Shout for Joy
1921 was not a particularly notable year. At that point in time the United States had recovered fairly well from one major war and would before long find itself in another. In between there would be a severe depression. On the 30th day of December that year, San Francisco retired its last fire wagon horse. Apart from that? Oh yes, that was the year I entered the scene.
So how has it gone the past 96 years? I asked myself that question, and got to thinking about what I would tell someone, should they ask, about life. Here is what’s been running through my mind.
The most important thing for which I am grateful, was a stable Christian home. My hat is off to a mom and dad who not only loved us, but were always there, no matter what. For instance: Once a friend and I “published” the first and only edition of “The Weekly Blab.” It was a dumb little rag that, among other things, made made fun of the elders, who self righteously demanded a public apology. Dad announced in no uncertain terms, “Lighten up you guys, it was all a joke; no son of mine will take part in such a farce!” What a guy!
Life has been a long learning experience, and I mean that in the sense of slowly catching on to what is genuinely important. One of the more important things I have come to understand is the incredible importance of relationships. We were not made to live by, with and for ourselves. We were born to share this beautiful experience we call life with one another. It occurs to me that God is a triune being specifically for that reason. The Father “needed” someone to share his “life” so from the “beginning” there was a Son and also a Spirit. In any case, the profound experience of oneness that hopefully all of us have, or are, going through is a reflection of the joyful relationship of the triune God.
Another thing of which I have become increasingly aware is that it is by exercising an active concern for the other person that we are rewarded with life’s richest blessings. Jesus put it very simply: ”The one who tries to get as much as possible for himself out of this life will certainly lose it, but those who surrender their life for others will be rewarded with abundant life” (Mark 8:35). When we take the ethical teaching of Jesus with all seriousness we become increasingly aware that it runs absolutely counter to popular thought. “It is by giving, not getting,” says Jesus, “that we find personal delight.” Self-concern robs us of the very thing we desire. Jesus did not save the world by teaching it good manners but by dying for it. The cross was his path to life; ours is the needs of others.”
So, as the gateway to heaven swings open, what should I say? Thank you Lord for all of life, its joyful experiences, its difficulties, your presence all along the way. By faith I said Yes and that was the key to eternal joy. I haven’t earned it; in fact, should I have something carved on stone, it would be the line from Rock of Ages, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”
Born in North Carolina, the fifth child of a housemaid, brought up in Harlem without a father, high school dropout, Thomas Sowell had every reason not to succeed. So how is it that a young black like that managed to graduate from three of America's most intellectually elite universities, Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago (PhD) and then go on to teach at several top universities? Currently Dr. Sowell serves as Senior Fellow on Public Policy at Stanford University?
But it is not his achievements in academia that impress me at the moment, but his insights into life in today's world. For instance:
"I have never understood why it is greed for a person to keep what he has earned, but not greed to want what someone else has earned.”
"What is one person's 'fair share' of what someone else has earned?"
As our struggling and nearly bankrupt nation searches for ways to balance a budget that clearly spends far more than its expected revenue, there has been a lot of talk about morality in a free market system. To what extent are those who do well responsible for those who do not? Is it right for a government to take from one sector and give to another? What is a "fair share?"
I have little expertise on the subject but it seems to me that moral obligation is an individual matter. From a Christian stand point, if my neighbor is hungry I have the responsibility to share with him what I have. That is something I do as an individual. I do it because it is an expression of brotherly love and that is a moral requirement of the Christian faith. Now, if a dozen families should organize themselves into some sort of social unit, would they as a group (though their leader) be responsible to tell each family how much they should give to the disadvantaged member? Would it be right for the group to tell member A (who has been out of work for six months) to give only a single sack of potatoes, and member B (who happens to have had an exceptionally rewarding year) a truck load of produce? I think not. Supplying the need of another is the responsibility of the individual. To shift it away from the individual to some sort of group effort is to deprive the individual of the personal pleasure of meeting the need of another. That runs contrary to what is best both for the individual and for society at large.
To answer the earlier question, I would say that no one has a "right" to what belongs to another, and that ultimately the question of "fair share" is something that each person must work out with God.
“The way of the righteous is like the sunrise, growing brighter and brighter until the full light of day has come. The way of the wicked, however, is like the deep darkness of night which brings down those who can’t see the obstacles” (Proverbs 4.18-19).
