Although this Covid crisis is the greatest global challenge of my lifetime, I think it helps to remember that our world has suffered more deeply—and recovered. It’s just that we weren’t around during the Spanish Flu of 1917-18. We didn’t personally survive World War 1—or the Great Depression at the end of the 30’s, nor did we live through the horrors of World War 2. Now we are facing the possibility of our world—as we’ve known it for our lifetime—coming to an end.
Not long ago, I memorized Psalm 91, and in the process, I came across this reassuring story by Charles Spurgeon (known as “The Prince of Preachers” among western European Protestants):
“In the year 1854, when I had scarcely been in London twelve months, the neighbourhood in which I laboured was visited by Asiatic cholera, and my congregation suffered from its inroads. Family after family summoned me to the bedside of the smitten, and almost every day I was called to visit the grave. I gave myself up with youthful ardour to the visitation of the sick and was sent for from all corners of the district by persons of all ranks and religions. I became weary in body and sick at heart. My friends seemed falling one by one, and I felt or fancied that I was sickening like those around me. A little more work and weeping would have laid me low among the rest; I felt that my burden was heavier than I could bear, and I was ready to sink under it. As God would have it, I was returning mournfully home from a funeral, when my curiosity led me to read a paper which was wafered up in a shoemaker’s window in the Dover Road. It did not look like a trade announcement, nor was it, for it bore in a good bold handwriting these words: ‘Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.’ The effect upon my heart was immediate. Faith appropriated the passages as her own. I felt secure, refreshed, girt with immortality. I went on with my visitation of the dying in a calm and peaceful spirit; I felt no fear of evil, and I suffered no harm. The providence which moved the tradesman to place those verses in his window I gratefully acknowledge, and in the remembrance of its marvelous power I adore the Lord my God.” (The Treasury of David by C.H. Spurgeon, commenting on Psalm 91:9-10.)
“Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling” (Psalm 91:9-10.)
It’s terrifying to face the evils of society. Incredibly painful. Gut-wrenching. We’d rather not even think about it.
However, the battle between good and evil rages whether or not we’re willing to acknowledge it or engage in the battle.
Blind eyes and hard hearts allowed the horrors of the death camps where millions of Jews were exterminated during World War 2. Deaf ears and love of comfort allowed the terrors of black slavery that existed before the Civil War in the U.S.
We like to think that we’d all be abolitionists if we’d lived during the 1800’s . . . but would we?
Harriet is a powerful look into the lives and times of slavery in pre-Civil War America, and I wish everyone would take the time to watch it, even if it makes us wince and lose some sleep.
Harriet recounts the true story of one of America’s bravest women: Harriet Tubman. She was born around 1822 as a slave; she died in 1913 at about age 91 and was an amazing example of courage, faith, self-sacrifice, and compassion.
As a small child, Harriet was beaten every time the white baby she was tending would cry. She recalled being beaten 5 times before breakfast one morning!
Much of her life as portrayed in the 2019 story is consistent with history (with the usual literary license and compacting of some historical events).
It is true that Harriet rescued 70 slaves in 13 expeditions and advised many more.
She usually left on Saturday evenings during winter to avoid detection, because notices about runaway slaves wouldn’t be printed until Monday, and plantation owners didn’t like going outside in the cold to search for themselves.
Harriet experienced visions directing her, which she attributed to God. She was deeply Christian. She really did pray for God to kill her evil master, who died suddenly a week later! (She later expressed ambivalence about her prayer after her cruel master died.)
Nicknamed “Moses” for her God-inspired ability to lead people to freedom, Harriet never lost a single soul: “I was conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger” (Wiki).
During the Civil War, Harriet worked as a nurse and made pies and rootbeer in the evenings to sell so she could support herself.
She also worked as a spy and map maker, and she was one of few women in American history to ever lead an armed assault during war—along the Combahee River, where 750 slaves were freed.
As an elderly woman, Harriet needed surgery to relieve pain from the childhood head injury she had received, but instead of using anesthesia, she chose to bite down on a bullet, as she’d seen Civil War soldiers do while having their limbs amputated! She was one tough lady!
In honoring Harriet Tubman when her biography was written, the famous abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, wrote this: “The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day – you in the night. … The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown – of sacred memory – I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have.”
If you watch Harriet and lose sleep the way I have, I would like to encourage you to start praying about what you might be able to do to help stop slavery, because slavery is not just an artifact of history. Slavery is very much an alive and evil ongoing issue. In fact, human trafficking is the fastest growing “enterprise” in the world today. Thursday I want to share some information about present day slavery and one avenue for helping fight it.
