The Virtue of Eutrapelia

Grandma practicing the virtue of Eutrapelia with granddaughter Claire

A friend of mine, Bob Trube, works with university faculty and graduate students through a Christian ministry, reads more books than I eat sandwiches, and has a popular book review blog. Bob’s a deep thinker. When I have a conversation with him about some of the things he’s reflecting on I’m concerned I might develop a headache, trying to think his thoughts after him and attempting to respond intelligently to them.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, racial pain, and political polarization, Bob’s been posting a daily cartoon on his Facebook page. He’s also posted about his favorite sports teams. As serious as Bob can be, and he can be very serious, he has this lighter side, which I’m glad he’s sharing during these difficult times. We all need to lighten up!

Bob’s expressing the virtue of eutrapelia, and I’m betting Bob doesn’t have to look this word up! Because you and I aren’t Bob, let me try and explain it to us. Author Magnus Sannleikur wrote in his article “The Forgotten Virtue of Eutrapelia” (and to whom I must give credit for some of the thoughts I share here) that Eutrapelia is “related to playfulness and good-natured fun. It’s the simple joy that enlivens company and warms the heart.”

Those of us who believe in God and that He’s all loving and really cares about us should, of all people, be able to exhibit moments of humor, good-natured fun, and pushing back gloom and doom, even during difficult times. Too often, however, we can act as if we’ve partaken of prune juice instead of grape juice or wine the last time we had Communion! Jesus said we should be the light of the world. He certainly was referencing our need to proclaim truth, especially the truth about Him, but I can’t help but believe that being the light of Christ also includes brightening up things wherever we go!

We may not all be as funny, humorous, and quick witted as some, but we can laugh and enter into the fun when others are! It’s good to lighten up and not take everything so seriously. It’s okay to take time and relax, enjoying the gift of leisure. We’re not the super hero that has to save the world; hang up the cape! God has even given us one day in seven to take it easy and to not take ourselves so seriously, a goofoff day called Sunday or the Sabbath.

So we have God’s permission to lighten up and seek to enjoy the gift of life He’s given us. Laugh at something funny, play games with others, do something that makes someone smile, and look for other ways to have good-natured fun that expresses the virtue of Eutrapelia! Don’t bother trying to remember the word, we’ll leave that to my friend Bob. Just remember, and practice, what it means!

“For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord; I sing for joy at what your hands have done.” Psalm 92:4

Praise for Both the Telescopic & Microscopic View!

Scientists have discovered a super black hole. A black hole is a cosmic body so incredibly dense, likely resulting from a collapsed dead star, that the gravity is so immense that not even light can escape it, hence it’s called a black hole. This particular black hole is so massive that it’s slowly sucking in six galaxies. What an astonishingly large object God has made!

One of the smallest objects in the universe is the atom, which everything, including us, is made up of. But atoms contain even smaller objects called protons, neutrons, and electrons. Scientists believe these parts of the atom are made up of even smaller particles called quarks. No one has ever seen a quark, they’re so small. What an astonishingly small object God has made!

Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander wrote a hymn in 1848 with these words inspired by portions of Psalm 104, “All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all.”

When we gaze through a telescope at the largest objects of creation or through a microscope at the smallest objects of creation we’re in awe! But even more should be our awe of the God who is creator of everything both great and small!

Our awe of God can grow even more awesome when we begin to grasp that He’s also a God of love, love for us! That’s the message, the Good News, of the best selling book of all time, the Bible.

A person can believe in God, that He exists and that He created and sustains all that exists. This is good, but it’s not the best! The best is when we realize God wants a relationship with us. He has this infinite love for us and desires that we enjoy the unparalleled delight of experiencing this love by responding and loving Him back.

All that has been created, both great and small, is for our pleasure and delight, to discover and explore, and to rule over as good caretakers. All of creation is but a backdrop, however, to finding our delight most of all in our God who made it and us. He has created everything, both great and small, but He loves us most of all!

