The Wit and Wisdom of Will Rogers

This week marked the 83rd anniversary of the death of one of America’s most practical, down-to-earth, common-sense “philosophers,” Will Rogers. Born on November 4, 1879, in Cherokee Territory (what is now Oklahoma), Rogers was a Cherokee Indian with a charming wit with touch of biting sarcasm delivered with a smile that melted even those who were the brunt of his jokes. Purportedly a Democrat in politics, he was decidedly an equal-opportunity offender with his humor, dishing it out to both parties alike. The people loved him for his common-sense approach to life and were devastated when he died, along with pilot Wiley Post, in a plane crash near Point Barrow, Alaska, on August 15, 1935.

Here are some of his one-liners that are among my personal favorites. They are as true today as they were when he quipped them.


  • “The trouble with practical jokes is that very often they get elected.”
  • “There is nothing so stupid as the educated man if you get him off the thing he was educated in.”
  • “A fool and his money are soon elected.”
  • “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”
  • “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.”
  • “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

Rogers didn’t always sling around such country wisdom; he actually got his start in vaudeville as a trick rope artist. That morphed into a routine in which he mixed his rope tricks with jokes and home-spun humor. And that led to his increasingly more frequent political comments. He wrote a weekly newspaper column that appeared in about 400 newspapers across the country. He also had a radio broadcast and appeared in more than 70 movies, including State Fair (1933). He wrote six books and was a frequent guest at the White House.

Perhaps my favorite Rogers quotation is this one: “We’re all ignorant–just on different subjects.”

Think about it!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson



Being On Purpose

Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege of presenting to a group of teachers in their beginning-of-year in-service training. I spoke on the importance of being on-purpose teachers so that their students could have them as exemplars, thereby becoming on-purpose students. Following are a few of the points I made, using quotations by some prominent people.

Everything one does demonstrates whether he or she is “on purpose” or “off purpose.” There is no in between. Once your purpose is determined, everything you do is either directed toward that goal (you are on purpose) or is a diversion from it (you are off purpose). The on-purpose teacher organizes and prioritizes needs, wants, and desires around his or her chief purpose; sets goals; and works toward them.

“The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder–a waif, a nothing, a no man. Have a purpose in life, and, having it, throw such strength of mind and muscle into your work as God has given you.” (Thomas Carlyle)

“Effectiveness is doing the right things; efficiency is doing those things right.” (Peter Drucker)

“You can’t always control circumstances. However, you can always control your attitude, approach, and response. Your options are to complain or to look ahead and figure out how to make the situation better.” (Tony Dungy)

“We shall build good ships here; at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always good ships.” (Motto, Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co.)

May each of us determine our God-given purpose and always be on purpose in everything we do.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

The Vanished Art of “Dropping In”

People just don’t visit as they once did.

In an earlier, simpler time, visiting friends and neighbors was a normal party of everyday life. Sunday afternoons and holidays were special times for visiting, but it was normal for folks to “drop in” on others at any time.

It was such a normal event to have people “drop in,” unannounced and without our sending them a special invitation, that people prepared to have it happen. And they wondered what was wrong when it didn’t happen.

People tried to keep their houses looking reasonably presentable. They tried to dress at all times such as not to be embarrassed if guests did “drop in.” They weren’t decked out in their finest “go-to-meetin’ clothes,” but they were presentable. And, although it wasn’t a requirement, they often even ensured that they had something to offer such guests to eat or drink while they visited. Nothing fancy. A slice of cake or pie, a cup of tea or coffee, a glass of iced tea or lemonade.

Rather than being annoyed or put out by such spontaneous visitors, the hosts and hostesses were honored and happy. Whenever guests were seen coming to the door, the typical response was an enthusiastic, “Oh, it’s the Smiths!” You never heard, “Oh no! Wonder what they want?” It wasn’t unusual to hear family members say as their guests departed, “Come back sometime when you can stay longer.” And they meant it. And very few people ever wore out their welcome by overdoing it. They were considerate. Yet they continued to drop in occasionally.

Visiting was a social grace, an art even. It was a matter of civility, hospitality, sociability, friendship, courtesy, and good manners. It showed that one cared. The social offense was not in an unannounced visit but in the complete lack of visiting.

