Monthly Archives: December 2016

Repeat The Sounding Joy – Again

Way back in 1719, Isaac Watts penned the words to a favorite Christmas song, Joy To The World. The familiar tune paired with Watts’ prose was written by George F. Handel, famous in his own right for well-known oratorio, Messiah.

While the verses of Joy To The World are more reflective of Christs’ triumphant return, it became a popular song attached to the celebration of His birth. So much so, that by the end of the 20th century it may be the most published Christmas song in North American, according to hymnary.org.

Recently, as we were singing this in church, I took special notice of verse two.

Joy to the earth, the savior reigns     

    Let men their songs employ

 While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains

     Repeat the sounding Joy!

 The use of the word “employ” here can be defined as “to use something as an instrument of means.” One would “employ” or “use” a saw for cutting or a pen for writing. Watts is stating men would use or “employ” songs to praise the reign of their savior.

Do “fields, floods, rocks and hills” sing joyful praise? There is a temptation to dismiss this as hyperbole, an exaggerated expression of an overzealous song writer, but I wonder if there is more to this concept of God’s creation praising Him.

Notice how Psalm 96 conveys this same message;

Let the Heavens be glad and let the Earth be rejoice

    Let the sea roar and all that fills it

And the field exalt and everything in it.

    Then shall all the tress of the forest sing for joy before the LORD. – Psalm 96:11-12 ESV

As time goes on, I am becoming more convinced that we do not understand praise. We think of praise or worship as a thing we periodically do. But I wonder if praise is supposed to be our normal way of life.

Isaac Watts seemed to think the “fields, floods, rocks and hills” would “repeat the sounding joy.” If God’s creation is singing praise, shouldn’t we, His people, be living our life full of praise? Maybe praise may not just be a thing we do but a state of who we are. Living our life in such a way that we praise Him in everything we do.

Unfortunately, too many relegate praise to a Sunday morning activity.  Thinking a twenty minute time of music somehow is an adequate amount of worship due the Creator. I think we cheat ourselves of the experience of walking in the joy of the LORD when we cheapen praise to a small blimp of activity limited to the first day of the week.

During this Christmas season, take time to praise Him. Take a cue from the “rocks and hills” and make your existence an atmosphere of praise. When you wake up in the morning, praise Him. When things go well for you, praise Him.  When you run into disappointments, praise Him. Praise Him for all His provisions and the end of the day,  praise Him. But most of all, praise Him for coming to us as that helpless infant and growing to become a man who paid our sin debt and is now reigning as our savior!

Joy To The World and Merry Christmas!

-jm

 

Christmas Quiz

Think you know everything about the Christmas Story?  Then this little quiz will be a piece of cake for you!  Answer all the questions ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE!!  (Hint……just because you heard it in a Christmas song, doesn’t make it true!)

(answers are on the bottom of the post)

  1. What is the name of the grandmother of Jesus?
    1. Martha
    2. Mary
    3. Eve
    4. The Bible doesn’t say
  1. Jesus was born in what town?
    1. Jerusalem
    2. Nazareth
    3. Bethlehem
    4. Jericho
  1. Joseph was a…
    1. Carpenter
    2. Blacksmith
    3. Priest
    4. Tax Collector
  1. Why didn’t Mary and Joseph stay at the inn?
    1. They couldn’t afford it
    2. There wasn’t an inn in town
    3. There was no room at the inn
    4. None of the above
  1. How did Mary and Joseph get to Bethlehem?
    1. Colt
    2. Mary rode a donkey, Joseph walked
    3. Wagon pulled by 2 oxen
    4. The Bible doesn’t say
  1. After being born, Jesus was placed in a …
    1. Manger
    2. Basket of reeds
    3. A pile of hay
    4. A backpack
  1. Which animals does the Bible say were housed in the stable where Jesus was born?
    1. Cows, donkeys and sheep
    2. Lions, tigers and bears (oh my)
    3. Goats, oxen and camels
    4. The Bible doesn’t say
  1. A Manger is…
    1. A barn
    2. Wooden table
    3. A basket
    4. A Feeding Trough
  1. From what area were the wise men from?
    1. The west
    2. The east
    3. The Orient
    4. None of the Above
  1. What sign were the shepherds given to look for by the angels?
    1. A lion and a lamb together in peace
    2. A tree with a star on top
    3. A star over the stable
    4. None of the above
  1. How many wise men came to see Jesus?
    1. Three
    2. Two
    3. One
    4. The Bible doesn’t say
  1. The wise men were…
    1. Kings
    2. Priest
    3. Star gazers
    4. Doctors
  1. According to the Bible, the little drummer boy met Jesus….
    1. In the stable where he was born
    2. When Jesus was about 2 years old
    3. In Joseph and Mary’s home after they returned to Nazareth
    4. None of the above
  1. Who told Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem?
    1. An angel
    2. Caesar Augustus
    3. Pontius Pilate
    4. The high priest
  1. The child Jesus and His parents went to Egypt because…
    1. Joseph was told to in a dream
    2. He wanted to meet Pharaoh and tell him to let His people go
    3. He never went there
    4. The Bible doesn’t say

Have fun!

answers……

 

 

 

 

  1. D – While the Bible does say who Jesus’ grandfathers were (found Matthew 1 and Luke 3), His grandmothers are not identified
  2. C
  3. A
  4. C
  5. D – While often imagined as Mary riding a donkey, the Scriptures are silent on this matter
  6. A
  7. D – Again, the Bible makes no mention of any animals present at His birth
  8. D
  9. B
  10. D – “This shall be a sign to you; You will find the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2;12)
  11. D – While three gifts are mentioned, the Bible is silent on how many magi were there.
  12. C
  13. D
  14. B – Read Luke 2:1-4 again
  15. A

 

Divine Relaxation For Jovial Male Persons

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 birth 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, many English 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 Matthew when Joseph was told, “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 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.

