Archive for December, 2014

Story of the Day for Tuesday December 23, 2014

A Simple Smile


A cheerful heart is good medicine.

Proverbs 17:22

Ron Gutman, a recent graduate of Stanford University, has engaged in intensive study of the smile. It sounds like a frivolous subject for legitimate academic work, but Gutman is very serious about the effect of a smile.

Gutman cites a study in which researchers took baseball cards from 1950 and sorted them into three groups: those players who were not smiling, those with a slight smile, and those with beaming smiles. They discovered that the average lifespan of those not smiling was 72.9 years, those who slight smiles, 75, and those with broad smiles lived to an average of 79.9 years.

The researchers didn’t put it in these words, but what they discovered was that the Bible has it right: a cheerful heart is good medicine.

Those saddled with a persistent case of the gloomies will be quick to point out that the Bible also says there’s a time to laugh and a time to weep. Well, of course there is. Both mourning and dancing are appropriate in their time.

Cheerfulness, however, isn’t the opposite of mourning; it’s the opposite of scowling – the dour attitude that makes us miserable and deflates the spirits of others.

Others are suspicious of cheerfulness because they’ve seen the phony, plastered grins of those trying to manipulate us for selfish ends.

Curiously enough, however, “scowlers” have a tougher time distinguishing false from genuine smilers. A French study had participants hold a pencil in their mouth with their lips – which forces a frown. The other group didn’t get pencils. When both groups were asked to identify photos of faked and genuine smiles, those without the pencil were great judges. Those who were forced to frown suffered impaired judgment.

Gutman cites another study in which the frontal lobes of patient’s brains were examined by FMRI scans.  A smile sent the frontal lobe into activity greater than receiving $30,000 in cash . . . or even eating chocolate.

A cheerful heart is good medicine. It reduces stress-enhancing hormones and increases mood-enhancing hormones.

Cheerfulness is good for us, but the real point I’m working toward is that it’s a gift we can give to others. A simple smile is able to brighten the mood of others.

And, while I know I’m supposed to be saving the planet, averting nuclear war, and ending world hunger, sometimes I need to start with the little things and work my way up. I like how Mother Theresa put it, “I will never understand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish.”

(copyright 2011 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)
(image: http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_me4frrRFGa1r9t59f.jpg)

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Story of the Day for Monday December 22, 2014

“Day the Music Died”

The Lord does not deal with us according to our sins; nor repay us as our deeds deserve.

Psalm 103:10

https://kaarre.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/a3977-holly_valens_bopper09-2-04.jpg A concert tour, called the “Winter Dance Party,” ran into more winter than it wanted. A few popular bands were touring the Midwest when their bus engine froze up in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

They scrounged up an old school bus and made their way to the next concert. The bus was cold – so cold one of the drummers got frostbite.

After a concert in Clear Lake, Iowa, one of the singers could no longer handle the cold bus rides. He chartered a plane to fly to their next concert in Moorhead, Minnesota.

The pilot of the single-engine Cessna could only take three passengers aboard. One of the scheduled passengers, a bass player, gave up his seat to the Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson, who complained of a fever.

February 3, 1959, was the “day the music died.” The plane crashed – killing Richardson, Ritchie Valens, and Buddy Holly.

The bass player was devastated. Today, he is a “poster child” for the psychological symptom known as “survivor’s guilt.” His name, by the way, was Waylon Jennings.

Those who survive concentration camps, wartime, or other tragedies frequently suffer from a devastating sense of guilt. “Why did I survive while others died?”

Those who suffer from guilt for being blessed with survival are similar to those who are angry with God.

An old woman who always attended worship on Sunday morning was hospitalized. I went to visit her and she told me she had terminal cancer.

Then she dropped the bombshell. “I don’t believe in God anymore.” Her face flashed with anger, “How could God do this to me when I faithfully go to church, and other people who don’t even care about religion are perfectly healthy?”

Guilt that you are more fortunate than others and anger that you are not as fortunate as you think you deserve both arises from the same assumption. Many people believe that God isn’t fair.

And they’re absolutely correct.

Someone once said, “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you’re good is like expecting the bull not to charge because you’re a vegetarian.”

Life is not fair. And that is wonderful. If God gave everyone exactly what they deserved, we would all go to hell.

Life is unfair only so that the Lord may rule this sinful planet by a better standard: by the law of mercy. God does not want to repay us as our sins deserve, but to shower us with mercy instead.

Jesus said the Father in heaven sends sunshine on both the evil and the good. He showers rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

When we learn the life of mercy, we have will have found the life of peace.

