You may not know him by his name, but you’ve probably seen Nipper the dog. He’s quite famous, although he died in 1895. Nipper, of course, is the dog from the painting “His Master’s Voice” where he is listening intently to a gramophone. The picture became a popular logo for many companies, including RCA to sell record players, because the dog looks like it thinks his master is in there talking to him. The RCA recording technology is so clear!
“His Master’s Voice” is also a good introduction to some posts I’m working on about hearing our Master’s voice. We might like to be like Nipper, and every now and then we might get a glimpse of that that’s like, but we’re unlike the painting a lot of the time.
For one thing, most dogs are naturally loyal and want to please their masters. That’s why Nipper loves the gramophone so much. A funny thing about dogs is that they don’t care what their masters believe. They won’t discuss philosophy with them. Not that their master’s philosophy doesn’t matter to the dog, because if their philosophy includes cruelty to animals, that’s very bad. Dogs just don’t think at that level. On the other hand, dogs are very, very excited and eager to hear you tell them to do something. Cats of course are very different – I have two of them – and they’re too often a better picture of how I really relate to my Master in heaven than Nipper is.
The other point is that dogs have great hearing. The painting has no sound, but you get the idea that, no matter how much noise was going on around him, Nipper would be right there, trying to find his master in the gramophone. In contrast, people are bombarded with loud voices from all directions and usually aren’t as good at filtering the good from the bad.
Centered on the story of Gideon from the book of Judges, I’ll be sharing a few posts soon about how difficult and messy listening for God’s voice really is. I’m trying to figure it out every day.
Lastly, if you see Ebenezer (a squirrel and the blog’s mascot), tell him Nipper is only here for a short visit. Also remind him that in heaven, even the dogs and squirrels will lie down together in peace.
Coda One of my favorite song lyrics of all time is: “I’m looking past the shadows of my mind into the truth; And I’m trying to identify the voices in my head; God, which one’s you?”
It’s from a 2000 song called “Breathing” by Lifehouse. They probably didn’t have Nipper in mind when they wrote it, but it’s about us all wishing we could pay better attention to our Lord, to know His will, or sometimes just to be present with Him.
You can read the lyrics here, or if you have 4 ½ minutes, listen here. Apologies for any ads on these sites.
When James 1:27 was written, James wasn’t resorting to hyperbole for mere effect. He meant what he said, which is: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James didn’t choose his example haphazardly and he didn’t make such a strong statement just as a nice sentiment for a Hallmark card. But what does he mean?
Because Jesus said that to love God and to love your neighbor were the greatest commandments, the highest form of religion, James is probably using “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” as the purest, most undefiled form of love. In James’ time, these were the people genuinely unloved by the world – the ones who fell through the cracks of society. Not only were they without a husband or parents, but society was not providing for them either and they were truly abandoned “in their affliction.” Anyone caring for them would get no credit or recognition for it. Therefore, the only motive for visiting them is love for them. Pure love, with no impurity or stain from a desire to get something in return.
James specifically refers to “God the Father,” who has always taken His own, and His peoples, responsibility to widows and orphans seriously. He wants to take care of them, but Psalm 94:6-7 says about the rulers of the nations, including Israel: “They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; and they say, ‘The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.’” They preyed on those nobody cared about, and also boasted that not even God cared.
When any group of people – even one with God’s institutions of His law, temple, priests, prophets, and kings ruling the promised land – neglects the oppressed, their religion is impure and defiled. All institutions – including ones provided by God – are useless outside of God’s purpose for them. The temple was a way to approach God by sacrifice, foreshadowing Jesus’ death on the cross, but Judah used it as a way to appease Him so they could do their own thing. Jeremiah criticized the religious leaders of his day, who thought they were free from judgement because “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD,” treating the temple as more important than God Himself and a reason God would always bless them. However, God doesn’t want us to follow a checklist of religious observance – He wants us to be His loving family.
Because they replaced love with empty religion, Israel was cast into exile under the Babylonians, and Jeremiah cries in Lamentations 5:3 that “We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows.” Perhaps God would teach compassion to His people through painful discipline and experience, living like those they ignored.
