Broken gods and Hemorrhoids. 1 Samuel 4:1-6:12

1 Samuel 5:1-3 New International Version (NIV)

The Ark in Ashdod and Ekron

5 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place.

Bad Priests

Above is just the funniest part of a long, somewhat dark story from 1 Samuel chapters 4 and 5. Here’s what you need to know. Samuel, the book’s namesake, will one day be a great prophet. However, right now he is the apprentice of a mediocre priest named Eli. Eli has two priest sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who are not merely mediocre; they are greedy, sexual predators that use their power in horrible ways, taking advantage of the Israelite people (see the second half of chapter 2). Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas are possibly the most powerful figures in Israel at the time, and they were in charge of the Ark of the Covenant (ark of God above, the same ark that Indiana Jones was looking for). Several people prophesied that they would all meet a terrible end.

The Ark of Covenant was a large box created by Moses at God’s direction. It contained relics to remind the Israelites of their journey through the wilderness such as a jar of manna, Aaron’s staff, and the covenant tablets that Moses brought down from Sinai. It sat in the Holy of Holies (the holiest place in the tabernacle), and the presence of God was said to dwell above it kind of like a throne or stage whenever God wanted to show Himself amongst the people. Therefore, it became synonymous with God’s presence.

One day the Philistines were at war with the Israelites. The Israelites were defeated, so Hophni and Phinehas had the bright idea to bring the Ark of the Covenant to battle, which did in fact scare the Philistines. They fought anyway, defeated the Israelites, stole the Ark, and killed Hophni and Phinehas. When Eli found out, he fell over and died. When Phinehas’ wife found out, she gave birth to a son and named him Ichabod (meaning “the glory has left”, thanks mom).

Broken gods and hemmorhoids

Meanwhile, we come to the Scripture quote above. The Philistines put the Ark of the Covenant in the temple with their god, Dagon. Overnight, Dagon’s statue fell over. They picked him back up. The next day he fell over again, and his head and his hands broke off. They decided that the Ark must be pushing him over, so they moved it to a different location (Gath, coincidentally the birthplace of Goliath). In Gath, the Ark gave everyone hemorrhoids (yes, you read that correctly. I mean that’s just one of the possible translations of the word tumor, but it’s the one I’m going with), so they sent it to Ekron—more death and hemorrhoids (somewhere in there, there was a mouse plague). Finally, they decide to give it back to Israel by putting it on a cart pulled by two cows with no driver. They also offer it 5 golden mice and 5 golden hemmorhoids (yes, this is in the Bible).

Good Luck Charms

So what can we learn from this? First, you can’t use God (or a cross, or holy water, or a votive candle, or a relic, or a WWJD bracelet) as a good luck charm. Phinehas and Hophni didn’t follow God at all, but they fooled themselves into believing that if they paraded a box around, God would do what they wanted. I see this happen all the time. People think about what they want to happen, and then they start declaring that God wants that to happen, too. They think they’ve said the magic, religious words, and thus sanctified their personal preferences.

God wants good things for you, but he wants the things that he thinks are good. He doesn’t do our bidding, we do his. If you want to call yourself a follower of God, or a Christian, or a believer, it means you live according to his rule. And his rule is good for you. Our God is a god of grace and love, but he will not hesitate to let us stumble if we take his name in vain. A lot of people in this world are invoking the name of God in order to claim that there way is right. We need to humbly ask ourselves if this isn’t leading to a fall.

God Doesn’t Need My Help

But there’s good news! Once the Ark was captured, the Ark took care of itself. We can be honest, open, and transparent about our shortcomings and the shortcomings of the church because God will right his own ship. In the news, there is story after devastating story coming out about abuse, neglect, theft, and a host of other wrongdoings by those that should be our spiritual leaders. We’re finding out about it all at once because the church hides it thinking that it will bring dishonor on God. But God takes care of himself and his own reputation. We’re called to be authentic and honest.

