Onomatopoeia for me!

What do the words hiss, buzz, thud and murmur have in common? Give up? Each one is an onomatopoeia. Remember hearing about those in 8th grade grammar class? Can one of those things teach us anything? You may be surprised at what you learn as you read on.

And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.” (Numbers 11:1, ESV)

Who are the people? They are God’s people – The OT nation of Israel; corresponding to Christians in the NT. This includes me.

These people complained. Literally, they murmured.  Murmur: to vocally express disagreement and disapproval. They murmured in the hearing of the Lord. Since God sees and knows everything, this is a reminder that God is always with his people. We are always in God’s presence!

They complained about their misfortunes. This is a tiny Hebrew word with a wide range of uses. Here it points to circumstances which are either unpleasant or undesirable. They were complaining about their troubles. Hardly anyone I know who has this problem, but especially not me…

Let’s see what’s going on here. Moses has brought the people out of the land of Egypt, they have crossed the Red Sea and witnessed God’s power not only in his mighty plagues, but also the devastation of the Egyptian army – they drowned in the Red Sea! After a bit of wandering the people came to the remote mountain of Sinai. On 2 occasions Moses went up onto the mountain and twice received the 10 Commandments from the Lord. The originals tablets were destroyed by Moses upon the rebellion of God’s people. So, Moses went back up the mountain for another 40 days and 40 nights. God has also instructed Moses and Aaron in the materials and construction of the tabernacle and all its accoutrements (alter, lampstand, table, candlesticks, etc.)

So, it’s been a year and a month since God’s people have left Egypt and lived in the wilderness in tents. All the while, God was miraculously feeding his people with manna which condensed upon the ground as the morning moisture evaporated. This probably looked something like frost. During this time, God’s people became dissatisfied. Numbers 11.4, 5, inform us that some malcontents began to reminisce, even fantasize, about how good they had it in Egypt. Idealizing their past circumstances (remember they were miserable as persecuted and abused slaves), they cried out: Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. God’s people did not appreciate this provision and blessings. I’m glad I’ve never done that.

Not only did God’s people take him for granted but they complained about him. To ensure his readers get his point, Moses uses an onomatopoeia, translated here as complained; murmur carries the idea. But in Hebrew and in English, the term sounds like what it describes. God’s people were murmuring, grumbling and mumbling on account of their circumstances.

What were these circumstances here termed misfortunes? They simply got tired of what God had provided. Forgetting not only God’s past blessings, but also their previous hardships and agony, they idealized their past and longed to return to it.

Did you notice how God responds to complaining by his people? He was angry and disciplined the Israelites for their rebellion and sin. Complaining about misfortunes is taken as a personal insult by the Lord. It results in his strong displeasure and discipline. You mean I make God angry when I complained?

Wow! There is a big lesson to be learned in this brief verse. Those of us with really good excuses tend to think that complaining isn’t that big a deal – just part of life. I mean who wouldn’t complain if you have to endure what I do?… We go on and on making excuses which result in a dour spiral (I actually dictated “downward” but my software printed dour – either one works just as well as the other.)

This verse points to my great personal need for a Savior. Praise be to God who has provided his Son to live a perfect life (never even once complaining!). Not only did he pay the punishment for my sin, but he also fulfilled all of God’s requirements for me. Father, help me to stop complaining by resting in your good providence.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:21–24, ESV)

Waiting… Waiting… More waiting…

A close friend is waiting for serious surgery…

A relative and mentor are waiting to discern the effect of recent chemotherapy treatments…

An acquaintance from the VA hospital waits in ICU for the source of his infection to be discovered…

A young woman waits for the right young man to come into her life…

Waiting remains a part of life – a big part! However, some waiting is more weighty (pardon the pun) than others. Much of what we do requires us to wait. Sometimes we readily recognize the importance of waiting. At other times its purpose is not so obvious.

When I began to think about this concept of waiting, I was surprised by what I discovered. I suppose I thought that waiting was something innately evil, probably a result of the fall! Actually, the Bible reveals much about waiting. For instance, following the eating of the forbidden fruit, God not only placed a curse on mankind but also promised future forgiveness and blessing. The curse and its consequences unfolded quickly. But the promise has taken ages to come to fruition. While this whole drama is playing out, we actually see the major actors waiting.

