We are shepherds, undeservedly blessed,
visited by an angel,
our hearts beat as though
they would burst from our chests.
He said, “Don’t be afraid.”
We are rough and durable protectors
for our flocks of sheep,
who give sacrifice and sustenance,
working days without end.
We are duty-bound wanderers,
startled in the night,
amazed and frightened
by a terrible light
but the angel said,
“Don’t be afraid.”
We are shepherds
who have protected and defended
our flocks from every danger
so they’ll sustain and redeem men
A being brighter than the sun said,
“Don’t be afraid?
Unbearable joy! The angel shared great news,
and the light went from shining before us
to shining through and for us,
showing us the way to the baby
born the lamb of God in Bethlehem.
Now we have seen the Son of God, born of Mary,
a miracle child who will grow to be
the shepherd for mankind.
We will tell the world what we’ve witnessed.
Glory to God in the highest,
peace on earth and among men
with whom he is pleased.
Over the years our family has had a wide variety of pets. Guinea pigs, salamanders, snakes, birds, fish, half a dozen cats, and two dogs have graced our humble abode so far. There is much joy in sharing our lives with pets but with few exceptions most of them have short lifespans compared to our own. This means the love and joy we experience caring for our animals is ultimately balanced with loss when they die. That fact came into focus once again this week when we had to say goodbye to our 16-year-old dog, Xander.
Our first dog’s name was Sparky. He was a great dog and had a good long life, but when the time eventually came to put him to sleep I told everyone I was done… no more dogs. It was just too painful. An extreme reaction, I know, but that was how I felt at the time. A number of months later though, my wife and daughter were visiting the local mall and came across Xander. A local dog and cat rescue/adoption group were having a clinic at Petco. Xander’s small size and sleepiness on that warm day disguised what he would ultimately become, an energetic cattle dog placed to a home with no cattle to herd, only people.
The first thing we discovered after Xander came home, cooled off, and woke up, was that he had plenty of energy. Later, after he grew out of his puppyhood, Xander eventually ended up weighing around 45 pounds. Despite his un-lapdog size, Xander decided that’s just what he was, and since my wife’s chair is best suited for the purpose, that’s where he usually went when he came in for the evening. Maybe it was all that talk about his being small and mild mannered, I don’t know. Fortunately, we have a good sized yard. Xander’s daily routine became barking only when necessary, (that’s what he told me) chasing cats and other small animals out of his domain, and playing with what became his favorite toy, a rubber jack shaped thing which would bounce in random directions when thrown. Over time we probably bought over a dozen of them and he would carry it around all day in the corner of his mouth like it was an unlit cigar.
If no one was available to throw his toy for him, Xander was happy to toss it into the air and chase it himself. He was great entertainment for ourselves and our good friends and neighbors, Mick and Katherine, who have always considered our dogs theirs as well. In addition to the dog biscuits through the fence for Sparky and Xander, M & K always remembered our pets with their own special gifts every Christmas. Years ago, when Sparky was still alive, my wife, Lori was in a serious car accident, and when our family and Mick and Katherine got together to talk about how they could help out while Lori was recuperating, I was told the overwhelming portion of the discussion was concerning how Sparky would be taken care of. No surprise for pet lovers.
Whenever I worked in the yard, Xander would follow me around, trying to get me to throw his toy for him. I’d be focused on doing something, then turn to see his toy lying next to me with Xander crouched a distance away, waiting for me to throw it to him.
Although our cat, Lucy, and Xander have had their tense moments, they’ve mostly tolerated each other. After all, the couch seats three people comfortably, so it should work fine for a dog and cat, right?
When Xander’s health began to decline he started doing something he’d never done before, scratching at the door to come inside. I think he was just generally unsure of himself, and also needing to know where we were at all times. He would lay down in doorways, making us step over him to come in. Whenever I came home from work, he would be in the living room doorway facing the front door. Only when he was sure of where everyone was, could he finally relax.
In the same way that children don’t get to choose their parents, our pets don’t get to choose us, though some would argue they’ve definitely been chosen after visiting a dog/cat adoption site “just to look around.” Pet owners run the gamut from caring and loving to… not. Our treatment of animals generally across various societies is mixed and confused. Just ask a vegetarian or vegan. What I’ve observed is that people who care well for their pets usually care well for people too, although even that point might generate debate.
There is definitely something missing in our home now that Xander is gone. We’re grieving his loss. He enriched our lives with his dopey energy and endless desire to play when he still felt well enough. Even very near the end he would still get excited and try to dance around when one of us would “get it” and feed him or take him outside when he needed it. We say, “Good dog!” Do you suppose dogs ever say, “Good person?” I hope we earned it. I hope too we see him in heaven. It’s certain he was a little heaven on earth for us.