Why don’t we visit each other the way we once did? There are many possible reasons. No, they are merely excuses. We do what we really want to do.

  • We’re all too busy. Too many of us so much so that we hardly have time for our own immediate family members. We are involved in too many other things that we think are more important than human friendships.
  • It’s too much trouble. It takes time to have refreshments always at the ready (although they really are not necessary for such visiting). If they are available, we often prefer to hoard them for our own consumption.
  • We assume that we’ll disrupt the activities of the people we “drop in on,” and we know they’re already busy enough. “It’s too close to suppertime.” “It’s almost bedtime.” “They’re so busy they’ll want time to be by themselves.” “We probably shouldn’t bother them.” (Going against this assumption and receiving a cold “welcome” once or twice reinforces this feeling and stifles whatever inclination we might have to “drop in.”)
  • People don’t sit on their porches or in their yards much any more. We value our private time more than we value interaction with others. We hide away inside with our TVs and computers or in our backyards where no one will see, let alone visit, us.

With all these excuses, is it any wonder that one can live in the same neighborhood for years and not know his or her own neighbors? And no one seems to care. Or that so many people have so few real friends (as opposed to mere acquaintances or work colleagues)?

Will there ever again be a day when people visit each other for no other reason than pure friendship or neighborliness? Or “just because”? One author says that such visits “dignif[y] both the visitor and the visited.” From the looks of things, it seems we aren’t very dignified any more!

Here’s to the fond memories of the drop-in friends–and a sincere desire that we’ll one day see a return to that sign of civility.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

Odor-Initiated Memories

My wife recently bought some electric plug-in room deodorizers for our house. She asked me to install one that she had laid out for the purpose in our guest bathroom.

I dutifully picked up the glass, perfume-filled container and walked into the guest bath, removing the cellophane cover as I did. The label on the deodorizer said its fragrance was “Fresh Bamboo.” Never having grown up in or visited the Orient, where bamboo is typically grown, I had no idea what fresh bamboo is supposed to smell like.

I finally figured out that I had to remove the lid by turning it clockwise, rather than the more logical counter-clockwise, like all normally threaded jar lids, and plugged it in. And then I waited for a few moments for the pleasing aroma that I expected soon to caress my sensitive nostrils. I smelled nothing.

So that’s what fresh bamboo smells like, I thought. Like nothing! I much prefer the eucalyptus of previous deodorizers.

But a few days later, when I walked into that bathroom to fetch a new box of tissues from beneath the vanity, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a memory sparked by the smell of, not fresh bamboo, but flowers. And not just any floral smell but the smell of the kind of bouquet that my mother used to put into my hands just before I boarded the school bus, a bouquet I was to give to my teacher.

I was a bit embarrassed whenever Mother gave me flowers for my teacher. No other boys–or even girls, for that matter–did that, I argued. If I had to take my teacher something, why couldn’t it be an apple? At least people might think it was for my breakfast or part of my lunch. But I could never win an argument with Mother, so flowers it was. I dutifully took the bouquet and endured the inevitable taunts from the other boys on the bus and in the classroom.

“What are you doing, trying to get in good with the teacher?”

“Teacher’s pet! Teacher’s pet!”

“Look at the sissy–carrying flowers to school!”

Thankfully, by second or third grade, Mother had gotten beyond having me take flowers to the teacher. Or maybe she was just too busy trying to take care of my younger sister to think about gifts for the teacher.

But to this day, a certain smell instantaneously takes me back to those flower-delivery days of yesteryear. Like the smell of fresh bamboo, or at least what is labeled on that deodorizer as fresh bamboo.

It’s funny how a simple whiff of something can spark a memory from long ago. A rubber bicycle inner tube. Rotting compost. Fresh-cut hay. The soil after a rain shower. Salt air. I often can’t recall what I had for breakfast, but I can remember people, places, or events of days long past simply by smelling certain odors.

I once gave my writing students an assignment in descriptive writing. “Make me hear when I read your essay what you heard at the time,” I encouraged them. “Make me taste what you ate. Make me smell what you smelled.”

