Psalm 84 – Sacred Space

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord of heavenly forces!
My very being longs, even yearns,
    for the Lord’s courtyards.
My heart and my body
    will rejoice out loud to the living God!

Yes, the sparrow too has found a home there;
    the swallow has found herself a nest
    where she can lay her young beside your altars,
    Lord of heavenly forces, my king, my God!
Those who live in your house are happy;
    they praise you constantly.

Those who put their strength in you are genuinely happy;
    pilgrimage is in their hearts.
As they pass through the Baca Valley,
    they make it a spring of water.
    Yes, the early rain covers it with blessings.
They go from strength to strength,
    until they see the supreme God in Zion.
Lord God of heavenly forces,
    hear my prayer;
    listen closely, Jacob’s God! Look at our shield, God;
    pay close attention to the face of your anointed one!

Better is a single day in your courtyards
    than a thousand days anywhere else!
I would prefer to stand outside the entrance of my God’s house
    than live comfortably in the tents of the wicked!
The Lord is a sun and shield;
    God is favor and glory.
The Lord gives—doesn’t withhold! —good things
    to those who walk with integrity.
Lord of heavenly forces,
    those who trust in you are genuinely happy! (Common English Bible)

I want to be where God is.

That works out quite well, since I believe God is everywhere, anyway.

Yet, there are those special sacred spaces for us, and holy places where we especially sense and perceive a connection with the divine.

That’s why the psalmist’s heart was set on the pilgrim’s way. He was longing for the chance to go to that sacred place of basking in spiritual grace.

I know the feeling. There are times when I begin itching to go to a particular place, a hermitage, which I try to get away to, at least once a year. In 2020, with the coronavirus raging, that didn’t happen. And now, this year, with so many current responsibilities, I’m not sure when it’s going to happen. Yet, happen it must.

Even though we don’t always have the opportunity in traveling to a sacred site, having small spaces set aside just for divine connection can make a real difference. After all, we don’t need to walk a thousand miles to a grand cathedral in order to meet that deep spiritual need. It could be as simple as walking a few steps to a special chair, perhaps with small rituals of lighting a candle or incense, playing contemplative music, and/or having objects, such as a cross, which enables us to enter that connection with God.

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.”

Joseph Campbell

Unhappiness can settle in rather quickly when we go for long stretches without a break, not properly attending to our spirit in special ways. Loneliness, and feeling as if no one understands, are normal responses when there is disconnection.

Unfortunately, we aren’t always aware of what’s happening within us. Then, all of a sudden, we wake up – as if having been in the lower deck of a boat – and discover we are in the middle of the sea, unable to see the land. The disconnection becomes palpable.

I strongly urge walking. It has more than physical benefits. The spirit also needs some movement to remain healthy and happy. Do a pilgrimage around your neighborhood of prayer walking, or purposely trying to notice things you’ve never seen before. If limited, do what you can. Even a stroll around the living room can have a therapeutic effect.

The point is to have a sense of God’s presence. For the psalmist, it was taking the journey to Jerusalem, ascending the temple mount, along with other worshipers, praying and singing along the way. It was about enjoying the process of getting to the temple, reveling in the experience of being in the temple, and descending the mount with a heartful of peaceful satisfaction – knowing that, deep down, everything is going to be okay because God is with me.

Just a single day in the sacred space is better than a thousand days elsewhere. I picture it something like enjoying those rare days when our girls and their families, with grandkids and dogs in tow, are with my wife and I for a meal. It doesn’t happen often. Yet, when it does, all the loud hubbub becomes sacred time. I take off my shoes because I realize I’m on holy ground.

Indeed, all of life is sacred and holy. And yet, those special times and places help us remember how sacred and holy life really is.

Just as good nutrition, hygiene, diet, and exercise are part of the continuum of care for the body, a personal sacred space for prayer, meditation and spiritual thought is part of the spiritual self-care that can enrich and support our practices of regular worship within a community of faith, as well as service to the world.

And we must never lose sight that the most sacred space we each have to maintain is our own heart, where the light and life of Christ resides. The fruit of the Spirit come from a humble life surrendered to God’s guidance and healing. That can happen as we visit sacred places and create sacred spaces in our lives.

Lord, let me dwell for a moment on your life-giving presence. I open my heart to you. I can tell you everything that troubles me. I know you care about all the concerns in my life. Teach me to live in the knowledge that you care for me today, will care for me tomorrow, and all the days of my life. Amen.

Psalm 101… Again

King David, by Unknown artist, c.14th century B.C.E.

I will sing of loyalty and of justice;
    to you, O Lord, I will sing.
I will study the way that is blameless.
    When shall I attain it?

I will walk with integrity of heart
    within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
    anything that is base.

I hate the work of those who fall away;
    it shall not cling to me.
Perverseness of heart shall be far from me;
    I will know nothing of evil.

One who secretly slanders a neighbor
    I will destroy.
A haughty look and an arrogant heart
    I will not tolerate.

I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,
    so that they may live with me;
whoever walks in the way that is blameless
    shall minister to me.

