The joyful journey
Psalm 122: When they said, “Let’s go to the house of God,” my heart leaped for joy.
I know we like to take this verse and use it to describe people waking up on Sunday morning, thrilled at the prospect of going to church, but this psalm isn’t really about that at all. This is a song sung by pilgrims as they journey to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple there. From across the country God’s people set their faces toward Jerusalem to worship. The song writer describes the decision being made to make that journey: someone says, “Let’s make the trip to Jerusalem for the Passover this year.” The response is one of joy, “Yes, let’s do it!” Thus plans are made for that long journey, quite likely several days of walking, traveling up to Jerusalem. As they walk they sing, and this is one of their songs. While I’m okay with using the opening words of this psalm to celebrate our opportunity to attend worship services at a nearby church I think we somewhat shortchange the application of it. The journey described here isn’t necessarily a short drive bringing us to 9:45 Sunday School and 10:45 Worship. A better application is our journey to the New Jerusalem. That journey isn’t by land or sea, but through life. The best use of this passage for us is to see it as an expression of the joy of our walking together with God’s people through life and our anticipation of entering the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, at journey’s end.
Take Away: It’s a joy to serve the Lord as we journey through life.
No wonder we’re so happy!
Psalm 16: I’m happy from the inside out.
David’s testimony in Psalm 16 is absolutely inspiring. He makes the decision to run to God, making him Lord of his life and when he does this all the puzzle pieces of his life fall into place. Because of his trust in God he’s drawn to the best friends he could ever have. As he chooses the Lord he’s pleasantly surprised that before he ever picked God that God picked him! Now, day and night, his life confirms his decision and, when the end comes, he knows that his decision to serve the Lord will go with him into the world to come. It sounds almost too good to be true. Know what? It is true: every word of it. It’s no wonder David has a smile on his face! I guess that’s the reason Christians are so joyful too. After all, our story is every bit as victorious as is David’s. In fact, we know more about it than he does. We have (in Paul Harvey’s words) “the rest of the story.” We know about the Incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection. What’s that? You don’t think Christians are all that joyful? Well, shame on them…on us…on me!
Take Away: The people of the Lord have every reason to rejoice.
Psalm 4: I have…more joy in one ordinary day than they get in all their shopping sprees.
Now here’s a current application of an ancient truth. Possessions don’t give true joy but God does. My society is in love with “stuff.” People stand in line in the cold all night to be one of the first to own the latest toy. When that expensive bit of plastic is six months old, do they still think it was worth all that discomfort? I doubt it! David reminds me that living an “ordinary day” in the joy of the Lord is better than having an extraordinary day without him. The thing is that these people standing in line are doing so because they don’t know any better. They think that the latest gadget is the best life has to offer. When I see them sacrificing so much for so little I’m not to feel superior. Instead, I’m supposed to feel compassion. By God’s grace I know something they don’t know and I have a commission to somehow show them that there’s something better.
Take Away: Possessions don’t give true joy but God does.
Can you keep it down over there?
Nehemiah 12: Jerusalem’s jubilation was heard far and wide.
It’s a lavish celebration of praise and worship. The erection of the wall of Jerusalem symbolizes the dawning of a new day for the people of Israel. No longer are they a scattered, defeated people. Now, they’re once again the assembled people of God. Their holy city is now a city again and their Temple is a prepared place of worship. Getting to this place hasn’t been easy. God’s grace has worked in their lives and called them out of distant lands to return to this Promised Land. The rebuilding of the Temple was a years-long effort. The rebuilding of the wall brought unexpected challenges in addition to great labor. Now it’s finished and it’s time for celebration. No doubt, there’s danger in celebrating when there’s still work to be done. However, there’s also danger in never taking time out for celebration. God is good to us. While it’s true that he calls us to work in his fields, he also invites us to rejoice with him when significant victories are won. As his people we’re a people of hope and joy. Even those who live in the settlements distant from Jerusalem hear the sound of jubilation. In the same way, those on the “outside” of our fellowship ought to know that we rejoice in the Lord who has done great things for us.
Take Away: We’re blessed and we ought to act like it.
Follow the Leader
2Samuel 6: I’ll gladly look like a fool.
One of David’s wives is Michal, the daughter of Saul. It may be that she remembers her father’s “kingly demeanor” as she watches David playing the drum major role in leading the Ark into town. In her eyes, David comes up far short of her father at this point and she simply doesn’t understand why David would make such a spectacle of himself. Not only that, but, frankly, the outfit he’s wearing doesn’t lend itself to such an animated, exuberant display and she tells him about it. David’s reply shows us his where his priorities lie. His joy – his dance – was energized by his love of God. If displaying that joyful love makes him look like a fool that’s just fine with him. Here we see that spiritual leadership isn’t all about programs, plans, and meetings. Christian spiritual leaders are, first of all, followers. We follow the King of Kings, and it isn’t all business. As the Ark is brought into Jerusalem, David isn’t afraid to rejoice openly and emotionally. As he points out to Michal, the maids she’s worrying about know the real thing when they see it and his leadership is enhanced rather than lessened by his transparent joy in the Lord.
Take Away: Christian leadership is as much about leading people in enjoying the blessings of the Lord as it is about organization, vision, and plans.