When I collected their papers the next day and sat down that afternoon to read them, I expected to see not only a lot of adjectives but also precise nouns, vivid verbs, and other colorful constructions. But I hadn’t anticipated what one student placed at the end of his essay: a scratch-and-sniff sticker.

He deserved an A just for having employed such a creative imagination.

Smells spark memories. So do sounds and other sensations.

What spark ignites your memory machine?

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson


How on Earth Did We Manage?

Today marks the beginning of South Carolina’s “tax-free weekend.” It’s not actually totally tax free. Only certain products–and a surprising array at that–are tax free. They’re supposed to be the products considered necessary for kids to get a good start on school, but many of them leave me scratching my head over how they even remotely relate to education.

And school seems to be starting earlier every year. It seems to me that school only last week got out for summer vacation. But my wife, who teaches second grade, assures me that it’s already that time again, and our calendar reflects it, filling up quickly with all sorts of school-related activities: computer training sessions, regular in-service week, parent-teacher “meet and greets,” etc.

But back to the tax-free weekend. As I stroll through Walmart, I’m amazed at the plethora of things that kids “need” in order to be educated today. Both sides of several aisles are devoted to such materials. And the broad, major aisles that provide access to those narrower aisles are jammed to the point of impassibility, especially if you’re trying to navigate with one of those huge carts that Walmart provides. (They never have enough of the little carts that resemble baskets on wheels.)

All of this makes me ask myself how on earth we old-timers ever managed to learn anything at all. We had a few yellow No. 2 Ticonderoga pencils and a couple of end-of-the-pencil erasers in a little pencil pouch inside a three-ring binder filled with lined (preferably college-ruled, especially in high school) Blue Horse paper, and that was it! If we had anything more–perhaps a tiny pencil sharpener or a little bottle of Elmer’s Glue-All–we felt that we were in high cotton. Of course, there was no such thing as laptops or tablets (unless you count the one-subject Blue Horse tablets that some people had). Instead, we had Dick-and-Jane reading books, arithmetic books (we didn’t call it math until junior high), a spelling workbook, and a few other assorted textbooks.

I’m also amazed when I walk into my wife’s and her colleagues’ classrooms at how “busy” they look–and feel. There are posters and bulletin boards and things that hang from the ceiling and numerous (I once counted at least seven) “centers” cluttering the environment. I don’t know where to look first. Back in the day, I recall that our classroom had the Zaner-Bloser alphabet displayed along the top of the blackboard (and yes, it was black, not the later “modern” green), a few small bulletin boards, and shelves of textbooks, but that was about it. Oh, and Mrs. Zachary had a black-and-white clock shaped like a cat on the wall. It’s eyes moved one way and the tail, hanging down below, went the opposite way to mark the passage of time. And the cat smiled like the Cheshire cat in Alice and Wonderland.

The only “center” that we had was one that intrigued me. But the only way a student could use it was to get into some sort of trouble. I wasn’t a bad kid, but I do remember purposely getting into trouble a few times when that “center” attracted me more than my temptation-resisting powers could deal with. The “center” consisted of a little farm set arranged on the top of a bookshelf at the back of the room. It had a barn, fences outlining imaginary pastures, a tractor, a manure spreader, and assorted farm animals. Growing up as I did on my grandfather’s dairy farm, I naturally was attracted by the toy-sized farm in that center. So I poked the kid in front of me or talked or repeatedly dropped my book or pencil on the floor or did anything else I could to annoy Mrs. Zachary, forcing her to sentence me to time laboring on that farm.

We poor kids were so underprivileged back then, it’s a wonder we ever learned anything sans the benefits of the wonders of education today. I thank the Lord for such lack of privileges every time I’m at Little Caesar’s and the presiding clerk looks at my $5.40 exact change with puzzlement over how to deal with it or at McD’s when the gal behind the counter struggles to decide how to make change for the $20 I handed her for a $12.35 order. I never cease to be amazed at the display of a nonexistent work ethic exhibited by many young people. Such kids might have been “educated” in more technologically advanced classrooms than I was and have access to more of the material things that are supposed to make their education so much better, but they have failed to learn some of the truly important things in life. And I hate to think of all the temptations and problems that today’s kids face that my generation never dreamed of. Students’ chewing gun and talking in class seem to have been my teachers’ biggest problems.

