Are You Happy?

Psalm 1

1:1      Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

1:2      but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

1:3      He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

1:4      The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

1:5      Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

1:6      for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

The Psalmist asks us the basic question “Are you happy?” Some translations used the word blessed, others fortunate, and still others happy. After a long days work, after a great work out, after a lovely meal, or wonderful family visit we are still left with the question. “Are you happy?” The Psalmist says that no matter of comparison, conspiring or contriving will bring about our happiness. The only thing that will bring us happiness is God’s covenant love.

Words tantalize, mesmerize, entice and invite. This Psalm considers the power of words. The first psalm serves as the gateway into the entire book of Psalms, stressing that those who would worship God genuinely must embrace his Law (or Torah), i.e., his covenant instruction.

It does not have a particular historical or social setting.  In both the early Jewish(Berakhot 9a) and Christian (Acts 13:33) traditions, it was believed to have been joined to  Ps 2, and the two psalms together were considered to be the first psalm of the Psalter. What both Psalm 1 and 2 accomplish poetically (Psalm 1) and prophetically (Psalm 2), are to remind the reader that in the end there are really only two ways to live.

This Psalm is divided into two parts (1-3) showing what the model human life should look like and its fruit (3-6).

The New Testament further outlines what true happiness looks like in Matthew 5 with the list of beatitudes [Latin for happy or blest]. Jesus takes that first word “Happy!” expounds it and intensifies its meaning. The happiness Jesus offers is literally too good to be true. It is too lofty, too ideal, too amazing to actually achieve. Paul rightly recognizes this quoting Psalm 1:2 in Romans 7:22 “I delight in the law of the Lord in my inmost being.” Unfortunately Paul goes on to say that he cannot live up to this beautiful ideal of happiness, but “thanks be to God through Jesus Christ”(Rom 7:25) in whom we total and complete happiness. Jesus is the one who for Love walked in the council of the wicked, stood in the way of sinners, sat in the seat of scoffers so that we would not be driven out like chaff or wither and waste but experience happiness and fruitfulness.

How does Jesus invite us into this Happiness on a daily basis? The Psalmist uses the word meditate (hagah in Hebrew), it is the same word that Isaiah uses to say when a Lion enjoys his dinner (Isaiah 31:4). Has God’s love so melted us that obedience to him is no longer a duty but a delight.  When seeing the Law fulfilled by Christ we no longer see obedience as a duty but as delight and devotion.

As the English hymn-wright and poet put it…

“Love Constrained to Obedience”
William Cowper

How long beneath the law I lay
In bondage and distress;
I toll’d the precept to obey,
But toil’d without success.

To see the law by Christ fulfilled
And hear His pardoning voice,
Changes a slave into a child,
And duty into choice.

Restless But Hopeful

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Augustine of Hippo, Confessions Book I, Chapter 1.[1]

The Uncanny Nature of Existence

There is something uncanny about being human. Something so peculiar that we can’t exactly place our finger on it. Whether in the sweetest or most painful moments there is always a dull sensation in the back of our mind that we are not at home, we are restless. We are eager to be home, to find our rest.

When we look at our surroundings, we find free spirited individuals living on park benches, campsites, or squatter communities. We recognize this because they are living in a place that is not their natural habitat. And yet we seem to miss that fact that we are also living like fish out of water.

Parks are wonderful to visit, but in the long term cannot fully sustain our life. The requisites of a home are those things that fully lead to human flourishing. Whether our sweetest or saddest moment, we are left with the nagging twinge that there must be more to life than this. There has to be something that is our true home.

Signposts of Home

Our human experiences are signposts pointing us to something fundamentally other than ourselves. These experiences are comforting to us because they remind us of home, even though we feel as though we are not. This deep sense of “not-at-homeness” was encapsulated in the book by Martin Heidegger, Being and Time. He used the word, uncanny, or in German unheimlich. He put it this way.

Unheimlich is the fundamental groundlessness of our existence, this profoundly felt sense of not-being-at-home, wherever one would be.

Being and Time – Heidegger 1962, 214.

Far from finding this concept foreign to the Bible, the writer of Hebrews describes this very feeling and tells us where this homelessness, this unheimlich, points.

Heb. 11:8   By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

Finding our Home

We are all seeking a community and friendship that will last. We honestly don’t know what we actually are looking for, but when Jesus finds us we can finally say, “This is what I have been looking for all my life.”