This is also good news because if you think you’ve messed up and hurt God’s reputation, or you think other people are tarnishing his name, he can take care of himself. If you think that the church and culture are going down the toilet because of strong, external forces like liberalism, conservatism, nationalism, racism, tribalism, terrorism, or materialism, God has seen these things before and is unimpressed. Give him one night, and they will come crashing down. Give him a few weeks and everyone will have mice and hemorrhoids and come to their senses. I think that’s the message here.

Infectious Skin Disease 2 Kings 5:20-21 5/21/19

20 Gehazi (who was the servant of Elisha the man of God) thought, My master let this Aramean Naaman off the hook by not accepting the gift he brought! As surely as the Lord lives, I’ll go after him and accept something from him. 21 So Gehazi pursued Naaman.

2 Kings 5:20-21

Sometimes people do dumb, selfish stuff that can undo the good they’ve done. Don’t be a Gehazi.

Here’s the story. A foreigner named Naaman came to the prophet Elisha to get healed from leprosy. He couldn’t get healed in his homeland, and his servant suggested he try Elisha. After some initial insult and hesitation it worked, which is an interesting story in its own right. After Naaman gets healed, he tries to pay Elisha, who refuses. Then, Naaman returns to his own country praising YHWH as the only true God.

But Naaman isn’t satisfied. Gehazi (Elisha’s servant or maybe disciple) knows Naaman is rich. Gehazi probably doesn’t like foreigners. Gehazi probably didn’t like the way Naaman treated Elisha at first. Whatever is going on in his head, Gehazi does not understand what it means to serve the Lord.

So Gehazi goes after Naaman, makes up an elaborate lie along the lines of “on second thought, we have some friends who need some money.” Naaman pays up without question, and Gehazi heads home. Long story short (or short story even shorter), Elisha calls him out and Gehazi gets Naaman’s leprosy in some epic poetic justice.

So where did Gehazi go wrong?

Forgot the Why

First, Gehazi forgot why he and Elisha were doing ministry. Elisha was probably the most powerful prophet Israel had ever seen. He was given a double portion of Elijah’s (his teacher) power. He could have gotten rich. He have could have been a ruler. He could have pulled strings, but Elisha was interested in one thing—giving glory to God. So when Elisha heals Naaman, the goal is that a people far off—who worship a different God—will know that YHWH is the one true God. Elisha doesn’t accept money because he doesn’t want any accusations of greed to muddle the message the Naaman will carry back with him. Mission accomplished.

Gehazi doesn’t understand that. It seems that he thinks the goal of their ministry is to get rich or get recognition. He sees Naaman as someone of importance that doesn’t grasp how important Elisha is. See, Naaman cares more about the ministry of Elisha than the ministry of God. How often do we get defensive about our way of doing things, of the little tribes that we belong to, that we forget what we are about? We create little rivalries. We demand attention for the “great” things going on in our little world. I see this happening in our fragmented world church all around us. “My preacher, my method, my ministry, my size or style of church is better than yours.” Our little tribal squabbles are in danger of leprosy.

But broken systems are made up of broken people. We act like Naaman on a smaller scale, too.

Recognition

Naaman wasn’t content for God to get the glory for his ministry (or Elisha’s). He wanted to make sure they got their due as well. Over the years I have seen so many people do amazing stuff for the Lord just to turn around and demand recognition for it. Singers get their feelings hurt when they don’t get enough solos. Volunteers storm out of meetings because their name wasn’t mentioned among the helpers of a certain ministry. Church members griping about this or that messy ministry while they clean up, demanding a reckoning instead celebrating a vibrant (insert the offending ministry’s name). This leads to the same thing every time. First, I want recognition. Then, I get bitter about being the “only that cares” about such and such. Then finally, I start doing ministry with vengeance in my heart.

It destroys culture. It destroys teamwork. There is no love, and at the end of the day God is less glorified than He would have been if we hadn’t lifted a finger. In case anyone is feeling called out, this temptation is greatest for pastors who spend countless hours doing ministry in so many directions that no one would want to keep track or care about. The temptation to be bitter and petty gets me sometimes, too.

