Living In Joy?



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In Isaiah 55 the prophet says, “For you will go out with joy/And be led forth with peace.” In Nehemiah this governor of the returned exiles tells them, “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” King David write in Psalm 16, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” In fact, the various psalmists write about joy a lot.

Even the writers of the New Testament have a lot to say about joy, and those who penned the gospels report that Jesus mentioned it more than once. Yes, sometimes they speak of future joy, as Isaiah did, but sometimes they talk about joy in the immediate, even in the midst of trials.

James is a case in point when he says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”

Of course Paul includes joy among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, in essence saying that every Christian has joy.

We do?

I was listening to Pastor Greg Laurie this afternoon. At the end of the program he interviewed a guest, Pastor Levi Lesko, author of I Declare War. He mentioned that often we reach a crossroad in our day at which we can choose.

Interesting that another sermon I heard at breakfast mentioned how under sin, we had no choice. Meaning that sin controlled us. Now, as believers in Jesus Christ, we’ve been set free from sin. We are no longer slaves.

And here was Pastor Lesko saying, we have a choice to live in a funk or to believe what God says in His word. Things like, the joy of the LORD is our strength.

He then told us about how casinos in Las Vegas are built. Apparently when you’re on the outside, the entrances are clearly marked and the access is easy. But once you get inside, in the middle of the casino, it’s constructed like a labyrinth and finding your way to sunshine is like walking the maze.

I don’t know how true that is, but the illustration certainly seems to apply to sin and specifically to choosing joy over its counterpart—despair, regret, discouragement, depression. Sin, even though we are free from its mastery over us, is still compelling. It’s gained strength over the days and years and has created habits that are easy to fall back on.

This is a really simple example, but I’ve decided I want to treat other drivers (and here in the LA area, we all have to drive all the time, everywhere, or so it seems) with more courtesy and respect. Which is good. Until someone cuts me off in traffic. At that point all the frustration and anger at someone not willing to wait his turn flares inside me.

It’s a habit. For far too long, I’ve been an angry driver, always in a hurry, more aggressive than is good for me, and wanting every other driver to play by the rules. Breaking that habit doesn’t come over night.

Instead I have to let the word of God inform me what is true. Behind the wheel of that car is someone who Jesus included when He said, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life.

But I don’t love that guy even to the point of giving him a little grace on the road. In truth, I don’t know what the driver’s problem is. God does, though, so instead of steaming about his bad behavior, maybe I should bring him to God in prayer.

That’s the cool thing about joy. Yes, joy. We can actually choose joy in the same way that we can obey the command to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s not by trying harder. It’s by reminding ourselves, by preaching to ourselves—really by letting the Holy Spirit bring to our remembrance—what God’s truth is.

And His truth is that no matter what circumstances we live under—financial pressures, wayward kids, unhappy relationships, unemployment, open disdain for our faith in Christ—we have the joy of the LORD. Not, we can have. Not, we will have some day. No. The Holy Spirit lives in every believer and gives us all His fruit, which includes joy.

I think the fruit of the Spirit is part of the abundant life. Jesus painted a metaphor in which He said He was the door to the sheep pen. But then He goes on to say, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Sin does steal and kill and destroy. For one thing, it steals our joy. But we have this fountain of joy in us through the provision of the Holy Spirit.

When I was a kid we sang the little chorus,

I’ve got I’ve got that joy joy joy joy down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart –Where?
I’ve got that joy joy joy joy down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart to stay

There’s so much truth there, but it’s so easy to forget, so easy to let the old habits dictate and confuse, so easy to let sin steal that joy.

God’s truth makes it clear: we can live in the light of His word—and live according to the joy in our hearts—not in a maze of darkness and confusion

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What God Has Said



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I might be wrong, but it seems to me as if here in western society, specifically here in the US, there has been a devaluation of the Bible. Certainly as the secular mindset becomes the norm, there’s a noted absence of religion in the realm of entertainment. There are some exceptions, but they are notable because they stick out as NOT LIKE THE REST.

But more than this change from “religion as expected practice,” is a change in the attitude toward the Bible. Once, Biblical references punctuated literature in various ways. In fact I’ve heard of some professors saying the Bible ought to be required reading so that students would understand the classics. And poetry, I might add.

But as the Bible slipped into this role of foundational to literature, its status as the authority to govern our lives has faded. Now, even among those who identify themselves as Progressive Christians, the Bible is treated as little more than interesting (and sometimes boring) myth about things we know couldn’t possibly have really happened.

