Be a bouncy castle ( Pursuing and prizing the presence of God Part 5)

I am catching the Psalmist’s heartbeat for the presence of God in Palm 84. Verse five looks at the concept of dwelling with God from the perspective of finding one’s strength in God.

Psalm 84:5  Blessed are those whose strength is in you,

in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

In a good family, with a good mother and father, children find and develop their strength from their parents. When they are not able to do that they begin to deflate. Think of a bouncy castle that is continually fed by air pushed into fans. Its strength is in the fans and the flow of air into it. The structure, the form, the bounce, the joy, of the castle comes from those fans. The one who dwells in the presence of God’s, draws their strength from Him and finds a supernatural strength, joy and resilience.

What is it to put your strength in God? The second half of verse five says “in whose hearts are the highways to Zion“. The heart is the center of a persons being, the seat of their motives, emotions, and thoughts. Zion was the fortress, the stronghold, of the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was seen as the center of the social and religious life of the people of God; like a capital city in a country. It was also where God dwelt among his people. So Zion represents something of the people of God with God dwelling right in their midsts. The best I can understand the sense of this verse therefore is that there is a consistent strength to be found when your heart is always seeking the presence of God. It’s as if every desire that we have, every plan that we make, every goal that we set our sights on is characterised by the pursuits of his presence. As we face ourselves in God’s direction and seek his face, a powerful wind of his Spirit blows into our lives filling us with supernatural strength and resilience.

At the time this psalm was written people walked down literal highways to get to the temple. We now know Jesus is “The way”. You want to find strength in God’s presence then fill your heart with thoughts of Jesus.

Don’t think of what you have or have not done. Your prayers, your good works, your bible reading, your relationships, your charitable giving. These do need our attention from time to time but are not the source of our healing, energising, lasting, life giving delight.

Trust in Jesus’ righteousness, his son-ship, his death for you, his bearing of your sin, and his resurrection. He was the temple, the priest, and the sacrifice. He is the way to the Father. He is the fulfillment of all the highways to Zion.

I was going to finish there but there is a corporate aspect of this that needs drawing out. God isn’t all that interested in real estate, its people that he loves. The dwelling place of God is with his people which is the church. Not only does the Psalmist long to be with God but he wants to be among God’s people. The journey to Jerusalem for the passover celebration  would not have been a lonely and isolated one . There would have been a stream of families and communities making the journey together, and once they got there the city would have been jam packed with people.

Not only can we enjoy God’s presence and draw strength from him on our own, but we can enjoy him together with others. Jesus talks about both. He encourages us to go into our room on our own and shut the door to be with God, but he also says wherever two or three are gather together in my name there I am in the mist of them. When we give up meeting together it may be that the ways of Zion are not in our heart at all and have in fact been displaced by the love of other things. It’s a warning sign to be aware of. When we are tired, or run down, depressed or discouraged we need to take the fastest rout to the presence of God and get among the people of God. What better way of doing that than gathering with brothers and sisters in the name of the Lord Jesus.

PS: I had a few others thoughts and notes that I thought I would share here.

A few verses that express the thought that although Zion was a physical citadel in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5:7) it came to take on a deeper meaning of a home for the people of God. God is in Zion but so are his people:

Ps 87:5  And of Zion it shall be said,

“This one and that one were born in her”;

for the Most High himself will establish her.

Ps 149:2  Let Israel be glad in his Maker;

let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!

Ps. 87:2  the LORD loves the gates of Zion

more than all the dwelling places of Jacob

A few more Zion verses I came across:

Ps. 51:18  Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;

build up the walls of Jerusalem;

Galatians 4:26   But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. (ESV)

Gal 6:16   And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (ESV)

Hebrews 12:22   But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, (ESV)

Also, I feel there is a connection with the Isaiah 40:3 but can’t articulate it yet.