“How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number – living things both large and small.” Psalm 104:24-25

2020 Hindsight

This past year, 2020, was an unbelievable year for most of us, for most of the world! So much loss of life, so much hurt, so much distance between us, so much economic loss. Author John Piper in his book, Coronavirus and Christ, prays, “Grant us a cure. Deliver us – your poor, helpless creatures – from these sorrows, we pray. But do not waste our misery and grief.”

It’s been said that hindsight is 20/20. Events like what we experienced during the pandemic of 2020 can be teachable times. They can help us see with greater clarity what we can’t see clearly when life is going well. C. S. Lewis said that God whispers to us through pleasure and shouts to us through pain. The Covid-19 pandemic certainly qualifies, then, as a teachable event! Looking back on 2020, what do I see more clearly with 20/20 hindsight?

First, I see more clearly how fragile life is. Thousands have been healthy and active one week and the next week have succumbed to Covid-19. It could happen to anyone at any time, even for those of us who feel we’ve taken precautions. Life has always been tenuous, but it’s been more obvious this past year. It makes me want to appreciate each day, to embrace life more fully. It also prompts me to seek a greater degree of readiness to meet God. I’m so thankful I can count on His gracious forgiveness because I’ve accepted Him to be my Savior.

Second, I see more clearly the importance of the human connection. The need for social distancing, the reality of people dying without family or friends, the absence of gatherings with family and friends, all has reminded me how much I need, how much we all need, each other. When this pandemic is over I know I’ll have a greater appreciation for being with people and loving them better!

Third, I see more clearly how before the pandemic I depended on busyness, entertainment, going here and there and back again to distract me from cultivating more of the presence of God within. It’s been said that you can tell the emotional health of people by their ability to be quietly alone. Being still is one of the best ways to get to know God better, and the pandemic has afforded many of us more time to do this.

I believe the affirmation that God never wastes pain. The year 2020 has been quite a pain! But, by the grace of God, I want to look back on 2020 with something like 20/20 hindsight and be a better person because of it!

“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25:4-5

The Long Journey of Christmas

The distance between Heaven and Earth is great. It’s God making that long journey from Heaven to Earth that we celebrate at Christmas. Yes, God dwells everywhere, including the furthest reaches of the cosmos some 13 billion light years away, but the distance from the most distant point in the universe to our Earth is nothing compared to God’s journey to join humanity as one of us. The distance from the furthest galaxy to here is measured in light years; the distance God traveled to incarnate Himself as a human is infinite!

God and His Heaven are transcendent in every way compared to this terrestrial ball we call Earth. Holy, holy, holy is He (you need to repeat it three times, the Bible’s method, to even begin to grasp the reality of this attribute of God’s holiness). The Earth? Not at all holy. Sure, from a distance, Earth orbit or beyond, our world looks pristine in its blue, brown, and white colors. Get closer and you see the scars of a fallen, hurting, abused, broken planet of wild weather, disease, death, earthquakes, and more. Get closer yet and you can’t help but observe brokenness between people, people acting badly with each other. Get even closer, into the minds and hearts of each of us, and you’ve reached a new level of brokenness, broken souls.

This unbelievable distance from glorious Heaven to fallen Earth didn’t stop God from leaving Heaven and coming to Earth, taking on human flesh, being born as a human baby! We can’t imagine what the Son of God gave up, leaving the eternally and infinitely close relationship He had in the triune Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to become one of us, ignored, despised, and forsaken by many. He left a place described as having building materials of gold, jasper, and other fine stones to be born in a barn. He gave up a glorious robe of light to wearing diapers that regularly became soiled. He gave up His cosmic throne for an animal feeding trough that was His cradle. He gave up being surrounded by angels to being surrounded by the animals in the stable and some scruffy shepherds.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas, the long journey God took, a gift of Himself for us. However, there’s another long journey of Christmas. It’s been said that the longest journey is from head to heart. That’s the journey of Christmas we each are asked to take, moving Christmas from head to heart. We know the story, at least most of us do. But making the message meaningful and transformational is another story!

Countless preachers have said at Christmas time that there was no room for Mary and Joseph and the soon-to-be-born Jesus in the inn so He had to be born in a stable. These preachers then have asked, “Will we make room for Him in our heart?” I can do no better than to repeat this frequently asked question. “Will we make room for Him in our heart?” It’s a long journey, from knowing the Christmas story in our minds to embracing it in our hearts, but it’s a journey very much worth the taking!

