December 2008


These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you. (Titus 2:15, NIV)

 

I find it interesting that Paul instructs Titus not only to encourage but to also rebuke. And not just to simply encourage and rebuke, but to do so with all authority. I have to assume that the authority of which Paul writes is the authority of one who preaches and teaches the good news of Christ as based on the authority of scripture. Perhaps there is more to the authority than my simplified understanding, but for now it will serve us well.

We tend to shy away from rebuking in our culture. Let me rephrase that a little bit. There are certain things that we are free to rebuke and many others that we are cautioned not to rebuke. It is okay for us to rebuke racism and that is a good thing. It is also okay for us to rebuke poor stewardship of the earth’s scarce resources and that is not an entirely bad thing either. However, it has become almost forbidden to rebuke anyone for immoral living and that is truly unfortunate for our nation. Sure, certain types of immorality are “cleared” for rebuking: pedophilia, murder, etc. Other immoral behavior almost gets a free pass from being rebuked: pornography (unless it’s child pornography), lying, cheating, sexual deviancy.

What happened to our culture (speaking of American culture, specifically) that causes us to cry “judgmental” when the authority of scripture is brought to bear in revealing certain types of immorality? Almost all rebuking has been rendered invalid because of the imperfectness of the one delivering the rebuke regardless of what standard they use to levy the charge. The standard of God’s word, however, is becoming especially irrelevant in our culture. Even in the adherence to the law set forth in the United States Constitution, our ability to rebuke is being challenged because of any imperfection found in the rebuke. We are slowly slipping away from a culture based on the rule of law if we can’t point to an establish law and, regardless of our own success or failure with the law, declare someone to be in violation. If, in order to rebuke someone in the law, I need to be in perfect compliance with the law, then the law is doomed. I am not, nor will I ever be, apart from the grace of God, perfect. And nor is there anyone living today that claim the title of being perfect. If no one can rebuke because of their imperfectness, then what happens to the law of God? I will maintain that it will gradually slip into obscurity as is happening today in the United States.

Once the Law of God has slipped into cultural obscurity we can look forward to the laws of the United States to crumble not long afterward.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers in turning the tide in restoring God’s moral law to our precious nation and nor do I have the most stinging and in depth critique. I only offer observations and a hope that God willing, He will restore His law to the forefront of our hearts and minds and that men and women across the country will enthusiastically embrace it. Of course, we cannot impose the law on anyone, we will only be able to encourage and rebuke as Paul instructed Titus. Let us embrace those whose authority lies with scripture and not despise them. Celebrate God’s perfect law and rejoice in Jesus Christ who fulfilled the law that we might lead a life of eternal joy and not of eternal damnation.

Below is an excerpt from Psalm 19 about the glory of God’s law.

Psalm 19:7-11

 

 The law of the LORD is perfect,
       reviving the soul.
       The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
       making wise the simple.

 The precepts of the LORD are right,
       giving joy to the heart.
       The commands of the LORD are radiant,
       giving light to the eyes.

 The fear of the LORD is pure,
       enduring forever.
       The ordinances of the LORD are sure
       and altogether righteous.

 They are more precious than gold,
       than much pure gold;
       they are sweeter than honey,
       than honey from the comb.

 By them is your servant warned;
       in keeping them there is great reward.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14, NIV)

Every time I sit down to share my thoughts on scripture I find myself wondering how I could possibly add any wisdom to the volumes upon volumes of commentaries on the bible let alone what the scripture says to begin with. After all, and I plead ignorance to some of the higher level theological discussions about the authorship of the Bible, if God spoke and men wrote it down, who am I to add anything to it? Nonetheless, I feel compelled to at least meditate and write about scripture if for no other reason than to strengthen my own relationship with the Creator. And if anything I write acts as a witness to God’s eternal glory, then I can consider myself used by God.

Just prior to verse eleven Paul writes, “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” Because God offers salvation to all men, it is imperative for believers to act appropriately in all ways in order to make the teaching about Jesus “attractive”. More appropriately, we might say that in order to avoid being a barrier between men and God, it is critical for believers to behave as God instructs. A lot has been said about whether or not we can behave our way to salvation, and I don’t intend to say too much about it (because those who have done much of the speaking are much wiser than me). However, I do believe that our good behavior is a response to God’s grace not a requirement to earn it.

Is it possible that Paul is asking us to be holy? Acting holy may not be possible for us as sinful men and women, but it is possible for Jesus who is holy and who will dwell in us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus was a perfect man in addition to being God, hence the purpose of the reminders and encouragement to behave in a manner worthy of holiness. If we focus on the way Christ lived, then our behavior ought to emulate His perfect life. Here is how Paul breaks it down for those of us who need it spelled out for us:

Just Say “NO”!

Sound familiar? I know that we shouldn’t reduce our faith to nice little slogans, but there are times when it seems appropriate to keep things simple and just say “NO”.

