DO RULES MATTER?

A brief look around will reveal that we have a multitude of churches and many of them look very unlike each other!  

Church - Canterbury Cathedral (C)
Canterbury Cathedral where there have been worship services for over 1400 years!

There are awe-inspiring cathedrals with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, while offering worshipers a place for singing, prayer and contemplation.. 

Hardware Baptist Church established in 1802
Hardware Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia was established in 1802.

Some churches are much simpler, far less ornate; some are centuries old and others are of newer vintage.  Building style is irrelevant.  These, too, offer worshipers a place for singing, prayer and contemplation.  In short, the question is whether the focus is on God as the one being worshiped or on the worshiper as a consumer or customer.

Jesus said:

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

John 4:24 

Sometimes things go on in church that are inconsistent with God’s instructions for worship.  When the priests were selling animals in the temple at Jerusalem, Jesus was angry and overturned their tables and scattered the animals, saying: 

“It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

Matthew 21:13 

Jesus was quoting from the prophet Isaiah who wrote these words centuries earlier: 

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant–these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Isaiah 56:6-7 

Do rules matter?  Yes, God’s rules matter.  An example of this is found in 1 Chronicles when David, with incredibly good intentions, sent to have the ark returned to Jerusalem.  When he did not follow the rules, disaster struck.

“Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.” 

Deuteronomy 31:9 

Here we read that the priests were to be from the tribe of Levi, and the priests were the ones who were to carry the ark of the Lord.  Certain priests were to carry the ark on poles so that no one would ever touch the ark. (Exodus 25:10 et seq.) It was holy because God was there, and God had established the way for it to be transported safely. 

“And four wagons and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.  

But to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because they were charged with the service of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulder.

Numbers 7:8-9

The sons of Merari received wagons and oxen for use in their service as priests in the tabernacle of God, and Uzzah was one of Merari’s sons.  He, therefore, had the cart and oxen ready for use in temple service.  But reading the very next verse in Numbers 7 reveals that the sons of Kohath did not get a cart or oxen because they were to care for the things of God that had to be carried on their shoulders, like the ark of the covenant.  

“So David assembled all Israel from the Nile of Egypt to Lebo-hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim.  And David and all Israel went up to Baalah, that is, to Kiriath-jearim that belongs to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD who sits enthroned above the cherubim.  And they carried the ark of God on a new cart, from the house of Abinadab, and Uzzah and Ahio were driving the cart. “And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.  And when they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to take hold of the ark, for the oxen stumbled.  And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God.”

1 Chronicles 13:5-10

Uzzah tried to do something good in that he was steadying the ark so it would not fall when the oxen stumbled, but the ark of God was to be carried on the priests shoulders by using the poles permanently affixed to the ark.  It was not to be put on a cart pulled by oxen.  Uzzah disobeyed God’s rule and he died, immediately, on the spot, without any appeal or delay. 

God’s rules matter.  God’s justice mandates that His rules be followed, if for no other reason than He is God and He said so!  Even human parents look at their children and say “Because I said so!”  That’s all the reason the young child needs to have to obey what his/her parent directed.  And it is all that we need when we consider whether we should follow God’s rules … choosing not to do so is SIN and that carries serious consequences.

David learned the lesson.  After leaving the ark for three months at the home of Obed-Edom, David summoned the priests and ordered them to bring the ark to Jerusalem.. However, this time he used Levites who were commissioned to carry the ark on poles … he did it in accordance with God’s rules.

“Then David summoned the priests Zadok and Abiathar, and the Levites Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab, and said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it.  Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule. So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel.”

1 Chronicles 15:11-14 

The ark was successfully carried by the priests and came to rest at the place David had prepared for it.  God’s rules are to be followed. 

Worship is, by definition, not about you or me!  Rather, it is about God.  In Deuteronomy 6:5, Moses wrote:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” 

This was reiterated by Jesus when He called it the great and first commandment:

“Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:29-31 

How do you see worship?  Is it a time for you to boast in your pride of position of power, or in your ability to financially support the church?  While you are in the service are you thinking about all the things you could be during the hour you sat in worship? Is it a time when you walk out of the service thinking that you didn’t get anything out of being there that day?  