In the story, Naaman’s punishment was leprosy, but in the church the attitude itself becomes the infectious skin disease. Let’s work for God.

  1. Try to hide what you do unless you need to collaborate or avoid duplication. That way if it goes unnoticed, you and God can laugh about your sneakiness.

  2. Celebrate someone else getting recognition for something you helped with. God sees and blesses the hidden things.

  3. If you find yourself cleaning up after someone else, or doing something everyone else forgot about, thank God for putting it on your heart because we all have different ministries. Rejoice that you get to be a part of the kingdom.

  4. If you do feel a need to address chronic oversight, check your heart and do so from a place that builds up the kingdom of God and not you.

Don’t undo what God is doing in your midst. Don’t take the wind out of the sails of the Spirit’s move. Don’t kill culture. Take a step back; check your heart, and remember why we are doing anything at all.

The Weatherman Luke 8:22-25 5/15/19

Luke 8:22-25 Common English Bible (CEB)

Jesus calms the sea

22 One day Jesus and his disciples boarded a boat. He said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” So they set sail.

23 While they were sailing, he fell asleep. Gale-force winds swept down on the lake. The boat was filling up with water and they were in danger.24 So they went and woke Jesus, shouting, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” But he got up and gave orders to the wind and the violent waves. The storm died down and it was calm.

25 He said to his disciples, “Where is your faith?”

Filled with awe and wonder, they said to each other, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him!”

Scary Stuff

Have you ever been terrified of something? My kids find the strangest stuff to be scared of. My daughter was terrified of my wife’s brother because he looked like her mom with a beard (to be honest, he makes me uncomfortable, too). They’re far more scared of mosquitoes than wasps. They’re scared of vegetables and going upstairs by themselves (but not scared of coming back downstairs in the middle of the night to wake us up). One daughter had a nightmare that a bad guy stole all the food through the TV. The other daughter had a dream that she turned into a triangle.

As we get older, our fears get more sophisticated and rational, but a lot of times they are just as statistically improbable. Some of us live every moment with a “what if?” just out of view. On the other hand, some of us may be facing real danger, real threats to our security, our finances, our relationships, or our way of life. These are the kind of fears that put Jesus to sleep.

Storms

For an ancient Israelite, the greatest symbol for fear and chaos was the sea. They were not an intrepid seafaring people like the Greeks. They clearly did some fishing and some journeying, but nothing like the surrounding countries. Read through the Bible and check out all the times they talk about the sea or the waters, and you’ll see it. In the creation story, God brings order out of chaos by bringing land out of the water. In the flood story, when God wants to destroy the world, he uses water. The rest of the Bible is full of mentions of sea monsters, fish-eating people, shipwrecks, and storms. And throughout the Old Testament, one of the greatest compliments they pay to God is to recognize that he has power over the sea.

Boat Nap

So when the disciples face a storm on their boat, even though they are seasoned fishermen, they are terrified. Of course, if I try to imagine facing a storm on a boat without electric lighting, the complete darkness and washing machine experience, I think I would panic, too. But not Jesus. He thinks it’s a good time for a nap. When the disciples wake him up in a panic, he seems a little annoyed. (It’s comforting to me as a parent that being annoyed when woken up unexpectedly is not a sin). He stands up, stops the storm, and asks them where their faith is. For the disciples, this is more than just a cool trick. Jesus just handled their collective, historic fear of the ocean, AND he did something that only God is supposed to be able to do.

Be Still

The story declares two things to us. First, Jesus is unruffled by our dilemmas. When we come to him in a panic, he has a calming presence that covers us before we ever get our problem fixed. Nothing is new to him. Nothing catches him off guard. He saw the problem coming and sees the problem going before we can even wrap our heads around it. Second, he has the power to deal with it. He can calm the storms. We just have to trust. He will lead us beside still waters. All heaven was created by him, for him, and sustained by him so we can come to him with confidence, expecting a miracle.