The apostle Paul wrote of Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Philippians 2:6-7

Three Affirmations to Make the Most of Where We Are

Three seems to be almost a magical number. A rope is often made of three strands. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken,” says Ecclesiastes 4:12. A stool often has three legs. As a photographer I use a tripod which has, no surprise, three legs. God is triune, being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Enough said; three is a good number.

So, I’d like to suggest three affirmations that can help us make the most of where we are. They can help us find peace in the place we find ourselves and give us the gumption to do God’s good where we are.

Affirmation One: God has known all along we’d be where we are!

God is not limited by time. He has a full grasp of everything in the past, the present, and the future. He exists beyond time, sort of “above” it so He sees the whole timeline, including the timeline of your life and mine. This means God has known from before time that you and I would be exactly where we are right now when it comes to the circumstances of our lives. This leads us to the second of our three affirmations.

Affirmation Two: God has a plan for where we are!

God never says to Himself, “That caught me by surprise; I don’t know what to do.” God always knows what to do. He has infinite knowledge and infinite wisdom and infinite love. That means He knows everything about everything and knows best how to utilize that knowledge (that’s the wisdom part) and plans on it ultimately working for our good (this is where the love part comes in). Nothing happens that God can’t use for His glory and our good (excuse the double negative). This leaves us with the third affirmation, the affirmation we have some control over.

Affirmation Three: God wants us to yield to living out His plan for where we are.

We have a choice every day and many times every day. Do we seek to determine what God’s will is in our current situation and decide to carry it out, or not? He’s promised us His help to carry out this best plan for us, we don’t have to do it on our own. This is where prayer and humble dependence on Him comes in.

Three is a wonderful number. These three affirmations are wonderful affirmations to live by!

“You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.” Psalm 119:68

God Has Prepared You!

Shepherd boy reference below.

On one of my recent morning walks near our home in Mexico I passed a shepherd boy watching the family’s sheep. The sheep were resting, many were lying down in what seemed to me to be a temporary sheepfold nestled under some trees.

Because the sheep weren’t going anywhere, neither was the shepherd boy. He was just sitting there, though in this modern scene of shepherd boy and sheep the young man was focusing on a cell phone or a small gaming device.

The scene reminded me of the most famous king of all time, King David. He started out as a shepherd boy watching the family’s sheep. Like this shepherd boy I encountered, I’m sure young David had much time on his hands. Unlike his modern counterpart, David didn’t have technology to help him pass the time. David apparently spent much of his time composing poems, what we call Psalms in the Bible, and putting them to music with his portable stringed instrument we know he played.

Something else David did with his spare time was to practice hitting things with his slingshot. This came in handy when he had to sling a stone right between the eyes of the giant Goliath.

Of course life wasn’t all peaceful and relaxing for young David when he was tending the family’s flock. He had to find green pastures and still waters for the sheep he shepherded. Then, too, he had to risk his own life in protecting them from lions and bears; we have it on record he had to kill both to protect his sheep.

King David’s early years prepared him for what God would call him to do in the later years. He would slay Goliath by the help of God, but also with the help of years of practice with the slingshot. He would fearlessly lead military battles with the same faith and confidence he had when facing the lion and the bear. He would use many of the same leadership principles being king as he had when being shepherd. His poems/hymns would become part of the Bible, part of the book of Psalms, and until the end of time be a comfort and encouragement to millions.

God prepared David for his multi-faceted life’s work while as a boy and young man shepherding a flock of sheep. God has prepared us for His call upon our lives too! Whatever opportunities, challenges, setbacks, troubles, or whatever else we face, God knew we would face it! He planned for it! He’s prepared us for it! Our past, even the pain of the past, can be used by God for good. We have what it takes to face the present and will have what it takes to face the future. We just have to be open to His presence and help in order to fully access the prep work He’s already done in our lives!