Or is it a time when you worship God with your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength?  Is your focus on God and your relationship with Him?  Is your desire to praise Him for who He is, for His attributes and character?  

Rules matter.  I pray that we will return to worship God in the way that He has directed.  God’s commandments are not suggestions nor are they optional.  Follow them and live.  Worship Him in spirit and in truth, and love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  

Father, forgive me when I have failed to worship You as You desire.  Help me to focus on You and Your Word throughout my day as I worship You in my life.

THE BLACK HILLS WILD HORSE SANCTUARY

While visiting Tampa, Florida, we had lunch at a restaurant named Ulele.   The focal point of the décor inside the restaurant is a magnificent bronze statue named “The Laughing Horse” created by Victor Delfin.  The size and musculature of the figure is breath-taking.

Ulele - Tampa 14

The statue was beautiful, but it cannot compare with what we saw when we visited The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in Hot Springs, South Dakota.  It was raining during our visit but nothing could dampen our wonder at these magnificent animals.  Wild mustangs created by God and living in thousands of acres of beautiful terrain.

mustangs 4
The Sanctuary has over 11,000 acres of incredible terrain for these horses to roam.  What a beautiful sight!
mustangs
Having a salad with some friends!

 

 

The inquisitive nature of the horse is evident, even in these wild mustangs, none of whom have ever been ridden nor have they had saddles, bit or bridles on them.  But they did like to come up and see what was going on!

mustangs 3
One of the herds gathering together.
mustangs 5
Please pardon my hair, it’s wet from the rain. But, I look great anyway!

We were told that the Native Americans did not have a word for horse, so they called them Big Dogs and this video shows that the characterization is pretty accurate.

 

We felt like we were at home because we have seen our little MinPins do this same thing on the family room carpet, as well as in the backyard grass.  Same thing, other than the size difference, of course!

Scripture contains many references to horses.  One that I dearly love is found in the book of Job where God is responding to the demand for answers that Job propounded to Him:

Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane?  Do you make him leap like the locust? His majestic snorting is terrifying.  He paws in the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons.  He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword.  Upon him rattle the quiver, the flashing spear, and the javelin.  With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground; he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet.  When the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’ He smells the battle from afar, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.”

This description of the horse grips me with awe for the strength, courage and resilience of this mighty animal.  But we are warned in Proverbs to give credit where credit is due:

“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD.”

Proverbs 21:31  

When we have battled a temptation and won, we must not boast in the victory – rather, we give God the glory for the victory because He enabled us to be victorious. 

Further, we read in Psalm 147 that while God created both the horse and man, their strength does not bring God delight:

“His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.”  

Psalm 147:10-11

Just think of the privilege we have — we can bring pleasure to the Creator of the universe!  When we reverence the Lord, when we cling to His steadfast love, it is in those times that we bring the Lord pleasure!   Do you ever think of bringing pleasure to the Almighty God? 

We praised the Lord for the beautiful horses that we saw and we gave thanks that He led people to create the sanctuary so that these animals would not be destroyed, people who would demonstrate His steadfast love to this small segment of His creation.

What a blessing we would receive if we remembered to do that which pleases Him throughout our day.  May praise to our Lord be the “default position” of our life!

Father, I praise Your name for sending Jesus Christ to be our atoning sacrifice on the cross.  Thank You, Lord and Savior, for Your obedience and willingness to come to save us from our sin.  Thank You, Holy Spirit, for quickening the hearts of Your children so that we can believe on the name of the Lord and be saved.  May I praise You for all that You created and may I remember Your steadfast love throughout my days.

DO YOU REMEMBER?

Many years ago, a couple of my cousins from Wisconsin would come to Illinois to visit.  They were about 10 years younger than I and we would have a good time visiting together.  When it was bedtime, I would read to them from an English storybook that my Father brought home when he returned after World War II.  The book had adorable pudgy-cheeked children and precious elves and even snow fairies!

I married about 10 years later and these two delightful girls were my flower-girls at the wedding.   We really did not have much contact through the ensuing decades, other than some Christmas cards, attending the funeral of a beloved Aunt died, and receiving a wedding announcement.