Unstained Visiting widows and orphans keeps one unstained from the world when it thinks that it’s ok to leave some behind. That it’s ok to think we can’t do any better and that God doesn’t see, and that He doesn’t have an answer for it. That if we follow the letter of the law, or rely on institutions, but not on the spirit of love, God will just look the other way because we tried our best.
Therefore, don’t visit widows and orphans because its popular, because a law tells you to, or for any reason besides Godly love, because when we mix in worldly motives, we risk loving only those who are popular to love or who our government and culture have put in favored positions. Maybe we even reduce love to a comment about distant people trending on social media at the time, and not those individuals who are actually suffering the most. These people are often right in front of us.
It is by ministering to specific widows and orphans in their need that the Christian retains the preservative power of salt and the illuminating power of light to the world. It’s not the idea, but the actual visiting that is pure and undefiled. Me writing this and you reading this is only an idea. But it is a beginning.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Heaven is for people who love when there’s nothing more at stake than the person being loved. Only Jesus has met this standard, but He has made a Way to Life for those willing to accept His Truth. Jesus willingly takes our stain on the cross, and gives us His righteousness as a free gift, but only if we actually want His righteousness more than we want our stained world. In Christ, the Father will change His people into people who care for widows and orphans. People like that don’t need anything else to make a perfect society. It’s loving people that make a perfect society, not rules and institutions, and certainly not good intentions that leave people behind. Paradise will be a society that is pure, undefiled, and unstained, and where the only Institution needed is Jesus, our Prophet, Priest, and King.
No better solution exists than God the Father’s plan to build a family where everyone loves Him and loves their neighbor as themselves, and when we visit widows and orphans, we illustrate the truth that God sees them and cares for them, even when nobody else does.
Visiting widows and orphans is an ethic that epitomizes love for God and neighbor.
Look for more posts based on James 1:27 in the coming Saturdays. The more I think about the verse, the more implications of it I see. Next Up: An Ethic That Applies in all Places and Times. There are always widows and orphans. Also, this series is part of the ongoing Beatitudes series but this one skips to Matthew 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
 Perhaps especially.  Jeremiah 7:4  Matthew 5:13-16
In the Marvel movie Avengers: Infinity War, Doctor Strange uses a powerful Time Stone to watch millions of possible future outcomes and find one where the Avengers win. The solution involves huge, almost unconscionable losses, including giving the villain, Thanos, exactly what he needs to commit genocide. The movie was part one of two, and the second wasn’t released until a full year later. Infinity War ends with Thanos victorious, and audiences had to wait to see if Strange’s decisions and sacrifices would work. Would the trust the Avengers put in him be rewarded and lead to their deliverance? It didn’t look good at the time, and it was actually a pretty grim movie.
Marvel’s story had cast Strange in the role of a prophet, except that Strange himself saw the future, and decided himself what to report back to the others, who had to trust what he said he saw, his judgement in what to share, and be willing to stick with it no matter what. As I’ve been covering Jeremiah’s call this week, chapter 1, verses 8-10 have some interesting comparisons with Marvel’s story line. The verses are:
“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD. Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Unlike Doctor Strange, Jeremiah did not have the big picture; he could not pick and choose what to say. God would “put…words in your mouth,” words specifically chosen from perfect and infinite knowledge to be exactly what was needed. Strange was able to act on his plan, although the others didn’t understand and resisted. In Jeremiah’s case, Israel did not listen to him, and God actually told Jeremiah they wouldn’t, but he prophesied anyway. He was created for that purpose, and in the verses above he was assured to “not be afraid of them.”
While Strange promised that his plan would work, we had to wait for the sequel to see it. God promised Jeremiah, who also told the people, that his plan would work, and that the words God gave Jeremiah would determine the fates of “nations” and “kingdoms”, who God would “pluck up” and “break down.” But Jeremiah died waiting for the sequel. During his lifetime, Israel was plucked up by the Babylonians and sent into exile as punishment for their rejection of God, which was also a rejection of Jeremiah. His life was like a pretty grim movie, but his story was not finished, as we now know.
