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103rd Psalm Part 5: From the Pit

Posted by flyingbk on 11/14/2016

First, a plug for the Scripture Typer app. I use it regularly to memorize Bible verses. It’s awesome. I love it. Try it. It’s free!

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103, NIV)

We continue our look at Psalm 103 (Past entries: Part 1, Part 2a, Part 2b, Part 3, Part 4). We’ve been looking at this psalm as a progression that gets better and better. We are now at verse 4. God forgives all our sin, and then heals all our diseases. Now we get to the pit.

In his brilliant book The Good Soldiers, David Finkel tells a story that well encapsulates the types of challenges soldiers faced during the Iraq War surge:

Still, on June 5, Kamaliyah was a long way from having sewers, which meant that the trenches were filled to their rims as a convoy pulled out of the COP on a lights-out mission to rendezvous with an informant.

“Go right! Go right!” one of the soldiers in the last Humvee yelled to a driver, who was fiddling with his night-vision goggles, or NODs, as they rounded a corner, but it was too late.

The Humvee began to slide into the trench. Then it flipped. Then it sank. Then it began filling up.

Four of the soldiers scrambled out a door and got out of the trench relatively dry, but the gunner was trapped inside. “He was yelling,” Staff Sergeant Arthur Enriquez would remember afterward, and if there was any hesitation about what to do next, it was only because, “I didn’t want to jump in the poo water.”

We’ve all felt like that gunner throughout the seasons of life. Trapped by despair and our insecurities. Wondering why we have to suffer, and if there’s really any meaning to it. Feeling like we’re sinking little by little, with hope slipping away.

Sometimes, it’s other people’s fault. So we make them easy scapegoats and blame them for all of our problems. But if we’re honest with ourselves, a lot of where we’ve ended up is our own doing. I’m reminded of a quote I once shared before, concerning the Old Testament Israelites in exile:

In the case of the chosen people, who for nearly seventy years had been strangers in a strange land, and had drunk the cup of bitterness to is dregs, there was thus added weight to their sorrow–the conviction of their captivity being the result of their own impenitence and transgression. This is the bitterest of all–to know that suffering need not have been; that it had resulted from indiscretion and inconsistency; that it is the harvest of one’s own sowing; that the vulture which feeds on the vitals is a nestling of one’s own rearing. Ah me! This is pain!
-F.B. Meyer, Christ in Isaiah

(I actually shared this quote back in college for my school’s Christian newsletter. Yup, it’s still available online. Not crazy about my writing in that article, though.)

So then we feel stuck. We feel like we’re in the poo water (ew). But thanks be to God. He’s the one who can deliver us, and willingly does so. Finkel continues:

And then?

“I jumped into the damn poo water.”

Down he went, into the crew compartment, where the gunner was stuck in his harness straps, his head partly in the sewage water, which continued to seep in. Enriquez got one arm around the gunner and lifted his head higher, and with his other hand began cutting away the straps. Now he and the gunner were nearly submerged as he pushed the straps away and began pulling at the gunner’s body armor away. He squeezed his eyes shut. He wondered how long he could hold his breath. He felt for the gunner’s waist and began pulling. Everything was slippery. He tried again. He got the gunner to the door. He kept pulling, and slipping, and pulling, and now they were out the door, out of the Humvee, out of the sewage, and up on the bank, and that’s how this month of hopeful signs began for the 2-16, with two soldiers wiping raw Iraqi sewage out of their eyes and ears and spitting it out of their mouths.

That’s what Jesus does for us. He got down into the poo water, and emerged victorious. He paid the price that we couldn’t pay, he endured the physical suffering and relational severance that we couldn’t bear, he descended into hell so that we would never have to dwell there. He went down into the deepest, darkest pit so that he could forever lift us up: from literal hell, but also from the pit of hopelessness, of meaninglessness, of helplessness.

But, but, wait… there’s more! One way the devil attempts to discourage us is by saying this: “Well, so you got out of the pit, you got out of the burned-down house. But where you gonna go now?” So we immediately get down all over again, thinking about the next steps and the so-called uncertainty that lies ahead, and we fall back into anxiety and worry. But hello! We just got redeemed from the pit and saved from hell!!!

