The Magic Word

I love you. Frank loves you. I love Frank. I despise you.

In that little sentence, “I love you,” the change of any of the three words drastically changes the sentence. Were I to ask, “Which word in that sentence is the most important?” You’d be hard-pressed to answer, opting perhaps for “All of them.”

That’s the question that I’d like to ask about Psalm 118:24. After plodding through, word-by-word almost, that verse, let’s consider which word is the most significant. Certainly as is always the case in language, the change of any word alters the meaning of the sentence. For example, if I go from “She ate dinner” to “She gobbled dinner,” the change of the verb is significant even while the action being described is precisely the same. I would argue that changing “dinner” to “supper” would create a smaller change. “Dinner” is less important.

But what about with our verse:

This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

What’s the most important word there? I have a nomination that came out of my understanding of how this verse hasn’t been acting on my life. The word is “LORD.”

I have encountered people having good days that the Lord gave them recently.

  • Alyson got a new car.
  • Emily bought a fine house.
  • Dan received a new kidney.
  • Jim finished that huge project.
  • Tom got to eat at Fogo de Chao.

At the close of day, those people probably all thanked God for the good day, the day He’d made. But what if the car was wrecked, the house sale fell through, the kidney was rejected, the big project failed, or the meat was overcooked? What if the weather on this day the Lord has made is crummy? What if I have to pay a ton of money to replace my car’s clutch? What if I go to work every day to do a job that I can’t quit but that I’m tired of? I could go on. Can I still rejoice and be glad?

When my rejoicing and gladness depend on the meals that I eat, on the income I make, on the convenience of my life, of health or friends or some other variable of mortal life, then I’m not always going to enjoy the day. When I take my delight from those things rather than from the Lord, then I sound a lot like the whiney Israelites in Exodus 16:3:

 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate all the bread we wanted. Instead, you brought us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of hunger!”

The problem with that gang was that they put something, namely their food, before God. Their modern-day counterparts are the people who say, “Yes, I love Jesus, but I wish the preacher didn’t talk so long.” They’re–we’re–not putting God first.

If what I mean when I repeat Psalm 118:24 is “This is the day the Lord has made (because He put such great stuff in it to make me happy),” then I’m altering the verse beyond recognition. This is the day the Lord has made, and I’m going to rejoice not because of what He did for me in it but because He made it. If I’m broke, sick, bored, tired, or persecuted, it doesn’t matter if the Lord made the day. Regardless of the bad, if the Lord is in the day, then we should rejoice and be glad.

The Master Builder (Hebrews 3:4-5)

For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future.
(Hebrews 3:4-5)

Penny and I drove from Tulsa to Kansas City today. Along the way, we enjoyed the sights, such as they were. We delighted to (but did not stop in at) the McDonald’s bridging I-44. We oohed and ahhed at the fifteen-foot morel mushroom somewhere north of Joplin. But mostly we admired barns in various states of repair.

One barn that I always enjoy is a large masonry structure just outside Harrisonville, Missouri. Back in my childhood, some clever wag tagged that building’s wall with “Draft beer, not our boys.” Today, that sentiment is, like the draft, long gone, but the barn still stands, apparently unused, in a similarly unused pasture.

Somebody spent a good deal of time and money building that barn. They built it to last. Since it looked to be old and unused forty years ago, my surmise is that its builder has long ago gone to his reward. If he were still doddering about, he could certainly look with satisfaction upon his handiwork.

Some buildings seem designed for the long haul. The Tower of London is approaching its 1,000th birthday. The Great Pyramid is many thousands of years old. But by and large, the buildings erected by human hands crumble back to earth within a relatively brief span of years, especially if they’re not carefully maintained.

Compare that with the “building” of God. Besides being almost infinitely larger and more complex, God’s handiwork not only endures but replenishes itself. According to the scientists, the Sun will one day burn itself out, but within reasonable time spans, God’s creation, left to its own devices, will just keep on humming, presumably for millions of years.

We sometimes have to remind ourselves that the building is not the Church. In Moses’ day, the Tabernacle was neither the entire creation or the Creator. Neither the tent nor its successor building could contain that Creator.

I wouldn’t want to serve a God who could be fully contained or fully comprehended.