(copyright 2012 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)
(image:  https://kaarre.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/a3977-holly_valens_bopper09-2-04.jpg)

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Story of the Day for Friday December 19, 2014

It’s the Thought That Counts

I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you gave me. They are a fragrant aroma.

Philippians 4:18

10475263_10204057731500074_6541897017587955857_nNow, don’t quote me on this because I’m not a doctor, but I think there’s a virus out there that can infect your mind. You become nutty and, as the condition worsens, it can even make you want to root for the Chicago Bears.

My Brain Virus Theory is helping me come to grips with my friend, Marilou Payton. She’s one of the funnest people you’ll ever meet, and if you talk to her for two minutes and aren’t laughing, it means you’re a crabby person. She’s more than a little nutty, and – since you’d find out sooner or later – she’s a huge Bears fan.

So, how do you help someone when they reach this point? At times like these, you might not be able to cure them, but you have to let them know that you care. That is why I decided to give Marilou my Green Bay Packers hat for Christmas.

It’s the thought that counts.

While the apostle Paul was in prison, the Christians from Philippi in Macedonia sent him some gifts. He claimed he wasn’t desperate for their gifts, because he had learned the secret of being content – no matter what situation the Lord put him in.

All the same, Paul was delighted by their thoughtfulness and generosity. He was very pleased, but he told them that God was pleased as well.

When the British liberated the German concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen in 1945, they were deeply shaken by what they saw.

Jewish men, women, and children were dying – five hundred a day – from sickness and starvation.

One British officer wrote in his diary about the “Horror Camp.” The people, obviously, desperately needed food and medicine. But Lieutenant Colonel Mercin Willet Gonin mentioned that, shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, they received a large shipment of . . . lipstick.

Lipstick? People are dying and someone gets the notion to send lipstick?

But Gonin says the gift was “genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance.” He makes the outrageous claim, “I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick.” Women wandered around camp wrapped in a blanket because they had no clothes, but they wore bright red lipstick. At last the women were no longer a number, but a person. “That lipstick,” Gonin wrote, “started to give them back their humanity.” The gift the prisoners never requested was one of the gifts they needed most.

The prognosis for Marilou’s recovery is grim, but hopeful. She still mails me sympathy cards whenever the Bears beat the Packers. But – and this is gossip, so I shouldn’t be telling you this – but I hear she wears her Packer hat every night until she goes to bed. The cure may be on its way.

But, as I say, this is only a rumor. And I would never want to spread rumors.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

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Story of the Day for Thursday December 18, 2014

Three Dollars



Whoever brings blessing to others will be blessed; the one who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

Proverbs 11:25

A proud grandpa took his little granddaughter, Hannah, out trick-or-treating. The little girl had her bag of candy, but she had trouble mastering the concept. Instead, of holding out her bag at the door, she would reach into her bag and offer candy to the people at the door.

Hannah’s grandpa tried to train her. “No, sweetheart, you’re not supposed to offer people your candy; you’re supposed to take theirs.”

Grandpa taught her the right way to do it. He thinks. But he’s not so sure that little Hannah didn’t have it right.

Our view of giving has changed in recent times. The philosophers have weighed in with their expert opinions. If showing kindness to other people brings you happiness, some scholars maintain, then your act was really motivated by self-interest. Your generosity was not altruistic because of the personal benefit your derived from it.

Deferring to the experts, many have accepted this enlightened understanding of our behavior. But, after years of calm reflection, I have come to the conclusion that these philosophers are full of baloney.

Let’s think about this. If a person’s giving is truly motivated by self-interest, one of two things will happen: either they won’t be generous, because they, selfishly, want to keep what they have for themselves, or they may grudgingly give, but it will bring them no pleasure to do so.

God desires that our giving to others should bring us deep joy. He says he loves a cheerful giver. The happiness that comes from helping others is not selfishness. God himself, the Bible reminds us, delights in showing compassion.

Years ago, my wife and I had a hectic day. We asked a lot from our five-year-old son, Randy, but he was a trouper. As a reward, my wife gave him three dollars to buy some candy.

My wife took Randy to the church one evening. People could write prayer requests on a board, and then you would go into the church to pray for them. Randy was struck by a prayer request for Jason, a nine-year-old boy suffering from cancer. He asked mom if he could make a card. With some help with the spelling he wrote, “Dear Jason, I hope you are feeling better. Love, Randy.” He drew a picture and colored it with a green marker. And then he told his mom that he wanted to give his three dollars to Jason.

If you think my son’s joy in helping Jason was nothing more than a self-interested act because it brought him pleasure, you’re free to do so. But I believe the Lord is serious when he says that those who bring blessing to others will themselves be blessed.

