The Sweet Psalmist of Israel

Thank God, last week I was able to spend several hours after work at Pacifica church to pseudo-attend EWR (and enjoy delicious free dinners). Below is my attempt at contributing a devotional, which is something I have not done in awhile. The process of editing/peer review was refreshingly rigorous and is something that I had forgotten and have missed from EWR’s in the past. Anyways, the idea for this was something I heard from a sermon recently, and I wanted to share it.

—————————————————

People are often remembered by remarkable discoveries, critical innovations, or monumental achievements because of their impact on human history and society. Those accomplishments are typically summarized in a person’s epitaph. For example, the epitaph of Thomas Jefferson reads:

HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON, AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE, OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.

If we were asked to pen an epitaph for David in the Bible, what might we include? Perhaps descriptions such as “Victor over Goliath,” “Mighty king of Israel,” or “Subduer of the Philistines.” Indeed, David had many feats and titles of worldly renown. The author of 2 Samuel, however, before recording David’s final words, decided to describe him very differently.

“Now these are the last words of David.

Thus says David the son of Jesse;

Thus says the man raised up on high,

The anointed of the God of Jacob,

And the sweet psalmist of Israel:”

— 2 Samuel 23:1

Broadly speaking, the first three descriptions summarize the stages of David’s life. The last, however, describes what David did – not as a warrior in his youth or as a king in his adulthood, but as a psalmist throughout all his days. Despite all his marvelous accomplishments, the Bible remembers David for the things people more easily overlook – his words of thanksgiving, praise, and glory to God.

How will we be remembered? Do we desire to be remembered by man for our degrees and titles, or by God for our offerings to Him?

Day to day, we may study diligently and work tirelessly in the hope that at the end of our lives we can be remembered by some small but lasting contribution to the world. Yet let us not forget that the recognition of men will pass away with the world, but the recognition of God will endure. The heart that we pour into our servitude may be long forgotten by people, but it will be forever remembered by God.

May we be remembered less for our worldly merits, and more for our life-long service to God.

———————————————

Note:

In the original Hebrew verse, the last clause literally says “the sweet/pleasant psalms of Israel.” Thus, the translators have interpreted this to mean “the sweet psalmist,” although the original literal description could be more profound and abstract. Anyhow, that is a topic for further study and meditation :)

Hearts Hardened Towards Loaves (I)

We all know the story of when Jesus walked on water. Jesus had just fed the 5000 and sent them away, and He asked his disciples to go ahead of Him to the other side of the water while He prayed. As evening came, there was a storm, and it was at this time that Jesus walked towards them on the water and calmed the winds and the waves. Needless to say, the disciples were amazed. The account according to Mark, however, contains an interesting after thought:

Mar 6:51  Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled.

Mar 6:52  For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.

Why did the disciples marvel? I guess it’s obvious; they just witnessed somebody calm a storm at will. But in hindsight, Mark realized that the fact that they were amazed at the time was because they did not understand something about the loaves, and their hearts were hardened. What did they not understand? Matthew 14:33 gives us the answer:

Mat 14:33  Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.”

If we put these two accounts together, we see that even though the disciples witnessed Jesus feed over 5000 people with merely 5 loaves and 2 fish, they did not understand He was the Son of God. They did not see the power of God in people eating their fill of food. They did not think multiplying bread to feed a large crowd was “miraculous enough.”  To them, this miracle was not worth marveling at.

Mark, however, in hindsight, realized that it should’ve been. They should have marveled when Jesus began to endlessly hand them bread to distribute to the multitude. They should have shaken their heads in sheer amazement, thinking in their minds, “Truly, You are the Son of God,” as  they picked up the 12 baskets of leftovers. But they didn’t, because their hearts were hardened.

How many of us receive more than our daily bread…and marvel? When we say grace and give thanks before eating, do we express our thanks out of courtesy and politeness as to a regular person, or out of astonishment and awe as to the Almighty God? Do we begin to doubt the existence of God because we see no miracles in our own lives?

Paul writes:

Rom 1:20  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,

Rom 1:21  because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

The ordinary everyday things – daily provision, protection and safety, God’s creation, etc. – are already sufficient evidence of the power and mercy of God. They manifest the glory and might of God just as much as the extraordinary, and thus are equally worthy of being marveled at. We have no excuse not to glorify and be thankful to Him.