We actually have so much to look forward to, but instead we choose to ruled by fear, bemoaning what we can’t control. The good news is that not only does God save us, he also then crowns us… More on that next time.

*****

I finished Nicola Yoon’s The Sun Is Also a Star last night. I absolutely LOVED this book. The two main characters are Daniel, a Korean high school senior whose parents want him to go to Yale, and Natasha, a Jamaican who is trying to fight off her family’s impending deportation. They happen to run into each other on this fateful day (the novel basically spans only one day). Daniel is the poetic, sensitive type while Natasha is the already jaded, science-driven one who is all about the data. So yes, it can be a cheesy opposites-attract story at times. But Yoon interposes her narrative with delightful historical and cultural insights, and her ending is pitch perfect. Certainly, if you’re Korean, you’ll enjoy it even more (they spend quality time at a noraebang, naturally). There was a big smile on my soul, mixed with a tinge of pathos, as I read and finished this book. I enthusiastically recommend it.

*****

Pete Carroll became my favorite NFL coach last night. With 4:24 to go in the 4th quarter last night, the Seahawks took a 31-24 lead on the Patriots. I have been waiting for a coach to do the bold, right thing by going for 2 in that situation. Why? If you make the 2, you take a 9-point lead and the game is basically over. If you miss it, you still have a 7-point lead (Contrary to what Jack del Rio did in Week 1, almost no team is going for 2 when an extra point means overtime). The 2-point try especially makes sense when you consider that the extra point is no sure thing anymore (look what happened earlier yesterday!), and usually reliable Seahawks kicker Stephen Hauschka did this a couple weeks ago:

Bravo, Pete. Perhaps he learned something from that kick (the look on his face as he watches the miss is priceless), and there may be hope yet for NFL coaching.

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Posted in 103rd Psalm, Books, Sports | Leave a Comment »

103rd Psalm Part 4: Healing

Posted by flyingbk on 10/26/2016

Perhaps my favorite book read this year is Falling Into Grace by John Newton. It’s my kind of book: gospel-based, simple yet profound. I could see myself re-reading this book to kick off each new year. It’s that good.

 

In his chapter on healing, Newton tells the following story:

 

There’s an old tale about a scorpion and a frog. One day the scorpion decides that he needs to cross a river. Since scorpions can’t swim, he asks a nearby frog to carry him across the river. The frog was hesitant. “I know how dangerous you are,” he said. “If I let you get on my back, you will certainly sting me and I will die.” “That’s ludicrous,” the scorpion replied. “Think about it. If I sting you, we will both drown.”

 

The frog needed more assurance. “How can I be certain you won’t just wait until we are safely on the other side of the river before stinging me to death?” “I would never do such a thing!” said the scorpion. “How could I? I would be far too grateful for your help to sting you.” The frog pondered the scorpion’s words and reasoned that this scorpion wouldn’t hurt him. “How could he?” the frog thought, as he let the scorpion onto his back.

 

The frog began to swim across the river, gradually feeling safer and safer. But about halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog. “You fool!” croaked the frog in agony. “Now we will both drown! Why did you sting me?” The scorpion replied as honestly as he could: “Because I am a scorpion. It is in my nature to sting.”

 

This tale captures our experience as human beings. We want to live lives of mutuality and cooperation, but far too often our instinctual programming sabotages our deepest desires. We resonate deeply with Paul’s experience: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7: 15).

 

 

We are at part 4 of my series on the 103rd Psalm (Past entries: Part 1, Part 2a, Part 2b, Part 3). As I covered last time, we all have a dark side. And sadly, we each know all too well that a feature of said dark side is an inner scorpion. We sting each other. Often. Whether it be in family, friendship, marriage, any kind of community, social media, fellow drivers, we frequently reveal our sinful nature by stinging.

 

I love how Jesus’ mission is summed up in Matthew 4:23 (NIV), which also fits with our study of this psalm, verses 2 and 3 (NIV):

 

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

 

2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases

 

Jesus loves to heal. While on earth, he healed the blind, the deaf, the lame, the demon-possessed. But he also healed people’s fear, unbelief, shame. In fact, Jesus’ outward healings pointed to the inward. Jesus is about healing each of us, inside and out, our whole person.