I’ve heard over and over in my discussions with atheists, either here at my blog or in the Facebook atheist/theist group, that the Bible is simply not reliable, can’t be trusted at any level, and—worse—shows god to be hateful, vengeful, cruel.

I was first made aware that people looked at the Bible like this when I had a lengthy exchange some years ago with someone who was a professing Christian, claiming that god the father “repented” of his anger, which is why he sent Jesus, a loving, kind, and gentle version of himself.

Clearly that guy did not get his ideas from the Bible. They came from what Paul calls “philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

And that’s the problem. Some people still calling themselves Christians have given up believing the Bible, understanding it as God’s revelation of Himself—His Person, His plan, His work, His Word. They no longer believe it is authoritative. They don’t believe it’s sufficient for life and godliness either, or that how we respond to it determines our eternal destiny.

Sadly, this attitude seems to be seeping into the Church as well—not just the false church, but the true Church. It starts with parts we start labeling “cultural.”

Don’t get me wrong. One of the things atheists do, if they read the Bible at all—and many don’t—is take verses out of context and treat Christians as if we are waiting in the wings to implement the Law of Moses right here in the US. They have no understanding at all of how God, because of His grace, satisfied His just wrath by the blood of Jesus, and thereby fulfilled the law.

So, no, Christians don’t want to stone adulterers or disobedient children or any other sinners. Because, as Paul said, “Such were some of you.” We are all deserving of God’s wrath, but because of His great love He extended to us—to the whole world, Jesus said in John 3:16—those who believe have eternal life, not judgment.

In short, we are saved by faith, not by works. But faith that saves, works. That’s essentially what James says in his letter to first century Christians running for their lives from the persecution brought on by the religious Jews (like Paul, before he became a Christian).

Yet I’ve heard James’s letter challenged by a preacher who claims to believe the Bible. Just not that book, as if it was mistakenly put into the canon.

Other people challenge bits and pieces of Paul’s letters, as if he wrote them without really meaning them. There are whole chapters about how the gifts of the Spirit are to be used in the assembly of the Church, but today there are whole denominations that claim some of those spiritual gifts aren’t around any more. So where does that leave the instruction of the word of God? Apparently on the cutting room floor. There are other parts, too—wives submitting to husbands comes to mind, as does women serving as pastors.

Because these things don’t fit nicely into the way our culture is moving, we Christians now want to dump the authority of the Bible instead of doing the hard work of understanding the principle behind the words of Scripture. We forget that all Scripture is inspired by God. All. Not just the parts we like. Not just the ones that sound good. Not just the ones that promise hope and help.

Scripture tells us to deny ourselves daily. Scripture says we are to take up our crosses. We can’t XXX out those passages because we don’t like them, because they are countercultural or contrary to the image we want to project to the world.

God’s word is absolutely authoritative because God is Sovereign Ruler of everything. What He says is true and right and good. Even the parts of His revelation that are hard for us—hard for us to do, hard for us to understand, hard for us to accept. The world will scream at us that the Bible is old-fashioned, out-dated, irrelevant. But the truth is just the opposite. God wrote about gender wars back in Genesis 3 and Paul talked about how to solve those problems in multiple passages. But we want to ignore those solutions because, well, some people might misuse his council or it might make us look foolish to our culture or . . .

Yes, ignoring God’s council is no better than XXXing out the parts we don’t like. So when He speaks about gossip, we ought not chuckle behind our hands and double-down on our hatred of abortion. Abortion is a horrible sin and we should stand against it, but shouldn’t we stand against gossip just as strenuously? Or lying? I mean, if God’s authoritative word says He hates lying (and it does, more than once), why do we view that as an “acceptable” sin and homosexuality as an unforgivable sin?

I just heard a woman speak on Christian radio who was saved out of a homosexual lifestyle, and in the conversation the fact came out that some Christian colleges will not invite her to speak to their student body because of her past. Apparently they missed the “and such were some of you” part of the Bible. Or they’ve decided they only need to concern themselves with the parts of the Bible they like. Which actually makes them authoritative in their lives rather than God and His word.

What Does God Say about Christians?


While it is disturbing to realize that at least a portion of non-Christians are clueless when it comes to what Christians are about, I realize that I am also ignorant or forgetful about who I am.

The thing is, I know in my head what Scripture says, but I so easily fall into viewing myself as just another person. Nobody special.

Which is also true, in the sense that I haven’t done anything to earn a special standing before God. Nevertheless, my being a Christian sets me apart from others who are not Christians.

Here are a few things I can think of from the Bible that clarify who I am as a Christian.