(copyright 2012 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

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Story of the Day for Wednesday December 17, 2014

Courage of Conquerors

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were amazed and they realized that these men had been with Jesus.

Acts 4:13

When the British tried to invade Nepal in the early 1800s, they were so amazed by the bravery of the Nepalese Gurkha soldiers, that they decided they would make much better comrades than enemies. The Gurkhas still fight with British forces to this day.

https://i1.wp.com/www.fleethants.com/allhistory/gurkhas/training.jpgBritish Field Marshall, Sam Manekshaw once remarked, “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha.” Sir Ralph Turner, who served with the Gurkhas in World War I called them the “bravest of the brave.”

Jesus’ disciples weren’t noted for their bravery. They all claimed, mind you, that they were willing to die with Jesus, but when the soldiers arrived at Gethsemane to arrest their master, they all ran and disappeared into the night.

But, these timid followers were soon transformed. They boldly stood up to proclaim the good news about Jesus – even though they would go on to suffer floggings, imprisonment, and martyrdom.

What accounted for such courage? The people noticed only one thing: that these men “had been with Jesus.” When the disciples realized that their rabbi was not defeated by death, but had triumphed over it, everything changed for them.

Our behavior is transformed when we realize that we cannot lose. When we join the forces of Light in the victory over Darkness, we will find the courage that only conquerors know.

When President Sukarno of Indonesia announced, in 1963, that he was going to “crush Malaysia,” British forces were sent in to oppose his attack – which meant that the Gurkhas from Nepal were called in to help.

Tim Bowden, in his book, One Crowded Hour, writes that the Gurkhas were asked if they would be willing to jump from transport planes into combat. Surprisingly, the Gurkhas, who usually agreed to anything, provisionally rejected the plan. A cameraman, Neil Davis, told Bowden an incident that went something like this:

The next day, one of the Gurkha officers sought out the British officer who made the request. “We have talked it over, and are prepared to jump under certain conditions.”

“What are they?”

“We’ll jump if the land is marshy or reasonably soft with no rocky outcrops.”

The British officer said that the dropping area would almost certainly be over jungle, and there would not be rocky outcrops.

“Anything else?”

“Yes,” said the Gurkha. “We want the plane to fly as slowly as possible and no more than one hundred feet high.”

The British officer told them the planes always fly as slow as possible when dropping troops, but to jump from one hundred feet was impossible, because the parachutes wouldn’t open in time.

“Oh,” the Gurkha responded. “That’s all right then. We’ll jump . . . you didn’t tell us we would have parachutes.”

(copyright 2011 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)
(image: http://www.fleethants.com/allhistory/gurkhas/training.jpg)

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Story of the Day for Tuesday December 16, 2014

“I Felt Like a Lion”



Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Proverbs 16:24

According to a poll reported by Tom Rath and Dr. Donald Clifton in How Full Is Your Bucket?, 65 percent of American employees don’t receive any positive recognition for their work in any given year. The author’s also refer to the U.S. Department of Labor which says the number-one reason people quit their jobs is because of lack of appreciation.

The Bible says that pleasant words — words of praise and encouragement — boost us in body and soul. Why is it, then, that compliments so easily get stuck in our throats?

“I don’t want it to go to his head,” we say — as if our praise will lead others into a downward spiral of moral degeneration.

Have you heard of the Losada Line? Dr. Marcial Losada found that there is a correlation between a company’s success and the positive-to-negative comments made within the workplace. The dividing line between above and below-average performance is a positive to negative ratio of 2.9. In other words, for a company to be successful, workers need to be making more than three positive comments to every criticism they make of another worker.

Can you take the notion of speaking pleasant words too far? Absolutely — although few of us are in any danger of doing so. The research also discovered there is an upper limit to the positive things we say. If the ratio of positive-to-negative comments exceeds eleven to one, our positive words are perceived as insincere, and become ineffective.

When we frequently criticize others, we usually feel that we’re helping them to improve their behavior. The irony is that we don’t respond to critical people. We view negative people as crabby rather than as someone with their welfare in mind.

We do, ironically, respond to criticism from those whose words are predominantly positive.

Imagine how you would feel if someone paid you a sincere compliment. Once you’ve been encouraged by their pleasant words, then the beauty of Jesus’ golden rule comes into play: seek to encourage others as the words of others have encouraged you.

Barbara Tuchman recounts the story of a corporal in Israel’s armored-corps. After three days of combat he was emotionally shattered. The destruction and carnage left him apathetic — he no longer cared whether he lived or died.

Schools had organized a program where each student sent a letter and a small gift to a soldier. When the discouraged corporal saw the letter dropped on his bunk, he thought, “Some silly crap.” Nevertheless, he opened the letter.