The New Testament encapsulates the drama: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:5, ESV)

I realized:

  • God waited – when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth…
  • The Son (Jesus) waited – for the fullness of time to come, that is, to be born of a woman under the law
  • Anticipated adoptees wait – those who were under the law who receive adoption as sons.

My point here, without unpacking the meaning and significance of these verses, is to point out that waiting is not inherently evil – God waits, Jesus waits, future sons (and daughters) wait. Waiting is a crucial part of the process God is using to redeem the world and to adopt his children.

Next, not only did the Son wait to be sent by God. But when he finally did arrive, his life was characterized by waiting. Being born in a manger in Bethlehem, Jesus grew and developed like any child. Entering into his adult life, he waited until the time was right to, as the Apostle’s Creed summarizes, suffer under Pontius Pilate, be crucified, die and be buried. Further, waited 3 days to be raised from the grave and 40 days to ascend the right hand of God the Father Almighty. He even now waits to come to judge the living and the dead. The Son knows how to wait.

What actually got me started thinking about this is Jesus’ model for enduring suffering found in Hebrews 12.1, 2. Jesus actually shows us how to “hang in there.” … let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Several quick but vital insights which will help us to endure:

  1. The race is set before us. – Circumstances are never random but a course requiring stringent effort to complete. Our Father has placed us in situations which force us to rely on him. There is a plan and purpose for this situation.
  2. Look to Jesus. – He Loves us and is the object of our faith. It is through his suffering and death that we receive grace and mercy from God. Jesus provides all we need for every situation.
  3. Follow his example of looking for joy in the future. Here we have an insight into what Jesus was actually thinking as he suffered the agony of the cross. He was looking ahead to the joy which was to come. He knew that he was accomplishing the purpose for which his Father had sent him and so he despised his suffering by anticipating future glory!

We endure what is set before us by looking to Jesus, who in turn teaches us to anticipate future blessings – he endured the shame of the cross by looking ahead to the joy of redeeming his people, finishing the work that his Father sent him to accomplish and finally to reign on the throne of God.

Wait… Wait… Wait…

“Wait until your father gets home.”

“Wait! You are going to hurt yourself.”

“You will just have to wait until dinner.”

“I can’t wait until my birthday/I’m 16/I’m out on my own/…”

“You will just have to wait.”

“Wait here while I go over there and pray.” (Jesus words to his disciples)

Waiting is a part of life – a big part. It seems like every time we turn around, we wait. We are either told to wait or we must wait. The problem is that I hate to wait. With the opportunity to practice, it seems that waiting should become easier the more one does it. It doesn’t really work that way. Often, the more we have to wait the more frustrated we become. I’m writing the first person plural here (we) and including you (all). Maybe this is not fair but I imagine you are not a whole lot different than I in this regard. I hate to wait!

I thought it might be helpful to define exactly what we are up against. So I went to my trusty old friend, dictionary.com. This is some of what I discovered. (There’s a lot more information regarding this and if you’re interested, just check it out on the web!) When it is used as a verb (without an object) wait means :

  1. to remain inactive or in a state of repose, as until something expected happens (often followed by for, till, or until)
  2. (of things) to be available or in readiness
  3. to remain neglected for a time
  4. to postpone or delay something or to be postponed or delayed
  5. to look forward to eagerly

So, wait is a verb – something you do. When you think about it, it’s really something you don’t do. A little confusing, isn’t it. We have an action word which describes inaction! To wait is to postpone or delay activity! But wait there’s more to it. It may also connote eager anticipation.

I’m fond of Martin Luther’s illustration of waiting . It seems he had a small dog who would generally sit on the floor near the table while Luther was eating. The dog looked attentively at him, knowing that sooner or later he would get a morsel of food from his master. All of his attention was focused; he eagerly waited until Luther tossed him a scrap of food. The focused attention and eager anticipation was the point of the lesson.

This morning, our Great Dane named Sweetie was summoned to my side. She knows that she is supposed to wait until she is invited to eat a scrap from breakfast. Like Luther’s little puppy, she also looked with great anticipation (maybe even drooled a little) as she longed for the bit of bread. When commanded to sit, she promptly obeyed – for a moment and then uninvited, came to take the bread from my paralyzed fingertips. Her focus was neither on me or my commands but on the bit of toast. Even though she was overcome by desire, she still responded to my command, “No!” So refraining from gulping down the morsel, she retreated and began to look at me once more. Another command “Sit!” Sweetie obeyed. After sitting for a moment she was invited to partake of her reward.

