God is Good on Good Friday

I’m standing in my attic behind about 25 or 30 people who have gathered for a big-time music show. My son’s current band–I don’t even know what they call themselves–played a handful of tunes. Then came the guy from Kentucky who fiddles and picks banjo and guitar while singing 19th century tunes. Next came 6’10”, the very tall singer from Flatfoot 56 and his wife doing Irish folky songs. And right now, Nate Allen–I don’t think he’s Destroy Nate Allen anymore–is singing in his inimitable way.

20190419_215036So when I say that I’m standing there, I’m really not. I’m two levels of the spiral staircase down in my office, typing on my computer. I can hear Nate singing. His wife is here chasing after their daughter. The audience upstairs includes friends and complete strangers.

As I stood there earlier, looking at the marvelous space that God led us to buy, looking at the people whose lives we’ve been able to intersect, I just had a moment. God is good, on Good Friday and all the other times as well.

We’ve all talked about Good Friday and what a strange name that is for the day. What’s good about a day when the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe was murdered by a bunch of power-grasping pretenders? And as I stood there, I realized that the events of this evening give me an answer. What’s good about this Friday is that the death of Christ, coupled with the coming resurrection, allows young married couples and young singles, a single mom, a painfully married woman, and a dozen other people–kids included–to come together in a 110-year-old barn loft to share music that lifts people up and recognizes the primacy God.

Nate’s still singing. His current offering is in the form of a prayer. It’s straight-forward and a bit tongue-in-cheek. My wife is up there digging it; I’m in the dungeon typing. And we’re still together.

What’s so good about Good Friday? I have an answer.

It’s a Sad, Sad Situation

At a wedding recently, I saw the groom standing with the most funereal look on his face. “Happiest day of his life,” I whispered to the person next to me. More than likely, this guy was just trying to keep it all together, but his expression said, “I’d rather be getting a root canal right now.”

For many humans, our natural expression, our natural emotion is not happiness. Why else would people who are taking our pictures have to so constantly remind us to “smile.” This is why I invested a dozen or so entries in taking apart Psalm 118:24 recently.

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

I wrote about the verbs and the nouns and the pronouns. I camped out on that verse for hours over the last couple of weeks. And here’s the weird thing: as I wrote about the necessity of rejoicing and being glad, I found myself bouncing along on the pot-hole-strewn road of depression.

What was wrong? What, as my father used to ask, “did I have to be depressed about?” In reality, I had nothing particular to fuel my depression. During those weeks, spring erupted in Kansas City. A new grandchild arrived in our life. My job is steady; my bank account healthy. My relationships have been stable, and nothing unusual has come my way to throw a monkey wrench into my mood. So what was wrong?

Let’s be clear. We’re not talking about go-to-the-doctor-and-start-Prozac depression. It hasn’t been friends-hide-all-the-knives depression. I’ve seen that in people, and I don’t trivialize it. No, this was just a general down season, perhaps what Jimmy Carter referred to as a “malaise.”

How could I remain down, not only knowing that “This is the day the Lord has made” but dwelling on that verse as a whole and in its parts nearly every day for two weeks? It doesn’t make sense, but then this is the human mind we’re discussing.

In trying to understand my feelings, I’ve had Psalm 119:14 pop into my head:

May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Over these weeks, I do believe that the words of my mouth (and my keyboard) have been acceptable to God, but I don’t know that I can say the same for the meditation of my heart. Yes, my head ran over Psalm 118:24, analyzing it to within an inch of its life, but for all that analysis, did I do the thing that I had hoped this entire project would accomplish? Did I implant not just its words but its meaning, its profundity into my heart?

Although I thought I was done with that verse, I believe I might camp out on it for a couple more days. Hopefully, as I fully process its depths, I can chase the blues from my life.

If You’re Happy and You Know It

Dane Iorg looped a single to right field, driving in the tying run. Then Jim Sundberg slid into home, just beating the tag to win game six of the 1985 World Series. (St. Louis Cardinals fans are even now muttering the name of Don Denkinger, to which I say, “Get over it!”)

The next day, the day of game seven, local Kansas City TV promoted the decisive game’s broadcast by showing that replay as the Isley Brothers sang, “It makes me want to shout!” And here’s the reason I mention this. Every time I saw that little ad, I had a physical and an emotional reaction. I had watched the game live, almost jumping out of my skin. But then, all day the next day, I relived it and felt something powerful each time.

In our examination of Psalm 118:24, we’ve discovered that we’re supposed to do two things as we live in the day the Lord has made. We’re supposed to rejoice, and we’re supposed to be glad. Looking at those individually, we saw that they, while overlapping, are distinct ideas, but now I’d like to take a moment and consider them together.

The distinguishing factor in the verb translated “rejoice” seems to be movement. You may recall that this word can indicate strong positive or negative responses–although it’s usually positive. The key is that those responses involve movement. If you sit in your chair and politely clap in response to God’s day, then I don’t think you’re truly rejoicing.

On the other hand, the word translated “be glad” focuses mostly on a look on the face. This gladness cannot be contained inside the head. Instead it busts out onto the face. You can’t help but show it to the world. If you can glower straight ahead while “being glad” about God’s day, then you probably don’t get it.

Years ago, when I earned by doctorate, I drove from Lawrence, Kansas to my home in Independence, Missouri, a trip of about an hour. My giddiness, my joy, my sense of relief was so strong that I found myself crying out in joy at various points along highway 10. My face probably would have had passing drivers thinking me insane. It was a marvelous feeling.

More than likely, you have that memory of a time when you simply could not contain your joy. Perhaps it attended one of these statements:

  • Yes, I’ll marry you.
  • We’re going to have a baby.
  • It’s benign.
  • We’d like to offer you the job.
  • You’ve been selected to receive this year’s Nobel Prize.