In simplest terms, there are two ways the traveler can take through life. One way leads to an ever increasing brightness and the other to a fatal darkness. Why anyone would take the second path is hard to explain, but that they do is painfully clear. From a New Testament standpoint, the righteous are those who by faith in Christ have been declared right with God. From that point on, life is a continuing experience of the bright light of confession becoming increasing brilliant as the believer moves toward the God who declared, “Let there be light, and there was light” (Gen. 1.3). The story of man can be pictured as a conflict between light and darkness. Light reveals God as its source, darkness as its enemy, and eternal brilliance as its goal. It speaks to the human heart with its message of hope and promise of guidance along the way. God is light.
On the other hand, darkness is the absence of light. When the primal pair left the Garden, burdened with shame, they stepped out of light and into a world of darkness. The first thing they did was to stumble. There is no pleasure in not being able to see. Goals are obscured and what might happen with the next step is unknown. The world without God is a vast sphere of darkness.
But then, Christ, the “light of the world,” stepped into our dark domain and through his sacrificial life and death brought light back into this dark realm. What happened on a cosmic scale is repeated in a person’s life as they turn from the darkness of sin and accept the light of the gospel. Each light grows brighter and as it is shared with others, everything becomes brighter and brighter. While we know that darkness continues its battle, the time will surely come when, as John put it in his seven letters to the churches, “The eternal city needs neither sun nor moon because the glory of God is its light . . . and there will be no night there” (Rev. 21:23, 25).
Two roads to walk: the road into light or the road of darkness. Solomon tells us that the second road leads to eternal darkness, but the first to the eternal brilliance of his presence. The crucial difference between those who walk on one road or the other is whether they accept Christ, the light of the world who came to dispel the darkness of man’s fatal mistake.
Dostoevsky’s observation that “The second half of a man's life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half," set me to thinking about how we go about living. By and large, most everything we do is an expression of a habit. Many of us sleep in on Saturday because we’ve always slept in on Saturday. We have an early cup of coffee and get ready to watch a game (doesn't everybody?). We are truly creatures of habit. It is a comfortable way to live and involves little or no conscious thought.
But are habits good? In what way do they aid us in our progress toward life's goal? Why is it that good habits have to be formed but we simply fall into bad habits? A lot of questions can be raised on the subject.
Obviously, some habits are good, they help us get where we want to be. If physical wellbeing is a goal, then regular exercise and a proper diet are habits that help us get there. If we have always gone to the gym three times a week, then we don't have to ponder the question when the time arrives. Habit is a faithful friend who helps us toward our goal. But it is equally true that some habits work against our best interests. In fact, they are unusually powerful in denying us our goals. As the old saying goes, "Habits are like a comfortable bed, easy to get into but hard to get out of.”
It has often been observed that character is the sum total of our habits. The sequence runs like this: What we think we say; what we say we do; what we do becomes habit, and this shapes our character and determines our destiny. To the extent this is true, and I believe it is, habit is perhaps the crucial element in the formation of character. Good habits are powerful agents toward a desirable end, but bad habits are equally powerful in preventing it.
This being true, the role of "what we always do" requires our attention. What is it that I always do that helps and what do I always do that hinders? If l can determine that, I can readjust my life toward the more desirable goals. And the sooner I do it the better, because, as the Chinese proverb has it, "Habits are cobwebs at first; cables at last.” To develop a profitable habit, one must genuinely want to. Desires unable to move us to action are useless at best. Effective desire does what is required to realize its aspirations. So the question is up to the individual, do I care enough about what I want, to establish a pattern that will take me there? If not, forget it.
It is interesting that habit makes the task easier. Rather than being an endless responsibility to do the right thing, it becomes a way of living that provides its own motivation. So here's to custom in life! One might even call it conservatism. But let's be careful that the things we do by habit are taking us where we want to go.
How good to fear the Lord
In Psalm 112 the psalmist sings for joy as he describes the success of those who honor God. They are generous, trusting, merciful and just and when the wicked consider them their hearts are filled with hate.
Of the books I’ve written there is none that gives me greater pleasure than my gospel harmony entitled Jesus, In His Own Words. On this eventful day that changed the world not only for time but for eternity we celebrate the entrance of God into his own creation in the person of His Son Jesus. The inspired story of His life among us is told by the four gospel writers and my translation arranges the four accounts in proper order and allows Jesus to be his own narrator. Enjoy with me The Nativity Story.
My mother, Mary, was pledged in marriage to Joseph, but during the required year of waiting prior to the actual marriage, while she was still a virgin, it became apparent that she was pregnant. Joseph was a good man and reluctant to humiliate Mary in public (Deut. 22:23-27 calls for the stoning of a betrothed woman who’s had sex with a man), so he planned to cancel the engagement quietly without pressing charges.