If you are stuck in a season of fear and want peace, check out this song:

Spirit-Spangled Faith Acts 4:23-31 4/30/19

A little background before we read today’s passage. Jesus has died, resurrected, and ascended back to heaven. Pentecost has happened. The church has formed and is growing steadily under the power of the Holy Spirit and boldness of the apostles. In Acts 3, Peter and John heal a crippled man, then preach that Jesus gave them this power. They get thrown in jail, which turns out to be a PR nightmare for the authorities. Peter and John make them publicly release them, and they share the gospel to the people and to the authorities. When they return to the believers, they tell this story and pray this prayer:

Acts 4:23-31 CEB

23 After their release, Peter and John returned to the brothers and sisters and reported everything the chief priests and elders had said. 24 They listened, then lifted their voices in unison to God, “Master, you are the one who created the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them.25 You are the one who spoke by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:

Why did the Gentiles rage,
    and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth took their stand
    and the rulers gathered together as one
    against the Lord and against his Christ.

27 Indeed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with Gentiles and Israelites, did gather in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.28 They did what your power and plan had already determined would happen. 29 Now, Lord, take note of their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with complete confidence. 30 Stretch out your hand to bring healing and enable signs and wonders to be performed through the name of Jesus, your holy servant.” 31 After they prayed, the place where they were gathered was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking God’s word with confidence.

Land of the Free

Peter, John, and the early church lived in Israel under the thumb of Rome. They paid taxes and serve Rome economically. Rome set up a puppet government to keep the Israelites in check. The only power an Israelite could wield outside of Roman-given authority is religious authority, which they tended to abuse. So the early church was persecuted by the traditional Jewish religion and the power of Rome.

Contrast that to America. In America, we have freedom of religion. For the most part, we can practice our religion as we see fit, whatever that religion happens to be. And if something’s not right, we can take it to court or to the voting booth to try to get things changed. Ancient Jews had no power in court over their oppressors, no opportunity to vote out offenders and correct injustice. So if I have to pick between modern America and being a Jew or Christian in Ancient Rome, I choose modern America.

But there’s a temptation here. Because the state gives us some measure of power, we are tempted to wield it. When we feel persecuted—a religious monument is removed, a government official gets in trouble for sharing their faith, when a public institution finds itself at odds with a religious one—we call on the power of the state and the 1st Amendment to right this wrong (which is a double-edged sword). Or we call on the power of social media shaming to declare, “this is not America,” as if America were the kingdom we are trying to build.

The early church had no such illusions that the state would fix their problems. They had no vote, no say, no power (except maybe in a riot, which usually ended badly). Instead, they appealed to a higher power. In their prayer, they quote Psalm 2.

Why did the Gentiles rage,
    and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth took their stand
    and the rulers gathered together as one
    against the Lord and against his Christ.

This is a prayer that recognizes that when the Messiah (Jesus) comes he will reign until all the world is under his feet. The church wasn’t interested in building a better Rome. They weren’t really even interested in changing Rome as much as they wanted to see all people in all kingdoms be changed by Christ. And they believed that they could appeal to this power over and against the most powerful political force of their day.

And look what happened, at first there were martyrs and persecution, but then emperors became Christian, Rome fell, and Christianity lived on. While Rome was falling, missionaries were ready and waiting to share the gospel with the invading hordes, which is how most of us ended up in Christian cultures.

But about the same time that was happening, Christianity began falling to the temptation of trying to use the state’s power (e.g. Constantine) to bring the heavenly kingdom. The message got diluted, and nominal Christianity began. When we try to use secular power, we almost always abuse it. I think that’s why the American Church is healthier than the European Church. Europe, so fed up with the established church’s hypocrisy and abuse of power, is trying to find it’s way without the church. If American Christians aren’t careful, we run the same risk of demanding our rights and alienating the lost.

Home of the Brave

But apart from hurting our witness, there is another problem with calling on the wrong power. Look at the early church—the marginalization, the powerlessness, the oppression. Then look at what they prayed for:

 29 Now, Lord, take note of their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with complete confidence. 30 Stretch out your hand to bring healing and enable signs and wonders to be performed through the name of Jesus, your holy servant.” 31 After they prayed, the place where they were gathered was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking God’s word with confidence.