No one who practices deceit
    shall remain in my house;
no one who utters lies
    shall continue in my presence.

Morning by morning I will destroy
    all the wicked in the land,
cutting off all evildoers
    from the city of the Lord. (New Revised Standard Version)

Routine and repetition might seem tedious and boring. However, they are indispensable. People are designed for doing, saying, and thinking the same things over and over again. Habits help to press what is most important into our minds, our speech, and our behavior.

Transformation and change aren’t accomplished through sheer willpower. It happens through the small daily decisions of life. A mere ten minutes, dedicated specifically to a particular task each day, has the power to completely alter our lives.

The biblical psalms, read every day, out loud, through singing and praying, can bring an inside-out metamorphosis which can serve us for a lifetime. To help remind us of this, I sometimes include the psalm readings in my blog reflections two, even three, days in a row.

The Revised Common Lectionary is a method of reading through the Bible in a three-year cycle (Year A, B, C). Rather than reading the Bible from cover to cover, the Lectionary follows the seasons of the Christian Year (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost and Ordinary Time).

The advantage to reading the Bible with daily assigned texts from the Old Testament, Psalms, and the New Testament is that the reader has an opportunity to follow the life of Jesus through the course of a year. For a Christian who wants to grow in discipleship, the Lectionary is a helpful way of getting to know Christ better.

Another benefit of following the Lectionary readings is that they can be read slowly in about ten to fifteen minutes. This affords the opportunity to spend time reflecting and thinking about how the Bible applies to our life today. Since the daily readings relate to one another from various places in the Bible, it is a helpful way of keeping in mind the whole of Scripture.

The daily readings of the Lectionary revolve around the Sunday readings. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday readings reflect on the Sunday texts. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday prepare for Sunday. This has the obvious advantage for making Christian worship a special experience.

The purpose of the Lectionary is to encourage Bible reading, a well-rounded understanding of the Bible’s contents, as well as provide a good foundation for prayer. The Lectionary is meant to be a devotional reading of the Bible which draws people closer to God.

A consistent feature of the Revised Common Lectionary is that the same Psalm is read three days in a row. There is a reason for that. Psalms are meant for more than reading. They are also designed for prayer, singing, and worship.

Since I spiritually dwell a lot within the psalter, I have written out my own translation of many of them. I encourage you to read the following version out loud as a prayer to God….


God almighty, I will sing about your committed love and the exercise of your justice;
    and I will make music to and for you.
I have committed myself to wise discernment so I can walk in the way of integrity;
    so when will you come and help me?
    I will, with your assistance, establish integrity in my own home.
I refuse to set goals on worthless things which add no value to my life.
    I despise the actions of deviant and deceitful people,
    and I will not let their crud stick to me.
My mind and heart won’t go down that crooked path,
    for I will have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness.
The person who slanders another behind their back –
    well, just know, I will not put up with it!
The person who is full of themselves and looks down on others –
    believe you me, I will not tolerate it!

My eyes are fixated on pursuing trustworthy persons,

    and I will surround myself with them.

The person who walks in the way of integrity –

    for sure, will be my friend and confidant.
There is absolutely no room for deceitful hypocrites within my household,
    nor for any two-faced liar; they won’t be around me for long!
Every morning, without fail, I will practice justice,
    I will make it so evil persons cannot survive around me,
    effectively cutting-off troublemakers from your holy place.
Amen.

John 4:7-26 – Living Water

Samaritan Woman at the Well by He Qi

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (New International Version)

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman by He Qi

Many years ago, I was the pastor of a small congregation north of Detroit, Michigan. Many of the people in the community viewed the big city as a place of disrepute. So, they avoided going into the heart of the great city as much as possible.

The locale of Samaria was viewed much the same way by many Jews back in Christ’s day. Samaritans were seen as untrustworthy, a mongrel people with a mix of Jewish and ancient Assyrian blood. And their religion was most suspect of all – an amalgam of Jewish and Gentile practices.

Jesus, however, didn’t avoid the territory. He confidently walked through Samaria and had no problem stopping to rest on his journey in a foreign area. That’s because Jesus didn’t class people into groups, nor did he attach adjectives to people, such as “those” Samaritans.

Jesus had no obstacles between himself and others.

Which is why an organic conversation happened between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Christ simply saw a human being who happened to be a woman and a Samaritan. He acknowledged both her gender and her ethnicity without those being a problem. Not even Christ’s knowledge of her string of husbands was a problem in conversing with her.

Every time I read this narrative of Jesus interacting with the Samaritan woman, I wonder and use my imagination about all the non-verbal communication. I am sure the conversation was as much about Christ’s affect, gestures, and tone of voice, as it was his well placed words. I fully believe his verbal and non-verbal communication was perfectly congruent with each other, giving the woman a compelling sense that her ultimate needs could be met with the living well of a person in front of her.

Water gives life. And Jesus, as living water, gives new life. A bunch of failed relationships testified to the woman’s dissatisfaction. Even though we hear no more about her after this story in the Bible, we as readers get the overwhelming sense that the woman finally found satisfaction. The love which kept slipping through her fingers now had staying power.

