brother of Jesus, said, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins,” (James 4:17). Theologians call this a “sin of omission.” Contrast that with a “sin of commission” – actively doing wrong. I suspect more people will fail to reach heaven because of sins of omission than any other. Again, Jesus told his followers, his disciples:

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life,” (Matthew 25:41-46).

The more I thought about the sin of being a coward, the more I understood why Jesus is so appalled by the lack of courage in his disciples. A cowardly leader is so afraid of doing the wrong thing that he fails to act and the congregation suffers the consequences. A cowardly Christian is like outdated yeast that fails to leaven the dough and we end up with flat bread instead of a light, flaky, golden loaf. A cowardly church hides behind closed doors and fails to tell the world of a loving Savior.

So how do we learn to be courageous Christians? Courage isn’t something we think about. It is something we do. It’s time to step out of our comfort zones and be agents of change – the salt and light that Jesus expects us to be (Matthew 5:13-16).

 

Papa Was Right (Maybe)

My Grandfather, John D. McKeel

My grandfather was a huge influence in my life. He was a very small, dark Oklahoman, but had a ready wit and loved a good story. Papa was also very wise. For example, he noted that only fat people eat diet food, so if you want to avoid being overweight, you should avoid diet food, at least according to my grandfather. Likewise, Papa was a practical man. He insisted, “Life is uncertain so eat dessert first.” Papa also insisted that we should pray after meals instead of before so we would know just how thankful to be. It turns out, Papa wasn’t too far off base. The Jewish people, based on Deuteronomy 8:10, say the blessing after the meal!

“When you have eaten, and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.”

On the other hand, Jesus gave thanks sometimes before (Luke 24:30), and sometimes afterwards (Luke 22:20). So why do Christians say their “blessing” over the meal before enjoying it? Some scholars believe the practice is tied to Jews and Gentiles eating together.

It must have been very hard for someone like Peter, a Jew, who had never eaten anything “unclean” (Acts 10:14), to enjoy a meal of forbidden food (Galatians 2:12). Perhaps that’s why Paul told Timothy, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” In other words, prayers make the food acceptable to eat, so it would make sense for Peter to pray before the meal.

But whether we pray before, after, or both, thanking God for our food is a wonderful practice. First, it cultivates an “attitude of gratitude” – an essential Christian virtue. I remember watching an old Walter Brennan movie where Brennan played a cantankerous old farmer. As he dug into the family meal his wife chastised him and insisted they say grace before they ate. I’ll never forget his bitter prayer: “Lord, we ploughed the field, planted the seed, hoed, watered and harvested the crop, but we give you thanks anyway.” His prayer reflected his sad character. How much sweeter is a thankful spirit!

Second, thanking God for our meals teaches us to depend on Him Who provides us with food, and shelter and clothing (Acts 17:25).

Finally, saying grace is a wonderful opportunity to teach our children to pray. Don’t you remember how special you felt when your father asked you to lead the family prayer at the dinner table? So, go ahead, take a moment to bow your head and thank the Lord for his love at every meal – even if, as Papa advised, it’s after dessert.

A 200 Year Old Solution

mcheyneRobert Murray M’Cheyne (pronounced “Mak-shayn”) was a minister for the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) from 1835 – 1843. Although he died of typhus at age 29, M’Cheyne left an incredible legacy. He was a very pious young man, praying for two hours every day (and six on Sunday), but what he is best known for is his “Daily Bible Reading Plan.” It’s a very simple schedule that allows the reader to completely read the Bible through once a year and the New Testament and Psalms through twice. It only requires reading four chapters a day.

Let’s look at the reading schedule for January 1st. John R.W. Stott calls these readings the “Four Beginnings.” Read Genesis 1 – the beginning of the world. Then read Ezra 1 – the new beginning for Israel, followed by Matthew 1 – the beginning of the Gospel, and finish with Acts 1 – the beginning of the Church. On January 2, read Genesis 2, Ezra 2, Matthew 2, and Acts 2. On January 3, read Genesis 3, Ezra 3, Matthew 3, and Acts 3. Simple! Now notice the beauty of this system.

When people set out to read the Bible, they either begin with Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, or they begin with Matthew, the first book of the New Testament. If you begin with Genesis intending to read through the entire Bible sequentially, most people give up somewhere in the dense book of Leviticus when we encounter all the rules for the Jewish people. On the other hand, if you begin with Matthew, the first chapter contains the genealogy of Jesus. Just pronouncing the names is a huge challenge for most people and, frankly, not that inspirational so many good intensions are shipwrecked here.[1] M’Cheyne’s plan avoids this problem. He surrounds Matthew 1 with the story of the creation of the world in Genesis 1, Ezra’s amazing story in Ezra 1, and the inspiring story of the beginning of the Church in Acts chapter 1 and so it is for the rest of the Bible. Brilliant!

In our next article, we’ll try to answer the question, “Why read such an old book?” Meanwhile, here is M’Cheyne’s plan for January:

Daily Bible Reading for January
Daily Bible Reading for January

[1] Although time spent studying this text is truly rewarding! See my articles, “Count Down to Christmas,” parts 1, 2, and 3.