“Dear Soldier,” the letter read, “I am sending you this chewing gum. I am not afraid of bombs because I know you are out there protecting me and will not let anyone kill me.”

The corporal immediately jumped to his feet. “I felt,” the soldier said, “like a lion.”

(text copyright 2012 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

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Story of the Day for Monday December 15, 2014

Shatter the Darkness With Your Song

After a severe whipping, they threw them into prison – commanding the jailer to guard them carefully. Having received his orders, he threw them into an inner cell and secured their feet in the stocks. Around midnight, Paul and Silas prayed and began to sing hymns to God.

Acts 16:23-25

When Paul and Silas were arrested, unjustly, and severely beaten, we can understand why they might shout curses and ask God why he would reward their faithfulness with such agony.

But, instead, around midnight the prison echoes with the sound of singing.

https://i2.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/91pXszSEB5L.jpgBen Robertson, an American journalist, describes in his book, I Saw England, the time he was sent to England to cover the bombing of London during World War II. He flew into London on Saturday night and was met with one of the worst air raids of the war.

The bombing continued through the night, and fires erupted throughout the city. As he looked around him, Robertson observed a huge circle of fire for ten miles all around London.

The all-clear alarm sounded at one in the morning. Robertson went to his hotel room, nervous and exhausted. He threw himself on his bed and cried, “Oh, God, I don’t want to live another day. I can’t go through another night of hell and horror like this.”

Ben fell asleep with the window open. He was awakened on Sunday morning by music. Curious, he got up and went outside looking for the source of the music.

Across the street, he saw a Christian church that had been reduced to rubble by the bombing raid. The roof was gone and only portions of the walls remained.

But there, standing amidst the ruins, was the choir, the rector, and the little congregation – gathered for worship on Sunday morning.

The congregation was not only singing – they were singing triumphantly.

The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord

She is his new creation, by Spirit and the Word

From heav’n he came and sought her to be his holy bride

With his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.

Robertson was overwhelmed by these valiant believers. “Suddenly,” he said, “I saw in the world something that was unshatterable . . . something that was indestructible – the spirit and power of Jesus Christ within his church.”

Falling on his knees, Ben Robertson prayed, “Oh, God, now I gather strength and courage to live another day. I will go on . . .”

Prisons walls and misfortunes were never meant to muzzle the sound of a good tenor.

(copyright 2012 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)
(image: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/91pXszSEB5L.jpg)

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Story of the Day for Friday December 12, 2014



Bean Counters and Dreamers

In Christ we, who are many, form one body, and each part belongs to all the others.

Romans 12:5

Someone once said there are only three kinds of people in this world: those who are good at math and those who aren’t.

I’m not good at math.

Numbers are confusing, abstract things. I have a difficult time remembering people’s ages – including my own. My wife can recall phone numbers and zip codes from places where we lived over 20 years ago. I struggle, at times, to remember my current zip code. To me, numbers are not all that important.

People who are good with numbers feel quite differently. They actually show compassion through numbering things. A pastor once asked me how many members were in my congregation. I didn’t know. This pained him. “How can you care about your flock if you don’t know how many there are?”

He didn’t understand that I couldn’t number my flock even if I wanted to (which I don’t). Do you include the Pozanskis – who regularly attend worship, but have never officially become members? And what about Jason, whom I’ve never met? He’s in the military, and moves every few years, but wants his membership to remain here. When I try to number people, I always bog down, and end up with a muddled sum.

Some people love numbers and attention to detail. Those of us who are bold visionaries refer to them as “bean counters.” Bean counters, however, can dish it back. They view us visionaries as impractical, and call us “dreamers.”

So, how do people who approach life in such different ways get along with each other? The solution is surprisingly simple. We just round up all the “bean counters” and lure them onto cargo ships with offers of free calculators. Then we ship them off to a remote jungle in the Amazon basin, and provide them with spreadsheets and those plastic pen protectors you wear in your shirt pocket, and let them lead a happy life.

That’s the easy way. But God has the better way.

God wants us to realize how desperately we need each others’ gifts — as much as the heart needs the lungs and the lungs need the heart.

In the body of Christ, we have people who are brilliant at organizing things. As strange as it sounds to us Big Picture types, they love working out the details and keeping the trains running on time. Without them, bold visions never become a reality. Administrator types also need those gifted in leadership.

When we learn to appreciate and value each others gift, good things happen. Only then will we see the body of Christ being built up.

I can’t locate the exact Bible passage at the moment, but I think there’s a verse that says you should find a brother or sister who has the opposite gift from you, and buy them pizza, and tell them you appreciate them. Or something like that.

