Remember yesterday, when I said today I might take a further look at the Holy Spirit in today’s post? Well, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and bears witness of the Son. That’s verse 26. It’s the only verse in this chapter about the Holy Spirit. There! Now that we’ve taken a further look at the Holy Spirit’s role in this chapter, we can move on to consider the other 96% of the text.
My childhood saw a lot of messages emphasizing the brutality of the crucifixion. Some of these details one probably shouldn’t share with, say, kindergartners, but I’m guessing that by as early as age ten, I had a pretty good idea from sermons and event speakers what Rome’s best-known method of execution entailed. I remember one message from a Saturday event while I was in junior high that particularly impressed upon me the physical suffering and torture that Jesus was willing to endure for my salvation. Beatings, floggings, nails, slow asphyxiation: I heard it all. And I came out of high school with a strong conviction that understanding what Jesus physically suffered was crucial to appreciating the gospel.
Earlier this week, I was talking with a minister friend who shared with me a problem that he termed “the separation of Church and Christian.” In modern, individualistic America, people become Christians but remain isolated from the body of Christ and the communal practices that allow us to grow and work together for God’s purposes. To a large extent, I think that this phenomenon stems from a short-sighted, single-moment understanding of salvation: say the right prayer, believe the right things, and get your “get out of hell free” card, because once saved, always saved. We’ve got evangelistic rallies that measure success by how many people crossed that line of belief that we’ve drawn; we’ve reduced grace to mere forgiveness without transformation or growth, as if God would pardon us and then leave us in the pits we’ve dug.
Welcome to another exciting installment of Chocolate Book: Paper Towel Airport Edition. As I write this, I’m in the Fort Lauderdale Airport, and in an hour I’ll be heading to Columbus via a layover in Atlanta. As usual, you will be reading this much, much later in the day than all that. On the menu today is Psalm 101, a Psalm of David–and the first psalm in awhile with the author explicitly stated. Like Psalm 26, one of its major themes is the psalmist’s uprightness. However, Psalm 26 asserts the psalmist’s uprightness as grounds for vindication and protection by God. In contrast, Psalm 101 is more along the lines of, “Hey, God, I’m gonna be a good man because being good matters to me.”
There are three sections of Isaiah that discuss the Sabbath, and there are three lessons we can learn from them. Actually, there are probably a lot more than three, but I dug up an insight from each of the three passages today, so that’s what I’m sharing. Isaiah’s Sabbath lessons relate to rejecting empty rituals and practicing religion meaningfully, keeping Sabbath inclusively, and honoring God first in one’s rest.
Leviticus! Everyone’s favorite book of the Bible, next to Ecclesiastes! Seriously, though, ever since I read through it during the summer after my sophomore year of high school, I’ve found Leviticus interesting. Which laws are meant to be distinguishing marks for the ancient Hebrews as God’s chosen nation? Which laws constitute moral principles that all of us benefit from following? Which laws are oriented toward ancient agrarian culture and are of little concern to us in the 21st century because, for example, we don’t own any oxen? Sorting out what the laws say and what they mean for us today takes work, but I’ve found that it’s worth tackling.
Welcome back to the fourth commandment. In fact, welcome back to the fourth commandment twice. The first time, in Exodus, God issues the ten commandments from Mount Sinai, but for the reprise in Deuteronomy, Moses gives the Hebrews an annotated refresher course before they enter the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The two iterations of the commandment appear similar, but if you take a close look at them like the “spot the difference” page in Highlights for Children, you’ll observe some subtle variations.
This stupid psalm is resisting introduction. I’m about to ask “Have you ever thought you were going to die?” and recount the time I got stuck upside-down in a pool floatie as a toddler or the time the family Saturn got hit by a semi truck when I was eleven, but then I realize: this psalm is about an extended period of being on the edge of the grave. It’s not about watching your life flash before your eyes in a moment. So then I’m about to ask “Have you ever wished you could die?” and talk about lying in the upstairs hallway overwhelmed by pain on the third day of having chicken pox when I was eight, but then I realize: the author of the psalm wants God to rescue him from his perpetually near-death state. He has no desire to die. So here’s the question: have you ever gone through a time in your life where, day after day, you felt like the living dead?
Imagine you’re in the kingdom of ancient Israel, singing Psalm 66 with your countrymen, as it would have been sung historically. You sing the opening lines: “Shout joyfully to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious” (1-2). You and those around you are not directly addressing God; you are actually singing to each other. You are calling each other to worship.
According to Brueggemann’s classification scheme, we’ve definitely got a psalm of orientation here. The congregation is called to praise, God is recognized for his majesty and power as Creator, and the nation places its hope and happiness in him. I’ve said before that I find psalms of disorientation and new orientation more interesting than psalms of simple orientation, but as I was reading this today, I found myself thinking: I miss this.