 

Back to our inner scorpion. We all like to think that we do a good job of hiding it, and keeping it from rearing its ugly head. But I’m sure our family and friends around us would beg to differ. In his wonderful collection of essays titled We Learn Nothing, Tim Kreider writes about his late friend Skelly. His friend was someone who always exaggerated when telling stories; he felt the need to add in extra details to make himself look better or simply in an attempt to make the anecdote funnier. We all have a friend just like Skelly; in fact, I bet you instantly thought of someone as I wrote that description.

 

In this essay, Kreider came up with a brilliant term: The Soul Toupee. He writes:

 

Each of us has a Soul Toupee. The Soul Toupee is that thing about ourselves we are most deeply embarrassed by and like to think we have cunningly concealed from the world, but which is, in fact, pitifully obvious to everybody who knows us. Contemplating one’s own Soul Toupee is not an exercise for the fainthearted.

 

Most of the time other people don’t even get why our Soul Toupee is any big deal or a cause of such evident deep shame to us but they can tell that it is because of our inept, transparent efforts to cover it up, which only call more attention to it and to our self-consciousness about it, and so they gently pretend not to notice it. Meanwhile we’re standing there with our little rigid spongelike square of hair pasted on our heads thinking: Heh – got ‘em all fooled!”

 

 

The world is a cruel, unforgiving place. The older I get, the more I become susceptible to and weathered by insecurities, brokenness, rejection, failure. In addition, I can see it all around me in my older friends. I see people managing their disappointment, armoring up against any kind of possible rejection or failure, and simply giving up on certain areas of their heart and life. And as long as one doesn’t completely isolate himself, those flaws will show up. The soul toupee is on display for all to see, despite our best attempts to play it off or pretend otherwise.

 

I believe I’ve zoned in on my soul toupee. See, I’m an older single male. The vast majority of my friends are married with small children. So I spent a lot of my time third-wheeling, fifth-wheeling, seventh-wheeling, etc. I know I’m in a good place when I’m with them, I don’t think of what number wheel I am, and I’m simply enjoying good company. I know I’m struggling when I’m driving home after hanging with them, and complaining to God about how I have no one to come home to. And now, I’m fully aware that my married friends can also tell which place I’m in, based on how I interacted with them that night. (“Bob, you seem really quiet tonight…”)

 

We are all hurting. We all need healing. The good news is, God wants to heal us. It’s what he does. See his heart in Isaiah 1:5-6 (NIV):

 

5 Why should you be beaten anymore?
    Why do you persist in rebellion?
Your whole head is injured,
    your whole heart afflicted.
6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
    there is no soundness—
only wounds and welts
    and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged
    or soothed with olive oil.

 

I noted in Part 1 of this series how Psalm 103 is a progression. So in order to know and experience how God heals all our diseases, we must get how God forgives all our sins. Again, if we come to grips with our dark side, and see that God loves us even when we’re extremely weak and undeniably dark, we are now ripe for healing.

 

We need to first fathom the wide forgiveness that God offers. Then we can better perceive the depth of his healing. We need to receive forgiveness for all the times we’ve stung God and stung one another. Then God can get to work on our inner stinger.

 

(WARNING: This part is gross.) I had this ugly abscess on my upper back in late August. It just got bigger and bigger with each passing day to the point that I couldn’t sleep on one side because it hurt so much. Finally, I knew it was time to pop this sucker. So I went to my bathroom and prepared for the battle ahead. It was late, after midnight, but I was determined. I found a rhythm: Squeeze hard on both sides, get some pus out, wipe the area down. My bathroom reeked of death. Every time more pus exited, the unbearable stink was replenished. I must’ve done this at least 15 times, but I knew it would be an abject failure if I didn’t get all of it out. I succeeded in my task, and I shudder to think what would’ve transpired otherwise if I approached that night halfheartedly.

 

We all need healing. We all need draining. The pain, the heartbreak, the suffering, the brokenness, the rejection, the disappointment. It all needs to be flushed out. If it’s not dealt with properly, the wound hardens. We grow jaded. Bitterness and disillusionment squeeze out room for joy. The past ends up defining our present and future.