(copyright 2011 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

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Story of the Day for Wednesday December 10, 2014

A Work of Beauty


copyright by Dana Zier 

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment . . . Instead, your beauty should come from within – the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.

1 Peter 3:3-4

Some of Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin’s paintings now hang in the Louve in Paris. His still life’s of common objects around the house are so stunning that Marcel Proust observed, “Until I saw Chardin’s paintings I never realized how much beauty lay around m in my parents’ house, in the half-cleared table, in the corner of the tablecloth left awry, in the knife beside the empty oyster-shell.”

A talented artist helps us to see things better. A great artist helps us see beauty. Our lives are enriched as we learn to see the beauty of things around us.

Peter talks about the beauty of godliness. He says our real beauty should not come from lipstick or botox. (Okay, he doesn’t exactly say that, but let’s allow a little room for creative paraphrasing.) Peter wants us to recognize the deeper beauty of a gentle spirit.

Have you noticed how some people’s expression of religion is so ugly? You don’t enjoy being around them. They’re arrogant and obnoxious.

Artificial godliness is unattractive.

The Pharisees were consumed with a false piety. You did not walk away refreshed by their influence. Jesus accused them of “tying heavy loads and putting them on people’s shoulders.”

Isn’t it interesting that those who practiced this cosmetic holiness deeply resented Jesus – while everyone else was drawn to him like a magnet?

What do you want your life to look like? Are people attracted to you because they find grace and truth? Does your life convey the beauty of the Lord? Let’s be honest: none of us can “get it right” for very long at a time, but we do need to know what we want our life to look like. Like a great artist, we want our life to help others get a glimpse of the beauty of who the Lord.

Truly great art not only helps us see, it also inspires us to create. Madelleine L’Engle visited an art museum in New York. She said the paintings did not make her feel insignificant; they made her want to rush home and paint. “When I hear a superb pianist,” she says in her book, A Circle of Quiet, “I can’t wait to get to my own piano.” A great novel makes her want to write. She says it’s not about arrogance, but that great art inspires us to create. “It is beauty crying out for more beauty.”

Paul once urged the same thing. He said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” He wanted his life to be beautiful. Christ-like. He wanted younger Christians to see what Christ was creating in him and be inspired to live the same way.

We may not be there yet, but we can know we’re headed in the right direction when we imagine what Jesus would have us look like. What you will see is a work of beauty.

(copyright 2012 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

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Story of the Day for Tuesday December 9, 2014

If Honey Bees Can Do It


After a lot of debating . . .

Acts 15:7

When the church was young and began spreading the good news beyond the borders of Israel, a dispute arose. Some believers insisted the gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved, while other believers vigorously opposed this — claiming that we are saved only because of God’s mercy to us in Christ.

How does a group resolve an issue when its members are butting heads? Well, if we can glean any wisdom from honey bees, butting heads is part of the process.

Thomas Seeley, a biology professor at Cornell, found that the ideal bee hive is at least ten gallons in volume, fifteen feet off the ground, and has a narrow entrance.

Seeley found an island off the coast of Maine with no honey bees — nor trees to make a hive. Along with his co-workers, Seeley built several mediocre bee houses but made one honey bee dream home. Then he brought a hive of 6000 bees to the island.

Scouts would fly out from the hive in all directions — looking for a place to relocate. When a scout discovered a possible new home, she would return to the hive and report her findings (all scouts are female) by doing a dance.

Other scouts would then fly out to investigate each report. But with scouts returning from several locations, how does the hive know which new home to choose?

First, the hive looks for enthusiasm. The better the new potential home site the scout has discovered, the wilder its dance when it returns to the hive.

The other vital aspect to a scout’s report is modesty. They don’t behave as if their discovery is the best one. They listen to each other; no one is stubborn.

Once all the scouts have reported in on potential home sites, the head-butting begins. A dancing scout for one location will head-butt a dancing scout reporting on another site, and both stop dancing. When about fifteen bees are all dancing for the same location, scouts start head-butting bees from their own “team.” A quorum has been reached.

The hive has now decided on the best new location. In Dr. Seeley’s experiments, he found the honey bees choose the best option about 90 percent of the time.

The first major dispute in the church was beautifully resolved. Everyone offered an opinion. They butted heads in spirited debate. They recited facts and quoted Scripture.

In the end, the council concluded all people are saved by the grace of Jesus.

To argue a position with both passion and modesty is a difficult balance to achieve. To dance with enthusiasm for your position but then later head-butt your supporters to respectfully consider another viewpoint, is the perfect combination of fervor and humility.

But if honey bees can do it . . .

(text copyright 2012 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

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