God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Like most people, I enjoy Christmas carols – some more so than others.  For example, while cute, I find We Three Kings as one of the more unbiblical songs we traditionally sing (the magi weren’t kings and they weren’t from the Orient). Joy To The World is wonderful, but it really isn’t talking about the first coming of the Messiah. However, there is nothing wrong with singing those songs and if they brighten your Christmas season, go right ahead and enjoy them!

There are some carols where Biblical truth is told.  Silent Night and O Holy Night are both great examples of Christmas carols with a Biblical message.  But maybe the song I find the most fascinating is God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

As stated by wordwizehymns.com,

“The author of this carol is unknown.  It may have originated some five centuries ago.  The song was published by William B. Sandys, an English solicitor, in his 1833 volume, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern.”

In the 15 century, most commoners were illiterate and therefore music played a large role in teaching Biblical stories.   So this carol tells the Christmas account and gives the story application to all who hear its prose.  While most often only 4 verses are used, there are at least 7 in the form of the song from the early 1800’s.  Each verse tells a portion of the story and has a lesson for us.  I’m not going to expound on every detail, but I will point out a few lessons from this carol found within these verses.

First, we lose of the meaning of the opening line when we miss the comma between “merry” and “gentlemen.”  The song isn’t speaking of how a giddy group of fine English men were to relax.  Further, the word “rest” has a different meaning now than it did 500 years ago – at least in this context.

The term “rest” meant “make” or “keep.”  Again, from wordwizehymns.com,

“A modern paraphrase of the words might read: “May God keep you joyful gentlemen.”

But from the first verse we learn the source of our joy.  We are saved from Satan’s power.  We were gone astray, but God sent a way to redeem us.  Sounds much like what the angel told Joseph, “You shall call His Name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21b).

Verses 2 through 6 tell the rest of the story.  In verse 2 we are told He is born in Bethlehem and was laid in a manger.  Verse 3 states how an angel came to the shepherds and the Child was called the “son of God.”  Verse 4, says He was born of a virgin and that the shepherds were not to be afraid.  In verse 5 they rejoice, went to Bethlehem seeking the Child.  Finally in verse 6, they find Him, in a manager (just like the angle told them) and how Mary was kneeling worshiping the Child she just gave birth too.

Finally in verse 7, we are told “To all who are in this place” must love each other.

This carol covers the Christmas story as it is told in the Scripture without extra characters (ie a little drummer boy) or talking animals (“said the little lamb to the shepherd boy…” from Do You Hear What I Hear?).

So enjoy all your Christmas carols and look at the Christmas story afresh as retold in this song.  I wish you “comfort and joy” as stated each verse of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen this Christmas season.

This is a slightly revised version of a post from December 2016.

 

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Foundational Principle #10

Don’t Settle For Stew

 And Esau said, “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me? Then Jacob said, “Swear to me as of this day.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. – Genesis 25:32-33

 The brothers, Jacob and Esau, were in constant conflict with one another. Even before their birth, they struggled together. Their mother was so distraught with her pregnancy she goes to the LORD concerned about the children within her womb.

When the boys were born the younger, Jacob, grabbed his older brothers heel, hence his name “Jacob” meaning, “One who Supplants” or “Takes the Heel.”

As they grew, their differences became more apparent; both in their looks and personalities.

As the eldest, Esau would gain all the privileges of the first-born. Jacob, looking for a way to take the position from his brother, sees an opportunity when his brother returns from one of his hunting exploits.

Jacob prepares stew. Esau comes in from the field and requests to be fed some of Jacob’s meal. Jacob asks Esau to “sell” him his birthright. Esau, only being concerned about his immediate need for food and finding his hunger overwhelming, agrees and maybe makes the worst sales deal in all of human history.

Esau settled for stew. He didn’t wait for God’s best for him but let his flesh control his decision.

It makes me wonder, how many times we do the same thing? Settle for meeting a perceived immediate need at the loss of something much better that God had for us.

Not all bad decisions are a result of settling too soon on something and getting ahead of God’s plan, but many of them are. Since God’s timing is rarely our timing, we become impatient and convince ourselves we need to do something NOW when many times, we end up settling for much less than what God had for us.

Don’t settle for stew.

