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Singing with the King (81) – Missed the Point

He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. (Psalm 121:3-4)

Sit Alone2I picked this passage because it kind of deals with the song, and that’s what I want to talk about. Music is powerful, and it is a gift from God. But like all gifts, we have the ability to twist, contort, and misuse. Now I’m not talking about rappers or shock rock, or worse. I’m talking about bands that play in Sunday morning in Church.

I was at a conference a couple years back, and the “praise” band was singing Everlasting God. You know it. The opening of the song goes like this:

Strength will arise as we wait upon the Lord, wait upon the Lord, we will wait upon the Lord.

 I need go no farther. Unless you are deaf and blind, you can see (and hear) the song focuses on us WAITING ON THE LORD. But what did this so-called praise band do? The sang Strength will arise… Strength will arise… Strength will arise… Strength will arise, over and over and over, and over and… well, you get the idea.

 They missed the entire POINT of the whole first verse. It’s NOT about strength, it’s about waiting. And that’s painfully obvious. But their performance was not about worship—or Biblical and lyrical faithfulness. No, they were whipping the congregation up into a frenzy.

 The song is based upon Isaiah 40:29-31 – He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. Even here you can see it’s not about the strength, it’s about the waiting.

 Of course when you wait, you could very well end up with a whole lot more than strength. You could be overwhelmed by His Presence, by His mercy, by His grace, by His holiness, and by His love—to name a few.

The band, the congregation, they missed the point. And that’s a tragedy. Music is a gift. It is something to be cherished.  Leave the frenzy for the conventions.

 When you see your song leader/worship pastor this weekend, thank him or her. And the singers and the band. And thank the song writer if you have one in your midst.

May they remain faithful to the Message, and may they focus on Him. Allow the LORD to approach you and anoint you as He chooses. You may discover that He’s always watching over you, that He never slumbers nor sleeps. And you may experience something unexpected and utterly wondrous.

Singing with the King (80) – Like a Child

O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever. (Psalm 137)

Mom and Child SleepingThis is the first time I have used an entire Psalm as an opening. But then it is only 3 verses long. I first ran across this Psalm as a psalm I learned at a Bible study in grad school. The music was written by some monks know as the St. Louis Jesuits. The music was hauntingly beautiful. Here’s an example of their music:

Back to Psalm 137. It was winter in Chicago in the early 90’s, and my wife and I has just suffered our third and final miscarriage. So grieving the loss of this child, I tried to compose and quiet my soul. I tried to think what it would be like for a child to rest safe and secure against his mother. And after great stretches of tears, my Loving Heavenly Father brought me comfort, as He held me in His arms.

This Psalm brought me great comfort, but it wasn’t just this song. Michael Card had just released his third and final album of His trilogy, The Life, and he had this incredible song entitled Joseph’s Song. And coincidentally it was a song about Joseph holding Jesus, his first born. I sat in the dark, repeating this on track over and over. The song begins:

How could it be this baby in my arms
Sleeping now, so peacefully
The Son of God, the angel said
How could it be
Lord I know He’s not my own
Not of my flesh, not of my bone
Still Father let this baby be
The son of my love.
Father show me where I fit into this plan of yours
How can a man be father to the Son of God
Lord for all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter
How can I raise a king? How can I raise a king?

Like Joseph, I didn’t understand the plan; but Joseph did raise a king; and he held a king—the King of kings. And I? I was the Dad who was held by my Father.

Years later, this song still stirs the loss and His overwhelming comfort. And there are still things I do not understand, but then I don’t have to. I trust Him.

Whatever you grief, whatever your loss, may you rest in the arms of The Most High.

Singing with the King (79) – Call to Worship

Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship. (Psalm 89:15)

Worship2Do you remember the old Anne Murray song from 1983, A Little Good News? She lists off a litany of woes: fighting in the Middle East, bad economy, hostages, hijacked plane—and more. Hard to believe it was written over 30 years ago. She then moves into some wishful thinking, how things could change if we just… well like I said, wishful thinking. That’s why it is worth reading that verse again: Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship.

The word happy is usually translated as blessed. But happy is good, because blessed wreaks of ancient rituals and religious artifacts. And when you look at most people in the Church, for those looking from the outside, they don’t see a lot of happiness, and they may wonder if blessedness looks like something you need to endure.

Now the word joyful sound can be translated as that, or as a battle cry. But I’m going to go with a call to worship, which would be the sound of joy, not the sound of war.

So who is sounding this joyful call to worship? Could it be joyous worshipers who are calling us to join in? That could very well be, since the remainder of the verse says: “For they will walk in the light of your presence, LORD.” It’s kinda tough not to be joyful, when you’re walking in the presence of the LORD. And it should be difficult to ignore when there is light all round you—especially when we live in such a dark world.