I am sure the Samaritan woman discovered true worship, in spirit and in truth.

I still remember my first encounter, at least my first aware experience, with the living Christ. I am quite sure Jesus was near me for a long time, without me knowing his presence. Words will never truly capture the overwhelming sense of love, acceptance, mercy, kindness, and deep satisfaction – a contentment and gratification which has stuck with me now for decades.

Messiah, “Savior,” is an apt term for Jesus. He certainly saved me from myself. And Christ has never left me nor forsaken me – always there, always available, always loving with both tender love and tough love.

I’m glad that Jesus didn’t consider this earth like the city of Detroit – a place to avoid – but willingly came to encounter people like the Samaritan woman, and me. And this is the basis of true worship.

“Have faith in me, and you will have life-giving water flowing from deep inside you, just as the Scriptures say.” (John 7:38, CEV)

Lord Jesus, Son of God, Savior of humanity, there is a river flowing straight from your heart into mine — replenishing, renewing, sustaining. May you, as Living Water, be persistent in me, breaking through every barrier in its path. Send this hydro-power through the dark crevices of my heart like a mighty flood overcoming and pushing everything out of the way that blocks its path. I want my heart to be washed clean of any debris cluttering and blocking your life-giving flow. May your love overflow onto your people — your grace, your mercy — into the lives of those we encounter, to your glory and honor, in spirit, and in truth. Amen.

Colossians 1:15-23 – Worship That Is Fit for a King

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (New International Version)

Jesus is King. Neither you, nor I, are. 

A simple statement; yet, not easily engrafted into daily life. 

The original sin of Adam and Even was rebellion – to break the bonds of loving authority God provided for them. We (especially us Americans) have this nasty anti-authoritarian strain which runs rather deep in us. 

As a child, when my middle daughter was grappling with the implications of faith in Christ, she once blurted out an honest cry that we can likely resonate with: “I just don’t want another person in my life telling me what to do!” 

Indeed, Jesus is King; we are not.

The New Testament lesson for today is rich with the pre-eminence and lordship of Jesus Christ: 

  • All things were created through Jesus and for him. 
  • Everything in all creation is held together by Jesus. 
  • Christ is the head of the church. 
  • In Jesus Christ, complete divinity exists and reigns. 
  • Jesus made peace through the cross because he had the authority and the qualifications to do so. 
  • Broken relationships and proper lines of authority are now restored and redeemed in Christ.

We can also likely relate to, at times, indulging an illusion of being in control and independently dictating the course of our lives. Yet, mercifully, Jesus is the great Sovereign, and this is a good thing – because in Christ we find reconciliation and purity of life. 

“The supreme thing is worship. The attitude of worship is the attitude of a subject bent before the King… The fundamental thought is that of prostration, of bowing down.”

G. Campbell Morgan

Because Christ is King, we really ought to submit to him. In fact, we need to pay some attention to how our bodies are to submit to his lordship.

When the body moves to animating physical actions of submission, this helps the heart to follow. Whole person worship involves engaging the mind, spirit, emotions, and, yes, the body. To neglect the body in worship is to truncate the ability to connect with God in Christ.

A typical metaphor for the Church is the “Body of Christ.” We can live into that phrase through an embodied spirituality of submission. Our individual bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, important for expressing worship. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

God created us with literal physical bodies. And Jesus has a literal physical body. Bodies are important for whole person worship. This means the physical postures we take in worshiping King Jesus are significant. We need to pay attention to them.  

A healthy practice for Christians is to kneel in the presence of the Lord. I realize some Christian traditions do it as a part of their worship, and some do not. Some like it, some don’t. Yet, bowing, even prostrating oneself (if you are physically able!) can be a powerful symbol of the heart’s desire and disposition to submit to the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ. 

Crawling out of bed in the morning onto one’s knees and beginning the day aiming to live into the will of God, and ending the day in the same manner, are a practical means of remembering who Jesus is and who we are.

I believe all believers need to feel free in adopting a physical posture of worship which helps them connect with God in Christ. For some, that will be sitting in a comfortable position in contemplation. Others will want to stand, raise their hands, even dance in praise.

It also behooves us to let our bodies respond to whatever is happening with us spiritually. Exuberant praise needs the expression of hand clapping and toe tapping. Confession of sin needs a bit of bowing, kneeling, even prostrating. For prayer, hands open and palms facing up to receive blessing from God is a good bodily position of worship.

You get the idea. Just remember we need to strive for congruence in our worship, that is, what is happening with our outward bodily movements needs to match what is occurring inward with our spirits. And when the two are in sync, meaningful worship can happen – worship of submission fit for a king.

Sovereign God, in your mercy you have sent your Son, the Lord Jesus, who has brought reconciliation to a once broken relationship.  I bow before you in obedience, submission, and worship.  Let me live a cross-shaped life through enjoying the peace you have given me in Christ in both body and soul. Amen.