I am a believer. Of course others believe, even atheists, though they like to say they don’t. But my belief is in the completed work of Jesus Christ, to which I can add nothing. I don’t think there’s any other belief system that puts a person so completely at the mercy of Someone else.

I am an ambassador. Not to France or China, though of course God could send me there. He hasn’t. Nevertheless, He’s given me this role of representing Him to those around me. It’s a high and holy calling that gives me purpose and significance.

I am a piece of clay, being molded into the image of Jesus Christ. I am not the Potter. I don’t get to call the shots, but that’s a good thing, because I can’t see beyond my own small space on the wheel. I could never know how many decorative vases or how many daily-use pots are needed.

I am light. Though I shouldn’t, I sometimes climb under a basket because I feel self-conscious having others surrounded by darkness looking at me. I don’t feel qualified or able to throw my light against the shadows. But it isn’t really “my light,” since I am actually a reflection of the Light of the World.

I am a hand. Or maybe a foot. Probably a mouth. 😉 The point is, I am a part of the body of Christ. One member, not the whole all by myself.

I am a branch, spliced into the Vine, deriving my existence from Him.

There are so many more I could elaborate upon: a child, a friend, a sheep, an heir, a soldier, a runner, a temple, and more. God has not left us in the dark when it comes to who He says we Christians are. 😀

From the archives: this post is a revised version of one that appeared here originally in July, 2009.

Published in: on February 28, 2019 at 4:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Biblical Narrative: What Is Now, Isn’t What Was Then


Science has messed up an understanding of history. For example, back when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, scientists predicted an unrecoverable blow to the ecosystem. The devastation—“hundreds of square miles were reduced to wasteland”—caused by the blast, could not be overcome for hundreds of years. Or so they said, with the same authoritative voice that all scientific pronouncements are made.

Imagine the shock when nature didn’t cooperate with science. The predictions of ecosystem disaster were simply wrong: “For example, within just three years, 90% of the original plant species were found to be growing within the blast zone” (from “After devastation … the recovery”).

The point is, science thinks things thousands of years ago acted the same way researchers have observed them to act today—as if the intervening time did nothing to change the way things work. Consequently, things like people who were nine feet tall or who lived for nine hundred years simply get filed in the “just a myth” category. So does a worldwide flood and talking animals. We know these things aren’t true, the scientific rationale goes, because we’ve never observed these things.

One more problem—the basic idea of evolution, of survival of the fittest, suggests that the strongest survives, the smartest or most capable. In essence, in practice if not in philosophy, evolution suggests that people are getting better.

So how could there have been a period of time in which men were taller, stronger, smarter, and lived way, way longer than we do now? Science simply says it didn’t happen that way.

But what if the Bible is true? What if God did create Adam and Eve and all the plants and animals and called all He made good because it was all at optimum capacity? That scenario doesn’t leave much room for the natural order getting better. Unless God’s “good” was simple a good start.

How are we to make sense of the Bible in light of the observations of science? Or do we simply dismiss science as ineffectual in understanding history? Do we accept the Bible with no attempt to integrate scientific discovers? Take the existence of dinosaurs for example.

There are actually a number of theories that Biblical scholars have postulated through the years to explain dinosaurs. One is the gap theory—the idea that the dinosaur age existed in a period of time between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. Another idea is that dinosaurs were corrupt and not taken onto the ark, so they died in the flood. Still another theory is that they were taken onto the ark but became extinct after the flood.

My own theory is that dinosaurs were in the serpent family, falling under God’s curse:

The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life (Gen. 3:14)

Just like Adam’s consequence for his sin affected all of mankind, might not the serpent’s complicit involvement in the temptation of Adam and Eve, affected the entire reptilian family?

Really, there are all kinds of possibilities if a person first accepts the Biblical account as true. And by “accepting the Biblical account,” I mean the entire Bible.

Consequently when Scripture says, in God’s way of reckoning time, a day is like a thousand years (see 2 Peter 3:8), that’s something to consider when contemplating a “six day” creation. So also is the fact that no way existed to measure twenty-four hours until God created the sun on “day” four. What, then, did God mean when He said, The evening and the morning were the first day? The second day? The third? In truth, we don’t actually know for sure.

But what about the giants and living for hundreds of years? Isn’t all that far-fetched?

Keep in mind, we’re starting with the premise that the Biblical narrative is true. The discussion, then, would be how do we explain these phenomena, not how do we prove them.

According to the Bible, in those early days there was one land mass; there was no rain, but a mist watered the earth; no animals were carnivores; and a person’s natural life-span was over eight centuries. And then there was a worldwide flood, a division of the land, people stopped living for hundreds of years, and they started speaking different languages. In other words, everything changed.

