Thinking Inside the Box

“You can stand in the box and wave your arms if you want to, but I need you to stay inside the box.” That’s the advice that my daughter, the communications czar, gives to the people who send her copy.

For years now, “thinking outside the box” has been such a cliché, especially in business circles, to be pretty much meaningless. I’ve heard it enough times to suggest that we start looking back inside the box. Who knows? There might be something useful in there, and nobody has paid it any attention for ages!

While I’m often in favor of paradigm shifting and useful innovation, I’ve found that the human fascination with “thinking outside the box” is often an excuse to ignore the stuff that is inside the box. In other words, it is a way to jettison traditions and rules and the wisdom of the ages without giving it much thought.

I mention that today because before running off and leaving Psalm 118:24, I wanted to revisit one of the words, one that I gave very little attention to on our first run through. The word is the next-to-last in the verse, “in.”

When we say, with the Psalmist

This is the day the LORD has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.

that “in,” while small, is important beyond its letter count. For us to rejoice and be glad in this day, that little preposition indicates the relationship between our actions (rejoice and be glad) and the day (it). Where will we rejoice and be glad? In the day the Lord made.

You cannot simultaneously operate within and without the day God made, so that little word excludes our attempts to make ourselves happy outside God’s day.  How much human effort is spent in trying to make the day the Lord has made into a day that He hasn’t made? When we do that, we’re essentially saying that God’s day is inadequate.

When I woke up this morning, I could have looked to my left and thought of the faults of my wonderful wife. But this is the day that the Lord has made, and He made that day with her as my partner. Whatever flaws she might have, I’m supposed to rejoice and be glad in this day and with her.

One of the first things I said this morning after rising was “brrr,” as the temperature dipped into the low 30s last night. I could grouse about the weather, but it’s the weather in God’s day. My job and my face, my bank account and my family–all of these things could lead me to complain and then try to make myself happy outside of the day God made. But that’s not what the verse says.

I’m not calling here for complacency. There’s nothing to stop me from seeking a new job, trying to earn more money, or turning up the thermostat. I can attempt to help my wife and other family become stronger, better people. I’m not sure what I can do about my face. But regardless that’s tomorrow. Today, I’m called to rejoice and be glad in the day God gave me, a day that isn’t just a date but an entire set of situations.

The Magic Word

I love you. Frank loves you. I love Frank. I despise you.

In that little sentence, “I love you,” the change of any of the three words drastically changes the sentence. Were I to ask, “Which word in that sentence is the most important?” You’d be hard-pressed to answer, opting perhaps for “All of them.”

That’s the question that I’d like to ask about Psalm 118:24. After plodding through, word-by-word almost, that verse, let’s consider which word is the most significant. Certainly as is always the case in language, the change of any word alters the meaning of the sentence. For example, if I go from “She ate dinner” to “She gobbled dinner,” the change of the verb is significant even while the action being described is precisely the same. I would argue that changing “dinner” to “supper” would create a smaller change. “Dinner” is less important.

But what about with our verse:

This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

What’s the most important word there? I have a nomination that came out of my understanding of how this verse hasn’t been acting on my life. The word is “LORD.”

I have encountered people having good days that the Lord gave them recently.

  • Alyson got a new car.
  • Emily bought a fine house.
  • Dan received a new kidney.
  • Jim finished that huge project.
  • Tom got to eat at Fogo de Chao.

At the close of day, those people probably all thanked God for the good day, the day He’d made. But what if the car was wrecked, the house sale fell through, the kidney was rejected, the big project failed, or the meat was overcooked? What if the weather on this day the Lord has made is crummy? What if I have to pay a ton of money to replace my car’s clutch? What if I go to work every day to do a job that I can’t quit but that I’m tired of? I could go on. Can I still rejoice and be glad?

When my rejoicing and gladness depend on the meals that I eat, on the income I make, on the convenience of my life, of health or friends or some other variable of mortal life, then I’m not always going to enjoy the day. When I take my delight from those things rather than from the Lord, then I sound a lot like the whiney Israelites in Exodus 16:3:

 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate all the bread we wanted. Instead, you brought us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of hunger!”

The problem with that gang was that they put something, namely their food, before God. Their modern-day counterparts are the people who say, “Yes, I love Jesus, but I wish the preacher didn’t talk so long.” They’re–we’re–not putting God first.

If what I mean when I repeat Psalm 118:24 is “This is the day the Lord has made (because He put such great stuff in it to make me happy),” then I’m altering the verse beyond recognition. This is the day the Lord has made, and I’m going to rejoice not because of what He did for me in it but because He made it. If I’m broke, sick, bored, tired, or persecuted, it doesn’t matter if the Lord made the day. Regardless of the bad, if the Lord is in the day, then we should rejoice and be glad.