2 Samuel 6: David…danced with great abandon before the Lord.
The Ark of the Covenant, Israel’s greatest religious item, has been kept at Abinadab’s house with faithful Eleazar serving as priest. Now, David wants to bring it to Jerusalem. One false start results in the death of Uzzah who carelessly treats the Ark with disrespect, but three months later the Chest of God is being brought into David’s City. The celebration is impressive and genuine. David, the newly recognized King of Israel, leads the way as all Jerusalem celebrates. I can’t help but think of the drum major of the great Tiger band from Grambling State University. No marching in military precision here! David, warrior and king, lays all that aside in unrestrained exuberance before God. However, it isn’t David’s abandoned drum major like dance in leading the Ark that impresses me today so much as his open heart before God. As I study David’s story I find that his life isn’t mistake-free. In fact, he messes up a lot, and sometimes in major league ways. It’s his good heart that commands my attention. This man loves God with every fiber of his being. His drum major routine with the Chest of God opens for me a window to his very heart.
Take Away: The Lord loves it when we worship him with abandon.
Happy in Jesus
1Peter 1: You trust him, with laughter and singing.
Peter’s words are addressed to believers who are “scattered to the four winds.” These followers of Jesus don’t have it easy. They’re treated as outsiders and sometimes they suffer because of their faith. However, Peter’s writing to them isn’t heavy and grim. He doesn’t advise them to grit their teeth and hold on. Rather, he describes the victory that’s already theirs. He envisions their gatherings as joyful, celebrative events in which they sing and laugh, buoyed by the living presence of Jesus in their lives. The idea here isn’t that they pretend everything’s okay when it obviously isn’t. Instead, it’s that they see a bigger picture and weighing their current situation against “total salvation” they find that they’re the big winners. Beyond that, it’s more than just “pie in the sky” for them. Something has happened and is happening in their lives right now. These are people who just can’t get over how blessed they are. While it’s true that my life is quite easy, especially in comparison to that of these scattered Christians, I do share in their blessings. As I get together with my Christian friends, whether it’s in formal worship or relaxed fellowship, I hear lots of good singing and good natured laughter. That, my friend, is exactly as it should be.
Take Away: It’s good to remember that it’s a joy living in Jesus and that it’s fun being with his people.
Living unreservedly for God
2Corinthians 6: The smallness you feel comes from within you.
These are emotional words from the Apostle. He loves this church. They’re his dear friends. In fact, he considers them to be his children in Christ. At the same time he’s frustrated with the smallness of their lives. The infighting, bickering, competing attitude of theirs not only breaks his heart but it also limits their view of God and what he does in people’s lives. Without reservation Paul has given himself to them and to the Church in general. He’s suffered physically for it but at the same time he’s been blessed beyond description. If the Corinthians feel their religion puts them in a straightjacket it’s their own fault. There’s so much more to being a Christian than trying to be first in line at church potlucks or getting to be the one who sings the special song. Paul calls them to a better way: a passionate life lived joyfully for the Lord. These words speak to church people throughout the ages. Am I going to make church about meetings and rules and authority or am I going to make it about living passionately for the Lord? The first binds and limits me. The second sets me free to live “openly and expansively.”
Take Away: The Christian life isn’t binding – rather, it’s wonderfully freeing.
The power of the cross
John 8: When he put it in these terms, many people decided to believe.
The debate concerns the relationship of Jesus to his Father. His enemies listen for any misstatement, any slip of the tongue of our Lord, that they might pounce and score some debate points. Jesus tells them that they need to open their minds and stop thinking in such a small, earthly scale. Meanwhile, others are listening, considering and trying to decide for themselves about Jesus. Finally, Jesus says to his enemies, “When you raise me up, then you’ll know who I am.” The “raise me up” phrase is crystal clear to his listeners. Jesus is talking about crucifixion. In this culture, to be “raised up” is a very bad thing. Even as his enemies prepare for more debate and the crowd tries to digest what Jesus is saying, he continues. When he is “raised up,” as bad as that is, his Father won’t abandon him. Even to crucifixion Jesus will take joy in pleasing his Father. At this point, many in the crowd are convinced. If Jesus is willing to obey his Father even to a cross, and if he believes that even at such a terrible moment the Father will be faithful to him, they will believe in him. Such confidence and such a level of commitment is compelling. Once in a while I happen upon some profane, blasphemous use of the cross. The enemies of Christ are still among us and they think that the cross is silly or proof of weakness and defeat. For many, though, it’s convincing and compelling. In this passage, even before Jesus actually goes to the cross, it’s the cross that convinces them to follow. Never question the power of the cross.
Take Away: The cross convinces us of Christ and his ability to transform our lives.
This angel got the job all the angels wanted
Matthew 28: He rolled back the stone and then sat on it.
This angel is pretty cool. He’s supernatural, coming down out of heaven. He’s majestic with shafts of light blazing out of him. He’s powerful, rolling away the stone. Then, what does he do? He has a seat on the stone he speaks calmly and reassuringly and matter-of-factly to the women. It’s almost as though they don’t know whether to bow down to him or invite him out for breakfast. Then the resurrected Jesus makes his appearance. It’s the same way. Here’s the victor over death, freshly raised from the grave; yet he greats them with a cheery “good morning” as though they are just old friends who happen to meet at the mall. The women, though, know just what to do in this case. They bow before him. Jesus, still in an apparent light hearted mood tells them not to be afraid, but to go and tell the disciples that “plan A” is still in order and they’re to meet him at the designated spot in Galilee. This first Easter morning is awesome — holy. It’s also happy, joyous, and just a little light hearted. It’s an interesting balance and the Church should do all it can to capture this wonderful mixture as it proclaims the resurrection of Jesus.
Take Away: It’s the resurrection that makes Christianity the happy, hope-filled religion that it is.