Tax free or heavily taxed, I still think my classroom experiences were the best. I wouldn’t want to go back, though. Except maybe to play with that little farm set!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

Revise, Resize, Recycle!

Perhaps you’re familiar with the adage “Don’t work harder; work smarter.” Although writing is always hard work (because it requires a lot of serious thought, organization, and precise word choice), we writers can save ourselves a little bit of unnecessary work if we learn to do what the title of this blog post says: Revise, resize, and recycle. Another way of saying it might be “Don’t reinvent the wheel.”

It took me a while to learn this important lesson, but it’s one that I’m reminded of quite often. Here’s what I mean by “revise, resize, and recycle.”

For quite some time after my first published article appeared in May 1981, I labored to turn out completely new articles, every one of them researched from scratch and freshly written. After numerous rejections and a few isolated acceptances, I became aware of something called “rights.” (Yes, I know. I’m a slow learner, a late bloomer, or just plain dense!) I learned that if I sold only first rights to a newly created article, I could later market the same article to a second publication after it had appeared in the first publication. I began to submit some of my previously published articles to other publications, offering reprint rights. And they, too, began to sell.

The work required to sell reprints was still tough. It required that I study the possible markets to determine which publications published the types of articles I was offering, match the length and scope of each article reprint with each prospect, and, if the original article didn’t meet those qualification, revise and/or resize it until it did meet the editor’s specifications. That usually meant cutting, sometimes reorganizing a little, providing references and/or photographs, or doing something else until the original article met the standard. Even at that, it required less work than I had put into the original. The benefit, however, was that I could sell and resell essentially the same article over and over ad infinitum. That’s working smarter rather than harder.

I was reminded of this important lesson by some of the mail that arrived in my box as recently as yesterday. I received contributor’s copies and a check (an important matter for any serious writer!) of a publication that included my article “Spiritual Anorexia Nervosa,” which was originally published in the March 1985 issue of Good News Broadcaster. (That article proved to be a foot in the door, leading to the sale, five years later, of two other articles to Confident Living, the successor publication to GNB.) Since its original publication, I have been able to resell essentially the same article, usually with a few tweeks or updating of statistics and with the editors giving it slightly different titles, at least three or four times. All told, that’s not a bad return on my original investment of time researching and writing! (Incidentally, or perhaps I should say providentially, a few days after the original print publication reached readers, broadcaster Ken Boone read it over his national Family Radio Network program–and I just happened to be listening at the time!)

I have several other articles I could use as examples of this sell-then-resell lesson, but I think you get the point. Sometimes, I haven’t even had to do the marketing; editors contacted me after having read the original and asked permission to reprint the articles in their publication. Always for another fee. Although that fee is usually less than that received for the original, it’s still money in the bank! The gift that keeps on giving!

So when you’re preparing an article, don’t think only of the first publication to which you’re submitting it. Think of other potential markets to which you can submit the same article later. Just be sure that you sell only first rights to the original publication and then offer reprint rights to all subsequent publications to which you submit it. Also, be sure to check each publication’s guidelines and adjust your original to meet those requirements, if they are different. It also helps to think of topics that are “evergreens,” that is, subjects that can be used year after year over a long period of time. (My original “Spiritual Anorexia Nervosa” article was published in 1985, and it’s still being published in 2018, more than thirty years later!)

Now, get busy digging through your tearsheet file, and begin identifying possible articles you can market as reprints. Then revise, resize, and recycle!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

Man of Arms, Man of Faith

James I. Robertson Jr. wrote one of the best and most exhaustive biographies of Thomas J. Jackson available. In it, he summarized Jackson’s life as being a balance of two callings, as a man of arms and a man of faith in God. Many people have readily recognized Jackson’s military genius, especially his “master of two of the greatest elements for victory in war–surprise and envelopment. . . .” Fewer, however, are willing to acknowledge the role of faith in his life, preferring (if they mention it at all) to belittle it as a perceived eccentricity.

But Dr. Moses Hoge, a contemporary of Jackson, declared, “To attempt to portray the life of Jackson while leaving out the religious element, would be like undertaking to describe Switzerland without making mention of the Alps.”