…to ungodliness

Not only is Jesus our Lord and Savior, but His humanness is also the model on which to base the way we live our lives. It won’t always be comfortable and we won’t always be successful, but do we really have a choice to live any other way? Even though Jesus was fully human, He was also fully God. Everything about Him is “godly”. Everything apart from Him is “ungodly”. Paul warns us to avoid ungodliness and reminds us, indirectly, to focus on the attributes of God and what makes Him holy.

…to worldly passions

Likewise, our involvement with worldly passions separates us from God in the same way that ungodliness separates us from God. What I wonder about here is discerning what constitutes a worldly passion. Is being passionate the problem? Or is it the object of our passion that is the problem? Or is it the zeal with which we pursue our passion? Being passionate about politics in our country may not in itself be a barrier to godliness, but it is easy to see how a passion of politics could become a stumbling block to worshipping God and making His word “attractive” to non-believers.

Live Self-Controlled, Upright, and Godly Lives

Again, self-control makes an appearance in Paul’s letter to Titus. How important is it to practice a self-controlled life? It must be paramount to living a godly life or why would it appear so often in scripture. Our nature is literally hell bent on separating ourselves from God. Only Jesus can bridge that gulf of separation, but our response to His grace ought to be imbued with a desire to control our nature and live an upright and godly lives.

Wait for Jesus, our blessed hope

How challenging it seems at times to wait for Jesus. Even the youngest believer understands the beautiful promises of Jesus’ return: A perfect world where God reigns perfectly through His son, Jesus Christ. At times I am so eager for the return of Jesus and the establishment of His perfect kingdom that I am distracted from living out a life devoted to Him. The trials of life pile higher and higher and it seems that my only recourse is to call out for Jesus to return and take away all of the impurities of this present world. Living a self-controlled life for Christ can become a burden when I am bogged down with my own worldly passions and I lose sight of the awesome work that Christ did for me on the cross. And that is exactly why Paul reminds us here that our souls, our lives, have been purified by Christ. All of our self-controlled living is not an effort to earn the grace of God but rather a response of devotion to Him who purified us. When I return to living a godly life as a response to Jesus’ love and not a requirement of His love, it is then that I find the peace which surpasses all understanding (Philippians
4:7).

Christians, eager to do what is good

As important as being self-controlled is in our response to believing in the amazing love of Christ, it is not the only act of devotion that we can demonstrate. As men and women who believe in Christ is our joy to do what is good. Believers in Christ are eager to do what is good. What is good? I’ll argue that good is only good if it first begins with God. If God commands it, then it is good. If God praises it, then it is good. If God blesses it, then it is good. Anything that the Bible tells us is affirmed by God, or His nature, is good and anything less falls short. Does that make anything not affirmed by God evil? Evil may not be the result of a lack of “goodness” but it is real and we need to be on guard against anything that would lead us toward it. Search for God and discover all of the good things He has in store for you to pursue.

I like chili.

I wouldn’t consider myself a chili connoisseur, exactly, but I do enjoy a good chili.

My step-mother, Karen, makes a good chili.  She admits to having my sister Samantha assisting her with the most recent chili.  Maybe that’s where the problems began…

This past Saturday we enjoyed a “Whitman Christmas” or “Christmas, Part 5” at our home on Harvard Street.  Brought in for the festive occasion was a nice pot of chili fresh from Karen’s Kitchen.  After presents we sat down to enjoy the chili and various other foodstuffs.  I do not often break bread over a nice bowl of chili so I engorged myself (sorry for if that brings back memories of my tick troubles for any of you) and had two heaping bowls of the delightful stuff.

I was told a number of years ago that the stomach was the first thing to go when getting old.  Well, mine has apparently gotten up and left.  Within mere hours I paid my first visit to the proverbial outhouse.  No serious damage, jut a little discomfort.

Well, I couldn’t really eat anything else for the rest of the day.  The effects of the chili made me think that I really didn’t have a stomach and that the beans and spices were just floating around aimlessly in my abdominal cavity.

The next day was better, but I still felt that I was absent either a stomach or an intestine or two.  However, when I announced that I wasn’t making anything exciting for dinner, Meredith asked for left over chili and I was only too happy to oblige.  After heating the chili in the microwave and sprinkling some shredded cheese on it for my dear wife, I took a good whiff of the distinct aroma.  No sooner had I sniffed the sultry smell of the succulent southwestern stew than my stomach flipped and my small intestine twisted.  Believe it or not, the mere smell of the chili had forced  me to make an “emergency” bathroom visit.

Sigh.  Will I ever be able to enjoy a good bowl of chili again?

MW

Good morning.

Yes, it is only seven minutes after 5 on Friday morning.  Do you ever have one of those days when you wake up at 3 or 4 and for some reason you just can’t fall back to sleep?  Well, today is one of those days for me.  The worst part is that right around 8am, when I need be at work, is when I’ll feel ready to go back to sleep.  Oh well.

Things are well in the Whitman house.  Speaking of wells…

I mentioned the hole in our basement in the previous update. Yes, there is a hole. My dad came up on Tuesday night last week and jack-hammered a hole around the pipes that have been causing the sewage backup problems. So there is a 2 foot deep, 6-8 square foot hole between the drier and the hot water heater.