“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Want to snuggle up and watch a heart-warming true story about an incredible dog who was named the most heroic dog in history by Time magazine in 2011? This cold winter weather is perfect for staying inside and being glad we’re not actually out in the blizzards of Alaska back in the winter of 1925, when the event actually occurred.
Togo was released at the end of 2019 and has all the dog prints of a true Disney classic: a PG rating, 8.2 on IMDb, great acting, stunning cinematography from Alaska, and full of suspense, courage, and love.
It’s a remarkable story about Togo, a sickly, undersized husky pup with an oversized ability to get into mischief, the heart of a true survivor, and a passion for his master. Willem Dafoe does a masterful job portraying Leonhard Seppala, the stubborn Norwegian who had to balance love for his wife with his professional wisdom as a musher, where wrong decisions can end in death for both the master and his dogs.
The challenge? To bring serum from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska during the worst winter in twenty years during weather too dangerous for flights. Why? Because a diphtheria epidemic was threatening to wipe out most of the area’s people.
Nome, Alaska, is just 2 degrees south of the Arctic Circle and is located on the southern coast of Seward Peninsula at Norton Sound along the Bering Sea. Today, there are fewer than 4,000 living in Nome, but due to people lingering after the gold rush at the turn of the century, in 1925 the little outpost of Nome was the largest town in Northern Alaska.
In order to carry the serum across 674 miles from Nenana (where the serum had been transported via train from Anchorage) to Nome, more than twenty teams using over 100 huskies were organized, and the event was widely broadcast as the “Great Race of Mercy.”
Many of us have watched the movie Balto. This movie immortalized the lead dog who ran the last 31 miles to bring the serum into Nome, but Leonhard (which means “lion-heart”) Seppala and his faithful dog Togo ran the penultimate race: 264 miles, sometimes enduring temperatures of —30°F. with wind chills making it feel like —85°F.!! Until this movie came out, Leonhard and Togo were pretty much the unsung and forgotten heroes.
The race was not for glory, it was for good, and the most magnificent message for me was watching the love, resolve, and reward for the couple who risked everything to save their community. It was unbelievable to me that they didn’t get the praise and glory they deserved, but I think that is more often true in this life than we will ever know. I am reminded of Solomon’s wisdom in Ecclesiastes 9:11, where he laments: “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
In our personal pilgrimages through life, few of us are asked to do terribly dangerous and risky things, but all of us are asked to run our race faithfully, for good, and not for glory! But, there is a promise in the example of Jesus, who ran the race before us for joy and for love of God.
May we run our races as doggedly as Togo . . . and like Togo, to please the One we love!
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
“His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21).
(Disney’s version of the story runs very close to the reality, although they had a somewhat abbreviated, “happily-ever-after” style ending. If you want to read more of the thrilling [scary] details, there’s an excellent Wikipedia article listed below.)
Ever hear the story of the schooner Ben Flint? Well, it’s just one of many inspiring tales of heroism and heartache recounted in the Trumans’ book about the Big Sable Point Coast Guard Station on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, not too far from where we live. I’ll share the story of the Ben Flint, and if you’re interested in curling up on a cold winter’s night to read more remarkable accounts of bravery and self-sacrifice, details are at the end. Here’s their first tale:
Back in the autumn of 1870, the two-masted ship Ben Flint left Manistee, Michigan, bound for Chicago, fully loaded with lumber. Ten miles off shore, the Ben Flint was caught in a gale and started taking on water. Around ten p.m. the schooner filled with water and rolled over on its side. As the vessel went over, a passenger, Patrick McCuin, fell overboard and drowned. Captain Thomas Roberts and his crew of eight clung desperately to the portion of the rigging above water.
The ship drifted until about one a.m., when the vessel ran aground approximately four miles north of Grande Pointe au Sable Lighthouse. As the Ben Flint struck the lake bottom, it righted, but split open. All of the men then tried to make themselves secure in the rigging, but they remained exposed to the bitterly cold wind and frigid drenching of the waves. At the beginning of the storm, Captain Roberts had thrown off his coat in order to work more easily, and he died from hypothermia at daylight.