We only discover this home, this rest, when we discover the greatness of God. He is the one whom we desire and truly seek. We will spend our lives in this uncanny existence seeing beautiful sunsets, wonderful beaches. families, friends and jobs whispering to us, flirting with us. They will promise only what they can point to, not what they really are. They are signposts and appetizers to the true beauty, the true home the true satisfaction that God is.

CS Lewis put it wonderfully, “The fact that our heart yearns for something Earth can’t supply is proof that Heaven must be our home.”[2]

God invites us into this rest not in here after, but in the here and now. Find your rest in Him.

[1] cor nostrum inquietum est donec requiescat in Te.

[2] CS Lewis, Mere Christianity book three, chapter ten

Darklands and Light

John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In the 4th century Scotland was not know for its enlightenment. In fact the Romans referred to it as Scotti  or the ones living in darkness. Centuries later Scotland would have missionaries such Eric Liddell and theologians such as John Knox. God’s Light is best shone in the darkness.

Rome had running water, extensive roadworks and infrastructure, and even a highly developed legislative system. The word scot comes from the means darkness in Greek. This is the same word that John uses to speak of us. It is into this darkness that Christ comes to shine.

With the advent of the Romans, the British Isles had their first running water. Some archaeologists believe that it was not until the 18th century that England was finally able to meet the same standard of plumbing.

The stunning truth of Jesus’ life is that the very Light that spoke and said, “Let there be light.” Has spoken into the very history of the world.

This is the glorious light of the Gospel that missionaries brought throughout the world.

He casts out darkness by the glorious light of his presence. His arrival breaks the darkness of our sin and ushers in the light of his life. Our darkness was not one of simple lack of civilization or knowledge. It was the darkness and chaos of self-rule. This light of life ushers in life, light, peace and joy.


For Our Learning

In 1549 At the height of the English Reformation Thomas Cranmer wrote a beautiful prayer, called a collect.

A Collect for this Second Sunday of Advent.

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

Advent and Disruptive Events

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:14

advent |ˈadˌvent|

  • noun [in sing. ]
  • the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event : the advent of television.
  • • ( Advent) the first season of the church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.
  • • ( Advent) Christian Theology the coming or second coming of Christ.
  • ORIGIN Old English , from Latin adventus arrival, from advenire, from ad- to + venire come.

There are things that disrupt the way we live, relate or work. The arrival of new things are disruptive. The advent of the telegraph. This ushered in long distance communication while shortening the time that was needed for the travel of the message. Then came the radio. We no longer had to run wires to communicate long distance. Then we developed television. Now we could send information, audio and video. The arrival of these things is disruptive because it fundamentally changes the nature and mode of long distance communication.

John uses this same analogy of communication or “word” to give us an abstract illustration about the nature of Jesus’ advent and His incarnation. Advent has forever changed our mode and way of understanding and relating to God. What was veiled in metaphor and symbol. What was prophets of old communicating far off oracles has now changed. In a small stable of Bethlehem the very author writes himself into the story. His advent is the most disruptive event in the history of the universe. The Author has become the Word in his very own story. Let advent be the disruptive event God designed it to be.

“…My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of his presence? The incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not” – CS Lewis in “A Grief Observed”

It Won’t Always Be So

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head,    and you shall bruise his heel.  GENESIS 3:15

Humanity for millenia has sensed a deep inner dislocation. Things are not the way they should be. Long ago, God whispered the first promise, “It won’t always be so.”

Advent is a time in which we reflect on the once and future king. Advent comes from the Latin meaning “to come.” In advent we await the end of exile. Deep in each one of us we realize that somehow, somewhere paradise got lost and we don’t know how to find it.

In Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve chose exile, God wonderfully whispered, “It will not always be so.” This is the First Promise or the Proto-Evangelium or First Gospel.

As this Advent season starts, let us reflect on the myriad of years that went by until we saw this inaugurated in Christ. Let us live with eager expectation.

Let us celebrate this once and future king.

After Darkness, Light

Lake Geneva has a phenomenal sculpture of influential reformers. Above the picture read the words Post Tenebras Lux – After Darkness, Light.

On October 31st, 1517 an Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral. This marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Germany and many other countries of the world celebrate October 31st as Reformation Day. After the darkness of ignorance, God brought the light of his love. This day marked a watershed in the history of the world. We went from superstition and insecurity to the beauty of faith and assurance.