It’s a Sad, Sad Situation

At a wedding recently, I saw the groom standing with the most funereal look on his face. “Happiest day of his life,” I whispered to the person next to me. More than likely, this guy was just trying to keep it all together, but his expression said, “I’d rather be getting a root canal right now.”

For many humans, our natural expression, our natural emotion is not happiness. Why else would people who are taking our pictures have to so constantly remind us to “smile.” This is why I invested a dozen or so entries in taking apart Psalm 118:24 recently.

This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

I wrote about the verbs and the nouns and the pronouns. I camped out on that verse for hours over the last couple of weeks. And here’s the weird thing: as I wrote about the necessity of rejoicing and being glad, I found myself bouncing along on the pot-hole-strewn road of depression.

What was wrong? What, as my father used to ask, “did I have to be depressed about?” In reality, I had nothing particular to fuel my depression. During those weeks, spring erupted in Kansas City. A new grandchild arrived in our life. My job is steady; my bank account healthy. My relationships have been stable, and nothing unusual has come my way to throw a monkey wrench into my mood. So what was wrong?

Let’s be clear. We’re not talking about go-to-the-doctor-and-start-Prozac depression. It hasn’t been friends-hide-all-the-knives depression. I’ve seen that in people, and I don’t trivialize it. No, this was just a general down season, perhaps what Jimmy Carter referred to as a “malaise.”

How could I remain down, not only knowing that “This is the day the Lord has made” but dwelling on that verse as a whole and in its parts nearly every day for two weeks? It doesn’t make sense, but then this is the human mind we’re discussing.

In trying to understand my feelings, I’ve had Psalm 119:14 pop into my head:

May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Over these weeks, I do believe that the words of my mouth (and my keyboard) have been acceptable to God, but I don’t know that I can say the same for the meditation of my heart. Yes, my head ran over Psalm 118:24, analyzing it to within an inch of its life, but for all that analysis, did I do the thing that I had hoped this entire project would accomplish? Did I implant not just its words but its meaning, its profundity into my heart?

Although I thought I was done with that verse, I believe I might camp out on it for a couple more days. Hopefully, as I fully process its depths, I can chase the blues from my life.

In My Day, Revisited

My students are wimps. They whine about everything. In my day, we wrote forty-page research papers longhand and then we typed them on typewriters–manual typewriters. We didn’t need any of that namby-pamby Internet stuff to do our research. No, we used the Readers Guide to Periodical Literature and struggled through seventeen steps before we’d ever see an article that might be marginally useful. We did all that, and we liked it!

As we wrap up our examination of Psalm 118:24, I’d like to take a look at the final two words, each just two letters in length. It’s easy to get all excited about rejoicing and being glad and to pass right by “in it.” “In it” just feels tacked on and unimportant, but it’s not.

When we read the first words of the second half of the verse–either “let us” or “we will”–we’re in the future tense, but that really doesn’t get to the heart of the time element in this verse. This is the day and we are in it. That’s where we’re supposed to rejoice and be glad.

The problem with the grumpy old man that Saturday Night Live presented and that I copied at the outset is that he’s living in the past. We laugh at Dana Carvey’s rendition, but it’s not that much an exaggeration. My mother and Penny’s father can head pretty far down that backward-looking path.

At the same time, people can look forward to tomorrow, to retirement or to empty nesting or to vacation or even to the weekend. Just as surely as there are grumpy people looking backward, many of us spend far too much time pining for the future.

Neither of those, however, is where God wants us. Neither is where Psalm 118:24 asks us to focus. We are called to rejoice and be glad in it, in this day.

Most of my students have not gone far enough down life’s road to be looking wistfully at the past, but many of them are looking ahead. Some of the others aren’t looking ahead, but are stuck grumbling in today, perhaps escaping it by sleeping in or indulging in intoxicants. These are not the reactions that will bless us.

This si the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.

 

If You’re Happy and You Know It

Dane Iorg looped a single to right field, driving in the tying run. Then Jim Sundberg slid into home, just beating the tag to win game six of the 1985 World Series. (St. Louis Cardinals fans are even now muttering the name of Don Denkinger, to which I say, “Get over it!”)

The next day, the day of game seven, local Kansas City TV promoted the decisive game’s broadcast by showing that replay as the Isley Brothers sang, “It makes me want to shout!” And here’s the reason I mention this. Every time I saw that little ad, I had a physical and an emotional reaction. I had watched the game live, almost jumping out of my skin. But then, all day the next day, I relived it and felt something powerful each time.