 

So we must come to God, heart open, armor shed, past presented. We must pour out our hearts before him completely, leaving nothing behind. It won’t be easy, and it may even smell really bad. But then he’ll begin to heal us and make us whole again. He wants to heal all of our diseases.

 

 

One day, Kreider and his friends wrote a song and performed it for Skelly. The message of the song is clear: We know your flaws, and yet we still esteem you. Kreider notes Skelly’s reaction:

 

For all his secrecy and his fear of being seen, he was touched that we had observed him so closely, and with such love. He loved that we knew him. This is one reason people need to believe in God–because we want someone to know us, truly, all the way through, even the worst of us.

 

Praise God, for he does indeed exist, and loves us in our darkness. And he’ll also heal us as we allow him to explore every crevice of our hearts.

 

But you see through my forever lies
And you are not believing
And I see in your forever eyes
And you are forever healing

 

Posted in 103rd Psalm, God | 1 Comment »

103rd Psalm Part 3: Forgiven

Posted by flyingbk on 10/19/2016

This is Part 3 of my series on Psalm 103. See: Part I, Part IIa, Part IIb.

I’ve already started working on my first weekly newsletter, due out this Friday. You can sign up here.

My favorite movie of all-time: The Shawshank Redemption.

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At that revelation, a few of you jeered because you think it’s overrated and marred by cliches (a fair assessment, I concede). But most of you cheered because you share my sentiment. It’s a movie about hope and freedom and overcoming unfair circumstances. (The flick is based on Stephen King’s short story, which is worth the read.) So many great scenes, but there are three that jump out at me. Who can forget when Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) secures beer for his fellow inmates atop the roof? Or when he locks the door and plays Mozart over the prison speakers? Red’s (Morgan Freeman’s) musing: “For the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”

shawshankredemption2

But my favorite scene has to be the one shown above, post-prison escape. As Red aptly narrates, Andy “crawled through a river of s*** and came out clean on the other side.” And there is pure joy as the driving rains wash away all the sweat and filth. Andy is free. Many times, I have pictured this exact scene as I repent of my sins. I imagine myself taking a bath in the torrential downpouring of God’s grace, all the guilt and shame and regret expertly diluted, a la Dufresne.

Of course, there’s a stark contrast between Andy and me: Andy was innocent. Me, not so much. How much more, then, do I need to assume the position underneath the cleansing flood as I hear the words of the Lord as expressed in Isaiah 1:18 (NIV):

“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
We have now arrived at the first benefit that King David mentions in Psalm 103. Here are verses 2 and 3 (NIV):
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases.

While I taught SAT’s over the summer to four different classes, I loved getting randomly philosophical on them. Sometimes, they’d just roll their eyes or lash out in frustration when I riffed on the importance of self-esteem or why they should read as much as possible. (One good reason for the latter: It actually extends your life.) But I could clearly sense flummoxing and quiet tension when I uttered out of nowhere, “We all have a dark side..Right?”, as I made eye contact with each student. It was fun to watch my normally rabid students suffer from a temporary spell of squirming and averting their gazes.

(NOTE: This music video is amazing. Also, countdown to seeing Red in concert: FOUR DAYS.)

Yeah, we all have a dark side. The older I get, the more intimate I become with mine. Whether it’s sloth, self-idolatry, contempt for certain types of people, lust, pride, addiction… my sins are ever “red as crimson.”

But because of the forgiveness that God offers and David chooses for the first benefit of Psalm 103, there is actually hope for me *only* when I come face-to-face with my dark side. Hope spoils when I glance away from the darkness within, and only confess the sins that I deem respectable or not-so-bad.

sourlemon

My go-to illustration of the gospel is a lemon sour: It’s crazy sour and bitter when it first goes into your mouth, but as you patiently work through it, your tongue locates the sweetness. Bitter repentance of one’s darkness must precede the healing waters. But how many of us have missed out on the sweet because we refuse to abide and spend uncomfortable time sitting with our dark side?