On our trip last summer, we were going through Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin to visit friends and I contacted one of these ladies to see if we could get together for dinner as we journeyed through the state.   Plans were made and we did so. 

decoration at campsite
Decoration at campsite in Rivers Edge Campground, Stevens Point, Wisconsin

She contacted her sister and the next day both of them came to the campground for a visit and then dinner.  We had a delightful time. 

pool play area at campground
Pool play area at Rivers Edge Campground, Stevens Point, Wisconsin

To my astonishment, they asked if I remembered the stories that I read to them years earlier from that old English storybook.  When I said that I did, they asked that I tell them two of those stories before they left the campground that evening.   I was honored to do so, and we revisited the Pixie who stole a taste of pink ice cream and the Snow Fairy who disobeyed and became stuck on earth.  Two adult women remembering life lessons that had been encapsulated in stories told decades earlier in their childhood, and me cherishing the time with them and recalling when the stories calmed them so that they could sleep in a strange house.

This past week we were working with come elementary school children and singing the song “The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the Book for me, I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.”

In doing so, the children had fun singing at the top of their lungs, while the adults revisited the time in their childhood when they, too, learned the song.  But far more than having fun, the song is imprinting the message on the children’s minds that the Bible is the Word of God and it is something that lasts, you can stand on its teaching because it is from Almighty God.  They may not understand all that, but it is in their heads and hearts and someday, when they are older, they will remember its teaching, just like my cousins remembered those comforting stories.

The importance of teaching children the Word of God is a direct command of our God.  For example, in speaking of the law and commandments of God as given to Moses, we read:

You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

Deuteronomy 11:19

The Psalmist says the following:

Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

Psalm 34:11

No matter our age or station in life, we all can say with King David:

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”

Psalm 86:11

Snow fairies and Pixies are not real and the stories are not imbued with the imprint of the Holy Spirit of our God.  However, Scripture is, and we have an obligation to our children and grandchildren to teach them what God says in His Word to guide them as they go along life’s pathways. 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Hebrews 12:1

This great cloud of witnesses refers to those who have gone before us, who paved the way so that we could know of God and of His Word.  So, will your children remember when you read the Bible to them?  Will your grandchildren remember that you told them the stories in the Bible?  Will your family be able to point to you as a person who assisted them in understanding God’s Word? Are you paving their way through the Scriptures?

Father, teach us to do Your will and to tell the next generation about Your marvelous works in our own lives as well as in the lives of those who have gone before.  May I spread Your Word as I live my life in witness to Your love, grace and salvation through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.

HOW GREAT THOU ART!

We had the privilege to go on an extended vacation last summer.  We traveled throughout the western United States  and visited many of our national parks. 

The sights and sounds were incredible.  Often, the primary sound we heard was silence, as the beauty of the national park was mesmerizing in itself … words were impossible to describe the beauty and we just drank in the view.

IMG_20180626_1342546_rewind

The Grand Tetons were magnificent in their snow-topped heights, and sprawling majesty.

20180707_141941

The colors and pillars (called “Hoodoos”) of Bryce Canyon became etched in our minds as we considered the beauty and majesty of God’s handiwork.

Monarch Pass in Colorado, at an elevation of 11,312 feet, was windy, cold and dizzying when viewing the mountaintops that surrounded the parking lot at the summit.

11 colorado 2 monarch pass 1 continental divide

Descending form the parking area, the mountains were up close and personal.  Visages of raw power, strength and rugged beauty. 

descending from monarch pass

We were praising God throughout our trip as we saw glorious, sculpted rock pillars in numerous variations of colors and shapes, and prevalent even along the highways.  We praised our God for the beauty of the mountains and for the wondrous provision of water, lakes, rivers, ponds and fountains throughout the hills and byways. 

The hymn “How Great Thou Art” does a good job of summarizing our reaction and wonder as we got a view of God’s creation that was different than we usually experience in East Tennessee. 

HOW GREAT THOU ART

[Verse 1]

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

[Refrain]
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

[Verse 2]
When through the woods, and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze

[Refrain]

[Verse 3]
And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin.

[Refrain]

[Verse 4]
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

[Refrain]

Of course, the hymn does not describe merely the creation that God has provided to us, it goes on to describe the glories of salvation that God has given when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Creation tells us that God exists.  Salvation tells us the magnitude of God’s love for His people in that He sent Christ to pay for our sin.  Praise is the our rightful response for both His creation and His gift of salvation.