Is there a reasonable explanation for all this? Actually there is a possibility tucked into Genesis 1. Verses 6-10 discuss land separated from water, but also water separated from water by an “expanse,” or “heaven,” which we now call space.

What if our earth’s atmosphere once contained a layer of water that protected the inhabitants from the harmful rays of the sun? Wouldn’t it be possible to imagine people living far longer lives? And animals living on a different diet, not needing meat? Wouldn’t it also be possible to envision a worldwide flood if that layer of water gave way?

Some people also postulate a layer of water under the crust of the earth that protected the inhabitants from volcanic activity. Kind of like a thicker water table.

Which brings us back to the lessons of Mount St. Helens.

Because things are the way they are today, we cannot assume to know what the world was like thousands of years ago, unless we have written records preserved miraculously by the One who knows exactly how those records and scientific observation fit together.

In short, science doesn’t have to be feared or ignored, but it does have to be understood in light of the infallible record given to us by our omniscient, all powerful God.

This article is a revised and edited version of one that appeared here in March, 2013.

At Odds With Our Culture


Thinking Biblically puts Christians at odds with our culture. How could it be any different? Western culture says humans are their own masters, captains of their own fate. Christianity says, God is our Master and, in fact, Lord of all.

Western society is an odd mix of democracy and equality tangled with one-upmanship capitalism. We’re all equal, which means we don’t care who we step on as we climb our way up the ladder of success. Christianity, on the other hand, has no such confusion. We are to share with the needy, give no bribes, play no favorites.

The world in which we live says we are to protect what’s ours. Build fences (which make good neighbors according to the man in Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”), construct sturdy banks, invent efficient security systems. The Bible says we are to trust God, love our neighbors, give our shirt when someone takes our coat.

Our culture says there’s a drug for all your needs. Feeling a little anxious? Try something to calm you down. Need more sleep? Take a sedative. Not alert in the morning? How about some caffeine in a cup? God says, let your requests be known to Him. Don’t be anxious. Make Him your refuge and your strength.

I could go on and on—about our attitudes toward people of different races or ethnicities, toward those in governmental authority, spouses, parents, bosses, toward discipline, money, enemies, borrowing, work, education. There are a hundred ways Christians should stand out as different from our culture.

The point is, believing God to be omnipotent, sovereign, good, all knowing, and my personal friend ought to change the way I do things. But it seems there’s too much noise drowning out God’s voice, too many activities to crowd out time with our sure Counselor.

I think the bottom line is this: none of us can think Biblically if we don’t read the Bible. Regularly. As though the answers to all the problems we face day after day are within its pages.

I remember one particularly difficult year when I read the book of 1 Peter every day for a week or more. I wanted to hear what God had to say and it seemed like that book had the answers. But as each day wore on, I found myself back with my same attitudes and worries. So I’d dig into 1 Peter again. I wish I’d been better at putting what I was reading into practice, but I hadn’t learned to pray with those things in mind.

I knew God would hear and answer prayer according to His will. I just hadn’t figured out that the Bible told me at least a part of His will. So when He said, “casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you,” I didn’t draw the conclusion that God’s will for me was to cast my anxiety on Him.

It seems rather obvious now. But my learning to think Biblical was and still is, in process.

To be honest with you, I’d prefer to be in the social center rather than at odds with society. I don’t like feeling like an outsider, a misfit, someone who doesn’t belong. I spent too many years as the new kid who’d just moved into town and had to find a way to be accepted.

Now as an adult I learn I don’t fit because my citizenship is in heaven. I have a different mindset, a different allegiance, a different hope, a different strategy, a different goal.

Part of me would like to pull in and find a comfortable place with like-minded people where I’m understood and secure. Except, then I’m not positioned to accomplish my goal or live out my strategy or demonstrate my hope or allegiance.

In short, thinking Biblically isn’t easy. It puts me at odds with my culture. And that’s actually as it should be.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in January, 2014.

Published in: on January 3, 2019 at 5:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Did You Know? First Christmas Facts


First Christmas Facts

A widely celebrated event like Christmas generates all types of art and music, which sometimes overshadows Biblical facts. Did you know what actually happened, though artists’ renditions might show something else? Here are various statements taken from the Bible that might be surprising in light of what we think we know from Christmas carols, cards, nativity scenes, and the like.