Life, hopefully, has presented you with a handful of such moments, but how often do you feel that sort of joy, how often do you respond uncontrollably in body and face (and probably words) to something God has done? How often do you find yourself overcome by God’s amazing goodness, so overcome that anyone around you can see it?

We used to sing a song:

If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it. If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!

That’s a kid’s song, but the implication for adults is serious. If you’re happy and you don’t show it, then maybe you’re not really that happy.

 

This is the Day

What is the thing that brings you the most joy? A new baby? A good pizza? Waking up and realizing that you don’t have to get up yet? We all have those things, but we can also find ourselves tiptoeing through the poison ivy of depression at other stimuli. What’s a would-be happy person to do?

The secret to happiness is not to depend on those outside stimuli. Although I’m unsuccessful at times, I try to use a familiar verse from Psalms to bolster my happiness quotient.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.–Psalm 118:24

Over a few entries, I’d like to unpack this single verse and take it from the lyric for a number of praise songs to see what sort of complexity there might be within.

“This”–The first word of the verse, apparently innocuous, actually gets us started well. In English-teacher speak, “this” is a demonstrative pronoun. You don’t need to know that little piece of grammatical knowledge to use the word a hundred times a day without ever thinking about it. “This baby is adorable.” “I eat my pizza this way.” “This morning I don’t have to get up!”

Typically, we use “this” to indicate something close at hand. “This house” is probably the house closest to you, right? “That house” is  down the street.

So “this” is the day. We’re not talking about “that” day. We’re concerned with “this” day. Another name for it is “today.” When the Psalmist refers to “this” day, he doesn’t mean tomorrow or next Tuesday. He doesn’t mean the weekend or my birthday or Christmas. He doesn’t mean the day I retire or the day I graduate or the day I go on vacation. Any of those might be “that” day, but “this” day will always be today.

I open my eyes in the morning, still hazy from sleep. What day of the week? I’m not sure. What’s my schedule? I’m not clear yet, but it doesn’t matter. “This” day is the day that the Lord made no matter what this day holds. There’s no superscript on Psalm 118 that says “To be read on Yom Kippur or the king’s birthday.” No. It needs to be appropriate for any day–for “this” day.

So let’s go back to the top. What brings you the most joy? It should be today, “this” day.

 

 

Dick Van Dyke: Fun, Fun, Fun at 89

Dick Van Dyke could always dance. That pratfall he took in the opening of The Dick Van Dyke Show was very much an example of his ability to control his body. At age 89, he can still cut a rug far more gracefully than I have ever done. He’s featured in a recent music video by a bluegrass band, Dust Bowl Revival.

Mary Poppins is one of my favorite movies of all time. Despite Dick Van Dyke’s horrible attempt at a cockney accent, I enjoy him in that picture. He always seemed like a decent guy. As it turns out, he was, for the most part, a decent guy. He famously told his agent that he wanted to make movies that he could watch with his kids and not feel embarrassed.

In his autobiography, he explained his reasoning:

I wanted to be able to talk about my work at the dinner table and hold my head up on Sundays when my wife and I led our children into the Brentwood Presbyterian Church, where I was an elder. You were not going to see me acting up at Hollywood parties. For the most part, you weren’t going to see me at any Hollywood parties. I stayed home.

Unfortunately, this decent guy is not still with that wife or that church, but the joy for life is still apparent in his face. (Does that have something to do with being married to a woman 45 years his junior? Not sure.)

I’d love to have that sort of energy and mobility when I’m 89. Frankly, there are some days when I envy him those things when I’m almost 40 years younger.

Running Lazy

I’m scheduled to run 8 to 10 miles today, letting how I feel about my legs and lungs determine the distance. The Rock the Parkway half marathon is a week away, and I’m tapering toward the start. My goal for the next seven days is simple: don’t get hurt. On the eighth day, the goal is to finish the race in less than two hours.

sedentary

As good as I’m feeling about my preparations for this race, as confident as I am that I can meet the goal I’ve set for myself, I’m also somewhat concerned about my attitude toward the activity. Is it possible that I’m running in laziness? I know that sounds bizarre, but I’ve been thinking along those lines recently, and another writing by Paul Maxwell has really brought the idea to the fore.

Maxwell argues that laziness is not exactly what it seems to be but is largely a spiritual condition. In his mind, the workaholic, the guy who won’t roll out of bed before noon, and the obsessed runner might all be suffering from a very similar affliction, although only one of them seems to be lazy.

You have your little idol, right? Maybe it is called Pinterest or Tumblr; perhaps it is golf or tennis. It could be reading or music, cooking or TV, antiquing or housework. Anything that we do without a clear vision of it within the Kingdom of God, anything that puts us in control, shares qualities with my son who is not out of bed at 11:02am on a Saturday. Maxwell shares a list of these things and then comments.

They are our easy-bake mud puddle gods — simply sit, add water, and worship. What gets you out of bed (or off the couch)? To withdraw, to procrastinate, to stumble through a blurry haze of work days just waiting for the next opportunity to get back on the couch, back to the workshop, back on Netflix, or back to the gym, that isn’t life — and none of us is honestly or passionately arguing that it really is.

And so my question for myself is running. Do I run to put myself in charge? Is the pleasure that I derive from this activity a substitute for the joy I should be experiencing in God? It is, of course, possible to have both, but it’s also possible to foul up that joy with any of the lesser pleasures.

I can experience God in eating or I can eat to cover up the absence of God. I can actually indulge in worship activities that cover up the lack of true worship in my life. And, to the point at hand, I can run away from the lack of God in my life or run in ways that celebrate His presence.

This much I know to be true. What’s not so obvious is how to do the latter.