A few months ago, I listened to Richard Foster speak—via podcast—to Wheaton College about what it means to listen to God, and at the end of one of his sessions he shared a few helpful practices. One practice was reading a psalm, reflecting on it and writing down part of it to carry with you throughout the day. I took on this practice as a helpful reminder, so that each time I reached in my pocket to get my phone I would pull out the psalm and read it.
I’m about one-third of the way through them (currently at Psalm 58), and I have noticed a few things already. First, without trying to memorize them, I have begun to internalize many psalms by reading them over and over throughout the day. Second, I have been told by others that my sharing the #psalmbombs via Instagram has been an encouragement to them and inspired others to take part in the the practice. Third, I found that because of Facebook and Instagram “likes”/comments, my pride would swell up thinking that I was somehow “spiritual” in doing this. In other words, my motives weren’t always pure in sharing them on Facebook, and I have since repented of that attitude. Fourth and most importantly, I have realized that initially it was hard to underline and write down only parts of psalms, but now have experienced some psalms that were hard to underline; psalms that weren’t really Facebook/Instagram material.
For instance, Psalm 58 is virtually about the psalmist desiring vengeance on the “wicked” by the hand of God. “O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord! Let them vanish like water that runs away; like grass let them be trodden down and wither…The righteous will rejoice when they see vengeance done; they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.” Not exactly your encouraging benediction. But, that is the beauty of the psalms! They aren’t supposed to only be declaring happiness and joyful songs of praise. They are just as much about the honest, raw emotions that humans are able to bring to God in the midst of their unique circumstances because, let’s face it, God can handle them. After all, wasn’t it a bleeding Jesus who quoted a Psalm 22 during a dark hour; crying out to God why he had been forsaken?
The psalms are meant to express to God the emotions and feelings of real people in real places at real moments in time. I have noticed that many Conservative Western Christians have had an unhealthy habit of suppressing the expression of emotions; somehow seeing them as unnatural to the Christian lifestyle and/or worship. Like it’s not normal to write down how you feel or to be angry or confused with God. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should sing Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” next Sunday morning. But, what I am saying is that it isn’t healthy to bottle up emotions or feelings or confusion inside. We were meant to release those stirrings to trusted friends and to God as prayers. That’s one way we draw nearer to the God who came in flesh experiencing the same high and low points of life.
My point is that we shouldn’t shy away from what we are feeling deep in our bones just because it isn’t comfortable to share those things with others or perhaps God. At the same time, we should never get carried away with a pursuit of “emotionalism” or self-absorption; something like feeling sorry for ourselves all the time. After all, God has adopted us as sons and daughters of the King, and we have new identities and value rooted in his love.
Therefore, let us not forsake the emotions that are a part of life; a part of being human. Let us not neglect sharing what we feel, and at the same time root our value in the steadfast love of God. May you freely write, sing, yell, whisper your own psalms to God in hopes of deepening your relationship with the one who says, “Me too.”
Even as a man just recovering from illness walks only so far as he is obliged to go, with a slow and weary step, so the converted sinner journeys along as far as God commands him but slowly and wearily, until he attains a true spirit of devotion, and then, like a sound man, he not only gets along, but he runs and leaps in the way of God’s Commands, and hastens gladly along the paths of heavenly counsels and inspirations.
The difference between love and devotion is just that which exists between fire and flame; love being a spiritual fire which becomes devotion when it is fanned into a flame; and what devotion adds to the fire of love is that flame which makes it eager, energetic and diligent, not merely in obeying God’s Commandments, but in fulfilling His Divine Counsels and inspirations.
O’er the surface of the deep
Spirit you were hovering
Darkness, chaos, endless night
Then You said, “Let there be light”
Land and sea you did divide
Plants and creatures filled each side
You breathed life into the ground
Then your image, man, was found
By six days, You’d formed and framed
All complete in vast array
Then the seventh day was blessed
In your temple, you did rest
All was good until one day
Man chose sin and disobeyed
Enter death and brokenness
East of Eden and oppressed
Slaves to darkness, idols prized
Years passed by, Your people cried
Praying God would come redeem
Hope was all but lost it seemed
Yahweh answered with a man
Someone to deliver them
Signs and wonders, he performed
Lives of outcasts all transformed
Drinking wine and breaking bread
Kingdoms clashing head to head
Hearts were hard and filled with strife
He climbed high to bring new life
Perfect sacrifice and priest
Bondage broken, slaves released
Resurrection from the dead
Message of this news did spread
From above your breath came down
Gospel moved from town to town
Kingdom of our God increased
Earth and heaven joined in peace
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
An endless sum of lavish gifts or verbal praise galore
Could ne’er express my gratitude for this man I adore
He is the sort of man, you see, whom kings may never know
But pris’ners and mere paupers will recall the love he showed
Like plumbless wells of Adam’s ale that flood beyond their brims
His wholesome wisdom flows for all who wish to splash and swim
Ev’ry week bouquets of praise are offered at his door
With humble thanks he hands them off to whom they were meant for
A myriad of reasons why I love this man, you see
But greatest was his gift of introducing me to Thee
Although I may no longer use my size as an excuse
My feet will ever strive to fit inside my father’s shoes
Just got back from a group discussion/study on the book of Acts (Ch. 1 & 2 mostly). Some of the topics brought up were about expectations, our reactions to how plans turn out, community (especially communal living), and how the church ought to operate today.