The Book of Psalms in the Bible is the hymnbook of the Israelites, and it is full of exhortation to praise the Lord.  Here are just some of the verses that admonish us to praise Him:

“Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD:” 

Psalm 102:18

Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”

Psalm 106:1

Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD!”

Psalm 113:1

Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!  For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!

Psalm 117:1-2

The book of Psalms ends with this same exhortation that applies to everyone:

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!”

Psalm 150:6

Oh, that I would remember how great our God is even during the humdrum activities of life that so often seem to be frustrating and irritating.  When we consider all that God has done for us through Jesus Christ, His Son, we should be shouting our praise and love for Him from the housetops, in everything that we do and in all the ways we serve others. 

Praising the Lord is a matter of the heart.  We can have a settled heart and mind because we can praise the Lord through whatever comes our way.  Praise Him when good things happen, certainly.  That’s not hard!  But, praising Him when adversity may arise is difficult.  We know that pain will be present in our lives; difficulties will present themselves at unexpected and usually inconvenient times; heartache will interrupt our lives when malevolent activities cause grief and loss. 

Beloved, no matter what we may have to endure, nothing will take us out of the Hand of our God, the Almighty God who uses even these hard times to transform us into the image of His Son.  This is why we can praise the Lord even as we are in tears.

Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments!”

Psalm 112:1

Praise the Lord.  I am challenging myself to make praise my “default position” before God.  Care to join me in this challenge? 

 

Father, I praise Your Name for the wonder and glory of salvation through Christ our Lord.  I praise You Name when I see the creation that You have placed before me, and when I think of Your steadfast love and mercy.  Enable me to praise You even more each day, and may I make praise my “default position” before You!

THIS IS THE DAY

Frequently we anticipate the next day of our lives when we expect something momentous to happen.  When I was a child, my birthday party was the source of excitement and anticipation, and when I would awaken in the morning, my Mother would say “This is the day!” 

birthday party and balloons (c)

When graduation day came, I remember thinking well, “This is the day!” 

After delivery of my firstborn, I thought “This is the day I will never forget!” 

baby jonathan tummy time '76

And then I repeated that same thought when my second child was born.

“This is the day”.  It is a phrase that we say, or think, often and for good reason.  As human beings, we celebrate things and anticipate things.  It is appropriate, and it is good.

In Scripture we read of things that are to come and the words “this is the day” speak of a time when the anticipated thing will occur.

God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel and said:

“And my holy name I will make known in the midst of my people Israel, and I will not let my holy name be profaned anymore. And the nations shall know that I am the LORD, the Holy One in Israel.  Behold, it is coming and it will be brought about, declares the Lord GOD. This is the day of which I have spoken.”

Ezekiel 39:7-8 NKJV

Some days bring judgment, as prophesied by Ezekiel.  We may not see the final judgment of God during our lifetime, no one knows when that will occur.  But each of us has known of a time when judgment came for our actions, whether it be by judicial fiat, by way of reversal of fortune due to improper greed, whether it is illness brought on by a reckless lifestyle, or a breakdown of a marriage because of abuse, and the list goes on and on.  If you are one who cannot think of any such judgment time in your life, be aware that there will be a judgment later … you will not escape!

The Apostle Paul said:

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

Galatians 6:7 

We must remember that while our Lord God is patient in His steadfast love, He is also a God of justice.  The only way we can come before Him and escape punishment for our sin is through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Our sinless Lord has taken our guilt and our sin through His death on the cross and His resurrection establishes the sufficiency of His work to redeem us and free us from the bondage that sin creates.  Praise His Holy Name!

It is for this reason that we can rejoice in Him.  The Psalmist understood rejoicing in the Lord.  See Psalm 118:24 where David exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord when he penned:

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24 

Today, see ways that you can rejoice and be glad in the day that the Lord has given to you.  We may have chores, we may have business to attend to, we may even have to pay bills with ever diminishing funds; we may have children to chase, sicknesses to endure, and all manner of difficulties … but we can still rejoice and be glad in the day that the Lord give to us, if for no other reason than our sin and guilt has been paid for and we are adopted into the family of God.  Each moment is a gift from God. 