Jackson left the military after the Mexican War and entered a career in education at Virginia Military Institute. But he proved to be only a mediocre teacher. Perhaps his greatest deficiency in that career was that he knew only one way of teaching. If a student didn’t understand something, Jackson simply repeated his original explanation. He did not know to vary his teaching methods to suit the students’ individual learning styles. Consequently, his teaching was less than stellar, and he became the brunt of student jokes. His expertise was in military leadership.

But the real strength of Jackson’s life was his religious faith, which permeated every aspect of his life, including the military aspects. It was not something that he reserved only for Sunday worship services or tacked on only when he faced difficulties and dangers. He did not treat God and faith as a spare tire, reserved only for emergency use; it was an integral part of his daily life. His self-disciplined and consistent practice of daily Bible reading, meditation, and prayer was as much a part of his routine as was his disciplined study of the elements on the battlefield and of artillery.

The practice of prayer he did not reserve for merely saying a perfunctory blessing before his meals. He engaged in it throughout the day. For example, he prayed for his students before they entered his classroom. He prayed over his lesson preparations. He breathed an ejaculatory petition before mailing any letter and again before opening one he had received. And he prayed before and during his battle planning. Even unreligious fellow generals, such as Richard S. Ewell, knew that they would not get answers to their questions about his plan of battle until after Jackson had bathed the matter in prayer. (Incidentally, Ewell later came to a saving knowledge of Christ as a result of the testimony of Jackson’s life.)

Because Jackson’s faith was a normal and permanent part of every day and every action, he could trust God to keep and preserve and empower him for every action he was to undertake. And that faith gave him great confidence, not in himself or his own abilities but in God Himself. Consequently, he seemed fearless, even in the face of mortal dangers on the battlefield.

It was in such circumstances on the field at Manassas that he was given the nickname that remains associated with his name to this day: “Stonewall.” When someone questioned how he could be so fearless in combat, he replied that his faith in God’s providence was so fixed that he felt as safe on the battlefield as he did at home in his own bed. Even when it came time to die, he was calm and confident in his God’s wise providence. In that confidence (a word that means, incidentally, “with faith”), he “cross[ed] over and rest[ed] in the shade of the trees” of eternity.

May God grant us the ability to express and live such faith in God.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

Reflections on American Citizenship by a Former Alien


BBC’s Nik Gowing hosts a live “Special World Debate” with panelists Economic Historian Niall Ferguson, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, Goldman Sachs Jim O’Neill, International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Chairmwoman of Sabanci Holding Guler Sabanci at the Istanbul Congress Center October 3, 2009 in Istanbul, Turkey. The Annual IMF/World Bank meetings are being held this year in Istanbul, Turkey. IMF Staff Photo/Stephen Jaffe

I recently read a column by Scottish historian Niall Ferguson in which he described the process by which he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. (You can read the entire column at Several things in his article caught my attention and set me to thinking.

As he began his column, titled “I Picked a Fine Time to Become an American,” he seemed to be speaking sarcastically or at least with a little of his tongue in his cheek. He mentioned that his naturalization ceremony coincided with England’s defeat by Croatia in the World Cup, Trump’s visit to London, and a “gray, overcast morning.”

But then his commentary took on a decidedly different tone as he described the other 1,094 people with whom he was being naturalized: people from 85 different countries, about 20 percent of them from China. And he asked the thought-provoking question, “How many Americans became Chinese citizens this week?”

“Very few,” I think, would be a safe answer. In fact, very few American citizens give up their U.S. citizenship to become citizens of any other country. (Even those who famously declared that they would move to Canada if Donald Trump were elected president have now proven that they’ve thought better of that move and decided to remain here, Trump or no Trump!) There’s a reason for why this is so. The United States is the greatest (and by that I mean the freest, most welcoming, most economically promising, and least volatile) country in the world. No other country can compare, especially not those that have sold themselves to the myths of socialism, communism, and all other totalitarian schemes of government. Even when critics bad-mouth the United States for what they perceive its weaknesses and shortcomings, their continued presence here and their insistence on not giving up their citizenship shows that deep inside they know that there is no other better place to go.