A voice cries:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;

make straight in the desert a highway for our God.Is 40:3

I also kept thinking of Isaiah  2:2 but I have to finish this blog at some stage.

It shall come to pass in the latter days

that the mountain of the house of the LORD

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,

and shall be lifted up above the hills;

and all the nations shall flow (NIV stream)  to it Is 2:2

Don’t that just conjure up images of a flow of people from the nations to the church?


Physically affected (Pursuing and prizing the presence of God Part 2)

I am on verse 2 of Psalm 84 and it’s doing me so much good.

My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Psalm 84:2

This man’s soul longs for the courts of the Lord. In terms of the tabernacle and temple these were the outer parts of God’s dwelling – the hallway or maybe the first reception room if you like. Even these places are amazing to be in and who the Psalmist is in his very being simply runs out of resource outside of the presence of God. Like a man in a desert who has gone without food and water for days he faints and falls to the ground outside of God’s house.

There is a great song I am enjoying at the moment by Misty Edwards called “Soul Cry”. The opening lines capture the sense of this well (although its referring to Psalm 42:1):

As the deer pants for the water, my soul longs for You
As the body dies without water, my soul dies without You

The presence of God is something so wonderful, so essential, to this man that both his heart and his flesh cry out for it. The heart is the centre of a person’s inner life, the will and the emotions, so this is indeed a deep “soul cry”. But the soul and body are intimately joined. There is an organic unity between our hearts and our flesh, a melding of one with the other. It’s hard to tease apart and separate the cells of our brain from the consciousness of our mind. We are made whole and so his physical body as well as his inner being is massively effected.

As we come into God’s presence it’s not just our minds and emotions that are effected, our bodies are too. The NIV has “my heart and flesh cry out” while the ESV says they “sing for joy”. According to my lexicon the word could be “whimper or moan” or “shout for joy”. Both are true.  When I realised I was away from God I cried out to him in longing and now I am with him I cry out to him with joy and a desire for more. Jonathan Edwards noted that in his meetings and under his preaching people fell due to the fear of hell or the foretaste of heaven.

Jonathan Edwards was happier than he looked!

Many young people appeared to be overcome with the greatness of divine things and many others at the same time were overcome with distress about their sinful state so that the whole room was full of nothing but outcries, faintings and such like and many were overpowered and continued there for some hours. Some have been so overcome with a sense of the dying love of Christ as to weaken the body. It was a very frequent thing to see a house full of outcries, faintings, convulsions and such like, both with distress, and also with joy” (The Great Awakening p. 547).

John Wesley’s journal entry for January 1st 1739 records:

“About sixty of our brethren, until three in the morning, the power of God came mightily on us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground.”

Martin Lloyd Jones notes that:

“Always in a revival there is what some call divine disorder. Some are groaning and agonising under conviction, others praising God for the great salvation. And all this leads to crowded and prolonged meetings. Time seems to be forgotten. A meeting may not end until daybreak the next morning with nobody aware of the passing of the hours.”

Sometimes the presence of God is so strong that the physical manifestations seem involuntary but at other times we choose to express ourselves by dropping to our knees, holding our hands up high, dancing, or jumping. Heres another great song I am enjyogin right now sung by Jules Burt on the NewDay 2010 Album:

I want to scream it out,
from every mountain top,
your godness knows no bounds,
your goodness never stops,
you mercy follows me,
your kindness fills my life,
your love amazes me,

and I sing because you are good
and I dance because you are good
and I shout because you are good

The sheer goodness of God provokes a response from our heat and soul. As we think about  God and he draws near to us our emotions spill over in tears or bubble up in laughter.  Sometimes we can hold them in but at other times they seem unstoppable. Have you ever laughed so hard you felt in danger of damaging your body, yet you could not stop? Perhaps you have at least been so happy you have had a little spontaneous hum or whistle.

In God’s presence our heart and body resonate together. We are made for God’s presence like a reed instrument is made for the breath of air. This man isn’t simply going through the motions singing hymns and songs that mean nothing to him. His joy and desire for God is as natural as a bird’s song.