While he was considering this course of action, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, of the line of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, for the child in her womb is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
This took place to fulfill what the Lord had promised through the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will give him the name Emmanuel,” which means ‘God is with us.’”
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did what he had been told by the angel and took Mary home to be his wife. However, he allowed her to remain a virgin until she had given birth to a son whom he would name Jesus.
About that time an edict was sent out from Caesar Augustus (the first Roman emperor) that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world for the purpose of taxation. When this first census was taken, Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Everyone was required to return to their ancestral home in order to be registered.
Because he was a descendant of king David, my father, Joseph, went up from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea (king David’s town) to be registered. Mary, who was promised in marriage to him and was pregnant, went with him. While they were there in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her baby. I was the child she bore, her firstborn. She wrapped me with strips of cloth, and laid me in a feed box for there was no room for us in the living quarters. (Matt 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-7)
Adoration by Shepherds and Wise Men
Not far away, there were some shepherds living out in the open fields, caring for their flock at night. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them. They were terrified. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid! I bring you the good news of a great joy, which is for everyone everywhere. This very night in the city of David a Savior has been born for you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This is how you will recognize him: you will find the infant all wrapped up with strips of cloth and lying in a feed bin.”
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast heavenly entourage singing praises to God and declaring, “Glory to God in the heavenly realms, and on earth peace among those he has favored.”
When the angelic host left and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see this wondrous event that the Lord has told us about!”
So they hurried to Bethlehem and searched until they found Mary and Joseph; and there I was, lying in the feed bin. When they saw me for themselves, they told others all that the angel had said to them about me. And everyone who heard it marveled at what the shepherds had told them. But Mary, on the other hand, stored all these matters in her heart, often pondering how she could put them all together. Meanwhile, the shepherds returned to the fields, giving glory and praise to God for all they had heard and seen, just as the angel had told them.
At that time, some astrologers from the East arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star when it first appeared in the East and have come to pay homage to him.”
When reports of this reached king Herod, he was deeply disturbed, as was all Jerusalem. So he called together the chief priests and experts in the law and asked them if they knew where this king, the Messiah, was to be born.
“In Bethlehem of Judea,” they answered, “for that is what God promised through Micah the prophet:
“And you, O Bethlehem, are not just a lowly village in Judah, because from you will come a ruler who will care for my people Israel.”
Herod arranged a private meeting with the astrologers and learned from them exactly when the star had appeared. Then he sent them back to Bethlehem saying, “Do your best to find the child, and when you have found him, let me know so I can come and worship him.”"
Having heard what the king had to say, the wise men went on their way. Suddenly the same star they had seen in the East appeared once again and led them until it came to rest directly above the place where I lay. When they saw the star, they were ecstatic with joy. They entered the house and when they saw me in the arms of my mother, they fell to their knees and worshiped me. Opening their treasure chests they honored me with gifts — gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Then they went back to their own country, but by a different route, because God had warned them in a dream against going back to Herod again. (Matt 2:1-12; Luke 2:8-20)
1 John 3:1-3 is a short paragraph filled with multiple insights on the love of God the Father for his children. The apostle is amazed at the magnitude of God’s love. He writes that God has “lavished” his love on us. While the NIV’s descriptive word “lavish” is somewhat interpretive (the Greek is a simple “give”), the translator was undoubtedly caught up personally in the wonder of God’s love and had to use a word that carried that rich meaning. It calls to mind such adjectives as “extravagant,” “unrestrained,” or “exuberant.” And that is exactly what His love is. In letting context control interpretation, the NIV has done justice to the greatness of God’s love for each of us, his children.
Think about it for a moment – God actually loves you. He cares about you, about everything you do, about your future. You are a child under his care and you need guidance. Left by yourself, you would learn only by a long series of mistakes. God’s love smooths out that path to maturity. It has a very real dynamism. You experience it, you feel it, you are blessed by it. After all, you are one of his children. I loved my father here on earth. We had a great relationship. He was always there at every football game, every track meet, etc., not because someone suggested that attention like that helps in the “bonding” process, but because he loved me. It was that simple.
I have another Father as well, he is my heavenly Father. As my dad, Mr. George Mounce, cared deeply for me, his son, how much more does my heavenly Father, God, care for me in love! In fact, He “lavished” his love on me (and that doesn’t diminish the love of my other dad)! The unique and wonderful thing about God’s love is that he loves all of us equally! When he sent his son into this world he didn’t intend that his love be greater for the cultured than for the common. God has no requirements for us other than to love him back. There are no more eloquent words of praise for God’s love than Frederick Lehman’s great hymn “The Love of God” (1917). Let’s let him close our time together.