Sad to say that I’m probably more like Sweetie than Luther’s puppy. I frequently lose focus and do not have Jesus or his kingdom and righteousness in view. This is probably why this is one of my favorite verses: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, ESV)

Let us give thanks to the Lord for his great grace to us. He loves us by putting up with us and correcting us when we need it.  Is purpose is to make us fit for heaven.

Blog 2.7.15

“How are you doing? Do you need anything?” asked Judy my loving, compassionate helpmeet of so many years. (Incidentally, your time and especially your attention would be completely exhausted if I were to list even a small portion of her many selfless efforts in my behalf!)

“Sure Pop–Pop!” Says the beautiful little girl (Isabel my granddaughter) as she goes to fetch a blanket to warm her chilled grandfather.

Running into the room, the young man (David my considerate grandson) says “Can I get you a drink of water or anything?”

I receive many, many acts of kindness each day. You probably do too, if you take the time to recognize them. Some of these kindnesses are from my wife and immediate family; others from people within our church. Still others from some people less familiar. And from others who just show kindness to a quadriplegic in a wheelchair who has asked them a question in Walmart such as “Could you please hand me something from off the shelf?” Or, at the elevator at the VA hospital: “Would you please push the button to the second floor?”

Usually these acts of kindness are recognized and appreciated by even uninterested, casual observers. However, there are times when they are even misconstrued and unappreciated. Sometimes people who are involved in a situation misjudge an act of kindness.  Has this ever happened to you?

“What a waste!” was the seemingly unanimous response of almost all who observed the overwhelming kindness a woman showed to Jesus, not long before his crucifixion. It is clear from the facts related in each of the four Gospels that Jesus alone understood her real motivation and intent. (The gospel writers later understood this as a preparation for his burial. You can find all the details in Matthew 26:6 ff., and the parallel passages in Mark 14, Luke 7, and John 12.)

What others consider a waste, Jesus declared to be a beautiful work. This brings up questions: What Is a beautiful work? Is every act of kindness a beautiful work? This issue is important because good deeds are often misunderstood. Not only are they not perceived properly, but also they are not understood properly. I say this for a couple of reasons. First, not everyone sees a good deed for what it is or what it might be intended. Secondly, many people misunderstand the importance of good deeds as they relate to their faith.

With regard to the issue of wrong perceptions – As far as I can see there is only one person who has the ability to discern the motives and intentions of anyone. His name is Jesus. Everyone I’ve ever known frequently fails to recognize this. We think that we know or can accurately predict the actions of others. It’s easy for us to assign motives and intentions. Sometimes we may be right, sometimes we are wrong. These misperceptions ruin and play havoc on each of our relationships.

With regard to the importance of good deeds and faith – God has clearly spoken in the Bible that no one can be good enough to have a favorable relationship with him on the basis of their own good deeds. Even if God were to evaluate us on the basis of our good deeds as compared to our sins, we would each be in deep trouble. Moreover, God is so holy and pure that he will not condone any sin. This is why we need someone to help us. This someone is Jesus, a man who lived a perfect, sinless life. Not only did he die in place of us sinners, he also kept each of God’s requirements. We enter into a favorable relationship with God when we turn from our sins (repent) and begin trusting in Jesus alone. This means that we cannot rest in anything else – especially our good works. So, Jesus’ death and perfect life are extended to us on the basis of faith, not of works. All this to emphasize that our standing with God can never be founded upon our own efforts, but only upon the grace of God given to us through Jesus Christ.

This does not mean, however, that good works/deeds,  acts of kindness, doing the right thing/obedience, etc. are not important. They are crucial. They demonstrate, among other things, that we have new life – that our relationship with God is real.

I realize that I seem to be rambling on and on. I also realized I am making assertions and summarizations without giving biblical support or references. If you have any questions, just email me and I will provide them. But my point is that beautiful works are extremely important, not only to those who receive them but also to the doer.

So, getting back to the beautiful work of the lady of Matthew 26, how can you tell the difference between a good work, which will not satisfy God, and a beautiful work, which pleases God? Matthew has recorded some details which will provide insight. I have space only to mention them briefly.

