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A Bag of Tools
Isn't it strange that princes and kings,
And downs that caper in sawdust rings,
And common people like you and me
Are builders for eternity?
Each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass, a book of rules;
And each must make—ere life is flown—
A stumbling block or a steppingstone.
R. L. Sharpe
Using Tools Passed Down
The words of the great poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow challenge every generation:
|Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.
Sometimes our choices leave more than just footprints, as in this story told of Mahatma Gandhi, the social reformer who helped free India from British rule by advocating nonviolent resistance, including prolonged fasting. Once, running alongside a moving train, Gandhi leaped aboard but lost a shoe in the process. He snatched off his other shoe and flung it out of the train.
A gaping fellow traveler demanded, "Why did you do that?"
Gandhi smiled. "Now the one who finds my shoe will have a pair."
Using our given tools for the benefit of ourselves and others often requires great effort. The old adage "We only get out of life what we put into it" ringstrue. Taking a stand contrary to popular opinion and speaking out for our beliefs is seldom easy. Accomplishing great things in this life requires hard work and dedication. Our decisions and commitment to our goals not only profoundly affect our own lives, but may change the course of human events.
Reflect on these individuals whose commitment to follow a different path has been admirable.
Mother Teresa, internationally acclaimed humanitarian, left her convent to work one-on-one with the poor, downtrodden, and forgotten people of Calcutta, India. Her decision to serve thousands of miles away from her Yugoslavian birthplace in a land without the comforts of home resulted in years of compassionate ministry. It earned her the title "Saint of the Gutters," as well as the Nobel Peace Prize.
I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty ... you gave me something to drink ...
I needed clothes ... you clothed me ...
I was sick ... you looked after me.
Matthew 25:35-36 NIV
A. C. Green, a 6'9" pro basketball player, refused to allow locker-room boasts about sexual conquests to weaken his resolve to remain sexually pure, quoting Philippians 4:13 (NIV): "I can do everything through him [Christ] who gives me strength." Green has spoken out to young people that not everyone is "doing it," and he has promoted secondary virginity for those already sexually active. One wonders how many lives may be changed because Green was true to himself and God.
Dan Quayle, former vice president of the United States, was asked in a televised debate what he would do if he were in office and the president suddenly became incapacitated. Quayle replied, "First I'd say a prayer." Opponents had a field day with his answer, but their reaction raised a question: What answer would better serve our country?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:2 NIV
Harriet Tubman, the famed abolitionist, risked prison and death in order to be true to herself. She received a skull fracture at age thirteen while courageously intervening to save a fellow slave from punishment. For the rest of her life Harriet suffered blackouts, but that didn't deter her from helping hundreds of slaves escape to free states and Canada. Neither was she deterred by the high price placed on her head by those who wished her dead. Countless persons were saved by the courage of this woman, heralded as a nineteenth-century Moses.
In all thy ways acknowledge him,
and he shall direct thy paths.
Proverbs 3:6 KJV
Patrick Henry, the famous orator and political leader during the Revolutionary War, risked charges of treason by urging the 1775 Virginia Provisional Convention to arm its militia to defend the colony against England. Henry is best remembered for his stirring words, "Give me liberty or give me death!"
Proclaim liberty to the captives.
Isaiah 61:1 KJV
Candace and Kirk Cameron, popular brother/sister TV stars, agree on the importance of saving one's self for marriage. Candace has flatly stated that she didn't intend to share the unique gift of sex with a bunch of people.
Kirk and his wife, Chelsea Noble, did a Focus on the Family video, "Sex, Lies, and ... The Truth," that aired on prime-time television. Kirk says, "I'm glad I waited."
Set an example ... in life,
in love, ... in purity.
1 Timothy 4:12 NIV
Florence Nightingale, considered the founder of modern nursing, shocked her wealthy English family by becoming a nurse at a time when hospital conditions were deplorable and nurses were often unfit to care for the sick. Countless soldiers in the Crimean War owed their lives to the "lady with the lamp" who badgered officials for desperately needed medical supplies, food, and bedding. Herself weak and ill from fever, but determined to change conditions—especially in military field hospitals—Nightingale insisted, "I can stand out the war with any man."
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path.
Psalm 119:105 NIV
John Newton, the beloved hymn writer, came to Christ and bitterly repented of his years as a slave trader. Recognizing that even those who have not lived exemplary lives can change, he went on to touch the hearts of many by writing one of the world's most loved hymns. It begins:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus, was young and unmarried when the angel Gabriel came to tell her she was chosen to bear the Son of God. Despite the scorn and whispered rumors in her small village, she stood and courageously testified of the angelic visit. Nine months pregnant, she braved the long, wilderness journey to the City of David, riding on the back of a donkey. Mary trusted and followed the direction of God despite her fears and discomfort. Because of her obedience and sacrifice, the Savior of the world was born in a stable in Bethlehem.
She [Elizabeth] exclaimed:
"Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the child you will bear!"
Luke 1:42 NIV
Viktor Frankl, renowned author and psychiatrist, struggled through the loss of his wife and his imprisonment in a World War II concentration camp. Emerging from the darkness of that experience, he went on to publish a number of books on finding meaning in suffering and purpose in life. Frankl's writings have provided hope to many who have to overcome their own forms of suffering.
Bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.
Luke 6:28 NIV
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, chose the high road. Throughout His life, He exemplified the principles of goodness and righteousness. He spent years traversing the countryside, preaching to people He had never met. He continued to bring the same teachings even to audiences who found His message unpopular and made it the subject of much mocking and jest.
Jesus did not shrink from His duty in the face of ridicule. He told the moneychangers they were doing wrong, even though it was not what they wished to hear. He admonished those who would cast rocks at the adulterous woman, challenging, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7 NIV).
He did not stop His work in the face of exhaustion. He did not stop when His best friends betrayed him. Even when His adherence to teaching the principles of righteousness ultimately led to His death, still Jesus did not waver. He knew Whose work He was doing. Kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane, with sweat pouring from His body like great drops of blood, still Jesus prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42 NIV).
Through pain, betrayal, ridicule, death, and a glorious Resurrection, Christ continued to be faithful. Because of His faithfulness, all those who have come after Him have not only the promise of the Atonement but a perfect example to look to for hope, direction, and guidance in finding their way.
The Lord's Prayer
Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory, for ever.
Matthew 6:9-13 KJV