• The events surrounding the birth of Christ hinge on an understanding that God can do the impossible. (Luke 1:37)

• Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’s birth. (Matthew 1:24-25)

• Jesus’s birth was predicted to Joseph by an angel in a dream. (Matthew 1:20-21)

• Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Joseph’s ancestral home. (Luke 2:4)

• Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

• An angel appeared to a group of shepherds to announce the good news that that day the Savior had been born. (Luke 2:9-11)

• The angel gave the shepherds two signs by which they could identify this Savior: he’d be wrapped in cloths and he’d be in a manger. (Luke 2:12)

• A host of angels joined the first and spoke, rather than sang, praises to God. (Luke 2:13-14)

• The shepherds believed the angel and went to Bethlehem right away to see the Christ Child. In other words, they didn’t go to see if what the angels said was true. They went because they knew they would find the Savior. (Luke 2:15)

• Magi from the east visited Jesus later; they did not arrive the night He was born. (Matthew 2:1, 11, 16)

• These visitors saw, rather than followed, a star in the East and went to Jerusalem in search of the King of the Jews. (Matthew 2:1-2)

• The number of these magi is not specified in Scripture. There may have been three—each giving one of the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But there just as easily could have been a larger group, each giving one of the three types of gifts. (Matthew 2)

• Scripture does not refer to the magi as “kings.” (Matthew 2)

• Herod told the magi to go to Bethlehem. Of course, he first had to ask the learned Jewish scholars. He himself apparently wasn’t knowledgeable concerning the prophecies connected with the Messiah. (Matthew 2:6-8)

• From Jerusalem the magi followed the star and came to Jesus who was now in a house. (Matthew 2:9-11)

Feel free to play the following as you continue blog reading this week.

Published in: on December 12, 2018 at 5:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Atheist Arguments: Humans Are Animals


Of course humans are animals. We live and breath and do all the things animals do, but Christians believe humans are more. Christians believe God breathed life into us, that by doing so He gave us an eternal soul. Or spirit. It seems there’s some confusion concerning the two. Are they synonymous, does one refer to our personhood, our personality, and the other to our spiritual existence?

It is the latter, the spiritual part of us, that separates us from other animals. For instance, humans pray. Animals have no apparent awareness of God, and do not make any clear appeal to a higher power. Pets might run to their owner if they become frightened, but they might just as often run away and hide. But at no time do animals appear to appeal to a supernatural being for help or deliverance or salvation.

Animals also don’t appear to deal with guilt. Oh, sure, those pets who know their owner is not happy with their behavior, might cower when they are told, No, but this is an instinctual reaction to the displeasure, not guilt for having done what they wanted to do.

I’ve seen cats that kill birds and show no remorse.

The dog I had for twelve years showed great sorrow when I scolded him for taking his food to the carpet and eating it there rather than leaving it in his dish, but he continued to drag it out. It was his instinct to do so. He didn’t know that he was doing anything wrong—just that I was unhappy he was doing it.

Third, animals don’t worship. They have ways of showing when they are happy or irritated, like wagging their tails or hissing or barking or baring their claws or laying their ears back or licking. But worship? Since they have no apparent awareness of the supernatural, they have no apparent desire to express praise or gratitude or awe.

Here’s the thing. If humans are simply a product of evolution and we are nothing more than the most advanced version of life, where did the sense of the supernatural come from? Why do we worship? Why do we deal with guilt? Why do we pray?

Those things are not found in animals. They are found in humans.

I know some will say they are nothing but a creation of our brains. But animals have brains, too. Where is the evidence of an animals’ underdeveloped awareness of the supernatural?

Interestingly enough, the same people that think the supernatural comes from our brains, also think the supernatural isn’t real. So how is that evolution? Wouldn’t our brains develop in such a way that we would be smarter, wiser, better, more capable of coping? How does guilt fit into that paradigm?

Or worship? Certainly the atheist must think spending time with others to give praise to Someone who, they say, doesn’t exist, is not making us smarter or wiser or better or more capable. So how did we become worshiping people?

The point is humans are more than animals. We do have that God-breathed part of us that makes us eternal. Human life, therefore is precious and valuable, and we need to treat it with more care than any other life.

Some scholars speak of a “God-shaped vacuum” inside each of us. No one is quite certain of the origin of the phase, but Augustine, Pascal, C. S. Lewis, and Scripture itself have been credited with the concept, if not the wording.

The Bible clearly does identify us as people with an unquenchable thirst, satisfied only by the Living Water.

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'” (John 7″37-38)

Lewis described that “empty place” that only God can fill and actually his awareness of it was one of the factors that turned him from atheism to Christianity:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity)

The interesting thing to me is that secularists admit the existence of this hole, this vacuum.