  • The beautiful work was done for Jesus. When she was derided by the disciples, Jesus defends her and says that she did the beautiful work for him. Our beautiful works must be directed towards Jesus. Sometimes our motivation is difficult to discern. Sometimes they are misunderstood. Sometimes they are even unappreciated. One sure test is this: the next time you think you’ve done a beautiful work for Jesus and it is unappreciated or unrecognized (he didn’t even say thank you… She took me for granted… After all I’ve done for them…) Now check out your motivation. Did you do it for Jesus or not? Often this will help us discern real motivation. Something you do for someone is not always really done for Jesus. So, repent, and rejoice that Jesus’ acts of kindness for you and to others have been counted as yours.
  • The beautiful work was costly. She poured a whole jar of very expensive ointment on Jesus. That it was stored in an alabaster jar indicates its worth. In Mark’s gospel, the disciples estimated its value to be over 300 days wages! This detail is not intended to suggest only monetary value but indicates the importance of the high cost, especially of self-dependence and pride. This cost highlights the high value of love, obedience and dedication to Jesus. Remember, the cost of your relationship to God was paid by the precious blood of Jesus.
  • The beautiful work was included in God’s plan of salvation. That is, the act was not only an act in itself, but was a part of God’s program of providing salvation. I imagine that while experiencing the agony and torture of his trial and crucifixion, Jesus was pleased and encouraged by catching a whiff of this fragrance.
  • The beautiful work was rewarded by Jesus. The kindness of this woman was appreciated, noted, recorded and reported in the New Testament. She is mentioned in each of the four Gospels. Her example and influence remains strong.

An act of kindness is a beautiful thing! Pray for yourself and others, especially me, that our acts of kindness will radiate the supreme act of kindness of Jesus.

“I win. I win.”

“I win. I win.”

There is a soft familiar knock on my bedroom door at about 7:45 each weekday morning. It’s my 4 (almost 5)-year-old grandson, Jonathan. When queried, he always responds, “Is it moofy (translation smoothie) time yet? Jonathan, Judy and I take great delight in sharing this special time together. It almost never varies. When it is finally time for Jonathan to enter the room, he comes with a small, clear disposable cup in his hand. The cup contains the wonderful, delicious and nutritious smoothie Judy regularly prepares for me. It is filled less than a third and has a plastic straw it. We have a “rolling start” to our smoothie race – he usually begins whenever he is ready. There is a bright twinkle in his eye as he draws a smoothie through his straw and awaits a telltale “slurp – slurp” when his breakfast drink is finished. If by some chance “Pop-Pop” finishes first, Jonathan swiftly will declare that it is a smoothie – coffee race. He quickly finishes his smoothie and declares himself the winner since he has no coffee. “I win. I win.” It’s a cute routine and Judy and I both cherish it. My grandson always wins because he thinks he can determine the outcome by redefining the rules of the race to his advantage.

Although we may be more subtle and sophisticated, each of us is quite adept at the same procedure. Time and again we learn of celebrities who, when caught in some obvious offense, declare that they are really not that bad or a bad person at heart. We are skillful in finding the flaws of others but lacking in real self-awareness.

Again, this blindness is prevalent in the way people see themselves. People always see themselves in the most positive light. And are often much less charitable when it comes to others. This impacts our personal relationships in our homes, at work and at play.

Let’s use the 10 Commandments to sharpen our focus and to act as our guide.

The first four commandments, referred to as the first table, concern our relationship to God.

  1. You Shall Worship the Lord Your God…
  2. You Shall Not Have Any Other Gods before me…
  3. You Shall Not Use the Name of the Lord your God in vain… Him
  4. You Shall Remember the Sabbath Day And Keep It Holy

Our culture dismisses these as being outmoded and esoteric or irrelevant. Many Christians also dismiss them by suggesting that they referred to a different era and not currently applicable. So, serving and worshiping the Lord God is not really that significant. If we choose to do it, it doesn’t matter who, how, when, or with whom.

The 6 remaining Commandments focus on our relationship to other people.