A combination of the words “wonder” and “understanding,” where “wonder” signifies both reverence and curiosity.
1) The feeling people have after learning something amazing – describing not only a recognition of the beauty of something (such as the world), but the feeling of increased awe experienced after understanding the true complexity of it.
2) The combination of: “an artist’s wonder at the virtuosity of nature with a scientist’s understanding of how it comes to be.” – author Matt Ridley (describing Richard Dawkins’s “The Greatest Show on Earth”).
You won’t find wonderstanding in any standard dictionary. An internet search finds it listed in the Urban Dictionary, where various unofficial words and phrases live. In fact, every time I type it an angry red line appears underneath, which is normally my cue to fix something I’ve obviously misspelled. However, for the duration of this post I’m refusing to make the correction because even though wonderstanding isn’t an official word, I like it. I’m hoping that someday, just like Pinocchio became a real boy, wonderstanding will become a real word. A guy can dream, right?
If you believe, like I do, that God created us and everything else in our world, an examination of how intricate and amazing it is only deepens your sense of wonder. From a mountain in the distance to a living cell under a microscope, this planet we call home is just amazing. I’ve found the greater my understanding of God’s creation, the greater my sense of wonder, so wonderstanding suits me just fine.
God, I don’t know exactly what heaven will be like
though I’m convinced it will be amazing.
You’ve saved us from hell and tasked us to tell
how Jesus did the saving.
This moment before everlasting
deepen my wonder of you, God
and all you’ve made.
Help me fully understand
the cost Jesus paid
before the earthly me fades.
Give me wonderstanding.
Did life begin all on its own
like a million piece puzzle
into the solar winds thrown?
Wonderstanding sees your purpose, God,
as the one creator behind it all.
The smallest bit of life we can view
connects with the rest.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
John 1:3 NIV
My joy abounds
immersed in your jubilant sounds,
rivers, oceans, waterfalls.
I kneel down before God
in gratitude for it all…
Just when I think I know a lot,
you show me just how far I have to go.
All creation rises up, speaking of your glory.
Through all the gifts of sense I discover
a little more of the story.
There’s glorious blinding light
and resounding booming thunder,
the scent of flowers bending in the wind
and the rain heaven sent
speaking more of your wonder.
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.
God, help us know
how small we are
in relation to it all
and still how loved
and cherished by you.
master musician and artist,
lead us to be stewards,
adventurers, discoverers, teachers,
He Is Risen
Because you’ve risen I can rise
you’re the reason I’m baptized
you’re why I say glory to God when I get up
in the morning
If anyone asks why I believe
you’re the reason
Jesus, they feared you and killed you
as though you were an ordinary man
but little did they know
in dying and rising
you’d return with salvation’s plan
Because you rose
you left an empty grave
hardly used and its door rolled away
and you walked away
with the keys to our forever
so rejoicing and alive I can say…
because you’ve risen I can rise
you’ve gone before me, that is why
I’m not afraid
and I cry more tears of joy than sorrow
because the keys you hold
open all my tomorrows
because you’ve risen,
Lord, you have risen
© Joel Tipple
Let There Be Peace
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Let There Be Peace on Earth
The peace that was meant to be
With God as our Father
Brothers all are we
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With ev’ry step I take
Let this be my solemn vow
To take each moment and live
Each moment in peace eternally
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Source: LyricFindSongwriters: Jill Jackson / Sy MillerLet
There Be Peace on Earth lyrics © Mccg LLC
The song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth” was the result of a collaboration by Jill Jackson and Sy Miller.
Jackson penned the lyrics following her own suicide attempt. “When I attempted suicide [in 1944] and I didn’t succeed,” she said, “I knew for the first time unconditional love—which God is. You are totally loved, totally accepted, just the way you are. In that moment I was not allowed to die, and something happened to me, which is very difficult to explain. I had an eternal moment of truth, in which I knew I was loved, and I knew I was here for a purpose.”
In John 13:34-35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
This love is only made possible by the intercession Jesus makes between us and God, our Father.
During this time of extreme political division and turmoil on the national stage, hate-filled rhetoric too often seems to drown out any messages we might share of love and understanding. Not only do people have opinions, a tremendous number of them are willing to tell you yours are stupid… mostly online. Instead of doing the hard work of pursuing dialogue based on issues and reasoned arguments, too many of us indulge in the sugar high social media echo chambers provide. The way I see it, as a Christian, I have a short window of time to represent the gospel message while I remain on earth. I’d like to do that by first listening and then caring enough about my fellow human to be honest. While I’m being honest, one of the things I’ll share is how the peace I know, the joy I know, comes from Jesus. So, this is my prayer, that peace begins with me. I don’t expect it to be someone else’s responsibility. And though I fully expect the world to continue to be a troubled place, I’ll remember the words of Jesus, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV
There’s no downside to peace beginning with me
though the world still makes me tired
though my efforts at making a difference
can seem like I’ve brought a squirt gun to a fire.