“He chose David his servant and too him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance.  And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” Psalm 78:70-72

The Power of Practicing Thanksgiving

My wife Diann told me she had just completed 1,000 days of finding reasons to be thankful, a different reason for each day. Doing the math she figured it took her about three years. The idea was suggested by Ann Voskamp in her book, One Thousand Gifts.

Voskamp’s book is subtitled: A Dare to Live Fully. It’s a good subtitle! We live more fully when we regularly practice thanksgiving. Giving thanks often doesn’t come naturally or easily. That’s why, I suspect, Ann Voskamp says it’s a dare to do so. Are we willing to take the dare every day to be thankful?

Thanksgiving Day is such a wonderful holiday in the United States because it’s an annual reminder to practice thanksgiving. Hopefully, the day after Thanksgiving we’ll still find reasons to give thanks, and the next day, and the day after that, until next Thanksgiving Day.

Practicing thanksgiving (and it does take practice) gives us the power to live fully. And what kind of power does it give us to live full lives?

Thanksgiving gives us the power to love God more. How can we feel close to God if we’re ungrateful toward Him? It’s not that He needs our gratitude to feel valued; God is self-sufficient in all ways. It’s we who have the need to be grateful toward Him for who He is to us and what He does for us.

Thanksgiving gives us the power to love others well. When we express gratitude toward others they feel better about themselves and better about our relationship with them. When we make the effort to be grateful toward others we have greater affection for them. All the way around, expressing gratitude toward others builds and deepens relationships.

Finally, thanksgiving gives us the power to be positive, hopeful, and faith-filled when circumstances are such that we could easily be the opposite. It helps us see the silver lining in the dark cloud, that the glass is half full instead of half empty!

Yes, there’s power in counting our blessings and giving thanks. The first verse of an old hymn, Count Your Blessings, written in 1897, goes like this:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Practice the power of thanksgiving! There are plenty of reasons to give thanks to God and to others. Let’s start adding them up; let’s just do the math!

“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds”  Psalm 9:1

Grandma, Surgeon of Stuffed Friends

My wife, Diann, fixing a stuffed friend of a grandchild’s.

My wife has sewn all of her life. She often uses a sewing machine but sometimes just needle and thread. Her talent has found new expression since becoming a grandmother.

The grandchildren have many stuffed friends including monkeys, teddy bears, dolls, and more. Like the famous story of the “Velveteen Rabbit” who became worn and tattered by being loved so much, the grandchildren’s stuffed friends sometimes need mending. From the wear and tear of daily life they come apart at the seams, allowing their innards of stuffing to burst forth. Sometimes they lose a button eye, an arm or leg, or even a tail.

The grandchildren come, stuffed friend in hand, to grandma, the surgeon of stuffed friends. Usually the surgery is too delicate a procedure to use the sewing machine; hand stitching is required. Stuffed animal on her lap or on the kitchen table that doubles as a surgery table, grandma takes off her glasses to get a better look (this is the way some grandmas’ eyes work). Choosing thread that matches the stuffed friend’s body color, she threads the needle (another task done minus the glasses). With needle and suture she goes to work.

In no time at all the stuffed friend, mended and fully recovered, is handed back to the grandchild. The child immediately checks out the previously injured area, sees that it’s been healed, says, “Thanks, Grandma,” and joyfully bounds off with the restored stuffed friend. Grandma, too, feels joy, for being the surgeon of healing for the much loved friends of her grandchildren.

People too, you and me, become frayed and worn, coming apart at the seams, so to speak. Sometimes we get the stuffing knocked out of us, so to speak again. Even in the process of loving and being loved we sustain damage, for our loving is imperfect.

Fortunately, there’s someone to whom we can go to get help to put us back together again. He’s known as the Great Physician, Jesus. His Heavenly Father (and ours too) is also a physician who heals; He doesn’t go by the title in the Bible, but His actions prove it.

The Lord doesn’t always heal the way we’d like, human doctors don’t always either, often using painful shots, medicines with negative side effects, and surgery. Still, we believe our doctors have our best interests at heart. Certainly our Great Physician does!

This can be very helpful, to remember that, like our doctors, like grandma who is ready and willing to “heal” the stuffed friend, God wants to bring healing and wholeness to us. It may be sooner or later, in a different way than we thought, or not until our transition to heaven. Our Lord is a wonderful physician who really cares and has the best of bedside manners!