You Shall Honor your Father and Mother. This is often acceptable, except when it infringes on one’s desires, expectations or lifestyle. Further, it does not apply to imperfect parents. This commandment also has to do with respecting authority, which is learned in the public school not the home. Now respecting authority is a good thing, especially if you are the one having authority. Since authority is easily and often abused it is quite easy for us to excuse ourselves while ignoring it. For instance, “Who does he think he is…”

You Shall Not Commit Adultery. Marital faithfulness is a good thing under most or at least some circumstances. This commandment is usually understood to imply mutual consent often between a man and a woman, but things are changing… (I won’t even go there for now.)

You Shall Not Murder. Killing someone is really wrong unless it is an unborn and unwanted baby, or someone really ill or someone who doesn’t want to live anymore. Then it’s a good thing to show mercy by taking life.

You Shall Not Steal. Most people recognize that it’s really wrong to take something that doesn’t belong to you, unless you really want or need it or have another really good reason, but not if it belongs to me. This does not apply to misappropriating from the surplus of a big company or the government. It is also understood to have no bearing on government actions.

You Shall Not Be a False Witness… Lying is always wrong, unless of course it is really necessary to make one look good or to complete one’s agenda. What’s really important is that you remember what you said so you don’t get caught.

You Shall Not Covet… This commandment is really outmoded. Almost the entire field of advertising and marketing is based upon the violation of this commandment. Dissatisfaction with the status quo always yields improvement. Besides that, I really want that new electronic gadget!Wow! We have become proficient in perverting the truth. We may attempt to justify ourselves by redefining and dismissing God’s word, but in the end it really won’t do. We may try to convince ourselves and others, but we know that we are not really good people.Galatians 1.3 – 5

God gave us the 10 Commandments is to show us our need of the gospel. Jesus has fulfilled the law and satisfied God’s justice. He offers forgiveness to those who will claim it by trusting in him. These commandments now show Christians how we can live to please our Savior. The only way we win is to have Jesus win for us.

Now you know. We really are good people!

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen

Contagion:

Over the course of my injury, I’ve had several occasions on which to discuss various infections with contagious disease specialists. I have also personally known a physician who specializes in infectious diseases. The license plate on his car reads: Bug Doctor. I can imagine that this term – contagion is very familiar to him and possibly to many others.

I vividly recall the first time I read the term. I was reading a biblical commentary written by the famous reformer John Calvin who spoke of sin as a contagion. Even though I didn’t recall seeing the word in the past, I immediately saw its connection with a familiar term – contagious. Words fascinate me and I remember looking up in the dictionary.

Bing Dictionary: a harmful or corrupting influence with a tendency to spread       synonyms: infection, pollution, taint, poison, impurity, contamination, septicity, toxicity

Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary: con•ta•gion kən-ˈtā-jən noun

[Middle English, from Latin contagion-, contagio, from contingere to have contact with, pollute—more at contingent] 14th century

1     a: a contagious disease

b: the transmission of a disease by direct or indirect contact

c: a disease-producing agent (as a virus)

2     a: poison

b: contagious influence, quality, or nature

c: corrupting influence or contact

3     a: rapid communication of an influence (as a doctrine or emotional state)

b: an influence that spreads rapidly

Definitions 2 and 3 best fit the context. The term connotes a contagious and corrupting influence which is rapidly communicated. The idea invites a comparison with sin. Sin is far more than a boo-boo or mistake. It is (among other things) pernicious, evil, destructive and personal. Further, its influence spreads rapidly and has far-reaching ramifications – a poison needing an antidote.

This contagion ruptures relationships (think: with God, with others and with self). It ruins reputations (especially Christian influence/testimony). It reveals our rebellion – our basic orientation towards selfishness and revolt against God and his will for us.

The New Testament expands our understanding and describes the contagion’s effect: “as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”” (Romans 3:10–18, ESV)

The good news is that we are not left in that miserable, devastated condition, but are further taught of both the universal danger and sole solution: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” (Romans 3:23–25, ESV)

Thanks be to God who has sought us and cured us. The cure is founded upon the grace of God in Christ and extended to us by faith in Jesus. Jesus has paid for the guilt of our sin and freed us from its bondage!

Those who trust in Jesus can sing along with King David who was so exuberant when he wrote a song celebrating the joy and happiness of forgiveness: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. … I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:1–7, ESV)

What! Me grouchy!?

