Happy Thanksgiving!

May we all find something today worth giving thanks for… because indeed there are many things… no matter what we may be facing.

Shout to the Lord, all the earth, let us  sing

Power and majesty, praise to  the King

Mountains bow down  and the seas will roar

At the  sound of Your name

~ Darlene Zschech, Singer/Songwriter

(If you’ve never heard this song, you can get an unofficial sneak peek on YouTube.)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever (1 Chronicles 16:34).

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

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Two Shakes and a Whistle

So I was challenged the other day to write blog post with the title “Two Shakes and a Whistle.” My first thought was, “I don’t even know what that means!”

It turns out, I’m not alone.  Even Google doesn’t know.  I considered writing a blog post that simply said: “Does anyone know what this means?” but then I thought this may make my challenger angry.  And the last thing you ever want to do is make your challenger angry.  You never know what she might challenge you with next!  But take heart, because you are about to benefit from my extensive research.

I quickly realized that my initial impression of two giant milkshakes and an emergency first responder whistle was not entirely accurate.  Instead, it appears that this phrase is actually the conjoining of two idioms into one more brobdingnagian maxim.  (Yes, my research took me by dictionary.com).  The two phrases are “Two shakes of a lamb’s tail” and “Clean as a whistle.”

Two shakes of a lamb’s tail I get.  It means “quickly.”  If you’ve never seen a lamb’s tail shake, trust me, it’s quick.  What I did learn, however, is that a shake is actually an informal unit of time equal to 10 nanoseconds, or .000000001 seconds.  It is used in nuclear physics to time the steps of a nuclear explosion. Apparently, the entire chain reaction of a nuclear explosion takes about 50 to 100 shakes.  This means that two shakes of a lamb’s tail is faster than a nuclear explosion. (Wow, that’s a powerful little tail!)

As for “clean as a whistle,” there is a bit of scholarly debate about this one.  (I love a good scholarly debate!)  My favorite argument goes something like this: The phrase may have initially been “clear as a whistle” because a whistle cuts distinctively through a noisy environment and is a very clear signal.  The term “clean” was sometimes used to mean the same as “clear.”   If something is clear, it is also clean. (Hence that facial scrub, Clean & Clear, but I digress…)

Taken together, then, “Two shakes and a whistle” means quickly and clearly.  (I suppose one could simply say “quickly and clearly,” but really, “two shakes and a whistle” has much more pizazz.  Don’t you agree?)

Now stick with me, because I am about ready to do a two shakes transition.  Because while I was reading through my volumes of research, I kept having this thought:  We are getting ready to enter into the season of advent, the time of year when we remember the first coming of Jesus Christ even as we are still anticipating His second coming.  I was thinking about what that first coming was like.  Do you remember?  There was a giant star for the Magi to follow (Matthew 2:1-12), and a host of angels talking to the shepherds (Luke 2:8-20). Seems to me these were pretty clean signals – clean as a whistle, even.  And when the Magi saw it, and when the shepherds heard it, they went quickly to “see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about(Luke 2:15).

The Bible tells us that when Jesus comes again, it will be even more unmistakable. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God (1 Thessalonians 4:16).   For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:27).

This is the great shepherd, and He knows all about whistles, shakes, and lamb tails.  More importantly, he knows all about us.  He came once to save us, and he will come again to gather us to Him forever.  He will call, clean as a whistle, and we will go to meet him, quicker than two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

It all will happen, you might say, in two shakes and a whistle.

He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily!  Isaiah 5:25-27

 

Doubt

Sometimes I doubt it all very much.

If Christianity were real, why don’t we act more like Christians?  If there is only one faith, why are there so many factions?  If there is only one truth, why aren’t even the most fundamentals agreed upon?

Yet even as I lash out in angry questions, an irony is not lost on me.

“Sometimes it seems like a bunch of hogwash!” I exclaim.  “Did we just make this all up?  Are you just a figment of our imagination?”

And then I realize who it is I am yelling at.

God.

And I have to pause when I realize I am yelling at the very thing which I am doubting even exists.

Even in my doubts, God is there.  He is both the source and the recipient of my flashing doubts.  In my questions, in my uncertainty, in my anger:  I am still talking to God.  It is as David said: Where can I go to be away from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast  (Psalm 139:7-11).