In three posts about the calling of Jeremiah this week, we’ve seen examples of God’s love for people who have a different calling from us, who have imperfect faith, and who aren’t seeing immediate blessings from their efforts. We should be compassionate when we see others are flawed in these same ways, because they are no different than Jeremiah, and also no different from us. None of us consistently give God’s word the full authority it deserves. It’s a shame that Jeremiah is often seen as a gloomy, annoying bearer of bad news. In Jeremiah, God has given us an example of someone who is like all of us and a call to love others as we love ourselves. That’s good news, but it didn’t look good at the time.
In his lifetime he may have looked like a failure, but in the years after and in eternity, his work as a prophet and also his personal experience of God has provided invaluable lessons for millions. God knew this from the beginning because He didn’t have to wait a year to see the sequel. He has already seen them all. Therefore, we can trust what He sees, His judgement in what to share, and be willing to stick with it no matter what, because His story and ours does not end in this lifetime.
“It is not your business to succeed, but to do right. When you have done so the rest lies with God.” – C. S. Lewis
(Prior posts on Jeremiah’s call are here and here)
When Jeremiah was called to serve as a prophet, God told him he was literally made for it, as covered in a recent post, but Jeremiah’s response was not an enthusiastic one. Jeremiah 1:6-8 records this exchange:
“Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’ But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.’”
Even though God had just said “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” Jeremiah objects that he was too young and did not have the natural ability required for the job. Maybe he doubted anyone would listen to him, so God must have the wrong guy. God doesn’t disagree that Jeremiah was young (he already knew that), but knows that God’s ability is what matters, not Jeremiah’s. God knew that someday you and I would be reading Jeremiah’s words regardless of his own youth or ability. God never picks the wrong person for the job.
But if “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” why does the Scripture tell us that one of its own authors doubted and questioned God Himself?
The answer of course, is “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” We should learn not only from Jeremiah’s prophecies to the people of his time, but also from His experience with God. In hindsight, we think that because Jeremiah is a book of the Bible, of course he was able to do the work God gave him, but in the moment of his call, Jeremiah had no idea. So, when we think our ability is not enough the job at hand, we should remember Jeremiah’s youth and remember that “God does not call the equipped; He equips the called,” as the saying goes. Jeremiah learned this from his own experience, and we may learn from it as well because the Bible records it.
Also, God shows us Jeremiah’s flaws to comfort us when we feel inadequate, not only in ability but also in faith. Even if we know that “God does not call the equipped; He equips the called,” we don’t always act on that knowledge. Jeremiah doubts not only his call, but there are other examples, including when he questions why he should buy a field the Babylonians were about to seize. Doubt is not something that only some Christians feel – we are not alone in our weakness. Even the Bible’s own authors had doubt because they could not see as God sees.
God is patient when we are honest with Him about our doubts, but He is also honest with us when He says we were literally made to serve Him. No Christian is inadequate for the work God gives them, for in His power He accomplishes what He wants. He has no doubts and is faithful in providing everything we need.
Sometimes God sends us before we think we are ready, so we can learn to put our confidence in the right place like Paul, who wrote: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13
 2 Timothy 3:16  The story is in Jeremiah 32, which I covered in an earlier post, here.
Today’s Rewind Wednesday takes a quote I posted last year (do you know which one?), adds four more, and creates another “Quint of Quotes.” These quints are five quotes somewhat related to each other, but not exactly in agreement. Hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking. Enjoy!
“You can have vengeance, or peace, but you can’t have both” – Herbert Hoover, after World War II
“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” -Malachy McCourt, Irish-American actor, writer and politician
“Forgiveness is the greatest miracle that Jesus ever performs. It meets the greatest need; it costs the greatest price; and it brings the greatest blessing and the most lasting results.” – Warren Wiersbe
“In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior.” – Francis Bacon
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” – Jesus, in Luke 6:32-33
See previous Quints and other posts on quotes here.