Christmas Blessing My Friend!

-jm

75 Years Ago Today

Pearl Harbor.  Just those words invoke images of a listing ship, a fire and an explosion.  Those of us who know of Pearl Harbor only by grainy black and white images or from a history lesson often don’t appreciate the significance of that day.

We “young” ones tend to think the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 as being the worst day in American history.  More people died on 9/11 and it was on television within brief minutes of the attack. Then the second plane hitting the tower on was live broadcasts.  While as bad as 9/11 was, I don’t think it was anything like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago.

pearl-harborWe lost our Pacific Fleet.  Other than our aircraft carriers, for all practical purposes, we lost our naval presence in the Pacific. The surprise attack proved to be the worst naval disaster in American history.  It was also devastating to American airpower.  Roughly three hundred planes – nearly all of the fighters and bombers in the Pacific – were destroyed.  Not only the Hawaiian Islands but the west coast of the United States was vulnerable to invasion.  Rumors were running rampant about the next attack being on its way.

I’ve never been to Hawaii.  But if I ever get on visit our 50th state, I am going to make a point to go to Pearl.  I tend to like museums, but the Arizona Memorial is much more than just a museum.  To me, this is a tangible reminder of how fragile our freedom is, of how important honor and sacrifice are and how important it is for us to appreciate our past.

A World War II vet used to live right across the street from me.  He was a navigator in the Pacific theatre flying in PBY flying boats.  Yes, that was a real plane, which could land and take off on water.  His family has told me he rarely talked about his time in the service.  That was a unique generation and a unique time.

Veterans of any time-frame, I thank you.  But for the remaining WWII vets, this is a special day.  Our world changed. 75 years ago on December 7th, 1941.  Let us remember and honor this day as President Roosevelt stated, “A date which will live in infamy.”

Blessings My Friend

-jm

The Ultimate Answer

“I believe that the Bible alone is the answer to all our questions and that we need only to ask repeatedly and a little humbly in order to receive the answers.  One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books.  One must be prepared to really enquire of it.  Only thus will it reveal itself.  Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer shall we receive it.  That is because in the Bible God speaks to us.”                                      — Dietrick Bonhoeffer

 

I remember reading an article from one of my favorite bloggers, Kevin DeYoung a few years ago in which he wrote about the importance of teaching the Bible.  While he is advocating the idea that churches need to be teaching more, a position which I totally I agree, I think the problem is deeper.  Our churches and church leaders often do not agree with the statement of Bonhoeffer.  Mainly, the Bible alone (emphasis mine) is the answer to all questions.

While I know there are many good churches focused on the Word, there are plenty who are not.  I may be guilty of making a broad brush criticism of churches but here is what I have seeing on a regular basis:

  1. Pastors are pushed to provide marriage advice, child-rearing tips, financial planning etc and while these are valuable topics, rarely are they taught from the Scriptures – beyond an opening verse.
  1. Children’s ministry is rarely more than a glorified babysitting service so parents can have a 60 minute break to hear the previously mentioned topics.
  1. Youth groups are fun times full of dodgeball, pizza and music, but with just a hint of a Bible verse.
  1. Small groups are times where everyone gets to share their opinion of a passage – one they just read together and spent all of 10 seconds thinking about.

Teach the Word.

I realize a venue which reaches adults may not make a lasting impact on pre-schoolers and I would expect a youth group to have a higher energy level than the Senior Adult Sunday School Class, but I maintain, each venue of our churches needs to have the Word taught – not just referred to – but taught.

I have heard way too many messages about the Bible which don’t ever open it to teach something from it.  This isn’t just something I witnessed firsthand, but I’ve noticed this in various Christian media outlets.  The Word is mentioned in a positive way, but often not taught.

We have more English versions of the Bible available to us than any previous generation. We have study guides, reference materials, charts, graphs, dictionaries and encyclopedias galore.  The amount of free resources found online is staggering.  Yet I think we face a level of Biblical illiteracy unprecedented in the last 200+ years.

Do people study the Word on their own?  I don’t mean just read, but as Bonhoeffer states “to be prepared to really enquire” of it.  Seeking out God’s answers from His Word takes some effort, from both the hearer and the teacher.

The hearer or the person wishing to be taught, needs to come to study (service, event etc) with some interest in hearing what God has for them.  Of course, I don’t expect a 4 year old to have made this leap (but some do!).  But if we have created an atmosphere where the attendees know they are going to hear something relevant for their life taught from God’s Word, then we’ve won half the battle!  If you come to church expecting something from God’s Word, there is a good chance you are going to hear it!

The other half of this equation is what DeYoung was getting to.  We church leaders need to make a point to teach the Word.  Sure, Sunday morning comes to mind, but anytime there is any function going on in church, can’t we use that as a Bible teaching opportunity?

So we have to ask ourselves if we agree with Bonhoeffer.  Is the Bible alone the answer to our questions?  Is God’s Word relevant to our life and can it be applied to life beyond Sunday morning?

I say whole-heartedly YES and a thousand times YES.

Let’s come to our services expecting to learn something from God’s Word and let’s make a point to teach the Word in whatever venue we lead.  Be creative with it as much as you need to reach your audience, but teach the Word.

Blessings My Friend

-jm