There was a constant air of apprehension each time I got dropped off to school. I always felt a sense of disquiet, especially heightened by the pungent odor of the old school building. One Saturday morning, an exciting break came to be: Cub Scouts were accepting neophytes for the club. I begged my mother to enlist me to balance the equilibrium of my sanity. I got into the crisp blue uniform, knee socks, neckerchief, and of course, the stunning blue cap. The meeting flew by quickly with tons of fun and inspiring promises. Soon, every parent, guardian, friend arrived to fetch their little warriors … All, except mine.
I waited for minutes and hours but there was no sign of retrieve. I couldn’t help sobbing as my little mind began to imagine a solitary trek to our house, which was vaguely five miles through town and highway. As I mustered whatever soul-fuel I had, the first step went out screeching with blubber. My uniform got so drenched with dust and snot as my stride seemed to reach nowhere. Crossing the highway simulated the Alcatraz swim to shore. Somehow, hiking alone for a 4 year old came across like the Everest trail.
Suicide steps finally had me rushing to our front door only to discover a deeper abyss: my parents and siblings were all having lunch, enjoying the succulence of their feast while I literally got feasted and became lunch to feelings of catastrophic insignificance.
Home, sweet home?
Translate that to someone who just lost the meaning of his last name.
A song of ascents. Of David.
I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
our feet are standing
In your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is built like a city
that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD,
to praise the name of the LORD
according to the statute given to Israel.
There the thrones for judgment stand,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem;
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my brothers and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your prosperity.
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Ephesians 1:22-23 NIV
The third aspect of our life with God involves our affections towards his house. Home is a place where joy ought to exude in abundance. This is most pronounced where the dwelling place is that of the Lord’s: “I rejoiced with those who said to me “Let us go to the house of the LORD.””
In stark contrast to the mercurial atmosphere of our homes, the house of the LORD invites the pilgrim to discover a steady milieu: consummate joy!
While the pilgrim stands at the very gates of Yerushalayim, the joy of the LORD draws the weary traveler towards His living room: “ … our feet are standing … In your gates, O Jerusalem.” The transcending atmosphere induces an act of spontaneous thanksgiving: Praise and worship begins!
The believer’s walk, as it is directed by God’s guiding words culminates in an arrival to where God dwells. The personal joy of every believer is most tangible in the company of gathered praise within God’s house. The place of worship is described with an emphasis on its bonded structure: “Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together. That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, to praise the name of the LORD.” Within God’s community, the primary context of life is experienced– shared gratitude for all the benefits of God’s redemption. This is deeply experienced in the gathering of people bonded by a common covenant to live together under Christ’s lordship: each one, volunteering to a covenant contract to live by God’s terms. Nothing more, nothing less but Christ’s will being done within their watchful yet sincere accountabilities.
The call to rejoice while we live out our days of faith must consistently find its context within the household of faith. The covenant-making nature of the church speaks of God’s architectural prowess in inaugurating a joyful company. As co-journeyers towards God’s kingdom, the reality of Christ’s accomplished victory is incarnated within the collective affection of Christ’s followers to nurture one another from the depths of spiritual formation. Such praise is both necessary and spontaneous for it is “according to the statute given to Israel.” As adopted children, we have become joyful associates bestowed with God’s spoken precepts! We hold each one in high regard while nurturing each other with God’s wisdom. Nowhere is this found other than the “house of the Lord.”
While the collective praise of God’s people is lived out from within our intertwined lives, the essence of divine justice finds a home: “There the thrones for judgment stand, the thrones of the house of David.” All our depravity and sinfulness are met with the astounding offer of God’s peace found in Christ’s reconciling work. The requirements for peace are met: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.”” All our breaches had been paid for. Not a single stain remains as we are ushered to come into His house, brilliant as snow! Justice meets Shalom right at the doorsteps of God’s home producing a feast of secured prosperity for all those who have come: “For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your prosperity.” The echoes of thanksgiving resound for what God has done, for what He is doing, and for what He has yet to do.