In our examination of Psalm 118:24, we’ve discovered that we’re supposed to do two things as we live in the day the Lord has made. We’re supposed to rejoice, and we’re supposed to be glad. Looking at those individually, we saw that they, while overlapping, are distinct ideas, but now I’d like to take a moment and consider them together.

The distinguishing factor in the verb translated “rejoice” seems to be movement. You may recall that this word can indicate strong positive or negative responses–although it’s usually positive. The key is that those responses involve movement. If you sit in your chair and politely clap in response to God’s day, then I don’t think you’re truly rejoicing.

On the other hand, the word translated “be glad” focuses mostly on a look on the face. This gladness cannot be contained inside the head. Instead it busts out onto the face. You can’t help but show it to the world. If you can glower straight ahead while “being glad” about God’s day, then you probably don’t get it.

Years ago, when I earned by doctorate, I drove from Lawrence, Kansas to my home in Independence, Missouri, a trip of about an hour. My giddiness, my joy, my sense of relief was so strong that I found myself crying out in joy at various points along highway 10. My face probably would have had passing drivers thinking me insane. It was a marvelous feeling.

More than likely, you have that memory of a time when you simply could not contain your joy. Perhaps it attended one of these statements:

  • Yes, I’ll marry you.
  • We’re going to have a baby.
  • It’s benign.
  • We’d like to offer you the job.
  • You’ve been selected to receive this year’s Nobel Prize.

Life, hopefully, has presented you with a handful of such moments, but how often do you feel that sort of joy, how often do you respond uncontrollably in body and face (and probably words) to something God has done? How often do you find yourself overcome by God’s amazing goodness, so overcome that anyone around you can see it?

We used to sing a song:

If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it. If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!

That’s a kid’s song, but the implication for adults is serious. If you’re happy and you don’t show it, then maybe you’re not really that happy.

 

Turn that Frown Upside Down!

“Smile and the world smiles with you. Frown and you frown alone.” In my grumpy teen years, my dad used to unctuously quote this old proverb to me, annoying me greatly. I think that might have been his intention.

Is there actually truth in the saying? When you smile, does the world actually smile with you? Dale Carnegie instructed his students to go out and smile at people to see what sort of results they got. His idea was that if you became known as the sort of person who was constantly smiling and happy, then you’d be the sort of person who could succeed in business and in life.

As I walk through my life, I consider smiling. Does the world smile with me when I smile? Not necessarily. They might think me loony!

My mother’s saying along these lines was “It takes more muscles to frown than to smile.” So what? I don’t find myself tired after frowning. Am I desperately attempting to conserve energy? Plus, it turns out that this saying isn’t true. Imagine that.

I bring all this up today because of the second verb in the second half of Psalm 118:24.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Look up the Hebrew verb that is translated, pretty steadily, as “be glad,” and you’ll find that it means something slightly surprising: “rejoice.” Does that mean that the verse enjoins us to “rejoice and rejoice”? Sort of, but not exactly.

Read a bit more in the Hebrew dictionary and you’ll find this. “The primary idea appears to be that of a joyful and cheerful countenance.” So basically it could say “let us rejoice and smile.”

Funny-Smile-Meme-I-Just-Like-To-Smillings-my-Favorite-PictureWe’ve all seen people who go around with a completely unnatural and inappropriate grin on their faces. The wrong smile can make a person look fairly strange. Smile for the wrong reasons and you’ll seem evil. Smile for no reason and people will take you for crazy or dishonest. The politician who can go around for weeks and months on end, smiling at a bunch of complete strangers without looking unnatural, can probably achieve something.

Of course this Psalm does not call on us to smile for no reason and it does not suggest we smile for a bad reason. The first half of the verse has set up the reason for our rejoicing and our happy expression.

How can I not be cheerful, how can I not smile when I am inhabiting the day that the Lord has made? I ask that rhetorically, because, perhaps like you, I am entirely capable of wearing that frown as my habitual expression. I suppose that’s why my parents shared their little sayings with me.

So why, if I’m living in the eternal day that the Lord made, do I not walk around smiling? The reason, of course, is that, living in the flesh, I find it far too easy to allow that knowledge of God’s control to fade out of my mind. That’s why the Psalmist brought it to his own and to our mind.

This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Doesn’t that make you smile?

Celebrate Good Times!