I am always encouraged by the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:14-20 (NIV). Here’s a man whom everyone reveres; he’s the gold standard of holiness. That’s much to live up to, and yet Paul is freely vulnerable as he writes:

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

When we know the forgiveness of God, there is no more need to pretend. There is no more need to hide and act like we’ve got it all together. There is even fresh motivation to tackle our dark side, i.e. crawl through our own river of s***, for we know that a deluge of freedom and hope await.

Praise the Lord, O my soul. All my inmost being, praise His holy name. He is a God who forgives ALL our sins.

Posted in 103rd Psalm, God | 3 Comments »

103rd Psalm Part IIb: Re-Praise

Posted by flyingbk on 10/17/2016

NOTE: I’m starting a weekly newsletter. Each Friday, I’ll be sending out a brief summary of my posts for the week. You can sign up here!

This is part IIb of a series on Psalm 103. Part I here and Part IIa here.

Let’s look at Psalm 103:1-2 once again:

1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—

Back in early 2014, I read a devotional by John Piper, and he asked a question that blew my mind for two reasons: 1) The question makes my head hurt, and 2) It’s quite thought-provoking. Here it is:

“Do you feel most loved by God because He makes much of you or because He frees you to enjoy making much of Him forever?”

Uh… what? Let’s break it down.

There is great power in reciting all that God has done for us. In verse 2, King David implores his own soul to forget not all of God’s benefits. Whenever I feel down, I make it a point (usually on a prayer walk) to call to mind all the ways that God has blessed me- past, present, and future. Before I know it, my soul has shifted from despondency to gratitude. I feel much lighter than when I first started. No wonder the great Albert Schweitzer once wrote:

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That’s been one of my money quotes since I came across it in college. I like to joke that my spiritual gift is receiving. You know how many people react with hesitation and even uneasiness when someone does something nice for them (i.e. offering to pay for a meal, giving a gift, helping out with a task)? Yeah, that’s not me. I’d like to think that it’s not because I’m selfish; it’s because I believe we actually eclipse a sliver of the giver’s joy whenever we put up a fight or feel bad. I know that I when to offer to help someone, my joy is complete when the receiver is thankful and receives with gladness.

OK, back to the Piper question. The first part is very much true, and it is awesome. God loves to make much of his children. In my small group study last week and in the sermon yesterday, the focus was on how God blessed Abraham in Genesis 12. God’s blessings were unsolicited, undeserved, and unreserved. And how God appeared to Abraham and made a lopsided covenant with him (read: God does all the work, and Abraham just has to believe and receive) is a paradigm for His people today. He loves to shower blessings on us over and over, everyday and in every way. 

So again, whenever we receive any kind of blessing from God (spiritual, material, relational, a gorgeous fall day, a delicious meal, a fantasy football victory), the proper response is to give thanks. But often times, the buck stops right there.

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The second part of Piper’s question is the all-important next step. When we give thanks and receive the blessing, we are then to take the time and turn our hearts to God. After gratitude comes worship, and with worship comes surrender.

But when we stop at just gratitude, we can fall into a trap. Piper continues as he breaks down the second part of his question:

Why is it important to be stunned by the God-centeredness of God? Because many people are willing to be God-centered as long as they feel that God is man-centered.

Gulp. Yeah, that’s me. Often. It goes like this: I know God is God, I know that God is my creator and redeemer, I know what God has done for me. BUT…in the end, I’m still more concerned with my happiness than I am with God’s glory. In fact, when my prayer walks only result in me feeling better about myself, I’ve shortchanged God and I’ve missed out on a prime praise opportunity. Those times actually become shrouded in self-idolatry, and they serve more as therapy than a true encounter with the living God.

So let us praise. With our soul, with our throat. Let us give thanks for every small and big thing that comes our way, and let us not forget one benefit. Let us be masters at looking back with gratitude, re-mixing the records in our minds with Hallelujahs.

But let us not stop there. Let us take the next step, and bow down in worship and adoration. Let us re-orient our hearts toward God, and seek to give Him glory in that all we think, say, and do.

Let us use our freedom to enjoy making much of God, forever.