They didn’t ask to be rescued from persecution. They didn’t ask for their rights to be restored. They asked for boldness and confidence to keep preaching the gospel. They ask for the Holy Spirit to show up and do miracles. And the Holy Spirit showed up, fueling their mission, empowering their actions, and growing the church. With fearlessness and recklessness that saw God shine his light in a resistant and dark world.

American Christians have less to be afraid of than any other group of Christians perhaps in the history of the world. The worst we have to deal with is internet trolls, angry bosses, tax exemption status, or very isolated acts of violence that are not state-sanctioned (as opposed to being eaten by lions at the request of the emperor). But often we are more scared to share our faith than ever before. Our churches are shrinking; our people are hurting. We hold the cure, but we feel awkward bringing it up.

Maybe we forgot to ask for power. Maybe we trusted the wrong power. Maybe we aren’t waiting around in prayer for the Holy Spirit to shake the room, and instead, we’re putting our faith in politicians who know they can score polling points with us if they say the right Christian buzzwords.

All Nations Under God

Jesus will bring his kingdom to the whole world with his power. He will do it with the powers that be or in spite of the powers that be. He will do it with a church asking for his help, or he will do with others because the church was looking for strength elsewhere. Nothing can stand in His way, but we want to be a part of his solution, not an obstacle he has to overcome.

Stop. Pray for the Spirit to give you confidence and the power to do miracles (miraculous and everyday transformation). Then, go and do it. Start by listening to people’s stories and earning their trust. Then look for opportunities to show that the gospel can heal their brokenness. If nothing else, just try to answer the question, “what did you do this weekend?” honestly. A preacher I listened to recently pointed out how easy that question can be about what God did through worship on Sunday, but often we side-step our Sunday experience.

Just keep swimming. Romans 6:1-11 4/26/19

Romans 6:1-11

Our new life in Christ

6 So what are we going to say? Should we continue sinning so grace will multiply? 2 Absolutely not! All of us died to sin. How can we still live in it? 3 Or don’t you know that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore, we were buried together with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too can walk in newness of life. 5 If we were united together in a death like his, we will also be united together in a resurrection like his. 6 This is what we know: the person that we used to be was crucified with him in order to get rid of the corpse that had been controlled by sin. That way we wouldn’t be slaves to sin anymore, 7 because a person who has died has been freed from sin’s power. 8 But if we died with Christ, we have faith that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him. 10 He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life. 11 In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

Swimming Lessons

Have you ever taught a toddler to swim? Me neither. I don’t really know how, so I have tried to get experts to do this. I mean, I know how to swim, just not how to teach it. Anyways, for the last couple of summers we have gotten my daughter swim lessons. She figures it out and can make her way across the pool correctly and buoyantly. Then, the next time we go to a pool, she undoes all of her learning, begins the frantic but stationary doggy paddle, gasps for air, and gets great exercise. Then we spend the rest of the pool time with a life jacket or holding on to my arm for dear life. So back to lessons again this summer.

She knows how to swim. She knows what it feels like to swim. She knows it’s better, but it’s not comfortable. It’s not what she’s used to, so she goes back to the old way. That’s the way we are sometimes about our life in Christ.

Flawless Logic

In our passage today, Paul has finished explaining the grace offered us in Christ for forgiveness of sins and renewed relationship with God. Now in this passage, he attacks a bizarre but interesting logic that has cropped up around Christianity (and that Paul has apparently been accused of). Here’s the logic:

If God saved me from my sins by grace (free gift), and if this grace gives God glory….Then, the more sin that God forgives, the more glory he gets, right? Therefore, the more I sin, the more I’m forgiven, and the more glorified God is. So my goal in life should be to sin AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE so that God’s mercy can be celebrated. Foolproof, right?

To say it another way, if I celebrate God because he forgave 100 sins, then I can REALLY celebrate God if he forgives 10000 sins. So I should sin more so that I have more to celebrate. I’ll be a better worshiper. So go nuts.