Don’t waste the time we have by being frustrated, angry, and/or sinful!  Be glad that our God loves us and has given us this day to serve Him in whatever way He directs.  Because of Jesus, we can be free indeed, and we can be at peace and glad in whatever comes our way.  If you do not know Jesus as Lord of your life, receive Him into your heart today … and you will truly rejoice and be glad in this day of all days!

Father, I pray that I would not waste the day, that I would take that which You have given me and that I would glorify you through my actions, words and thoughts.  Thank  you for the blessing of this day. 

DID YOU SEE THE MOON!

On Jan. 20, 2019, the moon passed through Earth’s shadow in a total lunar eclipse. This is the only total lunar eclipse that we will have in 2019.  Lunar eclipses can occur only during a full moon, and this one was extra special because it was also a supermoon. A supermoon occurs when the moon is full and closest to Earth in orbit.

The moon truly was a “supermoon”.  When it rose over the horizon, it looked like an immense ball in the heavens.  It was huge and it dwarfed the vegetation beneath it.  I realize that its size was a function of the effect that the horizon has on my mind.  It is explained that when the moon is near the horizon, we perceive it to be farther away from us than when it is high in the sky. But since the moon is actually the same size, our minds make it look bigger when it is near the horizon to compensate for the increased distance.  No matter the mental, physical, psychological or scientific cause for the size of the moon when it appears at the horizon, it was enormous last evening.

We watched the recent eclipse of the sun, a solar eclipse, and saw the moon block the sun, with the black moon surrounded by the blazing light that emanates from the sun’s surface.   The total lunar eclipse is much different.

When there is a total lunar eclipse, our planet slides between the sun and the moon.  For the eclipse to be total, the moon has to be in perfect alignment with the sun and Earth, with the moon on the opposite side of Earth from the sun.

When the full moon moves into Earth’s shadow, it darkens, but it doesn’t disappear. Sunlight passing through Earth’s atmosphere lights the moon so that it appears to be a red coppery color.

According to Jackie Faherty, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History:

If you were standing on the surface of the moon when this event was happening, and you were staring back at the Earth, what you would see is this beautiful reddish-orangish tinted ring.

We went outside in the below-freezing temperatures to see what we could of this lunar event.  Unfortunately, clouds were moving in so we could not see the full eclipse, but we did see its beginning as the earth moved into position! 

Thankfully, numerous pictures can be found on the Internet so that we can see this picture of God’s handiwork even if clouds obscured it from our vision.  This picture was taken by a telescope at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California.

griffith observatory lunar eclipse
Credit: Griffith Observatory

The Psalmist said:

Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!”

Psalm 148:3 

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Psalm 19:1 

One of the things that affected me, even when watching the beginning of the eclipse when clouds were filtering in, was the silence of the night.  This incredible display of nature was going on above me, high in the heavens, without sound, without fanfare, just doing what God ordained to be done. 

As I put my head on the pillow, I thought about the eclipse and how silently the event was unfolding, how gloriously rhythmic nature is in its movements, how amazingly dependent we are on the clockwork movement of nature, and how fragile we are when compared to the glories that God manifests in His creation.

Surely, the heavens do declare the glory of God. 

Let our lips join the heavens as we glorify God all our days.  As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says:

1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

 

Father, I praise You for all the marvelous works in creation.  I praise You for all the wonderful works given to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.  I praise You for all the truths expressed through the Holy Spirit in Your Word.  Thank You for the beauty of Your creation.  I pray that I would glorify You today, and all the days that You grant to me.

OUT OF PLACE?

Have you ever noticed something that seemed to be “out of place” in the context surrounding the thing or event?

We saw this sign was alongside a road that had a nursing home on the right and a cemetery on the left. 

  dead end sign and cemetery

Although the sign was factually correct in that it told the driver that the road did not lead to any other road, it seems to be somewhat “out of place”, or perhaps a better description might be “somewhat macabre”, given the context in which it was placed.