We are all searching for something. What that something might be is never really a certainty, but it typically displays itself as a nagging sense of something unfinished or a thing undone that plagues our days and troubles our sleep. It is a restlessness within the human heart described by St. Augustine as “…humanity’s innate desire for the infinite…”

This restlessness is a metaphor for seeking after the infinite, for something larger than ourselves (“The God-shaped Hole” by Michael J Formica, Psychology Today)

Actually the author goes on to say that this “something larger than ourselves” actually is ourselves, but the point for this discussion is the fact that this realization of something beyond is not a made up Christian concept. It’s real and it sets us apart from animals.

We long for . . . more, even when we don’t know what that more is.

Where does that longing come from? Not from animals. The best answer is the one God gave us: He breathed into us life, something our sin has seriously affected so that, as the Psychology Today article went on to say, we try to fill our longings with “things outside of ourselves — objects, money, love, release or our perception of it, sex, drugs, new experiences, whatever is at hand.” And the current craze—us, ourselves.

But the very attempt to fill this “emptiness” shows that it is real, that we have in us a need that spurs us to look for satisfaction. It’s defining. We do what animals don’t do, and that, by deductive reasoning, separates us from animals. We are more. We have an awareness of God. Romans 1 says we do, though we don’t acknowledge Him:

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. (v 19)

Humans are animals? Sure we are, but God gave us something animals don’t have. He’s set us apart for relationship with Himself.

Photo by Laurie Gouley from Pexels

Gratitude, Day 12—Music


I admit: a friend of mine wrote a cool piece on Facebook yesterday, about being grateful for music. Me too, I thought. That one belongs in my list of gratitude topics. (As an aside—fair warning that when you have dealings with a blogger, what you do or what you say might end up as fodder for a blog post. Just saying!)

When I was a kid, I wanted in the worst way to learn how to play an instrument. I never told my parents, though, until I was probably in sixth or seventh grade. Well, what instrument are you interested in playing, my parents asked. The violin. It was an identifiable instrument, and I loved the various solo pieces I heard. One of my favorites was Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, I think. My dad in particular was a classic music aficionado, so I grew up with the great classic symphonies and concertos and even a number from minor composers.

But the problem with me learning the violin—well, there were many issues. For one, I didn’t read music. For another I hated the idea of practicing. I knew this because there was a time when my sister took piano and she was supposed to them teach me what she learned. The few times I actually sat down and practiced did not convince me that this was something I wanted to do. My parents didn’t force me.

In truth, I wanted to have learned the violin so I could perform. I didn’t actually want to learn.

I had one short stint with the guitar. My inability to read music was not an issue, but there was still the part about me not liking to practice, so that went nowhere.

The only real success I had with music growing up was with the harmonica. Again, I didn’t read music and so I didn’t really have a clue how to play tunes I was familiar with. So, I simply made up others. I learned to string a bunch of notes together that actually sounded pretty good and expressed my heart. But I could never duplicate what I was playing. It was really only just for me.

Singing. I love to sing and I love to be a part of great congregational singing. It’s the closest thing to being a part of a choir. I imagine. I’ve never actually been part of a choir, because, you know, I don’t read music and I don’t like practicing.

But I love music.

I’m not too particular, either. Having grown up listening to classical music, I still love a number of pieces, like that Tchaikovsky concerto I mentioned. But I also grew up when “contemporary Christian music” was birthed. As songs went from the somewhat sappy and simplistic (“It only takes a spark, to get a fire going . . .) to more worshipful and challenging, I went right along with it. I bought praise tapes every chance I got. I loved Second Chapter of Acts and Keith Green and Amy Grant, then Jeremy Camp and a host of other artists.

I skipped over my “secular phase.” When I was in high school, I listened to the same songs every other teen was listening to. The thing was, the music was so far from punk or rap or raggae or heavy metal. It leaned more toward folk music, though it was transitioning to rock. I was pretty much fine with the style of the day. What I did not like was jazz or big band or country.

More recently I’ve had some exposure to country (The Voice, anyone?), and I have to say, I no longer hate it.

The point is, I’m not all that picky about the style of music I listen to. I mostly like music that touches my heart, that expresses something inside.

Not everyone agrees with me, but I think a lot of the old hymns do that for me. On top of the music that takes hold of my soul are the lyrics that point me to Christ or to the Father or even to the Holy Spirit, though I think the hymns that are Biblically accurate in their depiction of the Spirit are few and far between.

I like the hymns that have been inspired by Scripture and portray Biblical truth. “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” the classic by Martin Luther, is one of them:

1
A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
2
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His Name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
3
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

4
That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.
(from hymnal.net)

There are so many though, and not the least are contemporary hymns by the likes of Keith and Kristyn Getty.

