Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

The dog days are upon us


"Brace up your minds, (and) then, keep cool." — 1 Peter 1:13, Moffatt Translation


Greeks and Romans first used the phrase "dog days," referring to the hot, sultry period between July 24 and Aug. 24. They associated the term with that time of year because that’s when Sirius, the "Dog Star," begins appearing at sunrise. The ancient peoples believed that bright star’s heat combined with the Sun’s to cause the scorching temperatures and scarcity of rain.

You don’t have to ask the Greeks or Romans. If you live in Oklahoma, you can testify to the misery of such days!

"Dog days" were long believed to be an evil time, when "the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and frenzy." (Brady’s Clavis Calendaria, 1813)

The "dog days" even are referenced in the 1552 edition of The Book of Common Prayer, highlighting the beginning and ending dates.

In the midst of the summer days of 2014, I share a timely verse from James Moffatt’s translation of the Old and New Testaments, published in 1922.

He offers up this refreshing passage that ends with the words "keep cool."

As the temperature neared 100 degrees on a recent day, those words captured my attention and sent me immediately to commentaries and other books that interpret Peter’s thoughts. I sought a cool oasis for my spirit for that moment, but what I found has lasting value.

Behind this great passage is a well-timed message for the first-century church – with even greater implications for us today.

Peter was warning his sisters and brothers in the faith to hold steady, to remain focused. Instead of the flustered fever of unbelief or bewildered panic in the face of danger, Peter urged the followers of Christ to keep cool heads by fixing their hearts in an unshakable faith!

As in Peter’s day, Christians now are being greatly tested.

  • The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey found that 28 percent of adults have left the faith in which they were raised, in favor of another religion or no religion at all.
  • It also reports that the number of Americans (16.1 percent) who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith is more than double the number of those who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children.
  • Among Americans ages 18-29, one out of every four says he/she is not affiliated with any particular religion.

Consider the fluctuating dynamics of U.S. society. You easily may conclude that what people believed in 1813 is true for today: the sea is boiling, the wine turning sour, and the dogs are going mad. Humankind seems in a frenzy.

It is up to you and me – the modern-day followers of our Lord – to keep "cool" and take to heart Peter’s long-ago advice.

Practicing a secondhand faith is not acceptable for a disciple of Jesus Christ. We must not claim belief merely because our parents and grandparents did.

Each person must develop a personal, unswerving commitment to Jesus Christ – a strong belief that stands up against the doubts and fears of this age. You cannot rely any more on saying "I don’t know" when it comes to explaining your faith.

Those who don’t yet know Jesus expect you as a believer to be clear about the deep issues of life and how you experience God’s touch.

Peter told his followers to brace up their minds as people who knew what they believed and what they were doing! He reminded them that they were not ordinary people. They were – we are – claimed by Christ!

Let us not be shallow or soft Christians, blown about like tumbleweeds by today’s winds of change. The world is watching; disciples are still being tested. We need to know without a doubt who and what we believe.

Daniel Webster Whittle was born in 1840 in Chicopee Falls, Mass. At age 21, he joined the Union Army and was deployed to Company B of the 72nd Illinois Infantry during the Civil War. Before he left home he gave his life to Christ, and his mother presented him with a New Testament to take with him.

Whittle was captured and imprisoned for a brief time. While a prisoner of war, he was obsessed with the teachings of Christ. Day and night he read the book his mother gave him.

He came to know Jesus in an intimate way, and the rest of his life reflected that relationship.

After escaping his confinement, he marched with General Sherman and was promoted to the rank of major. And influenced by evangelist Dwight Moody, Whittle wrote many songs.

The hymn for which he is best known responds to the question: Do you know Jesus?

Perhaps thinking of his own spiritual searching while imprisoned, Whittle confesses that he still did not know many things, but he certainly knew Jesus. He wrote in 1883:

"I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me He hath made known,

"Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love redeemed me for His own.

"But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able

"To keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day."

Do you know Jesus? If so, "keep cool" in these dog days!


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