It might be tempting to move ahead, the offer may seem good on the surface. But have you brought it before God? Have you really made seeking His will on the situation or just offered a simple, “Bless my efforts” prayer and settled for less than His best?

Did you make your decision based off His Word or the desire to fulfill something of your flesh? To find immediate gratification as opposed to waiting on His best?

We rarely get ourselves in trouble for moving too slow on things, but we often find ourselves regretting those decisions when we took the easiest and quickest route. We settled for stew.

Waiting for God’s best is trusting Him. So much of being a mature believer is learning to trust Him which often is demonstrated by waiting on His best. It’s easy to settle for stew, but when we trust and wait on Him, we’ll find He has much better things for us than what we can envision for ourselves. Notice how Paul describes this:

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21

 If you can imagine it or think of how better your situation could be, chances are this is NOT the best of what God has for you. His blessings for you are beyond your limited ability.

The lesson is; don’t settle for stew. He has something much greater for you!

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The Role of Food Within Scripture

As you get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving later this week, take a moment and consider the role food plays within the Bible. From the opening pages in Genesis, some of God’s very first words to Adam were about food. On day six of creation, God tells the newly created man, “See I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food” (Genesis 1:29, emphasis mine). This need of ours for sustenance is not a result of sin or a byproduct of the curse of Genesis 3.

The Bible mentions food many times. often as part of prominent events.. While this is not an exhaustive list, here are just a few special events around food as found in Scripture.

  1. Israel celebrated seven feasts and the details for those celebrates are rather elaborate as described in Leviticus 23 and other places in Scriptures. Some of those feasts lasted for over a week. What both Catholic and Protestant churches everywhere celebrate as Communion, came from one of those feasts, the Passover Meal.
  2. Many teachings of Jesus take place during a meal; including the call of Levi found in Mark 2:14-16, and the conversion of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. No less than four entire chapters of Gospel of John (John 13 through 16) take place around a table as Jesus and the disciples celebrate Passover together, what we traditionally refer to as the Last Supper.
  3. While the inclusion of food isn’t mentioned, how many weddings have you attended where there wasn’t any food present? His first miracle described in John 2:1-11 is at a wedding.
  4. Other than His resurrection, no miracle of His appears in all four Gospels except the Feeding of the 5000.
  5. Many would say one of the first events which occur when we reach Heaven is a meal! The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is mentioned in Revelation 19:9.

Three Observations About Food

 Food is a constant reminder of the frailty of our bodies.

Our world quickly becomes out of balance when food isn’t included in our routine. Every four to six hours you can count on a reminder of how frail we are as we begin to crave food. While we all need oxygen, we don’t need to hunt, gather, grow, or store it. Eating is different as we must intentionally make a point to stop whatever task we are performing and take in food. The necessity of human beings to make the ingesting of food part of our daily tasks is a reminder of how we are to be looking to Him for provision and to be thankful. He provides a built in alarm for us to thank Him, multiple times every day. If you don’t already, get into the habit of thanking God every time you eat.

Food has a comforting and welcoming quality.

When we want to help a grieving family upon the death of a loved one, what is often our first response? Many times we provide food for them. It is the same if one experiences significant time in a hospital, often meals are provided. Providing food is a way we offer comfort to each other. We communicate to each other our sorrow, understanding and empathy by providing food for each other in times of stress. Many churches and communities use some sort of food as a welcoming gift. A small loaf of bread or a homemade pie are sometimes part of the opening gestures of friendship or gratitude.

Food creates closeness among people when we eat together.

We have a natural God-given desire to eat and engage in the task with others. It opens the doorway to conversations and brings people together. I cannot count how many times I have needed to talk to someone or someone needed to speak to me, and we met together. But we didn’t meet at a church, library, golf course, or a bowling alley. We meet at some restaurant for a meal.

My wife and I have been part of the same small group Bible study for nearly ten years. Yes, we always spend time studying the Scriptures and sharing prayer requests. But our best conversations take place around a dining room table at our host’s home. We eat, we laugh, we talk, and we grow closer to each other. While we do enjoy our Bible studies, I am convinced the closeness of those in our group has been built around that table as we enjoy each other’s company while we eat together.

So go ahead and have another piece of turkey! Celebrate God’s faithfulness and remember, every day – not just Thanksgiving Day – you have a built in reminder to thank God for His provision.