Joy is a defining characteristic of the kingdom of God and of his presence. The kingdom of God is righteousness joy and peace. That means that “joy“, as I heard someone remarked recently, “is a third of the kingdom“. The presence of God brings such amazing joy. I love feeling it bubbling up from deep inside me as I become aware of the presence of God. It makes me want to smile, it makes me want to laugh, to sing, to dance. I was with a friend praying recently and we both just began to feel happy and smile and laugh. God is sooo God.

The person who penned this Psalm spoke, in terms that he could understand, of something that was yet to be revealed. He longed for the courts of the LORD because that is where God had declared and revealed his presence to be. We now live in the light of the amazing revelation that it’s in Jesus that we can know and experience the presence of God. Jesus is the temple, Jesus is the way to God. Jesus has destroyed all the barriers that stood in the way of us and God.  No longer do we need to stay back in the outer courts or on the other side of a curtain. No longer do we have to worship in a particular physical location. We have the truth and the reality of the temple in the person of Jesus and can worship and enjoy God’s presence by the Spirit at any time and in any place. In Christ we enjoy unrestricted access to the presence of God.

I am always challenged when I read the experience of people in the OT. How much better to live now after the cross and Pentecost yet even some of these OT guys enjoyed a wonderful experience and understanding of God. It’s like comparing the days of the slide rule with modern computers. You could make calculations then but I’d much rather use an electronic calculator. If they could do long multiplication then how much more should I be able to multiply now! If people in the OT longed for and enjoyed God’s presence then, how much more can we now.

Timelines for Dummies

When I go on holiday I like to take a number of books with me but usually end up focusing on only one. I never know which that is going to be when I’m packing, it all depends on how I feel when I get there, so 5 or 6 books end up being transported around the country or across the world without ever being opened. On my last holiday I took Bruce Ware’s “God’s Greater Glory”, “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan, “Supernatural Lifestyle” by Kris Vallotton, “The Dancing Hand of God” by James Maloney and “The Bible for Dummies”. Which do you think turned out to be “the one”? It was the last one, “The Bible for Dummies”. I actually really like this book. Reading it gives away that I don’t know as much as I should. I may swallow my pride and recommend it to the students at the UEA CU in a couple of months time when I talk about “How to read the bible”. It may just be me but I find it gives a really helpful overview of the whole bible in a way that is clear, interesting and informative. I’ll share here my notes from what I read.

The first things that captured my attention was the chapter about the major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. (They are called major prophets simply because their books are bigger than the minor prophets in the Bible).

Isaiah prophesies to the southern kingdom between 742 BC and 700 BC during which time the Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians in 721 BC. In 701 BC Hezekiah was persuaded by Isaiah to repent and an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 of Sennacherib’s soldiers who were besieging Jerusalem.

Jeremiah prophesied between 626 BC and 580 BC during which time the southern kingdom was carried off into exile by the Babylonians (first wave in 605BC) and the temple and Jerusalem was destroyed (586 BC). Ezekiel was carried off to Babylon in the first wave 10 years before the destruction of Jerusalem and was the prophet to the exiles there. After 25 years in exile he sees an elaborate vision of the temple being rebuilt and the nation of Israel reunited (573BC).

The second chapter I read was about was the events surrounding the rebuilding of Jerusalem. In 538 BC, after almost 70 years of exile, Cyrus, the great Persian King, overthrew the Babylonians and encouraged people to return to their own homelands. In Ezra 1:24 he says that “the LORD, the God of heaven…has charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem..whoever is among you of all his people…let him go to Jerusalem.. and rebuild the house of the LORD.” Some Israelites go but many choose to stay (the Babylonian Jews later wrote the Babylonian Talmud, a important collection of Jewish laws and stories, in the 3rd-5th century BC).

