Finding Peace with God: praying Psalm 131

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My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
(Psalm 131)

One of the shortest psalms in the Bible is also one of the most profound in its picture of prayer. The first verse of the psalm is a declaration of release from things which usually grip our lives. First, the psalmist guides us into a release from pride and haughtiness. I know we all hate to admit it, but there are places of great pride in our lives. We become self-centered either by lifting ourselves up over others or by thinking so lowly of ourselves in false humility, a sort of wicked reversal of pride. As you read Psalm 131, what a gift it is to let go of all the ways we hold ourselves over others, whether specific people who come to our minds or entire categories of humanity.

Next the psalmist chooses to let go of “great matters” that are “too wonderful for me.” It is not wrong to think great thoughts or pursue great things. It is helpful to have a vision for our lives and aim for something. But there is also a time to release them. The psalmist reminds us that when we enter into the presence of God through prayer, we let go of exalted thoughts about ourselves or other things, and we turn our thoughts to our great God.

Yet here is one more interesting thing that Psalm 131 leads us into. So many encounters with God throughout Scripture reflect a reverent awe that verges on fear. But while this psalm leads us to the presence of our exalted God, we find God to be One whose presence brings us to utter stillness and peace as we tenderly yield to Him. The image of a weaned child with its mother in verse two is one of absolute care, total dependence, and satisfied peace. Unlike the soul raging with discontent and pride, the soul humbly at prayer with God comes to a pace of shalom in God. As the psalmist leads us into prayer, as we release great thoughts about ourselves and other things, as we turn our minds to God, now we enter a place of rest with God. First, we let things go and now we grab ahold of God. We hold on and are held. We can relax our striving as we “be still and know” He is God. even now as you read this, let me encourage you to reread the first two verses of the psalm and pray your way into contented rest in God.

The final verse reminds us this is not a personal journey alone but a community journey. Psalm 131 is part of that marvelous collection known as the Psalms of Ascent. These psalms were  used as a prayer journey that mirrored the geographical journey of the Hebrew people from their homes to the Jerusalem Temple for great festivals. They crossed great territory and sometimes rough terrain to come together and worship before God. These psalms helped them also go on a spiritual journey of soul preparation not in isolation but in community. In long journeys over rough terrain it is important that we are not alone. We need one another.

Here in Psalm 131 the preparation of the soul becomes a journey of release from pride, a journey of attaching to God, and a community journey of hope that becomes vital to the earthly pilgrimage of God’s people. There are so many “hopes” we might have in life, but the psalm leads us through them into the active hope in God that pervades all of our days. What are your hopes today? What are your fears? How might you lay them down at the feet of God, even as we find hope in Him by resting in Him now and forever. Consider reading the psalm one more time and then take some time in stillness and prayer before our great and tenderly loving God.

Sabbath: recovering identity through God’s rhythm for life

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When I used to hear the word Sabbath, I thought of something legalistic and rigid or just plain out of touch with my life. I would picture flowing robes and beards of Old Testament characters exhorting people to rigidly ‘keep the Sabbath day.’

But the more that I have thought about Sabbath, the more I have come to see it as perhaps one of the most important and most ignored aspects of our lives. Sabbath literally means to cease or stop. God ordained the Sabbath as a way for human beings to recover their identity by entering into God’s own rhythm for life: six days on and one day off. God Himself rested after the powerful work of Creation (Genesis 2:2-3). God has given us this rhythm of life so that we might recover our identity in Him, reflect His ways, and also be refreshed in life.

Sabbath as a day is often incredibly difficult for us. I struggle to absolutely be still or to set aside a day in which I will not check email or scan through the internet. But Sabbath is an all-important chance to both adore God and be refreshed. We neglect at our own peril. As Eugene Peterson says, it’s about praying and playing. We gather with brothers and sisters in Christ to worship in the morning and then we are renewed through playful enjoyment of life given by God throughout the day. Even though setting a day aside for a Sabbath is difficult, it is something that we both need for our own benefit and for our connection with God.