It was really interesting for me to hear the majority (if not all) of the people there discussing how much they desired to live a community much like the one found in Acts 2:42ff. This group of 3,000 followers of Christ had everything in common, anyone who had need was taken care of, they ate and prayed and lived together, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ (and therefore Jesus’) teaching, and so on.
Like the leader of our discussion group—Matt—mentioned, I’ve also had numerous conversations with people of all ages and walks of life on these very topics, and personally love the idea of communal living as a church. And, I think a lot of people—especially those that are truly involved in the church—think along the same lines in regards to this way of living, “Yeah, what the early church did was great! Sharing with one another, living with each other, eating together. That would be cool to do!” So, why don’t we hear or see many churches that operate like this or try it themselves?
I think one of the main reasons is simply: it’s hard. It’s difficult to break the cycle of our Western cultural norms placed before us, e.g. going to school, getting a job, getting married, buying a house, having kids, retiring (if you can), and then, at a ripe old age, you and your spouse peacefully die in your sleep at the same time. It’s a formula that our society likes, and it seems to have worked well for many generations. I understand and respect plenty of close friends and family that have chosen to live this way. But, I feel like there is more. Even amidst our ‘Americapitalistindividualistic’ culture, I believe there to be a better way to live. And, all can take part in it.
I think there is a reason that the ‘early church movement’ was called, “The Way.” The book of Acts even says that angels—who had just rescued the apostles from jail—told them to go to the temple, “and tell the people all about this new life.” (5:20) The word translated as ‘life’ or ‘new life’ is the Greek word, ‘zóé,’ which refers to “life, both of physical (present) and of spiritual (particularly future) existence.” It’s the same word used in John 10:10 when Jesus tells the Pharisees, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” And, the same word Paul uses in his letter to Timothy when he says, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
This ‘zóé’ life has an all-encompassing vision. It permeates every facet of the present and future; from day-to-day activities to big plans down the road. It is a way of living that Jesus set in motion for His followers to take after: to live in such a way that brings God’s future—the restoration of all things in heaven and on earth—to the present for all to witness. What does it look like when God’s rule, His presence, His kingdom is fully at work in everyone’s lives? The poor are looked after by their neighbors. People of all nations, languages, and opinions eat together in each other’s homes. Everyone joins together to celebrate and declare Jesus as the true King of kings and Lord of lords who rules with justice by way of mercy and righteousness by way of love.
That is the kind of community, the kind of kingdom, the kind of life I want to take part in. Don’t you?
A lot has happened. Moses has just broken the tablets of the law, dealt with the ‘golden calf’ incident, and God is now saying that He won’t go with them to Canaan because they are a stiff-necked people.
Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people." The LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." (Exodus 33:12-14)
During this Exodus, Moses has been the mediator—the mouthpiece—between God and His people. So, when he left for Mt. Sinai to receive the law from God, the Israelites had no idea if he was coming back. Their one connection to God was gone. So, what do they do? They revert back to what they know: building stuff. The Israelites are what you might call a ‘do-it-yourself’ kind of people. They build their own mediator—an idol made out of gold in the shape of a calf—to represent their God. But that’s never the answer. We cannot fully grasp God, we cannot box Him into something we can understand, nor can we ever force our way into His presence. But the good news is: God desires to dwell with His people, and desires for us to know Him. God then instructs Moses to bring Him two stone tablets like before, and God writes out the Law again for His people.
This marks fifty days after the Passover, the time when God delivered His people from death and slavery, and began leading them to a Promised Land. This is what is traditionally called Shavu’ot or The Festival of Weeks (the last of the seven weeks of harvest). The next few chapters conclude the book of Exodus with the building of the Tabernacle—the meeting place of God and His people. Like I stated earlier, God’s intent was that His people would know him, learn his ways, and reflect these things in the world that all peoples might come to know YHWH and learn His ways.
The writer Matthew understood this good news very well. Even from the start of his gospel account he writes…
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ”The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:21-23)
Then he concludes his account with the famous Great Commission…
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Jesus has a habit of giving things new meaning.
After he is resurrected and spends time with His disciples, He tells them to wait in town, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised…” And, sure enough, fifty days after Passover, a mighty Wind blows through the entire place. The Holy Spirit came to dwell with His people that they might have the “law in their minds and [written] on their hearts.” That God would dwell within us as a deposit of our inheritance, of what is to come. A hope pointing toward the day when God returns to establish His dwelling place among His people forever in New Heavens and New Earth.
The day when God comes down the mountain himself.
The day when God walks outside the tent of meeting into camp.
The day when God tears down the thick curtain inside the temple.
The day when God is with His people, as He has always desired.
This is what we celebrate on the day of Pentecost.
May the Spirit and Presence of the Lord our God be with you all the days of your life.
May He comfort you in times of darkness,
Challenge you in times of idleness,
Convict you in times of injustice,
And fill you with hope until the Lord fully establishes His dwelling place among His people forever.