Posted in 103rd Psalm, God | 3 Comments »

103rd Psalm Part IIa: Praise

Posted by flyingbk on 10/12/2016

Every weekend during the fall, across the nation, in every state and virtually every city, we jam into public spaces. At this place, we wear similar clothing and we all come, ready to praise and worship. We greet one another warmly with recognition that we’re gathered together as one body for one cause. There will be moments of reflection, moments where the people are led in recitation, and moments of singing. The emotional spectrum is explored in each congregation: There are times of shouting, celebrating, lifting of hands, but also sadness and mourning and even crying.

I was at one of these worship sessions exactly one year ago.

I’m talking about football, but the same applies for baseball. Here’s a pic from my session, at game 3 of the National League Division Series between the Mets and Dodgers at Citi Field. We’re ready for the worship service:

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(I’m in the middle. Props to the two gentlemen who photobombed us.)

Whenever I go to baseball games (and I went to a whopping 18 this year, I re-downloaded my MLB Ballpark App just to verify this number), I’m ever reminded of this phenomenon. We are there to praise, we are there to celebrate. We also may be there to mourn, although we hope otherwise.

This post is Part II of a series exploring the first five verses of the 103rd Psalm (Part I was yesterday). Here are the first two verses (NIV):

1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits.

When I think about praise, I’m reminded of a quote from C.S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms:

But the most obvious fact about praise – whether of God or anything – strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless . . . shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses [Romeo praising Juliet and vice versa], readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game – praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. . . . Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible. . . . I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ‘Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?’ The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.

I love that emboldened part. That assertion is why I went to Citi Field one year ago. It’s fun cheering on your favorite team; it’s a complete blast cheering as one of 44,276 people. When the Mets succeed, we praise as one. When the Mets fail, we grieve as one. There are ritualistic and liturgical elements to each ballgame (the 7th inning stretch, the Piano Man singalong at Citi Field or Sweet Caroline at Fenway Park, the T-shirt launch, each big hit, strikeout, etc.). But like Lewis writes, “all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.” Witness the fans’ spontaneity as we whoop it up when minister of the wooden bat Yoenis Cespedes launches one into orbit at said ballgame:

 

When you discover someone or something praiseworthy, it’s emotional sabotage to keep it to yourself. Lewis is so insightful when he writes that “shyness or the fear of boring others” prevents us from sharing our praise with others. We MUST praise, we MUST gush, we MUST tell others. We mustn’t let fear or shyness hold us back. Otherwise, our inner health suffers.

That’s why in this psalm, King David actually commands himself to praise the Lord. He tells his own soul, “Hey, you’ve got to praise God.” And he does it thrice. When we think about the Lord, and what He’s done for us, the proper response is to overflow in praise. But we know all too well that there are times when we don’t feel like praising. This symptom points to our inner sickness, and the only prescription is to praise. As my old youth pastor liked to say, there are two times to worship God: When you feel like it, and when you don’t.

That’s one reason why we need to gather. Not at stadiums, but at churches. We come together and we put on similar garments of praise. We greet each other knowing that we’re for one purpose. We take time to reflect, recite, listen, celebrate, and lift our hands.

And we sing.

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In seminary, I learned that one translation of “my soul” (as we see in verses 1 and 2) is actually “my throat.” David is actually imploring his own throat to praise the Lord! I quoted my youth pastor above; I remember so many times in youth group when I came to church on a Sunday in a bad mood. I had no interest in praising God. But I heeded my pastor’s words, and began to lift my voice. And before I knew it, there was a change in my heart and disposition. By the end of the singing, and in time for the sermon, my sullenness had transformed into sunniness.

Why? My posture and my throat directly affected my soul. Here’s another favorite quote from Lewis, this time from his classic The Screwtape LettersIn this quote, Uncle Screwtape, a senior devil, is giving his junior devil Wormwood on how to deceive:

At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.

Our bodily position matters. Our throats matter. Imagine if at that Mets game, when Yo hit that bomb, we all remained still and silent. Such a lack of reaction would be a sign that we were ill, or perhaps dead.

So let’s sing. Let’s use our throats. At church on Sundays, and every other day while we’re at it. Let’s praise God every chance we get, and not back. Then we’ll possess that inner health, and it will be made audible.