But Sabbath is more than a day. It is an attitude. We are no longer bound by legalistic obedience to God’s law, but we are set free by Christ – through His fulfillment of the law – to enjoy a life of Sabbath rest. The peace in life and trusting relationship with God that flows from the Sabbath day should rightly impact all of our minutes, hours, and days. We are set free to be at peace because of Christ. We can trust that God cares for us each moment. Our lives are different.

So, Sabbath is something very old, but so very important for our lives today. I hope we might all recover Sabbath, even in the midst of the chaos of the world, so that we regularly recover who we are in God.

Eastbrook at Home – May 24, 2020

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Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home as we continue our series “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews.” This weekend we look at Hebrews 4 and what it means to enter into the rest of God.

Join in with a virtual small group on the sermon every Sunday at 11 AM. More info here.

Each Sunday beginning at 8 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts.

As we continue to tweak this experience, please let us know your experience by emailing us here. You can also access or download the service directly via Vimeo or the Eastbrook app.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in a donation to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

The Weekend Wanderer: 18 January 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

114749“Pastor Turns Terrorist Hostage Video into Testimony” – “A hostage video released last week by Boko Haram did far more than issue another plea for rescue from a Nigerian Christian. It revealed a modern-day Shadrach. ‘By the grace of God, I will be together with my wife, my children, and my colleagues,’ said Lawan Andimi, a Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN) pastor in the troubled northeastern state of Adamawa. ‘[But] if the opportunity has not been granted, maybe it is the will of God. Be patient, don’t cry, don’t worry. But thank God for everything.’ It is testimony even to his Islamist captors, said Gideon Para-Mallam, the Jos-based Africa ambassador for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.”

 

william-farlow-IevaZPwq0mw-unsplash-1000x667“Can Spirituality Exist Without God? A Growing Number Of Americans Say Yes” – “The global research firm YouGov lists ‘being more spiritual‘ as one of Americans’ top 10 New Year’s resolutions for 2020, and the icon used to illustrate that aspiration is a person meditating — not praying. And more than a quarter of Americans now say they are spiritual, but not religious, according to Pew Research Center. What does it mean to be spiritual outside the confines of religion? For some, both exist side by side. For others, even those who consider themselves atheists or ‘nones,’ the concept of spirituality might feel critically important. They say it has to do with how we interact with others, with living more contemplatively, and with appreciating nature and the natural world.”

 

Screen Shot 2020-01-17 at 12.40.30 PM“How I learned to curb my tendency to work too much” – Mike Monroe: “The first clue that I was a workaholic was my worsening health. The number on the scale was getting bigger. I started getting aches and pains. But my health wasn’t the only sign. I was checking my work email in church. My friends stopped inviting me to things. I would hear about bachelor parties that not only was I not invited to but I hadn’t even known about. You know you’re a workaholic when you feel scorned, and you think the best way to get back at somebody is to work harder. But once you’re willing to admit that you may have a problem, defeating workaholism—like any ‘-ism’—is a process. Here are the lessons that I’ve learned in my journey to do just that.”

 

Screen Shot 2020-01-17 at 12.30.45 PM“Songs That Prepare Us for Death” – Mike Cosper: “Saturday, January 15, marked the six-year anniversary of the sinking of The Big Valley, a crab fishing vessel lost in the Bering Sea. Of the seven crew members aboard, only Cache Seel survived. Gary Edwards, Danny Vermeersch, Josias Luna, Carlos Rivera, and Aaron Marrs all died. The bodies of Aaron, Gary, and Josias were lost at sea. Faithful fans of Deadliest Catch may recognize the name of the boat, as its sinking was covered in season one. My connection is much more personal. Aaron Marrs was one of my closest friends….At the time of the boat’s sinking, I was working on a recording project called These Things I Remember. It was our church’s attempt to embrace the language and emotions of the Psalms, exploring themes like confession and lament that were often absent from the praise choruses with which we’d grown up. Aaron’s death gave the project a whole new sense of urgency.”