New Identity

But Paul says that to accept salvation doesn’t just wipe the slate clean. It’s not just forgiveness for past and future sins (it is that, but not just that). It’s also does something to you. To accept Jesus’ death for your life is to accept your own death to sin. You are dead to the things Jesus died for. That is the meaning of your baptism. When Christ died on the cross, evil and sin did it’s worst to kill Jesus, so when Jesus rose from the dead, he broke any power that sin and death can have on you. We were not just “sinners,” we were slaves to sin. And now that Jesus has broken that power, or to stick the slave metaphor, when he bought us out of slavery, sin no longer has power over us. That is of course, unless you let it have power over you.

So just as we died to sin in the cross, we are raised to new life in the resurrection. We are now new creations, new people living by new power, able to live the life God called us into. Therefore, we don’t walk back to the old life to get more forgiveness, we walk into the new life to see how much better it is than our former sin.

We don’t celebrate swim coaches because they keep us from drowning every lesson. We celebrate them because they taught us to swim. You can swim now. Start swimming.

Love is an Open Door Ephesians 3:14-21 4/10/19

“This is why I kneel before the Father. Every ethnic group in heaven or on earth is recognized by him. I ask that he will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of his glory through the Spirit. I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love, I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God. Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.”

Ephesians 3:14-21 CEB

“I’ve always loved the idea of summer, and sun, and all things hot.”  -Olaf of Arendelle 

The summer of 2007 was perhaps the best ever.  I graduated from UGA and then two weeks later Audrey I got married.  (Runner ups include 2003 high school, 2012 seminary, 2013 daughter 1, 2015 daughter two and provisional ordination, and coming soon, 2019 ordained in full connection.).  But back to Audrey, some people are worth melting for (another Olaf quote, try to keep up).  The above verses (not the Olaf verses, the ones from Ephesians) were supposed to be read at our wedding.  Instead, we printed the program wrong and Ephesians 4:14-21 was read....which sends a very different message.  When you get a chance read about the corruption and greed of the Gentiles and imagine yourself a guest at our wedding.  Luckily for us (but bad for the Bible), nobody was paying attention except us. Probably because of how pretty Audrey was/is.

We wanted this passage because in our marriage we wanted our marriage and our whole lives to be based on being rooted in the love of Christ, understanding that love, and being filled with the fullness of God.  Hopefully, if you’ve made it this far you want to know (as we’re still growing to know) what all that really means.  So let’s break it down.

“Whoa, you really don’t know anything about love, do you?” -Olaf to Anna, and anyone else (like us sometimes) who thinks love is only romantic love.

The whole book of Ephesians outlines how God is putting the world back together, bringing all things under Christ, through love.  He brings all nations or “ethnic groups” together through love.  Not just so we can feel great but so that he can put us together in community.  Let’s try to make Paul’s (the author of Ephesians) prayer come true.

First: pray.  Seek God.  Let the Spirit strengthen you with his glory.  Let Christ dwell in your hearts through faith.  In other words, do WHATEVER you have to do to stay connected to the presence of God.  Then ask for the power to do the second step.

Second: Grasp how big God’s love is.  God is outside of space and time.  Spend a second imagining what that would even mean.  He sees all things at all times at once.  But this God that is so far beyond, behind, above, and below us invented love.  All pure love you experience (sacrificial commitment to another person) was a gift from him.  The love of husband and wife.  The love that makes me love my daughters enough to memorize Frozen quotes.  The love we have for our neighbors, or the hurting, or our best friend, is a gift from God.  John says God IS love.  So we should spend our lives contemplating this love.

Third: And he created us to share in that love.  We are called to spend our lives grasping and experiencing the love the Trinity has shared within itself since before there was time.  That is what it means to filled with the fullness of God.

Fourth: Scripture goes on to teach us that perfect love pushes out everything else.  It casts out fear (1 John 4:18).  It casts out sin.  It casts out our broken inclination to care only about ourselves—the temptation that has caused untold destruction in our personal relationships, marriages, and even in global and national issues.  So let this love—let this fullness of God that is beyond knowledge—guide you into a life that beyond anything you could ask think or imagine.