I find that the music that stirs my soul, in combination with the lyrics that focus my thoughts on God are the ones I like best. I still like classical music, though. I just have to supply the “lyrics” myself, in prayer and meditation.

So music, though I don’t listen to it the way so many do today, is something I’m so thankful for!

Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

Gratitude, Day 9—The Internet


I know a lot of people now who bemoan the internet, who “fast” from the internet, who warn others about excessive screen time, and chastise users of the internet as shallow or contentious. Of course people can misuse any tool, so there can be people who have issues with using the internet. Major issues. Damaging issues.

But in truth, the internet is an incredible tool that has made the world accessible to anyone.

I remember the first time I realized I had an international follower for this blog. It shocked me! I could hardly wrap my mind around the idea that someone half a world away was reading what I was writing.

More than that, various preaching platforms have made their sermons available on the internet, so that hundreds of thousands of people are able to receive the kind of Bible instruction that would not have been available to them before the internet. Oh, sure, there were books, but these resources are free of charge and available to anyone with a smart phone, a tablet, or a computer. That’s incredible.

When I was younger, a group of Christians took seriously the idea that Christ will not return until there are believers from every tribe and tongue. Consequently they invested in Bible translation. But a new problem quickly emerged: literacy. It’s one thing for a person to have the Bible in their heart language, another for them to actually be able to read it. As a result, more missionaries focused on teaching reading. But then came the Jesus film in multiple languages, and audio platforms. Suddenly, technology was providing many different ways to provide the Bible and Bible instruction to people around the world.

Well, the internet is actually more of the same. It’s an awesome tool that brings people from all over the world together.

I’ve personally benefited from the internet. First, a site like Facebook developed that put me in touch with former students I thought I’d for certain lost track of once and for all. Then it also created writing communities, first through forums, then through blogs, team blogs, Facebook groups, and back to like-minded collections (some of which require a fee to join).

All of that came together when I had my stroke as a friend (a live, and in person friend) created a Go Fund Me account which allowed all these diverse people I know from various walks of life to learn about my situation and to contribute to my needs.

Every once in a while I marvel at the technological advances that have taken place in my lifetime. There are so many I couldn’t begin to enumerate them all. In a few cases, as with the VCR, I’ve seen advances both come and go!

All of them, like other parts of culture, have their advantages and disadvantages. And of course that makes perfect sense because we humans are a mixed bag. We are made in God’s image, which means we have great capacity for creativity and moral goodness. But we are also sinners, filled with selfishness and pride, using people and loving things instead of the other way around.

No wonder the internet has the capacity to be used for great good but also for great ill. It’s a device conceived of by humans, so we bring who we are to bear in the use of a device that is actually amoral. That has no goodness and no evil that is inherit to it. The internet simply is, and we use if in conjunction with our nature.

We can get in fights with strangers, and we can tear down people based on our prejudice, our hatred, our stubborn, willful heart.

Or we can speak with kindness and truth to people in walks of life that are far different from our own. Truly, the internet can be the source of great good, setting up sites where Christians can pray for someone afflicted with a serious illness, and for their family, giving encouragement and hope.

I haven’t even mentioned the wealth of information available on the internet. How many times have I been editing and stopped to research something for a client—did they get the name of that city right, was that weapon actually in existence when this story was to have taken place. I’ve checked manuscript formatting, I’ve researched agents and publishers. I’ve learned so much about writing from blogs put out by editors.

Should I mention videos and games? Yes, because of the internet we can also enjoy a wide variety of entertainment that was not available some twenty years ago. Yes, they can also require self-discipline, but books and movies and TV do as well.

Without a doubt, the internet has changed culture and changed life. Though I know some people use it for evil, I can only be thankful for it. Sure, one more thing to challenge our self-control, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to exercise that muscle.

Published in: on November 13, 2018 at 5:18 pm  Comments (1)  
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Gratitude, Day 1—The Books Of The Bible I Used To Skip


A number of years ago, I began reading through the Bible from cover to cover. When I first started the process, I’d inevitably bog down when I got to certain parts that seemed . . . well, boring. I thought they weren’t relevant, didn’t give the spiritual nourishment I needed.

So one year I got the idea to skip the parts that were too hard, that I didn’t find engaging.

But since then, I’ve changed.

As it happens, the Bible is constructed in such a way that one passage builds upon another, and before I realized it, I was reading the hard passages and even taking notes and asking questions.

Specifically I’m referring to the books of Leviticus and Numbers. There were other passages—a portion of 1 Chronicles, for example—that dive into genealogies, and they were on my “To Be Avoided” list, too, but primarily, I dodged Leviticus and Numbers.