Our homes have been befouled by superficial glee. The spiritual climate occasionally tilts to the protean promises of this world. The cathedrals of entertainment and recreation openly compete with the primacy of worship, every single day. It is by sheer compassion that God’s doors are still left open.
Our third anchor is to enter into intentional joy by prioritizing corporate worship at a specific local church. We are called to come into God’s presence with his gathered people. We are gently asked to leave our stained and worn-out sandals outside the door, while being ushered with beautiful shoes to come inside where joy beckons every guest to stay for good. The joy of the LORD as it is both declared and expressed in corporate worship is much too potent for any gloom!
Every believer is called to abandon the hypocrisy of despondency and turn towards becoming a joyful witness to all the wonderful gifts that we have been receiving. We turn away from all injustice and cling to God’s offer of settled peace. As we enter His courts with kindred believers, we leave our personal wrath and enter into His mercy-laden vindication. With much leisure and satisfaction, we are admonished to declare our shared experience as we come together in corporate adoration. We relinquish our rhetorical dreams in exchange for God’s guaranteed promise.
Go to church!
Enter into the vibrancy of shared life!
We are joyfully in God’s house, fully furnished by the accoutrements of His glory, honor, and praise!
When my call to ministry turned crystal, I was faced with a herculean dilemma of letting go and trusting Christ to fill my shoes to care for my younger siblings. In our Asian culture, it was expected for the eldest male son to share the load of burden to assist each and every financial obligation the siblings might have until they commence with work on their own. I had a brother and three younger sisters to look out for. This responsibility was made considerably light when three of these left for the US, leaving me with only one sister to support. Before I left for seminary, I had an agreement with God regarding the consignment of this cultural responsibility. I thought He had it clear that it was now fully His purview to oversee my sister’s needs.
Life within the cloistered premises of the seminary was akin to a slice of paradise regained. Challenging as it was, the spurts of growth induced was worth all its accompanying travails. Meanwhile, my sister was faithfully cruising through life back home as a working student. She once disclosed how her good-looking single boss took much interest in her beauty and brains. I visited home one summer and spotted a spiffy sports car parked in front. The young gentleman courteously stopped by to court his young employee. He was dignified and kind in all respects. His warm smile was quite disarming.
While on a choir tour, I was left without a clue on the unfolding saga of delusion ravaging my home. I was informed, that my sister was pregnant by her boss who apparently concealed his true identity: a married man with three children. He had evaporated since discovering my sister’s unwanted condition. I learned later that week that an abortion had been scheduled to take care of our family’s ethical pride. No wonder, my sister’s tears, while languishing in solitary pain, sent upheavals to every crevice of my soul. When I asked her how she was doing, all she could muster was a whisper: “they wish to kill my baby; why can’t I just keep him?”
For two long hours, I argued for life and was granted favor with reservation. I took my sister to a relative from out of town to shelter her from social ostracism.
That Sunday, while I felt quite detached from the visible joy of the congregation, the ministry of prayer, word and fellowship stubbornly seeped through my languor.
One afternoon, demons from the East assaulted my conviction to stay the course of peace. I stole my father’s loaded gun to settle the score with the runaway gigolo.
While I stood trembling with my impulse to take matters away from God and into my fury, I was halted by the weekend memory of believers at church who were all spurring me to let God have his way. It was as almost literal as their cumulative push to toss my sight towards my sprawled bible. With much anger, I begged God to talk now or else, the trigger will have to speak. He did: “vengeance is mine,” was his retort. I unloaded, weeping and trembling from my repulsive withdrawal. There shall be no retaliation. The blood of the Lamb shall replace what had been spilled.
Erico was born to a new home.
Once, I visited the church he attends. He was playing drums with the exuberance of a young man comfortably settled where he belongs. Glad tidings replaced the doom as God himself signed his birth certificate in cursive red.