When the Grande Pointe au Sable lighthouse keeper, Alonzo W. Hyde, spotted the wreck from the tower, he recognized the dire need. In their frozen and exhausted state, the crew could not survive a swim to shore through the tumultuous waves. The telephone had not yet been invented, and going for help would take too long. Keeper Hyde knew that he and the assistant light-keeper, his wife Elsa, were the only hope of rescue for the Ben Flint’s crew. They quickly loaded the lighthouse’s small boat onto a wagon, along with blankets and other supplies, and set off up the beach. Upon reaching the site of the wreck, the two of them launched their boat and managed to reach the stranded schooner. After multiple trips, they succeeded in bringing all of the men safely to shore.
The crew reached Manistee by wagon that evening. The account of the disaster in the Manistee Times said, “All unite in praise of the kindness and heroism of the lighthouse keeper and his lady. But for their efforts, others and perhaps all would have perished.”
(My friend Grace Truman serves as president of S.O.S. Vermilion, a nonprofit organization working to preserve an 1876 U.S. Life-Saving Service station on Lake Superior near Whitefish Point. If you are interested in what they’re doing, the website is sosvermilion.org. Grace, her husband, and their son also wrote the book Storms and Sand: A Story of Shipwrecks and the Big Sable Point Coast Guard Station. It tells the true stories of rescues made by the men of the U.S. Life-Saving Service/Coast Guard at the Big Sable Point station near Ludington. If anyone wants to order a copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The list price is $29.95, but you can get a special price of $20.00 with free shipping and tax included, if you mention “Summer Setting.” Thank you, Grace, for sharing this record of courage and valor! May we be inspired to respond as bravely in emergencies should the need arise, and may we be quick to share with others that Jesus can save!)
“Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses” (Psalm 107:13).
The Lighthouse (—Ronny and Kenny Hinson, 1970)
There’s a lighthouse on a hillside That overlooks life’s sea When I’m tossed, it sends out A light that I might see And the light that shines in darkness now Will safely lead me thru the night If it wasn’t for The Lighthouse My ship would sail no more.
Chorus: And I thank God for The Lighthouse Well, I owe my life to Him For Jesus is The Lighthouse And from the rocks I’ve seen He has shown a light all around me That I might clearly see If it wasn’t for The Lighthouse Tell me where would this ship be.
Ev’rybody that lives about me They said tear that lighthouse down ‘Cause the big ships they don’t sail this way anymore There’s no use of it standing ’round Then my mind goes back to that stormy night When just in time, I saw that light Yes that light from that old lighthouse That stands up there on the hill.
Most of us who’ve grown up in church have heard the poem, “The Weaver,” which tells about how God is making something beautiful out of our lives, which we won’t really understand or appreciate in all its glory until we reach heaven.
However, if you’re like me, you may not have had many opportunities in life to actually weave something on a loom, so I wanted to share a little bit about what I learned, not only about the pleasure of weaving a rug from rags, but also about how God weaves our lives.
At Ability Weavers, where Cindi, Susan, and I wove our rugs, we were invited to choose as many different types of material as we wanted from a wonderful assortment of fabrics and colors.
After we’d selected our fabrics, Beryl taught us how to wrap the pieces on shuttles. We started by loading 6 shuttles, but it really took much more material than I would have guessed, so I had to go back a couple of times for more cloth!
Each loom had a name. Mine was called “Grandma,” I think because it was one of the original looms. Although the looms were pretty similar, the materials we chose were strikingly different.
I took pleasure in noting that both Susan and Cindi chose materials that complemented the clothing they were wearing (although that had nothing to do with where they were planning to place their rugs)!
Beyond the variations in fabric types and colors, we each got to decide whether or not we wanted a distinct pattern or a more random design. It took us several hours to carefully pass the shuttle through the loom hundreds of times, each time tightening the fabric by pulling (HARD) on the shuttle so that the material wouldn’t unravel.
Something else that surprised me was that we didn’t have to make sure the fabric was always perfectly straight and even. We were told that the twists and turns in the cloth strips just added interest and variation in the pattern and would look just fine when we were all finished. That made the threading process much easier!
I chose three different types of material: upholstery fabric, strips of cloth, and a furry, fuzzy “something” (yarn-like) that I learned later had to be bought special (as opposed to most of the strips, which were cut from scrap materials donated by various businesses).
While weaving, it’s important to keep from putting too much tension on the threads at the end of each line, so that the carpet doesn’t become constricted or misshapen.