I’m not at all sorry I did because I’m convinced that decision kept me from quitting my reading plan, as I tried to work my way through the entire Bible.

The amazing thing is that God has turned around my attitude toward those books. I realized it some years ago when I felt a sense of sadness that I was finished with Leviticus. When did that happen? And how?

God did His work, is what happened. How? By the power of His Spirit and the incisive word that cuts to the heart. I don’t honestly remember when I decided to keep going when I finished Exodus.

To be honest, there are big parts of that book that are not your edge-of-the-seat fare, either. It’s there that God gave the specifics of the tabernacle—its construction and furnishings—as well as the Ten Commandments and a variety of other laws.

Leviticus, then, sort of slides right in behind, carrying on where Exodus left off. The thing is, the more familiar I become with the rest of the Bible, the more these books of law and records make sense to me, and the more they help me understand other parts of the Bible. Cyclical, I know.

Not that I don’t also have questions about them. I do. Questions and observations.

Here’s one note, for instance, across from Exodus 21:16—“He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.”My note:

By this law, Joseph’s brothers would have been put to death.

Joseph’s brothers—the patriarchs after whom the twelve tribes were named. Their sin against Joseph was of the nature that would have cost them their lives under the Law. Instead, they were forgiven and given places of prominence among the nation of Israel for all time. Who could do that but a God of grace?!

Or how about this note next to Leviticus 17:11-12—“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.’ ” My notes:

How radical was Jesus’s statement “This is my blood . . . drink this . . . ” ! The blood is the life, so Jesus’s blood spilled for sinners was His life spent for the atonement of sinners. And the cup of the Lord’s supper? His life in us symbolized by our drinking of the cup.

These notes were compiled over at least three different readings of the passage. Each time something new about the verses came clear and one thought built on another.

Or how about Numbers 7. It’s 89 verses long, but most of it is repetition, enumerating the dedication offerings for the altar. Each day for twelve days a leader of one of the twelve tribes brought the exact same offering, and these are listed throughout the chapter, one after the other. All twelve of them:

On the [__ numbered] day it was [name of tribal leader] the son of [tribal leader’s father], leader of the sons of [name of tribe]; his offering was one silver dish whose weight was one hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; one gold pan of ten shekels, full of incense; one bull, one ram, one male lamb one year old, for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five male lambs one year old. This was the offering of [tribal leader] the son of [tribal leader’s father].

I don’t know why God repeated those lines twelve times, inserting, of course the different tribal names and their respective leaders and their fathers. But what I’ve noticed is that the margins of my Bible are covered with notes here (mostly questions). This was a passage I once skipped, then skimmed, then tried to memorize, then began to ask questions about and notice details.

For instance, the order in which the tribes presented their sacrifice is not the same as the order of birth of the patriarchs or their listing by the name of their mother (the two most common ways they are listed throughout the first five books of the Bible). Instead, they’d been grouped in companies, three tribes to a group, each under the leadership of one particular tribe. By the order of these companies they were to camp and by the order of these companies they were to travel. It is this order, then, that they presented their sacrifices.

Significant? In thinking about the dynamics of the nation, it’s interesting and informative, especially in relation to its division into two kingdoms later on.

Back to the sacrifices: part included flour or incense offered in 12 bowls, 12 pans, and 12 dishes. Only the pans holding the incense were to be made of gold. The others were silver. Is there a reason for that? Was the incense a particularly important part of the worship or was it a practical matter—the blend of burning spices would have tarnished silver?

I don’t know, but it’s interesting to note that in Revelation the prayers of the saints are referred to as incense.

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Rev. 5:8)

All this to say, there are all kinds of interesting connections, some literal and some symbolic, that I am beginning to see, especially in the New Testament, as a result of reading Leviticus and Numbers. I understand the book of Hebrews better, for instance, and a number of things that the gospels chronicle make more sense.

I have to mention this one: one of the laws in Leviticus was that a person with an “issue of blood” would be unclean—i.e. not able to join in the worship ceremonies and feasts. Furthermore, anyone that person touched would also be unclean.

So in the New Testament when the woman with the “issue of blood” touched the edge of Jesus’s clothing, she didn’t want to touch Him to cause Him to become unclean. He, on the other hand, didn’t rebuke her, but had compassion on her because her suffering had been much deeper than the physical. She’d been ostracized and separated from worship for all those years. And still she believed.

So today, I’m especially grateful for the books of Leviticus and Numbers and for the way God makes His word come alive. He is a faithful God.

Much of this post is a revised version of one that appeared here in September, 2014.

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