Quite often you hear people talking about "the good old days." But were they ever as good as we say they were? That's the question. Or does it really make any difference as long as we think they were? Do people keep emailing you those little tests that are supposed to show how far along the aging process you are? Categories include, "Still walking?" "Your teeth?" "Ready for hospice?" and "Bought your plot yet?" I'm usually well beyond 10 on a score of 1 to 10.
Here are some of the things I remember from the "good old days:” Five-cent hamburgers were okay, but if you wanted a really good one you had to go to Dave's and pay 10 cents. Lots of meat. I bought my first car (a 1924 Dodge roadster) along with three other guys for $20. Not a powerful engine, so when we went out into the country (away from roads) and found a steep hill, we had to go up backwards. Gas was about 11 cents a gallon; once during a "gas war" I bought it for 9. You pumped your own gas, and I don't mean getting out of your car and putting the hose in the opening. Gas was in a tall pump and dispensed by gravity. After dispensing the proper amount, you took hold of the lever and "pumped" the container full again.
We've just passed Thanksgiving on our way to Christmas and have witnessed the spectacle of Black Friday. Two days ahead of time people are camping outside waiting for that magical moment when the doors to postmodernism's paradise are thrown open and the herd stampedes into the facility. I grew up during the Great Depression and we always waited until Christmas Eve to buy anything so we could get it at half price. One year we bought a crokinole board and played it every night until our fingers got so sore we couldn't snap the rings any more.
Clothes were hung on a line to dry. Boys wore Black Bear overalls. Home entertainment was a radio. I was a fan of "Jack Armstrong, the all-American boy" – came on at 5:45. Once a week we watched "The Shadow.” Remember the line, "Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of man? The Shadow knows!" In high school I played quarterback on offense and safety on defense. I pole-vaulted in a state meet using a bamboo pole. Learned to drive on the farm and got my first driver's license at twelve. One summer my dad couldn't drive west with us (ND to OR) so my brother, at 14, drove Mom, me, and a neighbor lady all the way to Scholls Ferry, OR, 1270 miles (part way the road was upgraded to gravel!)
So those were the good old days? Yes, for me. I lived in a stable home and was taught right from wrong; couldn't understand why anyone wouldn't want to live in North Dakota. Genuinely contented. Don't know how many young people can say that today.
Yup, they were good old days!
“Honor the Lord by taking some of the wealth you’ve gained and give it as a sacrifice to him. If you do, you’ll have even more than you had” (Prov. 3.9-10.)
The original text speaks of the firstfruits of a farmer’s crop. To take from the first part of a harvest and give it to God as an offering was a way of acknowledging that the entire crop was provided by him. While “first” is temporal, it also represents that which is the best. In the two parallel clauses “firstfruits” is matched with “wealth.” Since God created everything, all that is belongs to him and he should receive the first and best as an offering from those benefitted by his creative activity. When we honor Him in this way he sees to it that our barns are full of grain and our wine vats overflow. Reduced to a formula it means that to give is to get. While that may sound a bit crass in some ears, and open to manipulation in others, it nevertheless is true. God is debtor to no man.
God would have us honor him with the recognition of who He is and all the He has done. That is exactly what happens when we take what we may have considered our own and present it to Him. The problem in real life, however, is that most people, Christians included, tend to fail when it comes to honoring God in this way. We forget that every beat of our heart and every breath of air we breathe is provided by Him for our benefit. To actively acknowledge His role in our “success” is the proper way for us to express our appreciation.
Generosity is a virtue highly regarded throughout the civilized world. Kahlil Gibran calls it “giving more than you can,” and Richard Dawkins, the British evolutionary biologist, notes (in agreement with biblical teaching) that it’s difficult “because we are born selfish.” Almost every society admires the person who gives up something of personal benefit in order to use the time for a noble cause. Human nature has been marred by sin, yet when the stranger enters a burning building to save a mother’s child, we honor his generous disregard for his life.
The result of generosity displayed in honoring the Lord with our wealth, all we have gathered as personal treasure, is that we become the benefactors of our own generosity. Our barns become full and wine vats begin to overflow. It was Francis of Assisi who coined the memorable dictum, “For it is in giving that we receive.” And what we receive is not simply more of that which we gave but blessings of a different sort. To give a certain amount of money to a needy organization is not to get it back with a hearty interest but to realize, for example, that children in a war torn nation can survive today’s horror and play and laugh again in a better tomorrow. Payment in kind is the cold exchange of the necessary. The true reward of generosity is the loving response of the one God allowed us to help by honoring Him with whatever we have to give.
Robert H Mounce