We saw an even better example of something “out of place” when we were watching one of Agatha Christi’s Poirot mysteries on television recently.  The many episodes in the Poirot series are elaborately filmed, with mid-1930s furnishings, clothing, automobiles, etc.   The characters are incredible and the story lines are detailed.  All this to say, the programs are a delight to watch and we really enjoy them. 

However, on this particular occasion, one of the characters was assigned the job of tailing a suspect whenever she left her apartment.  The suspect came out of the building and got into her car, so our character dutifully started his vehicle.  As the suspect sped away, so did our character when the rear of his vehicle was seen bouncing over …

wait for it …

a SPEED BUMP! 

A speed bump on a street in the 1930s?  I don’t think so.  In fact, a quick Google search said that speed bumps were not used in the UK until the 1980s.   It quite simply was “out of place” in the episode we were watching.

As Christians, we are called to live a life of holiness, of love and of sweet communion with our Lord. 

The church in Ephesus seemed to have many problems and Paul addressed them in his letter, and he points to the importance of living a life that is in keeping with their witness as Christians.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”

Ephesians 5:3-4

In short, while certain activities and certain speech may be acceptable among society, such things are “out of place” when said or done by Christians. 

Paul says this about the traits that the Christian should exhibit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

This way of living will never be “out-of-place” as far as the Lord is concerned, however it will certainly be countercultural to those around you and it may appear “out of place” to them!

Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan theologian in the early days of our country, said this about the Christian virtue of love:

A Christian should at all times keep a strong guard against everything that tends to overthrow or corrupt or undermine a spirit of love. That which hinders love to men, will hinder the exercise of love to GodIf love is the sum of Christianity, surely those things which overthrow love are exceedingly unbecoming Christians.  An envious Christian, a malicious Christian, a cold and hard-hearted Christian, is the greatest absurdity and contradiction. It is as if one should speak of dark brightness, or a false truth!

So, beloved, when I look in the mirror of my life, do I see consistency in the development of my Christian life?  I know that I am not where I need to be, but am I closer than I was last year at this time?  Are you?

When I look in the mirror of my life, do I see speed bumps where I faltered, do I see times that I harmed my witness by taking actions or saying things that are out-of-place, that are inconsistent with my Christian witness?  Do you see such things?

Let us bring our life into conformance with what our Lord desires for us.  Let us be attuned to the Holy Spirit as He convicts us of our sin, as He leads us into paths where we are to walk, and as He brings to mind the Scripture that will enable us to do the work that has been planned for us to do, and let us eliminate our “out of place” activities/words/thoughts.  In short, let us be transformed into the image of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ through the power of His Spirit.

Father, I pray that I would be attuned to your Spirit so that I would be able to discern when my thoughts, actions, or words would be out-of-place, when they would harm my witness for my Lord, when they would grieve you, Father.  I cannot do this on my own, and I seek your strength and power to do these things.

OUT WITH THE OLD

We have often heard the phrase “out with the old, in with the new” and with December 31 rapidly approaching, it seems an appropriate statement — out with 2018 and in with 2019.

We recall the end of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life when the whole town rescues Jimmy Stewart from debtor’s prison on Christmas Eve.  As they arrive to bring needed funds, they sing “Auld Lang Syne”. 

Every New Year’s Eve, when the clock counts down the seconds to the beginning of the new year, we sing, or hear the singing of, “Auld Lang Syne”.  Specifically, we hear it played and sung when we watch the ball drop at Times Square in New York at the exact moment when the new year begins in the Eastern Time Zone.  Across the globe, this song frequently has its first notes sung at the end of one year and its last note sung in the first moments of the next year. 

But, this year, I wondered what, exactly, we were singing when we spouted those words from our lips.

Apparently, I am not the only one who has questioned this tradition.  One article I read said that historians call this the “song that nobody knows” but that we all try to sing on an annual basis!   But, when you sing “for auld lang syne,” what are you saying?

The song was known as early as 1588 when it was part of the oral tradition of getting drunk and singing.   In 1788, the Scottish poet Robert Burns said that “Auld Lang Syne” was an old song dictated to him by an old man so that he could put the word down on paper.  Burns, therefore, did not write the poem but he put it together from what the old man told him. 