Furthermore, Ferguson described the ceremony, including the oath of allegiance that each candidate took:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service int he Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

Then, he said, they pledged allegiance to the U.S. flag; sang patriotic songs, such as “Yankee Doodle,” “This Land Is Your Land,” and “God Bless the USA”; and watched a video speech by President Trump. In it, Trump told the new citizens that this country and its history and traditions were their country, history, and traditions. Moreover, he explained, they now had the responsibility and obligation to teach American values to others and to assimilate into the American way of life.

Ferguson admitted that all of this seemed to his British sensibilities as pure “hokum. But this hokum is now my hokum. And this president is now my president. . . .” He concluded, “Yes, I picked a fine time to become an American–because there is no other kind of time.”

We can only hope and pray that the other 1,094 people present that day experienced the same feelings Ferguson did.



a conservative British historian and political commentator. senior fellow at the Hoover InstitutionStanford University an atheist.

“Pig-Tight, Horse-High, and Bull-Strong”

Robert Frost, in his now-famous poem “Mending Wall,” wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Actually, it was not he who was making that profound statement but rather his neighbor. Together, they were repairing their mutual fence that divided their two properties. Frost seemed to think the fence was unnecessary.

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

The neighbor insists, however, that “Good fences make good neighbors.” Frost presses his argument:

Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

“Good fences make good neighbors,” the neighbor repeats.

I thought of Frost’s poem the other day while reading about early 17th-century Maryland, where the settlers had to resolve the problem of wandering livestock that tended to trample other people’s gardens and money crops. This was a serious problem because the protection of the family garden at the time often meant the family’s survival and the protection of the fields determined economic success or failure, which hinged on their money crop (at the time tobacco). The colonial community debated the pressing need “to fence in the crop and turn out the stock.” The assembly decided to pass a law that required “sufficient” fences for the purpose. But then the issue became what constituted a “sufficient” fence. The lawmakers finally agreed that all fences should be “pig-tight, horse-high, and bull-strong.”

That definition seems to me to be quite practical for the time and circumstances for which it was created. Pigs were plentiful, pork being one of the most important meats of the colonists’ diet, and they tended to root under insufficiently built barriers. If a fence wasn’t tall enough, a horse could jump it and inflict damage on the other side. And a bull was so big and strong that it could topple poorly built barricades just be leaning on them to scratch their rumps. If a pig got under, a horse jumped over, or a bull knocked down a fence, then that was proof that the owner had not constructed a “sufficient” fence, and he had to suffer the consequences without recourse to the law. He should have been more diligent in his fence-building.

Because rocks were not readily available in the Southern colonies, especially not the New England-types of rocks that Frost would later refer to in his poem, or required a lot of labor to secure and move to the site of the proposed fence, Southern farmers couldn’t build rock fences. But timber was readily available, so the split-rail fence became a common fixture on the Southern landscape. Every farmer had an axe, and experience taught him that the most efficient use of his lumber resources was to split triangular rails. He could then stack them one atop another, interlacing their ends and holding them in place by driving posts on either side of the interlaced ends. This eliminated the need for iron nails, which were scarce. It also produced the now-familiar zig-zag pattern of the fences. Most importantly, if constructed correctly, it resulted in a fence that was “pig-tight, horse-high, and bull-strong.”

As I’ve thought about the colonial fence-building process, I’ve seen it as an analogy of what we should be doing in our spiritual lives. A strong spiritual life depends on our adopting standards (“fences”) for ourselves that will keep the carnal, sinful nature in check and allow the spiritual life to grow and thrive. A Christian has two natures–the old man, which is bent on doing wrong, and the new man, created after the image of Christ, which seeks to do what honors God and edifies others–and they are in conflict with each other. (See Romans 7:15-23.) The blueprint for the standards have already been established by God in His Word. Our responsibility is to set standards–build fences–based on that blueprint, not to build according to our own fallible and finite understanding, the whims of the society around us, or on any other basis.

