Friday, January 25, 2019

Serving in Communion and Unity

There are days when it seems like everything works, everyone gets along, the team is totally in sync, and all is right with the world. In those days the water tastes better, the locker room smells better, our muscles ache less, the sun shines more brightly, and everything we touch turns into beauty. Those days are far too few, but they are wonderful when they arrive. 

The writer of Psalm 133 experienced such days and he paints a verbal picture for us to view. He starts with an observation about the goodness and pleasantness of loving, unified, communion between brothers, we would add teammates and colleagues. I would agree. It has. 

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity! 

When our team is unified, we experience goodness in the purity of the relationships. When we experience communion among our colleagues, we find it pleasant to our senses and emotions. It’s very good and it’s very pleasant. 

The writer’s first simile to help his readers grasp the goodness and pleasantness of unity among brothers is anointing oil poured upon Levitical priests. His readers would have been familiar with this oil and all its properties as they would have encountered the priests on their regular visits to Jerusalem and the temple for festivals. Imagine the feel, the appearance, the aroma of anointing oil poured over the head of the high priest, dripping down all the way to his shoe tops. 

2 It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron’s beard,
Coming down upon the edge of his robes. 

Those we serve might feel this like a Gatorade shower at the end of a ballgame. It might smell like the goodness of a post-game barbecue. It might smell like a championship locker room or the sheets on the hotel bed after the performance of a lifetime. Every sense is awakened by this goodness and pleasantness. 

The psalmist’s next simile is on a grander scale, a mountain. Imagine the dew of Mt. Hermon rolling down to the valley, cool to your feet, refreshing to your soul, the very site of the Lord’s pronouncement of blessing. 

3 It is like the dew of Hermon
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever. 

We can surely recall the sense of blessing, the freshness and beauty that has accompanied our best days of unified competition and training. We can almost feel on our skin the joy of communion among our brothers and sisters in sport. Our souls feel the weight of our blessedness as we are wrapped up, together, in the Lord’s life-forever blessing. 

May I challenge you to watch for and to embrace days like these? When you get the first hint of communion or unity, slow down and take it all in. Take the psalmist’s posture and, “Behold…” Feel the goodness of the unity, smell the pleasantness like anointing oil, taste the coolness of the mountain dew, and receive the Lord’s commanded blessing, life forever.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Serving in Chaos and Confusion

There are plenty of days in our service of sportspeople that seem sort of chaotic and we’re often confused about what the Lord could possibly be doing. Our service is not usually tidy, with countless moving parts, lots of factors outside our control or even our notice, and many people of less than noble or godly character. It’s easy to feel like we’re caught in a vortex of chaos and confusion. The writer of Psalm 73 had encountered this and wrote eloquently about the situation. Thankfully, he didn’t stay in chaos and confusion. 

In the first part of the psalm, the writer postulates what he believes to be true and the forces that war against that supposition. 

Surely God is good to Israel,
To those who are pure in heart!
2 But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling,
My steps had almost slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
As I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 

As we serve in the sporting community, we’d like to believe that the Lord honors and rewards those who compete fairly, within the rules of sport, and ethically. However, it often seems like those who cheat the most win the most often. It appears that they will never get caught or pay the penalty for their malfeasance. Our steps could slip along the way of following Jesus, and we could stumble from the way. 

The writer then goes into a rant of the seemingly endless ways that the wicked and arrogant get by with God defying behavior. 

For there are no pains in their death,
And their body is fat.
5 They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like mankind.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
The garment of violence covers them.
7 Their eye bulges from fatness;
The imaginations of their heart run riot.
8 They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;
They speak from on high.
9 They have set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue parades through the earth. 

10 Therefore his people return to this place,
And waters of abundance are drunk by them.
11 They say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge with the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
And always at ease, they have increased in wealth. 

The embittered writer pours out his heart’s frustrations with the apparent lack of justice and the perceived over-tolerance of the holy God of Israel. How many times have we enumerated the offenses of the players, coaches, teams, or clubs that repeatedly bend the rules or even more overtly, act unethically and abusively with no consequences. As we do, we join the psalmist in his frustration. 

The psalmist then turns inward and his self-pity is exposed as he laments God’s inaction and his plight of being in a catch 22. 

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
And washed my hands in innocence;
14 For I have been stricken all day long
And chastened every morning. 

15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.
16 When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my sight.