We need not feel envy or self pity if others seem to be experiencing God in extraordinary or supernatural ways and we are not. We need not doubt the almightiness of His power if we are sustained everyday through ordinary means. Through creation alone, things that are made, we can clearly see His eternal power and Godhead. Truly, everyday is a miracle and grace worth marveling.

Music to the Lord

“…speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:19

Recently I visited my grandma and found that she lives a simple life. Upon asking her what she typically does everyday, two of the three activities she mentioned were “reading the Bible” and “playing musical instruments.” On the dining table was a wooden frame with eight wooden pipes hanging on it. By shaking each of the pipes like a bell, a pitch could be sounded.

Perhaps out of small talk and attempt to break the silence, I asked my grandma how it sounded when played and she began rattling the wooden pipes one at a time. I wasn’t genuinely interested in the notes she was playing nor consciously listening, until midway when I realized what the melody was.

It was “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”

Later, she played a few more tunes on her harmonica. “At the Cross”, “The Home-land Shore”, and others – all hymns.

I was touched and humbled. My grandma received a prestigious education, one such aspect being in music. Yet, with all the musical talent she possesses, she only cares to play music that glorifies God. I could tell that throughout her daily life, only hymns get stuck in her head and she delights in making music to the Lord.

The authors of Psalms often made music to the Lord, singing and writing many songs of praise out of admiration and delight for God’s truth (Psa 108:3-4, Psa 138:2). The author of Psalm 119 writes, “Your statutes have been my songs…” (119:54). Can we say the same for ourselves?

Music is a form of expression in many of our daily lives, whether we hear it through our iPods on the street or from the radio in our cars. What melodies are most likely to be stuck in our heads and hummed from our mouths? What place does the word of God have in the songs we listen to?

For those of us who hum hymns only once a week, we need to integrate God more into our daily lives, learning to delight more in the words inspired by God and less in the lyrics inspired by men.

Although I do not see my grandma often, our brief gathering showed me the value of music inspired by the words of God. After all, they are the words that will bring us simple joy and contentment through all our days. They compose the melodies we will sing unto eternity.

Thoughts on EWR (English Writer's Retreat)

If you couldn’t tell from my previous blurb, EWR was great. The prayer house in Calgary was soooo welcoming and home-y in every sense. It was really humbling and touching to see how much effort and time they put in to accommodate us and make us comfortable.

Of course, I was reminded of how deep and wonderful the Word of God can be if the time is taken to dig into it. So much can be learned from a passage, it’s uncanny. It might not be a matter of learning a lot of new things in terms of content, but definitely a matter of obtaining a much richer and insightful understanding. It doesn’t matter if the passage is obscure or well-known – there is so much to be gathered and learned.

The theme of family also turned out well, thank God. Initially I really had no idea what I could write about family. I came in with no potential topics for a devotional or article (we were supposed to; oops). It’s funny how the most random little things can trigger an idea though. We did a lot of brainstorming of families in the Bible and passages related to family in the Bible as a group, wrote down our findings on large sheets of paper, and hung them up to look at for potential topics. But I really got my idea from a casual verbal example (“I know the faith that started from your grandmother Lois” – that verse in 1 Timothy). I ended up writing a devotional on my grandma and my recent visit to her in Taiwan. Maybe I’ll post it later.

As for a topic for a full length article, this is where daily Bible reading comes into play. I ended up choosing a passage that first stuck out to me while reading it in high school – the account of Samson’s parents in Judges 13. To think, if I hadn’t read this passage that one time in high school years ago….and it happens to be family related too! I guess this is one of the reasons why daily Bible reading is so important; never know when something you read will turn up again later. I guess that’s a pretty abstract and vague statement, but whatever. This is just a blog; it can be as clear or vague as I make it :p But yeah, I could go on a lot about why this passage is interesting, but it’d probably be really dry. Besides, the article I’m writing based on it is still a work in progress. I thought I was close to done, but then Lois read it and “ripped it up” haha. I’m really interested in reading everyone else’s articles though – the experience of researching and studying really is like looking for treasure. The digging can be hard and frustrating, but once you discover something of value, it’s so precious. Reading everyone else’s articles would be like going through a treasure trove, much like this verse in psalm 119:

“I rejoice at Your word, as one who finds great treasure.” Psalm 119:162

We also shared a lot on Psalm 119. It really is a wonderful and humbling and admirable psalm. Such a strong desire for God’s word in all circumstances; really amazing.