Even my doubts cannot separate me from God.  Even when I do not believe in Him, I am talking to Him, yelling at Him, questioning Him.  I cannot ever leave His presence.  He will not let me.  “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” God declared to Joshua (Joshua 1:5b).  “I am with you always,” Jesus said, “to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b).  “I am convinced,” Paul declared, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Nothing, not even my doubts, can separate me from God.  I am, as David said, “hemmed in.”

You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain (Psalm 139:5-6).

God has laid His hand upon me, and I am bound to Him forever.  Indeed, such knowledge is too wonderful for me to really comprehend.  Even in my doubts, God is there.  I can yell at Him, because He is there.  I can question Him, because He is there.  I can doubt Him, because He is there.

Thanks be to God.

Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

History Class

Don’t worry.  This post isn’t really about history.  I wouldn’t have much to say in that regard anyway.  Partially for a reason which you are about to see.

As a student, I rarely slept in class.  But by the end of my undergraduate years, after consistently burning through more than one box of proverbial candles, I was struggling.  It was World Cultures, and the professor had one of those wonderfully soothing voices that could knock me from attentive to comatose in under five minutes.  It wasn’t that I didn’t find the class interesting; I did.  But I could not, for the life of me, keep my eyes open for a solid 50 minutes under this professor’s spell.  For years afterwards, I kept the notebook for that class for the sheer novelty of the story that it told.  Each class period began with fresh looking penmanship that slanted quickly down the side of the page and ended with a single fading line.  You could almost pinpoint the exact point at which my eyes must have fully closed.  And then the jagged line when the pen jerked back alive at my friend’s whispered, “Beagle, wake up!”

Needless to say, I have not carried forward a wealth of World Cultures knowledge from that class.  But I have carried forward an interesting lesson that I have only now come to realize was being demonstrated to me even then by my more attentive friend.  You see, one of the more fascinating aspects of our exchange was that she sat in the seat directly in front of me.  So unless my head actually hit the desk with a bang – which I thankfully don’t recall it ever doing – she had no way of knowing when I was falling asleep.  I remember asking her once, “How do you always know when I’m falling asleep??”

“Easy,” she said.  “Whenever I feel myself falling asleep, I figure you must be, too.”

Brilliant, isn’t it?  She too was suffering under the soporific charms of our professor, but unlike me, she chose to do something about it, single-handedly keeping us both in at least a semi-conscious state.

This is the lesson which God instructs us to follow outside of the classroom as well.  Am I feeling lonely?  I should be reaching out to someone else who may be feeling lonely.  Am I feeling tired and discouraged?  I should be speaking words of encouragement to those around me who are probably also feeling tired and discouraged.  It is easy when things are going well to get wrapped up into my own daily schedule and pay no attention to those around me.  Sometimes it takes a bad day for God to remind me to pay attention.  Sometimes it takes feeling lonely to remember those who are lonely.  Sometimes it takes feeling discouraged to remember those who are discouraged.  In fact, my moodiest days may actually be God whispering: “Beagle, wake up!  Take note of this.  I have something for you to do.”

There is, of course, a trap in this.  I could, as I was prone to do in World Cultures, simply sink deeper into whatever I am feeling.  I could ignore God’s wake-up call and think instead only about how I am feeling.  It could never occur to me – as it never did back then (leave me alone, I’m sleeping!) – that God can use this feeling to encourage me to reach out to others.

On the other hand, I could reach out for the wrong reasons.  I could reach out with the coercive expectation that my actions will be reciprocated.  “I am going to help you and therefore you are going to help me.”  But this is acting from wrong motives.  This is not me listening to God’s call and responding; it’s trying to manipulate others with the sole purpose of making myself feel better.  God does not call us to be manipulators; God calls us to be blessings.

Both of these – not acting at all or not acting for the right reasons – are easy emotional traps.  True, reaching out to others often is the quickest road back to where we want to be.  After all, by keeping me awake, my friend also kept herself awake.  By encouraging others, I often find myself encouraged.  But the motivation needs to come not from an expectation that other people will return the favor, but from the recognition that God has given me an opportunity.

Whatever I am feeling right now, whatever I am experiencing right now, God can use to bless someone else if I am simply willing to find them.  They probably aren’t far away.  In fact, they may be right behind me.

And I call learning that lesson a good day in any class.

Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Hebrews 10:24