 

114574“States to Trump: We Want Refugees” – “Forty-one states and 86 local governments have filed letters with the federal government telling President Donald Trump and the administration they will continue accepting refugee resettlements in their jurisdictions, according to a list compiled by the Refugee Council USA. Trump signed an executive order in September requiring state and local governments to opt-in to refugee resettlement, an additional layer of bureaucracy that Christian ministries to refugees feared could make it harder to ‘welcome the stranger.’ The deadline was thought to be Christmas Day, but there has been a lot of confusion around that detail. Resettlement organizations, most of which are faith-based, have until January 21 to file the letters with the federal government. In the meantime, Church World Service; Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service; and HIAS (a Jewish-American nonprofit group) are taking the Trump administration to court to stop the executive order.”

 

Christopher Tolkien“JRR Tolkien’s son Christopher dies aged 95” – “Christopher Tolkien, the son of Lord Of The Rings author JRR Tolkien, has died aged 95, the Tolkien Society has announced. The society, which promotes the life and works of the celebrated writer, released a short statement on Twitter to confirm the news. The statement said: ‘Christopher Tolkien has died at the age of 95. The Tolkien Society sends its deepest condolences to Baillie, Simon, Adam, Rachel and the whole Tolkien family.’ Tolkien, who was born in Leeds in 1924, was the third and youngest son of the revered fantasy author and his wife Edith. He grew up listening to his father’s tales of Bilbo Baggins, which later became the children’s fantasy novel, The Hobbit.”

 

Music: The War on Drugs, “Pain,” from A Deeper Understanding

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 19 October 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed“Ethiopia’s Evangelical Prime Minister Wins Nobel Peace Prize” – In the midst of our political debates, Christians often wonder what their role should be within the public square. H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic work Christ and Culture (1951) outlines a fivefold typology: Christ Against Culture, the Christ of Culture, Christ Above Culture, Christ and Culture in Paradox, and Christ the Transformer of Culture. While you can argue your position, it seems hard to argue against the witness of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, an evangelical Christian, being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at making peace with Eritrea.

 

Walter Kim“National Association of Evangelicals names new president, diverse leadership” – Speaking of evangelicals, the National Association of Evangelicals announced on Thursday that Walter Kim will succeed Leith Anderson as President of the NAE. This announcement marks a change toward greater leadership diversity for the NAE, as they simultaneously announced John Jenkins to the office of chair of the NAE board and Jo Anne Lyon to the office of vice chair.

 

92413“The Most Diverse Movement in History – As a pastor of a multiethnic church, I think about what diversity means quite a bit. I wrestle with Christianity’s checkered past and present on certain aspects of what we call diversity, and I hold onto the hope of the dream of God in Revelation 7:9-10. Every once in awhile someone comes along to breathe some fresh wind into my sails on these issues. Rebecca McClaughlin did just that in this essay, which points toward the powerful multiethnic history and reality of Christ’s church.

 

lead_720_405“Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore” – In her strange, but arresting, book, How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell relates the strangely refreshing experience of having dinner with one of her neighbors: ‘Because I hadn’t been in a neighbor’s home since I was a teenager, it was unexpectedly surreal to be inside the house that forms a permanent part of the view from our apartment….For my part, the experience made me realize how similar the life situations of most of my friends are, and how little time I spend in the amazing bizarro world of kids.” Odell’s experience is increasingly rare. In part, that is because of the way that work and our sense of time are being transformed in our current culture. As Judith Schulevitz, author of The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Timeargues in The Atlantic, we may want to do something about it. As those who believe people are made in God’s image, work is worship, and sabbath is theologically and practically significant, we may want to do something about it as well.

 

GerardManleyHopkins“The Poet in the Pulpit: On the Brilliant, Homely Homilies of Gerard Manley Hopkins” – Let me confess it: I am a preacher who loves poetry. Both my undergraduate studies in literature and my love for music gives me great joy in hearing the beauty of poetry read aloud. There is a tradition within Christian pastoral ministry of poet-preachers that includes such well-regarded figures as George Herbert and John Donne, as well as one of my favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins. A recent book of Hopkins’ extant homilies, only 32 total, gives us some insight into Hopkins as a preacher. From the sound of it, both his poetry and his preaching may not have been well appreciated in his lifetime.

 

Music: Cross Worship, featuring Osby Berry, “So Will I (100 Billion X) / Do It Again”

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]