In addition, there is the great fellowship. Peer editing, discussions, sharing reflections, eating meals together, taking walks, tea time – it’s very pleasant. The fellowship also adds richer understanding of God’s word, because different people will notice different things based on different experiences.

I just wanted to express a heartfelt thanks to Calgary Prayer House, and the EWR instructors. I really had a good time spiritually and physically. For everyone else who didn’t go, next time you should go!

An Admirable Faith

So I’m quite behind in posting my reflections on the book of Joshua, which I finished reading last semester. Hopefully with better time management I can sort of catch up in Bible reading and reviewing lessons learned from Bible study, sermons, seminars, etc, and then try to post some for mutual edification. And as always, discussion is welcome.

I’d like to share something about Joshua that I find very admirable, humbling, and very much worth learning from. Those who are Christian know the character – after Moses died, Joshua was the one who lead the Israelites into the land of Canaan, and had victory upon victory upon victory over many of the nations inhabiting the land at the time. Joshua chapter 12 lists 31 kings that the Israelites conquered under Joshua’s leadership, with an army that had never seen war prior to entering Canaan. Sometimes we take this for granted because we’ve heard the stories many times, but if we really think about it, that’s simply amazing. Joshua was the man! Continue reading

Committing Unconditionally

“So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver…  And I said to her, ‘You shall stay with me many days; you shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man—so, too, will I be toward you.’” Hosea 3:2

In the Old Testament God commanded Hosea to love his adulteress wife (representing idolatrous Israel). The order of events in Hosea 3:2 is significant; “So I bought her for myself…And I said to her…so, too will I be toward you.” Hosea committed to purchasing his wife before she made any commitment to be faithful to him. Our purchases, however, are extremely conditional and this logic unfortunately prevails in our relationship with God and with others.

Are we willing to commit our lives to God prior to or despite the absence of blessing? When we’re dealing with misfortune, it’s hard to give our all in preparing for the next Bible study or RE lesson. It’s hard to give thanks to God wholeheartedly in prayer without bitterness. Only when things are smooth do we conscientiously serve the Lord. Job’s devotion to God, however, was unconditional. We say, “God, deliver me from this trial and I will praise you.” Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Are we willing to commit ourselves towards loving others, to show kindness equally to all? If we saw our friend sitting alone, we wouldn’t think twice about joining him. But if we saw the mean or unpopular kid sitting alone, we wouldn’t think twice about not joining him. Our preaching is also conditional; we preach to those who we think might listen and not to those who “we know” won’t listen. Jesus, however, says, “As I have loved you…love one another” (John 13:34). He set the example by healing the leper in Matthew 8; no one thought twice about touching him, Jesus thought once about healing him.

Just as Hosea committed to his unfaithful wife, God committed himself to Israel even before they turned back to Him. Likewise, God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). It’s hard to love unconditionally – God knows that more than us. Yet, He was and is still willing. Are we?

Lessons from EWR (English Writer's Reteat)

It’s been about two weeks since EWR ended on July 5th and I’m still mulling over and digesting some of the things I got out of it, not just in relation to writing, but in just reading and studying the Bible in general.

One of the most poignant points that struck me: when writing on the Bible, the writer doesn’t (and shouldn’t) dictate the direction of the piece; he or she should let the Word of God direct the message. Too often do we read the Bible and encounter a verse or passage that really strikes us and moves us and resonates with us, but jump to a premature message or theme that, although may not be incorrect, does not do the Word justice. At EWR, everyone was guilty of this in our first drafts. We all read something that we liked, which triggered us to come up with an underlying message that we abstractly “thought” or “felt” was the true message. Then, taking this message, which actually arose from our own thinking and limited understanding of the Bible, we tried to develop it, citing Bible verses that supported what we wanted to say.

Continue reading