I’m often overwhelmed by the noise that assaults
and taunts and insists I’m less
still I’m safe in the knowledge
that as I am I’m loved
and I’ll never be any less.
So if you will, let peace be with you too
don’t be afraid to let it spill over
God’s in the business of healing one life at a time
even with billions the wide world over
A quiet simple song can start
a revolution of joy and peace
with Jesus at its center
ask God to teach you the lyrics and the rhyme
then watch hearts around you grow tender
©Joel Tipple 1/10/2021
Kindness for Christmas
He has told you, oh man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
Justin sat on his bed with a pad of paper and pencil, his legs crossed and eyes drawn together as he concentrated on the task at hand, writing what ostensibly was to be his yearly Christmas list. He’d been following what was now his yearly tradition for some time, since he decided he was too old to ask Santa for anything directly but not too old to make a list and hint to his parents that they could pass on ideas to the jolly one if they wanted to. It was normally as easy a task as you’d expect it to be for a boy his age. Just like anyone else he was bombarded with advertisements for this toy and that, games galore, electronics sure to make him the envy of his friends. Those things still held a strong attraction, but his perspective on the world and his place in it was changing. There was something in the air, something tense, like the feeling he got before a test at school when he hadn’t studied enough. It seemed like he was noticing the adults in his life getting more and more irritable, a little like when the flu went through his school and so many kids were out sick.There was this mean way people were treating each other that was going around. Once, when his grandfather caught him being mean to his little sister he sat him down and said, “Justin, do you know how important you are to your little sister? “No,” he said. “Well, you are. There are some things that she will learn best if she learns them from her family. If you teach her how to be kind she has a much better chance of growing up to be a kind person. That’s very important. It’s what Jesus taught. It’s also a fruit of the spirit.” So, it was with these ideas that seemed on the verge of being a little too big for him and God tugging on Justin’s heart that he began his list, though, as he wrote, it seemed more of a plea.
Justin’s Christmas list.
Mom and Dad would you be kind this Christmas?
Please, for that day set aside the words that hurt.
I’m sure you plan on giving us the best of all the toys,
but maybe you forgot what little girls and boys
need most of all.
Please be kind for Christmas.
In Sunday school we’re singing
Peace on Earth.
If it’s not too hard,
I wonder if God could start
in our house?
I don’t know exactly how it all works.
It takes all I know to write this verse…
I just hope he understands, anyway.
Could we maybe talk about being kind
I know I’m just a kid,
and it might be a big thing,
but if it’ll help I’ll clean my room…
How about that?
For Christmas, could we please be kind?
Yesterday at the store, Mom,
you used your outside voice
with the lady who was helping us.
I think her kids
go to our Sunday school.
She looked really sad.
Did she do something bad?
Please if it’s alright,
could we get her
some of what I want
I could share.
Will there be extra kindness
I think all my friends at school
could use some too.
If we have some to share
I’ll bet we could.
If I ask real nice
I think you would
How much does kindness cost?
Here’s my piggy bank.
That should be a good start, I think.
How much is enough?
Quite a bit, I’d say,
but just how can you get more of it
by giving it away?
If I fall down
will you kindly pick me up?
If I can’t reach
will you help me be tall?
If I don’t know the answers,
will you help me
ask better questions?
Then, maybe my brain
won’t feel so small.
Will you be the one
to tell me all about Christmas
by showing me how Jesus lived?
I’d rather know all that
from you, Mom and Dad.
For me it would be
the kindest thing you ever did.
The Heart of Thankfulness
What qualities do you admire most in people? Friendly? Funny? Outgoing? Kind? Intelligent? Certainly I think you’d discover one common denominator would be the quality of thankfulness. While the most miserable people seem best at finding the worst, the happiest ones have a way of tapping into an attitude of gratitude that buoys them even in difficult circumstances and similarly lifts everyone around them. No matter their physical appearance, they somehow manage to be the most beautiful people in the room.
In his first letter’s exhortations to the Thessalonians, chapter five, verses 16 through 18, Paul says to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Note that he says, “in everything.” The circumstances may be horrible, but an attitude of thankfulness can keep hope, essential as breathing, alive even then.
How can we break out in thanksgiving
even in the middle of mourning, grief and pain?