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Foundational Principle #9

Morality is Not Defined by Feelings

 There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? – Genesis 39:9

 Our culture puts a high value on feelings. We are told “if it feels right do it” or “trust your feelings” or some other form of advice based on what or how one “feels.” While this isn’t a new idea, it has taken a greater place in our society over the past few decades. Rarely are people encouraged to base decisions on logic or even truth, rather we’re told to search our feelings and determine for ourselves what is right or wrong.

The story of Joseph begins in Genesis 37 and by chapter 39, he has overcome the injustice done to him by his brothers and finds himself in charge of the household of Potiphar. Joseph must have been a handsome young man and attracted the attention of the wife of Potiphar. Joseph declined her advances with this statement, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”

If there was anyone who thought their circumstances would give them a pass on sexual morality, it was Joseph. He was rejected by his family, hundreds of miles away and alone. He could easily forgo any allegiance to the God of his childhood and abandon any sense of morality beyond his immediate feelings.

If Joseph was only guided by his feelings he may not have responded as he did. He spurned her advances claiming it would be a sin against God if he accepted her invitation. Joseph did not make his decision on his feelings. He did not let his situation determine his course of action in this regard. His morality was based on a higher authority.

While our feelings are real and are a gift from God, they can lead us down a wrong path or give us a faulty course of action leading to wrong conclusions. Don’t limit this application to areas of sexuality as it is relevant when you are wronged or angry. When an opportunity arises where you think you could easily get away with shaving the truth slightly or rounding off numbers to your benefit because you feel you are owed, don’t base your decision on how you feel. Feelings can waver and are affected by many factors. But God’s word is solid. Doing something because it feels right is not Biblical or wise. God’s Word is the filter by which all feels need to be strained.

Direct my steps by Your word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me. – Psalm 119:133

 It is His Word, not our feelings which must be our guide. His Word is to be the determining factor for our decisions. If our feelings pass the test of His Word, they are experienced with great joy! But if our feelings are contrary to His Word, following them will ultimately lead to our destruction.

Our morality cannot be based off our feelings which can change on a moment’s notice. Morality, the basis for our life decisions, must be founded on something solid, His Word.

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Foundational Principle #8

Whenever You Disagree With the Bible, You are wrong

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for]instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible is our standard. It is what everything else is measured against as it forms the basis of morality. When someone comes to the conclusion the Bible is trustworthy in all areas of which it speaks and every word of it is truth, then it cannot be wrong.

This concept seems simple when first presented, but this idea can be disturbing when we encounter something within Scripture we don’t like or agree with. Faced with that conflict, many will go to great lengths to explain away what the clear reading of the text states.

But since “The text is never wrong” and it is always truth, when I find myself not agreeing with a principle of Scripture, then I am wrong. This is true 100% of the time.

Of course I may not understand what is being taught by the Word, but that is considerably different than not agreeing with it. Further, I may understand yet still struggle with applying the truth it teaches.

Paul tells Timothy about the three part purpose of the Scriptures. First, the Bible has been given to us by God and is good for doctrine. If you want to know what to believe, the Bible is where you find out that information. The Scriptures also are used to point out wrong. “Reproof” is another way of saying the Bible can tells us what is wrong. We can use the Scriptures to point out error. Finally, we’re told the Bible is used for correction. Beyond pointing out error, if offers the correct way.

The total of all these ideas is verse 17 where we read how by following this process, the person following God “may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

When we disagree with something in Scripture, we are wrong.

We are hurting ourselves because His Word is true and by trusting all of it, we become better equipped for the work God has for us.

The challenge for us is to lay aside our initial reactions when we read something within the Bible which we think is wrong.  Take the time to investigate the Biblical issue and trust Him and His Word to lead you to the correct conclusion. Our attitude isn’t to find a way to prove the Bible correct, but to better align my thinking to His word.

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Foundational Principle #7

Value The Boring Stuff

 His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ – Matthew 25:21

 Anyone who make it the pinnacle in their sport is a great athlete. The world is full of good athletes but the great ones are those who arrive to a professional status. Here, they are so good at what they do, people will pay to see them play. This is also true in the area of the arts as there are many good musicians, however only a few are good enough to earn a living from their performances.