After getting new life from Burns, “Auld Lang Syne” spread out into the world of pop culture, particularly in his homeland of Scotland. Meant to bring up feelings of nostalgia and a love of old relationships and times gone by, the song is still sung right before the clock hits midnight in Scotland and in many places across the world.

But, really… what do those old-timey English words translate to?

“Should old acquaintance be forgot, / And never brought to mind? / Should old acquaintance be forgot, / And auld lang syne.”

In the most literal sense, auld lang syne can be roughly translated to “old long since.”  Since those words don’t form a real phrase in modern English, they really mean “long, long ago,” “a long time ago,” or “days gone by.” So, when you sing “auld lang syne, my dear” in the chorus, you’re essentially cheering the old days of the past.

The full text of the song presents a series of rhetorical questions, all amounting to the point that unless you are totally devoid of any emotion or memory, that is unless you are dead inside, you ought to be able to recognize the value of reconnecting with old friends and pondering old times.

This thought is very consistent with Scripture.  In the Bible we read much about remembering. 

God says that He will remember:

I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

Genesis 9:15-16

“And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Jeremiah 31:34

God commands that we should remember certain things:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

Exodus 20:8

So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.”

Numbers 15:40

Jesus told us to remember Him and His words:

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.””

Luke 22:19

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

John 14:26

The angels told the disciples to remember after Jesus’ resurrection:

“He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

Luke 24:7

And we should remember the days of our past:

I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.”

Psalm 143:5

While the song “Auld Lang Syne” had its genesis in a drinking song, and while it is often sung now with alcohol flowing freely, for the Christian the song could remind us of the very words of David in Psalm 143.  Remember the days of old.  Think and meditate on what God has done.  Consider and ruminate on the work of His hands.  Let the new year be a springboard for your spirit to sing out praises to our Lord and Savior, to our Redeemer-King.    

So, out with the old and in with the new … But don’t forget the old times, the old friends, the old experiences.  Don’t forget the wondrous things God has done for you in the past and ponder on His love and mercy, His grace and goodness, His incredible salvation through Jesus Christ. 

Let your memories thrive so that your new memories will be ever so much more meaningful.

Father, I pray that we would take Auld Lang Syne and use that song speaking of days gone past to remind us of Your mighty works in, through and for us throughout our lives.  May we praise our Lord and Savior for His love and mercy in the past and in the new year as well.  May we be witnesses of Your love to others, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Merry Christmas 2018

I do pray that you have/had a Merry Christmas.   A Christmas that was marked with love and kindness extended to you and to those you encountered during your day.  A Christmas that, at least in some small measure, focused on the Christ Child who entered this world as a Baby so that He could save us from our sins.

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Every year we decorate the tree with various ornaments and lights, complete with gaudy garland and the toilet paper Santa that the children made when they were in nursery school.  (The Santa has lost one of his legs through the 40 years it has survived, but all in all, he sits on one of the tree branches and smiles at the adult children who made him so long ago.)  Then too there is the construction paper star and the clothes pin angel that the children made in Sunday School.  The star has had to be laminated but the angel is still free to clip onto the branch high on the tree.  (Each year it is a sibling fight to see whose ornament is the highest on the tree!  This year I believe the star won the honor.)

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But, high on the tree, there is a cross made of hay. 

It is a somber ornament – one that does not speak of the manger or the cattle, of Mary or Joseph, of the angels singing or the shepherds marveling.  It is a symbol of the crucifixion that would take place 33 years later.

But, it is a solemn reminder that Christmas is not the “end game” for the Christ Child.  Rather, His becoming the Babe in the manger was a necessary occurrence so that He could live and become the Savior and  Redeemer for His children. 

The Christmas carol “Silent Night, Holy Night“ was composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to words written by Joseph Mohr in the village of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria.   

The third stanza of the carol sums up this aspect of our Lord’s birth:

Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light;  Radiant beams from thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace,  Jesus, Lord at thy birth, Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

Paul says it another way in Galatians 4:4-5:

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.

Celebrate Christmas with the realization that without the Babe in the manger, we would not have the Christ on the cross, and we would be left in our sins and trespasses, the burden of our iniquity too much for us to bear. 

Praise the Lord for His coming as a child – Praise Him too for being our Savior and Lord.

Merry Christmas to you all from all of us at The Ruminant Scribe.