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103rd Psalm Part I: Preview

Posted by flyingbk on 10/11/2016

I’ve been a pastor for over a decade. I stepped down from my post as assistant pastor at my church in June, and used the summer to teach SAT’s at a local academy. (Cheap plug: I love the people I work with, and we possess a group of great teachers.) But the plan was to return to ministry at August’s end; I actually had my next role all lined up.

However, at the beginning of September, I just knew I needed some time and space. During a weekend trip in Boston (the same weekend this happened), I talked with a friend of a friend. He had been in ministry, but realized that he wasn’t in the best place emotionally to continue. Ministry can be quite the lonely place, and being single doesn’t help, either. So he stepped down from his church and took a break. Looking back, the seeds of my current path germinated in that conversation.

I chose to pull out of this future ministry opportunity. It wasn’t an easy decision, and I’m sure I could’ve grinded my way through it. Perhaps in another world, I’m involved in this ministry and I’m off and running. But I also know that I can always return at another time, and there will be other opportunities down the road. The sovereignty of God allows us to not agonize over every life decision and sets us free from the “What if?” game.

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This year, I’ve been going through Tim Keller’s devotion on the Psalms. In the beginning of the book, he suggests a few ways to go through this it. Being the deep person I am, I opted for the most intensive prescription:

The third way to use the devotional is to get a blank journal to use along with it. Read the psalm portion twice slowly. Then ask three questions and write out your answers:
Adore— What did you learn about God for which you could praise or thank him?
Admit— What did you learn about yourself for which you could repent?
Aspire— What did you learn about life that you could aspire to, ask for, and act on?

Once you have answered these three questions, you have your own meditation on the psalm.

There are certainly many reasons to do a daily devotional. One I’d like to stress today is that it gives us time and space to hear from God, and you never know how God will speak to you on any given day. On some days, it ends up being a simple meditation in which I’m just reminded of God’s goodness and the richness of the gospel. (Actually, that needs to take place everyday.) Other days, I’m convicted of a specific sin, and the devotion allows me to repent and consider why I do what I do.

On September 10, the devotion came from Psalm 103:1-5 (NIV):

1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Since that fateful (er, God-ordained) day, I’ve adopted these five verses as my main meditation during this season of my life. Here’s what I wrote for my devotion:

9/10 PSALM 103:1-5
Adore: Amazing. Ridiculous. Awesome. I can’t believe the progression of this psalm, how it gets better and better.
Admit: Right now, I can’t believe it. It’s too good to be true, and my eyes are stuck to the ground.
Aspire: Open up my eyes, lift up my countenance that I may believe these truths once again. Amen.

The morning I meditated on this devotion, I was still smarting and licking my wounds over my decision to take a break from ministry. And the road ahead was rife with uncertainty; I didn’t have a job and had no idea how I should spend my time. As you can see from my ‘Admit’ portion, I was in a place where I knew that I did not truly believe what I was reading. That’s another good reason to do a daily devotion: We discipline ourselves and ask: Do I really believe what I’m reading to be true? Why or why not?

And as I wrote in the ‘Adore’ part, I read these five verses as a progression. It begins with praise and reflection, and then God moves ever so surely.

I also experienced nostalgia as I read this psalm. Back in the day, on 6/6/06, three brothers in Christ and I made covenant with each other: to love each other, pray for each other, to strive together for God. We redeemed this date, naturally, and it also happens to be the day that the best band in the universe released its debut album. (Also, countdown until I see them in concert on back-to-back nights: TWELVE DAYS.) So as you can see, it was quite a destinies-altering day in the history of the galaxy.

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(NOTE: photo credit: ME.)

In one of our covenant gatherings, a brother suggested that we memorize Psalm 103:1-5. So it was easy for me to re-commit these verses to memory, and they’ve been ever strong in my heart for the last month. I will be breaking down these verses in the weeks to come. Part II: Praise will be next.

I have been witnessing the 103rd Psalm progression in my life. I’ve experienced the forgiveness of my sins and the healing of my diseases. I’ve seen my work schedule come together (also giving me time to practice my writing in this blog) and I’ve found the right church community for me. Thinking on such things only fills me with more joy because I know this psalm is telling me that the best is yet to come.

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