But in each sport or performance art, there are a select few who are elite. Their names are tied to their sport where even their peers look up to them as someone to emulate even long after they have retired.

Raw talent always figures into the equation as to why someone is elite over being great or being great over being good, but there is another often overlooked element. The ingredient is faithfulness.

In Matthew 25:14-28 Jesus gives us the parable of the talents. His point centers on the faithfulness of the first two servants who were faithful or trustworthy in what they were given while the third demonstrated he was neither. As Jesus described how the first two servants were rewarded as their master tells them, “You have been faithful in the little things, I will make your ruler over much.”

It is in the little things where we learn the importance of faithfulness. The mundane or little things – in sports in might be called the fundamentals – is where the great are separated from the good and where the elite are separated from the great. This principle is understood in the areas of sport or performance arts but it is also true in being a disciple of Jesus. It is in finding success in all the little things – sometimes the boring things – which define faithfulness.

Too few Christians settle for the low bar and don’t seek to make themselves a faithful disciple. Many want to do great things for God but refuse to put in the time to learn this lesson – it is in constantly being faithful or trustworthy in the little things where I learn what it takes to a disciple of Jesus.

Here are three little things you need to do to grow as a disciple. Learn these things before God gives you other big tasks.

1. Read your Bible every day. Every. Single. Day. Can’t get up early enough to spend 30 minutes in the Bible each morning? Turn off the TV 30 minutes early and go to bed. It is that simple, yet so few make it a priority.

2. Make thankfulness your first conscience thought in the morning. Thank Him for keeping you alive overnight. Each day, He is giving you another opportunity to serve Him. Thank Him for the opportunity.

3. Pray before every meal. Every day we have built in reminders of our need of Him. Without food, we die, so thank Him for your meals – every one of them.

There are other things we could add to this list but start here. Get these things right. Can you do this for 3 days straight? A week? Can you do these three simple things a month?

I dare you to value the boring stuff – and you’ll soon find out – none of these things are boring. You’ll begin to notice that you can’t wait to go to bed because you are going to learn some from the Word in the morning. You’ll find you are starting your day on a positive note and learning how being thankful changes your outlook. You will find your hunger as being a reminder to seek and acknowledge Him.

Can you take the challenge and learn to value the boring stuff?

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Proverbs 31 – The Intention

She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. – Proverbs 31:20 (ESV)

 This last chapter of proverbs has been a source of discouragement for many women. The standard listed here as the “virtuous wife” is pretty high. Not everyone is a good negotiator or seamstress. No doubt some less-than-honorable men have pointed to this chapter and used it as a weapon. My goal with this chapter is not to highlight something else women must do, but to highlight a character trait everyone – male and female – can nurture and grown in their personal life; the trait of generosity.

Among all the various descriptions of the high standard of the “virtuous wife,” right here in the middle of this 11 verse section, is this verse about her extending her hand to the poor. This is an active step.  Intentionally being generous and not walking by those in need.

Generosity is a quality all of us need. It makes no difference if we are rich or poor, male or female, old or young; a mature believer is a generous believer.

I am reminded of the story in Luke 21 where Jesus uses the example of the widow who contributed those 2 mites, which were small copper coins of very little worth, to the temple treasury. In His way of thinking, this widow gave more than anyone else. He taught how she gave not out of her abundance but out of her poverty and how her gift of those two small coins was a gift greater than anyone else’s. She was generous, even in her time of need.

Like that widow of Luke 21, the virtuous man or woman, is generous. Very intentional about extending out a hand or reaching out to those around us who are in need. The lesson for all of us is, how generous are we?  I’m not asking about your giving – sometimes we can do this as a rote exercise without even thinking about doing it. Giving can become something that is relegated to a check box, something we do without any emotion or connection to the person (or organization we are supporting).  But how intentional are we to meeting the need of another individual?

Obviously, giving to the church we attend and supporting various organizations we believe in is necessary and we need to continue to do so. But here in Proverbs 31, I see how important it is for us to extend our hand, to reach out to those around us and intentionally look for ways to help others. This is true no matter where we fall on the economic scale.

I have a friend that will often say, “You can’t do everything, but everyone can do something.” It is important that intentional generosity is part of our life. Everyone can do something.

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