This morning I had a “discussion” with my wife. She advised me that I was grouchy… Of course I didn’t believe her – she was just tired and frustrated…

A little while later I got to my computer and checked my email. Each day I receive an email from dictionary.com and another from Matthew Henry – a method for prayer. Dictionary.com suggests a word each day – I like to expand my vocabulary. Matthew Henry is a daily prayer resource which encourages the use of the Scriptures to pray along certain biblical themes.

This is the gist of what I received today:

dictionary.com – word of the day: dowie – dull; melancholy; dismal.

Matthew Henry: Pray for Grace to assist you that you may be Cheerful in your Duty

That we may be pleasant and cheerful in our duty.

I’m beginning to get the picture. Everybody and everything is ganging up on me. It’s a conspiracy! Well, maybe that’s a little extreme. Perhaps God is trying to get my attention. So what should I do? What will I do?

As I see it, there are several options.

  • Ignore it. This is a good and well proved mechanism. I’ve tried it before. Simply get busy with something else and try to forget the matter. If this doesn’t work, try the next option.
  • Excuse it. Just consider all the reasons and excuses I can invent. I can surely invent a very good reason or two.
  • Blame everyone else. Another useful approach – of course is not my fault. So what else is to blame, not me. Why is it always my fault?
  • Be angry. Imagine the nerve and audacity – someone trying to pick on me.
  • Combine all of the above. If each of these approaches are unsuccessful, I’ve learned that I can mix and match or even combine them all. For instance, I can become angry, blame everyone else, make excuses and get real busy with everything I can imagine.
  • Finally, when all of these approaches fail, I can finish reading the email from Matthew Henry. I can let the words of Scripture impact my life. Warning, if you are thinking of following my example, this is quite humbling and convicting, but it is also the only effective remedy. (I have provided personal emphasis by using bold print.)

Lord, enable us to rejoice always, 1 Thessalonians 5:16(ESV) to rejoice in the Lord always, because he has again said to us, Rejoice; Philippians 4:4(ESV) that we may go on our way rejoicing, may eat our bread with joy and drink our wine with a merry heart, as we shall have reason to do if God has already approved what we do. Ecclesiastes 9:7(ESV)

Give us grace to serve you, the LORD our God, with joyfulness and gladness of heart in the abundance of all things; Deuteronomy 28:47(ESV) and to sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of our God. Psalm 138:5(ESV)

Let us have that cheerfulness of heart which is like good medicine, Proverbs 17:22(ESV) and deliver us from that anxiety which weighs down the heart, Proverbs 12:25(ESV) and that worldly grief which produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10(ESV)

Well, I think I figured out what I should do. Now, how long will it be before I actually do it? Will I remember how to do this in the future?

I am so very thankful that God has promised not to give up on me and will put up with me when I fail. Further, I am most grateful for the grace and patience he gives to others who live with me, especially my wife.

Larry and the NCAA trophy

Do you know Larry Culpepper? He is the fictitious character on a TV commercial selling Dr Pepper, presumably at a football game. Larry surreptitiously discovers the NCAA Championship Football trophy in a secluded hideaway inside of a packed stadium. Entering the “sanctuary” where it is stored, he reverently worships and adores it. He praises it and relishes being in its presence. This brief interaction is abruptly ended by an intruder who interrupts the dialogue. Startled and ashamed, Larry futilely attempts to hide behind the trophy and is called out by the intruder. Humbled only momentarily, Larry dashes out of the trophy room, returns to the stadium and busily resumes hawking Dr Pepper to thirsty sports fans.

Although this description directly depicts the dedication of us sports fans, it also aptly describes our misplaced commitment to a myriad of modern day idols. Although I normally don’t think of myself as idol worshiper, I routinely but unconsciously obsess and devote myself to a host of dead deities. One of my favorite theologians has said that our hearts are idol factories. He is correct. I can turn anything into an idol.