Are you a good fence-builder? Are the fences you are building “pig-tight, horse-high, and bull-strong”? That’s the only kind of fence that makes good neighbors.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson


A Teacher’s Greatest Thrill

Some people work for a large, satisfying paycheck. Others work for the public and private recognition they receive from appreciative customers or clients. And some others work for the opportunities for rapid advancement to even higher levels or the deep, inner sense of accomplishment that their jobs give them.

I must admit that I’ve never been driven by a paycheck, titles and positions of prominence, the process of climbing the ladder of success, or prestigious perks that any job promised. (I guess my only ambition in that respect was to have an office with a window, which I never did achieve until I began freelancing and could look out the upstairs window of my house!) Maybe I just lacked initiative or ambition. The various points along the continuum of my working life have never offered a whole lot of recognition, either public or private. As an admitted introvert, perhaps that’s the way I preferred it.

Instead, the greatest thrills I’ve had in my career have been seeing my former students excel in their callings. Some  former students of both sexes have excelled in business, law, government, education, and pastoral ministry. Many of the girls have grown up to become godly mothers. But the thrill has been most gratifying when those callings found former students using what they had learned and working for a cause greater than themselves rather than pursuing merely materialistic endeavors.

My wife and I had to privilege of hosting one such former student for lunch this past weekend. We first got to know Lisa when she was only a second-grade student. She was enrolled in the second-grade class next door to my wife’s room. Lisa’s parents were good friends of my parents and attended the same church. I got to know Lisa when she was a student in the junior and senior English classes I taught. She was a model student: quiet, soft-spoken, but articulate when called upon; attentive; inquisitive; eager to both learn and excel at her studies; and always striving to do her best.

Perhaps the most illustrative symbol I had of Lisa’s dedication as a student was a research paper she did for me during her junior year. Whereas many students gave the assignment little forethought, waited until the last minute to choose a research topic, and then muddled their way through the process and produced mediocre papers, Lisa had a workable topic early in the selection process. She worked faithfully and consistently through the process of preparing the paper. And the result of her work was exemplary at every step of the production process. For years thereafter, I used Lisa’s paper as a model for other students. This past weekend, I mentioned that paper in our too-brief time of conversation, and Lisa admitted that she still had it among her collection of memorabilia. She had done her best, produced exemplary work, and was rightfully proud of the end product.

But Lisa did more than write an exemplary research paper. She graduated as valedictorian, attended college, and excelled, earning her degree in nursing and pursuing a successful medical career. She later taught a biology lab class for our local homeschool cooperative on the side. Partially as a result of her enthusiasm and thoroughness in that classroom environment, one of our own daughters majored in nursing, earning her BSN and having her own career in medicine.

But Lisa had even higher expectations for herself. It was during that year of teaching the lab class that Lisa sensed a higher call, the call to medical missions work in Bangladesh. Leaving a successful, well-paying career in nursing, she ventured out in response to that call and has been pursuing it faithfully ever since.

From that mission field, Lisa sent her supporting churches and individuals regular written updates of her work, the needs there, and the successes she witnessed and was a part of. She hosted numerous government officials, both of the host country and of the United States, including former U.S. senator of Tennessee Bill Frist. And her newsletters always exemplified the best practices of writing: they inspired, informed, persuaded, and occasionally even entertained. They grabbed the readers’ attention early and held it right to the very end, and they persuaded her readers to pray for and support her work on the field. In all her years of service, she has never been below 100 percent support, an unusual feat, if you know anything about foreign missionary work.

Lisa is driven by ambition, but it’s not an ambition for personal advancement or aggrandizement; it’s an ambition to pursue even greater opportunities for service to others. She is now back in the United States seeking to pursue her PhD in nursing education, which will open doorways of service as an international nursing consultant, opportunities that would otherwise not be open to her. Her career has not been about herself; it has been about others.

As my wife and I listened to how God has led in Lisa’s life and ministry, we could not help but be proud of her and her accomplishments. We know that we played only a small part in her work–in fact, her achievements have been more in spite of our involvement than because of it–but we rejoice in seeing how the Lord has blessed her work. She and her ministry have been more than repayment for our work as teachers.

Perhaps John the Apostle stated our feelings best: “I have no greater joy that to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4). Although we have no blood relationship, Lisa has been like one of our children. And she’s done us proud. More importantly, I think the Lord Himself would say of her, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”