I met Norton Mullens in 1964 – and he made a lasting impact upon my life. Soon after I was ordained and became an assistant pastor, I was asked by the senior minister to visit Norton. He was an attorney and had taught an adult Sunday school class for over 100 every Sunday morning for many years. Norton now had Multiple Sclerosis and was no longer able to leave his bed.
As I walked up to Norton’s front door, one of his two teenage daughters greeted me and took me to her father’s room. From the door I could see a very frail man in his bed, his eyes moving with a jerking motion. As I stood there, stunned by what I was seeing, Norton called out in a high, rather unsteady voice, “Who’s there?” And I responded with “Chuck Gieser, from the church.” Norton said, “You sound scared” “I am – I have been asked to bring you comfort, and I am not sure how”. Norton responded, “Come here boy; let me tell you about the goodness of the Lord!” And he did!!! I would often visit Norton to receive his wise counsel and encouragement. Norton lived out the joy of the Lord – which was his strength.
Dr. Stan Barnett MD was a Green Beret, a triathlon athlete, and a DL Lone Eagle. I asked Stan to bring the charge at my Lone Eagle ceremony. He quoted to me: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” — Joshua 1:8-9
Stan and his wife returned to DL for two weeks about fifteen years after my ceremony. Stan had become a prisoner in his own body. Due to disease he could barely walk, his skin would not let him smile, and his voice had very little volume or endurance. When he brought devotions at the 7:00 a.m. staff meeting he had typed out what he would say so, when he was no longer able to speak, his son Shawn could complete his devotional challenge. Throughout the day staff person after staff person went to Stan, who brought to each his wisdom and encouragement. Stan lived out the joy of the Lord – which was his strength.
The Bible includes a multitude of examples of people who were in incredibly difficult situations – and they continued to praise God their Savior. Joseph in prison, Daniel in the lion’s den, Stephen when being stoned, Paul while in jail.
When life is tough, sometimes beyond measure, and there is nothing that we can realistically do about it, do we live with thankful hearts? Norton and Stan lived with thankful, trusting hearts long before the struggles of this life hit hard!
A thankful heart comes from our understanding of, and belief in, the love and wisdom of God. A thankful heart means that we will be thankful in the context of daily living. This is a tough assignment…just as living out the fruit of the spirit is tough! Discipline is required…along with our understanding. Satan seeks to pull us from thankfulness. A thankful heart does not suddenly arrive when the difficult challenge comes. Our foundation of thankfulness must be built, must be a life attitude. If for no other reason, we can be thankful that God is with us in our present struggles…even as He will be with us in eternity.
I am thankful I have known Norton Mullens and Stan Barnett. These men demonstrated thankful hearts throughout their lives – regardless of their circumstances. Thursday morning I receive a hip replacement. If all goes well, it will be easy to be thankful. And if it does not, will my daily attitude of thankfulness continue? A friend in our church, a great golfer who has shot 7 “holes in one”, has had hip replacement problems, and now struggles to walk.
“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. — Ephesians 5:19-20