“Celebrate good times, come on! There’s a party going on right here, a celebration to last throughout the years.” Back in 1980, Kool and the Gang sang this song, musically pretty catchy but lyrically pretty inane.

There’s a fairly common attitude that we encounter in secular society, calling on us to celebrate for the sake of celebrating. “What are we supposed to celebrate?” Celebration!

Since we’ve been marching, mostly word-by-word, through Psalm 118:24, we find ourselves at the word “rejoice.” That word is a bit more churchy than “celebrate,” but they clearly camp out in the same part of the woods. Does the Bible ask us to celebrate or rejoice mindlessly just for the sake of having a party? Yes and no.

Let’s take “no” first. The first clause of Psalm 118:24, “This is the day the Lord has made,” gives us the reason for our celebration. “What are we supposed to celebrate?” The day that the Lord made. That makes a lot more sense than celebrating for the sake of celebrating. The Hebrew verb translated as “rejoice” here is an intriguing one in that it can convey either happiness or fear. In the Bible, it is exclusively used to convey positive things, but in the broader literature, it can mean “to tremble with fear.” However used, this verb indicates a powerful, emotional response, the sort of feeling that draws out a physical action. We rejoice because of our powerful, emotional response to the awesomeness of God.

On the other side, the verse does seem to call us to rejoice mindlessly. Yes, there’s a reason for us to rejoice, but it’s a reason that comes today and yesterday and tomorrow and for the next year and so on. When we celebrate something every day, the celebration soon becomes second nature and easy to pass aside. I appreciate breathing, but after taking a series of breaths every day for the last fifty-some years, the appreciation has drifted into background noise. It’s the sort of thing that you only notice when it stops.

This verse suggests that we make rejoicing our normal mode of operation, as natural, as commonplace as breathing. We have a reason for our celebration, and that reason should become merely a part of our being.

Kool and the Gang, nearly forty years ago, beckoned us toward “a celebration to last throughout the years,” but in fact this party ended long ago. Yes, the band continues to perform, energizing an audience of boomers who want to have one more big round of celebration before they settle in behind their walkers, but we recognize that nostalgia is not genuine celebration.

We should strive to enter a worthwhile celebration, a rejoicing that need not end.

Let’s Join the Baseball Bandwagon!

The Kansas City Royals are going to win the World Series in 2019! They won their opener yesterday (Thursday). At this rate, they’ll win 162 games this season. Let’s get excited. Let’s buy tickets while they’re still available. Let’s.

The second half of Psalm 118:24 contains a statement of intent or expectation:

. . . let us rejoice and be glad in it.

If we were to speak that idea in conversation, we’d almost certainly use the contraction “let’s.” Let’s eat. Let’s go to the movies. Let’s celebrate! Let’s get out of here. These all sound like good uses of “let’s,” but is that the sort of thing going on here?

If you read this clause in a number of different translations, you’ll find that it is almost exclusively rendered in one of two ways: “let us” or “we will.” As much as I generally appreciate the CSB, which I quoted above, I think the translators missed the mark in this case.

Think about it. What does “let us” mean? “Allow us”? Generally when we say it, like when we say “let’s eat,” we’re trying to recruit another person or persons to eat with us. I suppose that could be what’s going on here. Rather than hungry, the Psalmist is sensing the provision of God and thus recruits others to rejoice with him. Okay, but let’s try this another way.

In the KJV and a number of other translations, the phrase here is “we will.” It’s possible, if you are of a certain age or (especially) were taught English by an exceptionally old-school teacher, then you learned to conjugate that auxiliary verb “will” like this:

  • I shall; we shall
  • You will; You (all) will
  • He, she, it will; They will

Nobody talks or writes like that any more, but a hundred years ago you would have likely been taught that way. Certainly, in 1611, when the KJV appeared, they were taught that way.

The oddity of that approach to “will” is that when you’re not simply stating something that will happen in the future but stating a settled purpose or a command, you reverse the word. Therefore, you’d say “You will have a birthday next week” but “You shall clean up your room.” Or you might say “I shall eat breakfast” but “I will lose thirty pounds!” (My italics are simply for emphasis.)

When those four-hundred-year-ago translators said “We will rejoice,” they were not saying, “Hey, let’s all get together and rejoice!” or “I have rejoicing scheduled on my day planner.” They were saying either “We have no choice but to rejoice” or “We need to make a point of rejoicing.”

The Psalmist says “let us rejoice” or, better in my opinion, “we will rejoice,” and he’s not urging action based on a whim. It’s not the rejoicing that we might–might–do when the home team starts the season well. Instead, it’s more like the compulsion that put hundreds of thousands of Kansas Citians in the streets when the Royals won the World Series in 2015. We couldn’t not rejoice.