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

Doing the Right Thing

Photo by Andy T on Unsplash

It’s fun watching animals perform tricks. At the zoo amphitheater a bird trainer signals his feathered friends to fly from the back, over the audience, and up to the stage. Dolphins perform their tricks in a large tank at an aquarium facility. Dogs, too, are great at doing tricks.

As different as these talented creatures are, they all have something in common; each is given a treat by their master after performing a trick. They get immediate reward for doing the right thing, instant gratification. Not always so with us!

Those of us who are serious about God, loving Him, and seeking to follow His will for us, don’t often get an immediate reward for doing the right thing. Sometimes we do what’s right and it turns out all wrong. At the very least it doesn’t turn out the way we thought it would.

We try to do what’s honest and right, but someone who does what’s dishonest and wrong comes out ahead. We take the time and effort to help out someone, and they don’t appreciate it, or worse yet, misunderstand and get angry! We pray for something good to happen, but it doesn’t happen. We try to do everything the way we think it should be done, and we don’t see the results we expected.

Sometimes the results come much later than we would like. Dr. William Leslie went to the Congo in Africa in 1912 to be a missionary. After 17 years he came back home, discouraged and defeated, feeling he had done little good over all those years of spreading the Gospel. In 2010 a group visited the isolated area and found a number of thriving churches. Upon investigation, they discovered that they were the result of Dr. Leslie’s work over 80 years earlier!

Dr. Leslie’s life is a testimony to the truth that we’re to be obedient and leave the results up to God. Results are largely out of our control. Other people can respond or react the way they want; we can’t control them. Circumstances, too, are not under our control. Add to this the sovereign will of God that is most certainly beyond our control. There’s one thing, however, that we can control and that is deciding to do the right thing, carrying out God’s will for us, being obedient to Him.

Oftentimes in the Bible God asked people to obey Him, but it didn’t always get positive results. Many a Bible character ended up being misunderstood, ostracized, beaten, or even killed for doing what God called them to do. Jesus’ crucifixion is the ultimate example.

God doesn’t call us to be successful but obedient. If we do our best and do what we think God wants of us, that is success!

God speaking to Ezekiel the prophet about prophesying to God’s people, “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen…” Ezekiel 2:7

Obedience Is More Important Than Results

In a Peanuts cartoon, Charlie Brown complains to Linus that every day his lunch is the same, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “Who makes your lunch?” Linus asks. Charlie Brown replies, “I do.”

In large measure we make our own lunch. We have more of a choice than we often think we have as to what’s in our paper bag!

Phyllis Hurwitz studied piano and violin and attended the School of American Ballet. She said, “I had great parents. I broke my leg and they gave me a book on ventriloquism. It was just so natural to me.” She became a ventriloquist, and using the name Shari Lewis, spent a lifetime entertaining children, of whom I was one, with her puppets Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse, and Hush Puppy. No one likes a broken leg, but Shari’s broken leg helped her to take a step in a whole new direction, and millions of people are glad she did!

It’s tempting to complain about the way things are; it takes less effort than deciding to do something about changing things to the way they could be. We can also move from complaining to blaming, blaming someone else for our predicament. Okay, some things can’t be changed, including what someone else has done to us, but we can change our attitude about those things we can’t change!

We have a God-given ability to make choices. We’re not like a bump-n-go toy that mindlessly changes direction when it hits up against something. We can plot a course!

Oswald J. Smith wanted to be a missionary but was considered too frail for such a life. His response? “If I can’t go myself, I will send someone else.” He did! He founded The People’s Church of Toronto, Canada, a large church that has been known world-wide for giving an extraordinary amount of their budget to missions around the world. Rev. Smith himself made 21 world tours promoting evangelism and world missions.

We can adopt a victim mentality or make the choice to find victory in it. Whatever less than ideal situation we find ourselves in, God knew we would be exactly where we are, and He has a plan. That can, and should, change our attitude about whatever challenge, problem, or setback we face. We have the God-given gift of choice; we pack our own lunch!

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.  Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.” Psalm 143:8