God’s Wondrous Works

December 28, 2012 at 8:26 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, God's Love | Leave a comment

Here is what I saw and what I read in my devotions yesterday morning:

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Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.  One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.  On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.  They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.  They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.  The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.  All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you!  (Psalm 1445:3-10 ESV)

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Merry Christmas? It Depends on How You Say It

December 16, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The other day I heard someone say “Happy Holidays,” and the response of the Christians who heard it was “Merry Christmas.”  The response got me to thinking.   I don’t know the motives of the people who responded, and certainly putting emphasis on Christ at Christmas can be a good thing.  But I wonder if such a response as I heard was more condemning rebuke than accepting grace.  The rejoinder sure sounded to me like a scold rather than the gracious wish it should be.  We can’t expect those who don’t have Christ in their lives to act as if they did, so when the world teaches them to say “Happy Holidays,” that is what they will say.  It could be a well-intended blessing and not an affront to Jesus.  Maybe our response to them should be a genuine “Thank You” for the good wishes and then, if appropriate, we can add “Merry Christmas to you too.”  If “Merry Christmas” comes across to them, like it did to me, as a rebuke, then that will only serve to turn them away from the Jesus to whom we hope to point them.  Just my thoughts; I’m sure some of you will have better insights on this.

The Bread of Anxious Toil

December 12, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

How would you feel if you worked hard at buying just the right Christmas gift for someone you loved, exactly what he needed and wanted, but he decided to never open the package because he believed it would interrupt his agenda?  Unfortunately, we often treat God that way.

This morning I was reading in Psalm 127 and had some thoughts about the first two verses.  “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.  It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” (ESV)

There is a rhythm of work and rest that God designed into creation, particularly into the human race.  That rhythm includes daily cycles of so many hours to work and so many hours to rest.   It includes a weekly cycle of six days work and one day rest; it includes annual periods of work and of rest as well.  In our culture these cycles are broadly ignored.  We are often pushed to work seven days a week; I’ve read that we take less vacation time than most other prosperous cultures; we have the desire to “burn the candle on both ends” as the saying goes.  It is this last matter that Psalm 127 addresses.

There is nothing wrong with staying up late to finish a project; and there is nothing wrong with getting up early to get some extra work done, but when we do both of those on a regular basis, we are ignoring God’s design for us, and we will eventually pay the toll for that.  The internal pressure to do more is exactly what the author of this Psalm means when he says “eating the bread of anxious toil,” and in the end it is empty.  When we constantly urge ourselves to get more done, we practice the vanity of building the house without God.  Ultimately, the push to get so much done and to sleep little is a sign that one does not trust God to do what he says he will do, or does not trust that God’s plan is really the best.

One part of the passage that stood out to me was the phrase “he gives to his beloved sleep.”  I’d learned this verse years ago in the NASB which said, “he gives to his beloved even in his sleep.”  Though the italics indicate that the words are not in the original, I never thought about it until I read the ESV today.  I always thought it to say that God gives us what we need when we sleep, which is true and appropriate for this context, but we should also read the passage to say that sleep itself is a gift from God!  A gift many of us treat with contempt because we believe it will interrupt our agendas.

Book Review: Peace Like a River

December 8, 2012 at 11:22 am | Posted in Books and Movies | Leave a comment

We like to read together as a family and just recently finished Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.  It is a hard book to describe.  Full of wonderful prose, it is a touching story in the beginning, but a hard hitting one in the end.  I brought it home from the library because I’d seen it on a list of great family books to read together and don’t even remember who published the list.  The same list had Wind in the Willows on it, which I reviewed last year.  However, this novel is much deeper and more mature in content and theme.

Peace Like a River is a novel supposedly narrated by Rueben Land, who was eleven years old in 1962 when the story takes place.  His sixteen-year-old brother, Davy gets into trouble, and the rest of the book follows the family through Davy’s trial and his fugitive run from the law.  First, it is a story about character; and character drives the story more than plot.  The reader gets to know each of the family members through Enger’s vivid descriptions; Jeremiah is a dedicated father and man of conviction; Swede, Rueben’s nine-year-old sister is a delightful loquacious writer of epic poetry, and the ongoing story of her poems parallels the family story.  Second, it is a story about family.  The Lands have a closeness and commitment to each other that is rare but much needed in today’s world.  And finally, it is a story about faith.  Rueben describes his father as a man of faith and claims he performs miracles.  There is almost a magic about the book and the roughly half dozen miracles described in it.

As we read, we laughed often and cried occasionally.  We reread a few passages just for the joy of reading the words again.  Speaking of loquacious, Enger fits that description more than his fictional young poet Swede.  “You read it as much for the pure joy it offers on every page as to find out how it ends,” said Tom Walker in the Denver Post.  Yet Peace Like a River is more than just fun.

Though many parts of the book are predictable, the ending is not at all what any of us expected, and, as far as story goes, was disappointing.  But it was hard hitting, and the more it rattles around in my brain, the more I realize the ending was a powerful picture of family love and sacrifice, and of faith and miracles, even a picture of Jesus’ love and sacrifice.  It is a book that will make you think.  John Piper’s review of the book said, “What do I make of it?  Wrong question.  What is it making of me?”

There isn’t room in a short review like this to quote Enger’s descriptive language, colorful sentences or delightful humor, but one quote stood out from all the others.  I close with this not because it is humorous or delightful, but because it is such a great description of repentance.  When Rueben realizes how wrong he’d been about his deception he tells us why genuine repentance is hard.

I began to weep  . . .  weeping seems to accompany repentance most times.  No wonder.  Could you reach deep in yourself to locate that organ containing delusions about your general size in the world – could you lay hold of this and dredge it from your chest and look it over in the daylight – well, it’s no wonder people would rather not.  Tears seem a small enough thing. (p. 286)

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