Addictive behavior is rampant among us. Alcoholism, drug abuse or pornography might seem to be most obvious in our culture. However, each of us continually erect your own idols. Some of us worship our possessions or positions and responsibilities. Others bow before the altar of family or fitness. Think about it for a moment. Almost anything can become an object of our devotion. This is particularly true of even relatively good things. Idolatry is more subtle and prevalent than we like to admit.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see myself in the behavior of Larry Culpepper. I am so prone to misplace my devotion and adoration. Rather than adorning my God and Savior, I devote myself to lesser gods. When I’m called out about this, I attempt to hide and deny it – even though it’s blatantly obvious, especially to God. My human tendency is to follow Larry out of the room and return to the busyness of my idolatry. Confessing this in written form seems really dismal and disappointing. I should know better and I do. The problem is this: I can’t live up to what I know. God said (first through Moses and then through Jesus) that I am to love him with all of my heart, soul and strength. The fact of the matter is that I don’t and I can’t. Sometimes I don’t even try…

The Good News is that I know someone who has! Jesus devoted his entire life on earth to pleasing and loving God with all of his being and energy. It is amazing to consider that his every thought, motive, desire and action were focused on pleasing his Father. The good news of the Christian message is that Jesus has taken the guilt for our shortcomings to the cross and passes on to us his righteousness when we trust in him.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

For better or for worse

This little phrase is tucked neatly into the traditional vows of the wedding ceremony: for better or for worse. Like many things in life, these words have greater clarity when viewed in the rearview mirror. Only by looking backwards can we see what these vows really entail.

Having been married for 44 years. I realize that we have faced many obstacles and much opposition. I once heard someone say: life is full of troubles – and then you die. This is very true, but that’s not all of the story. There’s much more. After life on earth, believers in Jesus get to enjoy him forever! So, long-term future is terrific. The difficulties come now in the interim. Truly, life is full of troubles. But it is also full of blessings.

I thank God blessed and provided me with a wonderful and supportive wife. When Judy uttered these words, for better or for worse, over 44 years ago, she could never have imagine what she was getting into! We have had some “better” and many “worse” circumstances.

I don’t mean to sound morbid or pessimistic. So let me explain what I mean. Since before Christmas, Judy has been dealing with three or four, what would be considered minor health issues: psoriasis, bronchitis and intestinal flu. However, combined with my constant care, this has been most difficult. Although we have some aid provided by the Veterans Administration, she is my primary caregiver and does much of the work herself.

Try to imagine being sick – extremely fatigued, weak, and nauseous and the only one able to provide care to a big lug like me. My daily care involves helping me to move my bowels. At the risk of being too graphic, this dear lady has been exhausted and literally up to her elbows in excrement taking care of me! The scene doesn’t sound pretty but her undying love and selfless devotion is beautiful to me.

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” (Proverbs 31:10–12, ESV)

I chose wisely and got far better than I deserve!

Christmas Eve

Imagine your ideal, most picturesque Christmas setting. You know, you have seen The Hallmark movies. Everything is perfect; snow is gently falling (except the Larry Levinson productions, which always seemed to be set in Southern California). Well-dressed and better behaved children gather. Parents are patient and calm…

Picture the day before Christmas at our house. My loving wife is wearing herself out in the kitchen, baking and preparing delicious treats for future holiday meals. This is a true act of love – she has an acute case of bronchitis and is pushing herself to complete her “holiday enjoyment.” The packed scheduled guests is rapidly deteriorating – grandchildren have upset stomachs, coughs and achiness. Expected visitors have family members with sudden serious medical conditions. The local weather forecast calls for light rain, but I was recently outside and witnessed high winds, heavy rain and fog! Further, my Dragon dictation software is not functioning nearly as well as advertised on television. It refuses to recognize my voice and is conflating and confusing every other word – frustrating beyond measure! I could go on but you get the picture by now. Things seem far from idyllic – chaos and confusion appeared to rule the day.

Now it’s time to think about my favorite Christmas Carol. Stanzas 3 and 4 seem very fitting.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come…

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns…

No more let sins and sorrows grow Nor thorns infest the ground He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found Far as the curse is found Far as, far as the curse is found

He rules the world with truth and grace And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness And wonders of His love And wonders of His love And wonders and wonders of His love

The words and lyrics of the old Christmas carol ‘Joy to the World’ were written in 1719 by Isaac Watts (1674-1748). Watts was ordained as a Pastor of an Independent congregation. He wrote many hymns and Carols and was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree by the University of Edinburgh in 1728. The music to the carol is by George Frederick Handel (1685-1759).

So, special thanks to Isaac Watts and G. F. Handle to help put things into perspective. The Lord bless you and give you his peace this Christmas.

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” (Luke 1:67–80, ESV)