Sheshbazzar leads the first wave of Jews back to Jerusalem and they start rebuilding the foundations of what is termed “the second temple”. For some reason they don’t complete it and 18 years later, in 520 BC, Zerubbabel leads another band of Israelites in finishing the alter and then the foundations. Some are happy, while others weep as it’s not a big as Solomon’s first glorious temple.

The Samaritans get the hump because they aren’t allowed to help rebuild the temple and persuade the local Persian authorities that the Jews will rebel. After looking into it and confirming that the Jews do in fact have a habit of doing just that, they order the work to stop.

God sends Zachariah and Haggai to encourage the Jews to start again. Zachariah takes the role of “good cop” giving encouraging prophecies of the future while Haggai takes the role of “bad cop” telling the people off for sorting out their own homes while neglecting God’s house.

When the Israelites start building again, the local authorities check the situation with Darius, the new Persian king, who upholds Cyrus’ decree and provides money to make it happen.

In 515 BC the temple is completed and the Passover is celebrated with sacrifices for the first time in 70 years.

In 458BC Another Persian king Artaxerxes (According to the Rose Book of Bible and Christian History Time Lines, the order of Kings is Cyrus the great 559-530, Cambysees 529-522, Darius I 522-486, Pericles 500-429, Xerxes I (Ahasuerus) 485-465), Artaxerxes I 464-424, Darius II 423-405, Artaxerxes II 404-359, Artaxerxes III 358-337) sends an expert in Jewish law, called Ezra, with money to see how things are progressing in Jerusalem and help them along. Ezra leads the people, ushering in a long period of priestly rule that was still in place in Jesus’ day. Ezra gets the Israelites to divorce their foreign wives.

In 445 BC Nehemiah, the cupbearer (the royal official in charge of food preparation) to the Persian king Artaxerxes learns that the walls of Jerusalem are in ruins. The King grants him permission to go to Jerusalem and sends him off with protection and resources to rebuild the walls. (These Persian kings seem really determined to rebuild Jerusalem. I am reminded of Proverb 21:1: The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.).     

Nehemiah organizes people to work on the walls near their own homes. The Samaritans are out to cause trouble again but the Jews finish the wall with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other in 52 days (Neh 6:15).

Ezra then reads the law to the people while others walk about helping them to understand it. The next day they discover its the holiday of Booths or Sukkot so they pitch tents and celebrate the desert wanderings.

So if I can summaries all that on a short time line:

742 BC            Isaiah start to prophecy to Judah
721BC             Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians
701 BC            Hezekiah repents and Angel wipes out Assyrians besieging Jerusalem
700 BC            Isaiah stops prophesying BC.
626 BC            Jeremiah starts prophesying
605BC             First wave of Jews carried off into Babylonians exile inc. Ezekiel
586 BC            Temple and Jerusalem destroyed
580 BC            Jeremiah stops prophesying
573BC             Ezekiel’s vision of the temple being rebuilt and nation reunited.
538 BC            Cyrus overthrows the Babylonians and decrees Jews can return home and rebuild. Sheshbazzar leads the first wave of Jews back to Jerusalem to start
520 BC            Zerubbable leads another band of Israelites back and finish the altar and then the foundations. It’s a bitter sweet time.

The Samaritans get the hump and persuade the local Persian authorities to stop building.

Zachariah and Haggai encourage Jews to start again.

Persian King Darius who upholds Cyrus’ decree and provides more money

515 BC            Temple completed and Passover celebrated with sacrifices
458BC             Artaxerxes sends Ezra, with money to continue rebuilding homeland.

Ezra gets the Israelites to divorce their foreign wives.

445 BC            Nehemiah sent by Artaxerxes to rebuild the walls who takes 52 days to do it.

Ezra the reads the law and they celebrate Booths.

and my first attempt at it in picture form:

Greater Prophets to rebuilding of Jerusalem

All in all a very informative holiday.