Although I eagerly joined that mob in 2015, I recognized then that I should feel an even stronger compulsion to rejoice because of what God does every day. So let’s rejoice!

 

What Has God Wrought?

It was the summer of 1969 and I rode around in a cavernous Chevy station wagon. We completely ignored the seatbelts and my mother mostly ignored the radio that was always on. That summer we listened as Zager and Evans sang:

In the year 2525, if man is still alive
If woman can survive, they may find
In the year 3535
Ain’t gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lie
Everything you think, do and say
Is in the pill you took today

That song, which is now stuck in your head for the next several hours if you’ve heard it before, kept jumping ahead, mostly by 1,010-year increments, and eventually made its way to 9510. It was profound–or so it seemed in the backseat of that station wagon.

The Nebraska duo who sang the song had a huge hit with it and then never had any other musical success. Still, they could always count on a big response when they launched into the song during live performance. People would recognize it and cheer, perhaps singing along. They had to stand there and think, “I did something good. I made this song.”

But did they? Yes, these guys, especially songwriter Rick Evans, created the text and melody. They joined with a few others, including the Odessa, Texas Symphony Orchestra, to record it. And then they appeared on various radio and TV programs during the summer and fall of 1969 to lip-sync it.

But maybe they only tapped into the zeitgeist, that sense of dread and disillusionment that came two years after the “summer of love.” Maybe this song could have been as big a dud as their followup “Mr. Turnkey.” Maybe if it had been recorded in 1965, it wouldn’t have been Beatles enough or in 1975 it wouldn’t have been Led Zeppelin enough. Who can say? Maybe the times had as much to do in making it as Evans and Zager.

But not so with the making in Psalm 118:24.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

That verb, “has made,” is in the Hebrew qal perfect. Basically that means that it is straightforward and utterly done. It would be wrong to translate this as the day God “is making” or “was making.” We could say it’s the day God “made,” but the addition of “has” emphasizes that the making is finished. It was God that made it and he did all the making.

“In the Year 2525” continues to be made, in a manner of speaking, when people hear it and think about it and use it in other settings, but this day has been made. The making is complete. Our actions within and around that day are still fluid, which is where the second clause of the verse will take us. The song touches on that idea.

In the year 8510
God is gonna shake His mighty head
He’ll either say I’m pleased where man has been
Or tear it down, and start again.

That’s Rick Evans’ take on theology at least. Happily he didn’t make much of that.

Nothing but Net

For 14 straight seasons, the Kansas Jayhawks won or shared the Big Twelve season title. That means that freshmen at KU probably have no memory of when the team last did not at least tie for the championship. That’s amazing. But this year, they were merely good, finishing third. They got bumped from the NCAA tournament in the second round and no one was shocked. You see, just because it’s a KU basketball team  does not mean that it will be a contender for the national championship.

As we proceed through Psalm 118:24, it’s time to get God into the picture. You see, this isn’t just “the day.” Even though it is every hour of every day that we’re talking about, there’s more to be said about it. What day is? Or, more to the point, what is special about this day? The Lord made it.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.–Psalm 118:24

Yes, the Lord made every day just like the Lord made every human being. Does that make every day and every human being special? Well . . . yes. Yes it does.

After my father retired, he and my mother ran an antique business, buying various items and then driving them around the country to weekend shows where they met a lot of people and sold them stuff.

Toward the end of the business, they were dealing in some exceptionally nice art glass. I remember helping out at an auction that they hosted. My job was to line up the lots so that the auctioneer wouldn’t have to hunt for them when the time came. I brought one vase, about eighteen inches tall, up to the front. A few minutes later I heard it gaveled as sold at just north of $30,000. What on earth can make a hunk of glass worth $30,000? Like a great deal of what they sold, what made it valuable was who had made it. If it was made by the Louis C. Tiffany company, then it was automatically a big deal. If it was signed Tiffany, then it was an even bigger deal.

I learned to appreciate the work of these glass makers, but I also recognize that the source of a piece of work, while it might matter in the marketplace, does not guarantee that it will be a beautiful work any more than a player putting on a Jayhawks uniform becoming automatically successful.

That’s not how it is when God makes the day. God’s handiwork is good, until sin corrupts it. God’s day will be the best day that could possibly exist given the circumstances. Tiffany glass might be ugly. A Faulkner novel might be tedious. A Da Vinci painting might be lifeless. A Chipotle burrito might be less than delicious. Yes, but God’s day will be a day worth living, a swished three-pointer.