The writer’s faithfulness to God and His law seems to have been rewarded with emptiness, punishment, and troublesome frustration. I know you have felt this. I have, often. Thankfully, the psalm is not complete. 

The whole psalm pivots on verse 17. In a single moment, the writer’s attention is shifted from his self-pity to the wisdom of God. 

Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end. 

Suddenly, powerfully, immediately the psalmist’s vision is cleared and his perception is righted by the presence of God in His sanctuary. Think about it, what would he see in the sanctuary? Every element of worship in the sanctuary, the temple, shouts of the nature of God, including His righteousness, faithfulness, yes and His justice. Then, the writer perceives the end of the wicked, the arrogant, and the presently proud. When do you enter the sanctuary of God and have your vision cleared? Where do you encounter the presence of Christ and find your perception of truth changed? 

In the next section the psalmist concisely outlines what he perceives the arrival of God’s judgment to be. 

Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment!
They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form. 

Can we, like the writer of this psalm, see beyond the most obvious circumstances surrounding those we serve and perceive the natural consequences of the foolish behavior of the arrogant, abusive, and the proud? If we are faithful to be in the Lord’s sanctuary, in the perception altering presence of Christ, we will. 

The psalmist turns his attention inward again and vulnerably describes the former nature of his soul. 

When my heart was embittered
And I was pierced within,
22 Then I was senseless and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.
23 Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
24 With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory. 

Who among us has not found our hearts embittered and pierced, our minds senseless and ignorant, our souls beastly? Frustration and a lack of perspective can easily sully our hearts until we find the Lord has taken us by the hand, giving us counsel and guidance. 

In the final section of the psalm, the writer turns his attention upward, offering a prayer of consecration. 

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
28 But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works. 

Once restored in perception, in heart, in soul, in mind, the psalmist recognizes his absolute dependence upon God and His provision. His vision restored, his verse 1 suppositions affirmed, he commits again to the God who sustains him, offers him refuge, and fills his mouth with praise. May we be similarly restored as we have our hearts and souls restored by the Lord’s unfailing love and immutable justice. 

We will undoubtedly encounter seasons of frustration, injustice, pain, and even despairing thoughts. Let’s be quick to return to the Lord’s sanctuary, get into His presence, listen to His counsel, receive His Spirit’s consolation, and we will also find our hearts, souls, minds, perception, and vision restored to Christ-honoring clarity. Such clarity will enable us to serve with extravagant love and selfless service, in spite of the swirling chaos and confusion.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Serving in Leanness of Soul

Occasionally along our pilgrimage of service in sport we find ourselves with very lean souls. Whether due to losing streaks, a rash of injuries, personal failures, fundraising difficulties, strained relationships, or other factors, our souls are dried up and our spirits are numb. The writer of Psalm 130 knew this season of life and wrote about it. It is included in the psalms of ascent to be recited during pilgrimage to Jerusalem for festivals.

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplications.
In this opening stanza the writer directly expresses his heart, “Out of the depths I have cried to you, O LORD.” He feels as if he’s crying out from a bottomless pit of grief and appeals for the Lord to simply hear him.

3 If You, Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.
The writer knows he is unworthy of the Lord’s attention, but appeals to His unfailing love for forgiveness and the privilege of being heard. The Lord’s holiness and forgiveness both inspire a reverential attitude in those who love Him.

5 I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait,
And in His word do I hope.
6 My soul waits for the Lord
More than the watchmen for the morning;
Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.
The psalmist moves immediately to what we in the 21st century find to be the most difficult part of our lives in Christ, waiting. Notice how he waits. His soul waits, that is all of his being. In His word he hopes, as he waits. His soul waits for the Lord, not for a sign or a message, but for the Lord. As watchmen in the final hours before dawn wait for sunrise, so does the psalmist’s soul wait. This hopeful waiting with expectation is giving emphasis by repetition. 

7 O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He will redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.
In this last stanza the psalmist turns his introspective heart outward toward his brothers, and he calls them to hope. Hope is found in the Lord’s lovingkindness and abundant redemption. He is confident that the Lord has not abandoned them, that he will restore their freedom and will forgive their shortcomings.

When you find yourself serving with a rather lean soul, please follow the psalmist’s pattern:
·        Cry out to the Lord, appeal to his attentive ears.
·        Acknowledge your brokenness and the Lord’s abundant mercy.
·        Wait. Wait for the Lord. Wait with an expectant soul.

·        Turn your attention to those around you to encourage.