As I worked, it was impossible not to consider how the Lord weaves us! You may resent being considered a “rag,” but I do not! Isaiah 64:6 explains it this way: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” We may think we’re pure and holy and good, but God knows we are not, at least not completely. Not yet, as long as we struggle on this earth. As we are taught in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” If you have any doubts about our capacity as humans to be evil, watch the new 2019 documentary, The Devil Next Door (rated 7.7 on IMDb but not for children due to footage of concentration camps during World War 2). This 5-part series delves into the search by our OSI (Office of Special Investigations) to find “Ivan the Terrible,” the sadistically cruel operator of the gas chamber at Treblinka, Poland, who was responsible for the murder of 850,000 people. Alan and I watched it last weekend, and I think it’s one of the most disturbing documentaries I’ve ever seen. I don’t think any of us appreciate our capacity for evil. I’m sure I do not, but I believe what the Bible says.
At any rate (not to be too dark!), in many ways, God lets us weave our own lives, but if we ask Him to be our master and guide, our lives become a wonderful partnership between God’s Holy Spirit and us! God often gives us a huge amount of freedom in choosing the materials and colors and types of fabric that will go into our lives (although He usually prescribes the dark strands of challenging circumstances). We each have a name (“Grandma” fits me just fine!), and although the process of weaving rags into rugs is very similar, the designs and end results are all completely unique and “original,” not only the texture and color, but the size, the shape, and the patterns. All the while we work, just like Beryl was assisting us and helping us when we got stuck, the Holy Spirit instructs and guides us in the process of weaving our lives. Also, there always seems to be an ample supple of material (grace?), so we can keep going back to the store room for more whenever we run out!
Like weavings, our lives requires hundreds of repetitions, a certain amount of banging and pressure to strengthen us so we don’t unravel with use, but not too much tension, or we’ll end up constricted and misshapen. Strangely enough, the twists and turns in the fabric of our lives only add to the beauty and depth of the final product, and if we understand that as we work through life, it helps protect us from too much anxiety over the need to be “perfect” each step of the way!
Anyway, it was such a good experience that I’d love to do it again sometime and am already dreaming of other places where I could “use” another rag rug. Oh, it also occurred to me that each rug was made for a special, unique purpose. Cindi made hers to go beside a bed; Susan is going to place hers at the foot of their stairway, and mine is going to be a table runner for our dining room. God has a special purpose in mind for each of us. Isn’t that a happy thought?
“My life is but a weaving Between my God and me. I cannot choose the colors He weaveth steadily. Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow; And I in foolish pride Forget He sees the upper And I the underside. Not ’til the loom is silent And the shuttles cease to fly Will God unroll the canvas And reveal the reason why. The dark threads are as needful In the weaver’s skillful hand As the threads of gold and silver In the pattern He has planned He knows, He loves, He cares; Nothing this truth can dim. He gives the very best to those Who leave the choice to Him.” (Authorship disputed but public domain)
“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee” (Psalm 139:14-18).
Two nights ago, Grand Rapids enjoyed the great privilege of being addressed by Martin Lowenberg, a ninety-one-year-old survivor of the Holocaust who has taken up the mantle of trying to be an agent for spreading love and peace. I arrived fifteen minutes early, which was way too late to actually be admitted into the overflowing hall. After winding slowly through the stop-and-go traffic (all of whom were looking everywhere for parking, just like me), I found my way to a nearby church lot. But alas, the venue was dangerously overcrowded and the leadership made the decision to turn away all remaining wanna-hearers.
However, I noticed that the hour and a half presentation was recorded and is available on the Kent District Library Face Book page (Lowenberg starts at about minute 8):
The powers that be are trying to find a time to bring him back to speak at a larger venue, but meanwhile, I wanted to simply report the heart of his message, particularly in light of the reactivity of at least one of my blog followers, who disagreed with the church sign I posted yesterday, encouraging people to “Just love everyone. I’ll sort “em out later. —God”
Of the 179 times the word “hate” is used in the Bible (KJV), the overwhelming preponderance has to do with people hating God or one another. There are about twenty times it mentions things that the Lord hates, such as wickedness (Psalm 45:7), evil (Psalm 97:10), pride, lying, murder, discord (Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven sins the Lord hates), etc. I think Amos 5:15 sums it up: “Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate.” God clearly hates evil, and he also wants us to hate evil, love good, and establish justice. What are we doing to “establish justice”?
Certainly, justice isn’t established by hating people!! Hating evil is not the same thing as hating people. Jesus specifically commands us to love people, even those who are cruel and hurt us: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
This is also the message of Martin Lowenberg, who is Jewish and suffered terribly—in five different concentration camps during World War 2. His message? Love others. Be kind, because love heals and hate hurts. Lowenberg’s life demonstrates the ability of the human spirit to overcome tragedy and be happy. In the Q&A afterward, he mentioned that we can all learn to be happy and understand that life doesn’t have to be serious and sad all the time.
