Chapter 1 Excerpt

Chapter One

Home Run!

Vacations are fun, but vacations with your friends or family? Ah, even better! Nothing like a handful of relatives or a carload of close friends to turn a simple getaway into a weeklong reunion. In fact, for a few years when our kids were small, we’d take annual camping trips with my wife’s brother and his family. What delightful memories! Whether the destination was New York, Canada, Tennessee, or Missouri, we look back on those trips with smiles.

It wasn’t just about where we were going — the journey was thing. Sure, the vehicle was usually packed, but in between the iPods and “I-gotta-stop” bathroom breaks, laughter was our seventh passenger. Our vacations began the moment we pulled out of the driveway.

One of the road games we’d play was called “I’m Going Camping and I’m Bringing a…” The objective was to identify something you were going to bring along on a hypothetical camping trip, and the others could only go along if they could figure out why you were bringing the item you named. The trick was to tell them what you were bringing without being too obvious about the why. After all, they could only come if their item matched the why of your item.

For instance, I might say, “I’m going camping and I’m bringing a bat.” My wife might respond, “Then I’m bringing a ball.” Then it was up to me to either say, “Yes, you can come along and play baseball with us” or “No, you can’t go because this bat doesn’t have anything to do with a ball.” If Julie was wrong, I might have been referring to the flying mammal, in which case I would have said, “No, you can’t go.”

As you can imagine, everyone raucously joined in, and the game always seemed to escalate to a level of cunning intelligence way beyond my ability. But what laughs! It was just one of the ways we made sure our vacations started long before we checked in at the campsite.

Laughter didn’t stop until we were unpacking the car back at home. We squeezed every ounce of “getting away” from each mile and minute. Looking back, some of our fondest family memories were during those annual excursions.

Stepping Up Songs

The dynamics of our family vacations are similar to what is described in an intriguing Old Testament psalm — Psalm 128. It’s a Psalm of Ascent, and it was one of the family “songs” that the Israelites sang and chanted as they journeyed to the Temple in Jerusalem three times a year to worship during feasts.

There are 15 Psalms of Ascent. They were all used in conjunction with the Hebrews’ pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Historically, families would make these pilgrimages together, traveling in caravans and convoys of donkeys, sheep, and goats. Add to these lots of children in tow, and you can imagine how wild some of these journeys might have become.

As the groups neared Jerusalem, they would chant and sing the various songs of their Hebrew hymnbook (The Psalms), mainly the Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 120 to Psalm 134. These Psalms correlate to the final 15 steps leading faithful Jews up to the Temple. As the crowds went up these steps each step, they would recite, in an echoing fashion, the words from the beloved psalmists.

We often picture the Psalms as the Hebrew “blues.” True, many of these writings are heart-wrenching, poetic cries from a man on the run or a person in sin, each with a sense of either paralyzing fear, impending doom or dark confession. But the opposite is quite evident in many Psalms, including the 15 Psalms of Ascent. These are worshipful and joyous anthems that celebrate God’s intervention and redemption. Indeed, they were written to help whole families remember and worship Yahweh, and they were chanted and sung not only individually, but also as groups of Psalms.

Furthermore, these 15 Psalms show progress in their scope, teaching us what God expects from us individually to showing us what God wants from us corporately. For instance, Psalm 120 contains a lot of personal pronouns and individual words. But as you move forward to Psalm 134, you began to spot many more corporate references and the use of plural pronouns and words, such as what we see in Psalm 133:1, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.”

I suspect as they began their annual pilgrimage, the Jews first focus was internal—“Am I right with God?”  But as they neared Jerusalem, it became more external—“Am I right with others?” It was a physical journey that held significant symbolism, and this was underscored by the words they sang. Their worship, like ours, was both personal and corporate.

The word “ascent” in Hebrew simply means “stepping up,” and these were the songs they would sing together like a choir as they traveled up to Jerusalem. What a sight and what a sound!

Losing God

Knowing that, Luke 2:41-43 doesn’t seem so far-fetched. It’s the story of Joseph and Mary traveling to Jerusalem and, as they were returning, discovering they had apparently lost Jesus. It seems odd to us that it took a whole day to realize this, but when you consider the cultural aspects of their pilgrimage, it’s not hard to grasp the situation.

Furthermore, the word “group” in Luke 2:44 indicates there were more than just Jesus’ immediate family present. Frankly, there was probably a rather large constituency of Jews traveling together. Translated “company” in the NIV, this word is further proof that multiple families were embarking together on their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

So when Jesus wound up MIA, his parents probably assumed he was in the crowd somewhere, perhaps with a relative or friend. “No need to worry about Jesus,” Joseph may have said. “We’ll see him at the campfire tonight.” But when campfire time rolled around, Jesus wasn’t there. I wonder if a lump gathered in Mary’s throat as she thought to herself, “Uh-oh—we’ve lost God!”

There’s more! Purchase the Kindle Version of Home Run here.

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