Let true love thaw your frozen heart. (One more Frozen quote, sorry)

 

Pilgrimage Heart Psalm 84 4/3/19

Psalm 84

For the music leader. According to the Gittith. Of the Korahites. A psalm.

84 How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord of heavenly forces!
My very being longs, even yearns,
    for the Lord’s courtyards.
My heart and my body
    will rejoice out loud to the living God!

Yes, the sparrow too has found a home there;
    the swallow has found herself a nest
    where she can lay her young beside your altars,
    Lord of heavenly forces, my king, my God!
Those who live in your house are truly happy;
    they praise you constantly. Selah

Those who put their strength in you are truly happy;
    pilgrimage is in their hearts.
As they pass through the Baca Valley,
    they make it a spring of water.
    Yes, the early rain covers it with blessings.
They go from strength to strength,
    until they see the supreme God in Zion.
Lord God of heavenly forces,
    hear my prayer;
    listen closely, Jacob’s God! Selah
Look at our shield, God;
    pay close attention to the face of your anointed one!

10 Better is a single day in your courtyards
    than a thousand days anywhere else!
I would prefer to stand outside the entrance of my God’s house
    than live comfortably in the tents of the wicked!
11 The Lord is a sun and shield;
    God is favor and glory.
The Lord gives—doesn’t withhold!—good things
    to those who walk with integrity.
12 Lord of heavenly forces,
    those who trust in you are truly happy!

This is a post about worship because this Psalm is about worship. We’re all made to worship.  Anything you ascribe worth to—your cat, your house, your car, your family, your friends, your multi-level marketing company—is technically worship (not heresy or sacrilege unless you put it above God).  So worshipping God is giving God credit for who God is. Which is a lot.  That’s a lot of credit.  If you don’t get excited thinking about how enormous and mind blowing God is, then your first step is probably to try contemplating things like creation, the cross, being outside the time-space continuum while also caring about you.  That’s crazy.  Once you realize how crazy it is, your ready to pray this Psalm.


1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord of heavenly forces!
My very being longs, even yearns,
    for the Lord’s courtyards.
My heart and my body
    will rejoice out loud to the living God!

If you’re thinking about God the way I just described, this might be your reaction.  When the Psalmist says dwelling place, he’s probably referring to the temple, which is where he is expecting to experience the presence of God.  He desires to be in God’s presence (which in our New Testament belief can be anywhere, but we believe it happens powerfully in corporate settings like church).  He longs for that presence, and response to it with his heart and body.  In other words he means it and is responding to God with all of his spiritual, mental, and physical capacities.  When you are beside yourself excited you might yell, you might sing, you might dance, you might follow a calling or give up a broken pattern, you might not worry about what your neighbor thinks (or conversely you might worry about praying for your neighbor to feel like you do).  Don’t hold back.  How much is God worth?  Give God that.  So remember and discover who God is, and then respond to it with your heart and body.

Then the passage paints an amazing picture of the worshipper that hits me every time I read it.

Those who put their strength in you are truly happy;
    pilgrimage is in their hearts.
As they pass through the Baca Valley,
    they make it a spring of water.
    Yes, the early rain covers it with blessings.
They go from strength to strength,
    until they see the supreme God in Zion.
Lord God of heavenly forces,

Scholars believe that this Psalm was written to be sung on the way to the temple, possibly during a big festival.  In other words, they were on pilgrimage, a holy journey to encounter God.  But this Psalm seems to say that if you are worshipping, your heart is already on that journey.  In fact, if you are worshipping you’ll grow through Baca Valley (the valley of weeping) and springs of water will burst forth! Don’t we all need that in our lives.  We can see springs arise in our own pain and in the pain of others through our worship.  We’ll go from strength to strength—each new hardship met with a fresh blessing from God.  The road won’t be easy, but worship is our way forward; worship is our warfare.

Get a good picture of who God is, and respond to it, and watch the problems of the world melt away.  Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.