On the other hand, this sweet, bent-with-age, very elderly gentleman is clearly not just resting at home! He’s on the road sharing his story, not for the sake of making people feel sorry for what he endured, or to make himself famous, but to help people learn that hatred hurts others. “We all want to live as long as we can in happiness and harmony with our families.” So, he advised those who asked for advice to “Be good people, help others, be with others, and show them what you would like to see . . . stand up against evil. It’s very difficult to speak against evil, but we need to do it all the time.”
Hebrews 1:9, “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” God anoints those who love righteousness and hate evil with joy, and I think this is the message Martin Lowenberg was sharing . . . and demonstrating in his life.
Have you ever noticed there is more to do in life than will ever be done? No amount of prayerful planning and meticulous organization can align all the opportunities in such a way that we can be hither and yon at the proper moment to squeeze every last drop out of our lives’ orangey goodness!
I cannot watch over my grandson’s surgery across the state and still provide for my grand children here in GR while my daughter-in-law cares for her father’s medical needs.
I couldn’t host my son’s family, coming home from Belgium to America, and still fly to Scotland to attend the 500th reunion of the Armstrong Clan, now, could I?
Indeed, I could not. However, we had a splendid reunion of our “Armstrong Clan” right here in GR while the world-wide Armstrong Clan’s 500th Celebration was occurring!
And, although Alan and I had to miss it, Alan’s brother and his wife were able to attend. So—I wanted to share just a little bit about the event.
Perhaps the world’s most famous Armstrong is Neil, First Man on the moon, so the events of the clan centered around the Armstrongs’ 500th anniversary generally, but also the 50th anniversary of the lunar takeoff, which was July 16, 2019.
For over 900 years, there has been a tradition of “common riding” (groups of riders [raiders, really]) on horses riding along the border between Scotland and England during the summer months. Happily, this has turned into a non-raiding riding event for fun and has become one of Europe’s biggest equestrian spectacles!
What I didn’t really understand when I married Alan was that I’d married into a wild band of “reivers” (“from the old Scottish word “to steal”)! Back in their hay day, it was said that to survive to thirty was an accomplishment and that no one walked along the border . . . they ran for their lives!
(However, lest I think poorly of our esteemed Armstrong heritage, my grandmother was a Kerr, who is also on the list of wild border clans, along with Nixon, Elliot, Scott, and a host of others!)
Terry and Eileen explored the area and shared much of what they learned with us. The last famous reiver of the Armstrong Clan was John Armstrong, who owned Gilnockie Tower and was a fearsome raider, although in July of 1530 he was executed by the forces of King James V in an attempt to bring peace to the borderlands between Scotland and England.
Fifty years ago, Ted and Judy Armstrong revived the Armstrong Clan Association, and since that time, Gilnockie Tower has been restored and become the focal point for Armstrongs from around the world who are interested in DNA and genealogical research into their past.
I don’t know if you’re an Armstrong or have any Armstrong blood, but it has been fascinating and fun to learn a little bit more about our family heritage, and I’m guessing you might enjoy exploring yours too, if you ever get any spare time!
Terry and Eileen (and their faithful dog, Maggie) are retired and are able to enjoy some leisure time traveling through Europe and exploring their history. Talk about keeping fit and being a lifelong learner!
They’ve spent several years adventuring, and I have to say, I lick my chops when I read of their travels and see the gorgeous places they’ve visited!
Still, I am content, even if we didn’t make it to the moon and back for tea in July! God is good. Life is good. As my father used to say (quoting Aldous Huxley from Brave New World): “You pays your money and you takes your choice.” Are you happy with the choices you’re making? I hope so! If not, you are the only one who can change your choices!!
Only One Life (—Avis B. Christiansen and Merrill Dunlop)
“Only one life to offer Jesus my Lord and King. Only one tongue to praise Thee And of Thy mercy sing (forever). Only one heart’s devotion Savior, O may it be consecrated alone to Thy matchless glory, Yielded fully to Thee.
“Only one life to offer Take it dear Lord I pray. Nothing from Thee withholding Thy will I now obey. Thou who hast freely given Thine all in all for me Claim this life for Thine own to be used My Savior Ev’ry moment for Thee.”
“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).