Every inch of Creation is alight with the fire of God. God in creating us bestows every single one of us with common grace. Jesus succinctly said God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Yet it was his invincible and effective grace that set us free from works, from performance, and from an inherent need to prove ourselves. His freely offered grace brings light into the darkness of our ignorance and lets us know that we are loved.

We opted for darkness and fell from Grace. But God, in his infinite mercy and wisdom, brought light into our darkness. He ended our personal dark age and ushered in the light of his Son.

We are no longer slaves of performance, but sons and daughters who have been justified and adopted freely into God’s family. Martin Luther helped us rediscover the light of God’s love on the cross and the assurance of our vindication.

Awesome Indeed

What is it in the human heart that attracts many to extreme sports? We all desire an awesome feeling of fear. Inside every single one of us is a desire to feel truly alive.

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest…

21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, (Heb 12:18-22)

Over the last few decades we have commercialized this deep desire in us all. Jumping out of airplanes, scuba diving, roller coaster riding, or name any other thrill seeking adventure is a pursuit of this elusive tremedous mystery we call “thrill.”

We seek the excitement of fear. Fear, we hope, will make us feel the risk and joy of feeling truly alive.

Rudolf Otto called it, “Mysterium tremendum et fascinans”  or the fearful and fascinating mystery. The encounter with the beyond that is both terrifyingly awesome yet stunningly fascinating.

A very good way to describe this fascinating mystery is the word numinous. C.S. Lewis described it as a feeling utterly different than fear. Fear he said is the feeling we get when we are told that the adjacent room with the door ajar contains a tiger. Numinous is the feeling we get when we are told that there is ghost or spirit in the room next door.

Let’s recover the wonder of fear as we tremble before the majesty of divinity. It is this quivering that is not fearful, only awesome. True wonder inspired fear will make us feel truly alive. The encounter will be awesome indeed. We need Someone other than ourselves to breathe life into us. That is why Jesus breathed on his disciples saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”(John 20:22)

Come Let Us Reason

Often when we look at art we see depictions of God as “the Ancient One” or an aged being with a flowing white beard. This imagery can evoke the idea of an eternal changeless God and all wise God. However, we seem to smuggle in the idea of a old man stuck in his ways. On the Day of Atonement over many millenia, countless elders have recited these amazing words:

“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool. Isaiah 1:18

God is not an old man stuck in his ways. He wishes to enter into relationship with us. He wishes to dialogue with us. “Come let’s reason, let’s wrestle, let’s argue. Let’s journey together.”

God is not a God so set in his way that he will not bend. He pleads with us. He says, “Come let’s talk this out. Though your sins are in fact sins. I will do the impossible. I can forgive. All you have to do is ask” (paraphrase). It is on the cross that Jesus bends. He bends to the point of breaking all with the explicit purpose of doing the impossible. He forgives. He cleanses. He atones.

Today on this Day of Atonement, reflect on the Jesus and his sacrifice which restores us to God and makes us “at one” again.

How Low Can You Go

A year ago my little daughter discovered the game limbo. She found it fascinating. Whoever could get lowest and most limber, this one would win. The main reason for liking the game was not the flexibility or testing the limits of our core strength and gravity. No, the game of limbo is fascinating because we find it humorous to see the great lengths that people will go to win. They are willing to look ridiculous just to win a prize. How low can you go?

One of the attributes that we often overlook about God is that of humility. If anyone has the right or prerogative to make use of rank or privilege it is God (v6). We are reminded of what an exalted God we have, that he did not consider humility as a trait beneath his station.

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil 2:5-7)

Often we read these verses and see them as a goal to emulate. We would miss the whole thrust of this passage if we thought it were just about playing spiritual limbo. God does not want us to perform a version of limbo in which we debase ourselves. This would still be a subtly arrogant way of earning our way to God. Jesus did not come to show us a new way of life, but to give us new live.

Paul tells us to do nothing out of selfish ambition, conceit or vainglory (kenodoxia), but to have Christ’s attitude of humility. We humans suffer from “empty glory.” We are living off borrowed glory and are still grasping at it, clinging to it. Jesus who had every prerogative, did not exercise his divine right, but rather emptied himself (heauton ekenosen). Paul masterfully illustrates this by a beautiful play on words.

Striving to live a humble life is still very proud. Laying aside what is rightfully yours is absolutely humble.

God’s solution to our empty glory (kenodoxia) is his self-emptying (ekenosen).