It was entirely possible that the next update I would give you would be coming from the Hampton Inn in Rutland Town because a vast sinkhole appeared and swallowed up our house (and the three immediate surrounding it), but that is not the case and I write to you from the comfort of my 65° dining room (at 5 in the morning).

So the good news is that the drain people have come and solved the backup problem (at least that is what they claim). [Aside: the drain people are like the pod people, only scarier and dirtier.] Other than the big hole in my basement floor, the inability to use the washer and drier, and three or four days of laundry piled up we’re doing just swell. (In college, it was a badge of honor to go at least seven days without doing your laundry. In fact, the longer the better. That meant that you not only had endurance, but you also had ingenuity in how to make one pair of underwear last multiple days.)

Meredith continues to make small steps forward. Her memory problems are becoming a little more obviously focused in the area of short term memory loss. It is not uncommon for her to ask me the same question a dozen times in the span of an hour before she either remembers the answer or loses interest in the answer. Most other memories are coming back, or are rebuild-able. She and her aide (Shannon) take daily trips to the mall in order for Meredith to propel herself in her wheelchair. It’s good exercise for her and bad for my wallet.

Additionally, Meredith will be moving out of the hospital style bed that she has been in since she moved home and she’ll be moving back to our matrimonial bed. The insurance coverage was expiring because the medical necessity for the bed was diminishing. I succumbed to consumerism and purchased a king-sized bed for the occasion because I want to make sure there is room for both of us to sleep well through the night. When we’ve experimented with sleeping in our current bed, Meredith slept fine. Me…not so much. So, Merry Christmas to us.

The kids are fine. There seem to be an increasing number of times that they play very well together. In fact, it’s very cute. Malcolm runs around dictating the storyline and Maura runs around right behind him shouting, “Okay!” Of course, the times when they don’t play well together are akin to the fiercest battles of modern warfare. Maura has begun to realize that she can strike back. This could get interesting.

I am finishing up my last day of teaching for the year 2008, today. No excitement there.

We still don’t have a Christmas tree. I’m getting close to throwing lights on the fichus tree and calling it a day. Either way, we’re looking forward to Christmas. In the event that I don’t get caught up with a new journal entry, look for the star and have a Merry Christmas.

Marc

I thought I would test the waters to see if I should run for one of the Vermont U.S. Senate seats in ’10. All I need is 500 signatures to get on the ballot. I have name recognition (Whitman’s Chocolates; Walt Whitman – no relation; Meg Whitman, CEO of EBay – no relation; Christine Todd Whitman, former NJ Governor – again, no relation.)

Vote Whitman in ’10!

Is it okay to be angry with God? Is it okay to feel crushed under the weight of responsibility that He has placed on my shoulders?

I went to church with my family yesterday and by the time we got there, I was ready to explode in a fit of rage. I brought my wife and children into the sanctuary where the service had already begun and promptly turned around to find a quiet place to “vent” only to be pursued by my screaming three year-old son. When I got to the chapel, I held him in my arms and cried. Throughout the 10 months of Meredith’s struggle with a brain tumor and subsequent brain injuries, I have refused to ask God why. Why Meredith? Why me? Why us? Who am I to ask the God of the universe such a selfish question? Other than these musings, I still will not ask Him why. He will reveal that to me when it’s time.

Yesterday, however, I did have the audacity to tell God that I couldn’t take it anymore. I cried out that the burden is too great and I don’t know what to do. I wept openly with my son in my arms and telling God that it was too much for me to handle. Malcolm asked me what was wrong and I stuttered through and explanation of the truth in a language that a three year-old might understand. He empathized with me but did not understand. He brought me back to earth (and the responsibility of being a husband and father) by telling me that he was upset because the brass quartet combined with the organ and choir were too loud and hurt his ears. He led me back to the now quiet sanctuary and our family.

I don’t think I’ve finished my prayer of anguish. I know that God is not finished with me. He is sovereign and I remind myself often that I live to love Him and keep His commandments. That isn’t always comforting when you’re caught between a soiled diaper, a great deal of whining and crying, dinner boiling over on the stove, a hemiplegic spouse needing assistance to the table, and an ungrateful dog scratching at the door. God’s plan for us is unfolding and I have marveled at some of the miracles along the way. I know that He has given me strength to handle everything; otherwise I would have been crushed months ago by the weight of it all.

Am I angry at God? No, not really. Am I frustrated? At times, yes. Who am I to complain about burdens?  He sent His son to die in order that I might live.  Jesus bore the weight of the world on his shoulders. My burden is insignificant in comparison. More poignant to me than ever before is Handel’s setting of Matthew 11:30 in The Messiah, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” In my distress, however, I’m not sure I am altogether aware of how to pick up His yoke and rest from my own burdens. God willing, awareness is not the only thing I’ll have when the God appointed time comes; I will be yoked with Christ and all of the glories and blessings that entails.

MW

Below is a random sampling of Handel’s The Messiah. If I had hours of time, perhaps I could find one that I liked more, but this performance is certainly adequate for my spiritual musings.

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