How can we be there for the living?
If God’s commanded, he’ll surely provide a way
to be thankful.
Lord, maybe I’ve taken leave of my senses,
to be joyful, in a world missing paradise,
but since you’ve given me permission
I’ll swing for the fences,
and be so thankful.
No matter how the earth groans,
no matter whether man
tries to destroy all you’ve given,
I know you’re sovereign, Lord.
No matter how dark the news,
and evil seems to win,
I’ll search for the way…
to remain thankful.
I’ll enter your gates with thanksgiving.
I’ll enter your courts with praise,
for you are good and your love is eternal.
I will not fear what I can’t see in the night,
I won’t fear the dark in the day,
for you remain Lord no matter where or how I am.
For that and so much more I’m thankful.
Lord heap my heart
full of thanksgiving,
Heap it up till it overflows.
Heap it so I can’t keep it to myself,
The whole world has to know.
God’s word helps me to perceive,
we must be illuminators of his love,
justice and hope.
Circumstances will change,
our health may ebb and flow.
The world’s economy might fluctuate,
but that won’t change what I know.
So I’m thankful.
Whether we face plenty or hunger,
abundance or need,
we can do all things
through Christ who strengthens us.
He is our sufficiency
and we are thankful.
Though we’re persecuted, we will not be abandoned;
Though we’re struck down, we will not be destroyed.
we lift our hands and rejoice
because we look toward the one who does not change
and give our offering of thanksgiving.
Lord heap our hearts
full of thanksgiving,
Heap them up till they overflow.
Heap them so we can’t keep it to ourselves,
The whole world has to know.
Take over the places in me
that are not all about you,
like the place that calculates
what’s owed me
and from whom.
If you would, Lord, make it over… Lord, make me over.
You know God, we’re pretty selfish
and we’ve all got our wish lists.
It seems they’ve changed only little
from the days we were kids.
But Lord, among those qualities I value,
grow in my estimation that of gratitude.
Imagine the world like that,
spreading like a good disease.
I can’t possibly overestimate
what it could mean.
All that taking turning into giving.
Ground zero right here.
That’s a funny thought…
infectious agents for Jesus.
Lord, heap our hearts
full of thanksgiving,
Heap them up till they overflow.
Let the good news
from our overflowing grateful hearts
draw those we meet
to your kingdom.
Lord, heap our hearts.
This much I know, just as I breathe,
that which I send out,
wind carried seed,
is gonna grow.
Really, I don’t know, where it will grow,
but take it,
bless it, Lord,
till I go home.
Until we all go home,
this trust we carry,
this gift sacred married
is best living when it’s shared.
Send it with your voice,
send it with a smile,
as often as you can,
joy building all the while.
There it is within
and there it is out,
now a whispered breeze,
then a storm’s shout.
One to another
©Joel Tipple 9/20/2020
Sanctuary, Lord, I find, for my heart and for my mind.
Thanks be to you, God, for my salvation.
I rejoice, for when I was lost, you found me.
Lasting peace, of inestimable value, I now possess.
Light, you’ve made all my earthly burdens,
that can’t measure with the treasure of you.
© Joel Tipple 9/5/2020
When to Worship
Honestly, the book of Habakkuk was not on my radar. It’s a small book near the end of the Old Testament, written by a prophet we don’t know much about. A theme in much of the Old Testament is man’s relationship with God. In a nutshell, man has always had a habit of forgetting God when things are going well and complaining when the situation worsens. The reigning king at the time of Habakkuk, Jehoiakim, was described by the prophet Jeremiah in this way: “your eyes and your heart are intent only upon your own dishonest gain, and on shedding innocent blood and on practicing oppression and extortion” Jer. 22:17 It was against this backdrop, during a time of increasing evil in Judah and oppression by the Babylonians, that Habakkuk writes of praise in chapter 3. I quote chapter 3:17-19 here: “Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds feet, and makes me walk on my high places.”
It’s easy to praise God when the sailing is smooth and complain when we are buffeted by storms. The self discipline required to stop for a moment to consider how we might grow and learn during those times is neither automatic nor easy to come by. However, God is always worthy of our praise and deference, and although we may not always be able to understand His ways, He remains on the throne. Of that we can be certain.
God, please accept my worship.
Let my song be lifted high.
When I focus on what’s difficult in my life,
help me remember the times
you’ve renewed my strength and joy,
carried me when I couldn’t walk.
When my foundation felt unstable
You were always my solid rock.
Increase my understanding,
in the darkness let it be my light.
Give me the same breath to sing in the valley
that I breathe when I sing on the heights.
© Joel Tipple