But the first call to worship is from the LORD Himself.Jesus Reaching Down

But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! (Isaiah 43:1)

He called you to salvation when we told you the Good News; now you can share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 2:14)

If your worship has turned into ashes, remember He has called you to Himself, to walk in His light, and to share in the glory of His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ. With all that, how can you be anything else but happy. And for those who are looking in, may they see your joy!

Singing with the King (78) – An Awful Waste of Space

An Awful Waste of Space

night sky

 

From Contact (1997)
Young Ellie:  Dad, do you think there’s people on other planets?
Ted Arroway:  I don’t know, Sparks. But I guess I’d say if it is just us… seems like an awful waste of space.

Well, I got to admit, this is different for me. Starting with a quote from a movie rather than one from the Bible. But, it’s a great way to illustrate how small our thinking really is.

You see, the purpose of the universe is not some place for countless numbers of creatures to hang their hats and call home. No, the purpose of the universe is to declare the glory of God.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. (Psalm 19:1)

Current speculation on the size of the observable universe is some 91 billion light years. As far as what’s beyond, best guess.

But God…

He is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent. He is Everlasting, without beginning or end. That pretty much makes Him beyond even the unseen stretches of the universe.

One might think those sort of attributes put Him beyond our finite experience and understanding. But that is not the case, for at least two reasons (there are countless more but I desire to keep this short).

We have been made in His image (Imago Dei) we have also been given the ability to know Him.

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. (Genesis 1:26)

And Christ came to show us that what God looks like up close and personal; and that we can not only know Him, but have a relationship with Him.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.(John 10:27-30)

Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me.  Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do. (John 14:9-11)

So, God is big, and God is close. The universe is there to show how great His glory is; and we are here to show how close His love is.

 

SInging with the King (77) – It’s Only a Song

It’s Only a Song…

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God! (Psalm 42:5)

Singing AloneThis verse appears three times, twice in this one and once is Psalm 43. When you read these Psalms together, you realize that this phrase (v. 5, 11, and v. 5 in the second psalm) fills the function of a refrain or chorus. Now the purpose of a chorus (except for those who aren’t very good with lyrics and need to say things over and over) is to repeat lines both thematically and musically to ensure it sticks, and that we don’t miss whatever it is being said (sung). So what precedes this chorus?

Verse 1 . (musically speaking) Apparently the Psalmist is no longer near the Temple, is missing the  worship and the fellowship, and is taunted by his enemies about the very existence of his God.

We should remember the passage from Hebrews:  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:25)

If for some reason the writer found himself alone, then worship and encouragement would have been is short supply.

Verse 2. More isolation; more taunting and oppression.

But in the midst of this second verse, the Psalmist sings: But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. (42:8) Now I’ve got to ask: if God is pouring out His unfailing love each day, and he’s singing and praying every night—what’s wrong with his heart?

Verse 3. The oppression continues, as well as false claims against him.

Here he prays for God’s deliverance and guidance.  Then the chorus appears for the last time.

So the question still stands: what’s wrong with his heart? It is not for me to question, for clearly there is something troubling this saint. Within these two psalms, we’ve seen plenty of reasons for sorrow. But we’ve also seen God’s provision. So is sorrow winning over God’s grace?

I suppose it can, if we leave ourselves to it, and surrender to the sadness. Then depression an discouragement can set in. But all throughout this psalm, this songwriter examines his surroundings, his emotions, and his relations. And his decision? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God! I will, he says. And he chooses action over inaction. He chooses worship over weeping.

One more thing.  The last phrase is: my Savior and my God. And the Hebrew word for Savior is Yeshua, which is Jesus. So if you’re experiencing this sorrow, remember: Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

Choose the Savior over sorrow.

Singing with the King (76) – How Merciful is God?

goldencalfThat is why the Lord’s anger burned against his people, and he abhorred his own special possession. He handed them over to pagan nations, and they were ruled by those who hated them. Their enemies crushed them and brought them under their cruel power.  Again and again he rescued them, but they chose to rebel against him, and they were finally destroyed by their sin.  Even so, he pitied them in their distress and listened to their cries. (Psalm 106:40-44)

Let me list off a few of Israel’s disobedient actions is found in Psalm 106, that brought the wrath of God upon them:

  • They became envious of God’s chosen leaders.
  • They made a graven image, and worshiped it.
  • They forgot how God saved them from Egypt, and the miracles He did on their behalf.
  • They despised the promised land.
  • They do not believe His Word.
  • They joined themselves to false God, and offered sacrifices to the dead.
  • They served other idols.
  • They co-mingled with other nations.
  • They even sacrificed their sons and daughters to demons.

Now remember, this is just some of the abominable acts done by Israel, just mentioned in ONE Psalm. And that is why He handed them over, to the pagan nations. Yet, even after Israel doing all those things, you read the above few verses, how He rescued them again and again, He pitied them, and heard their cries.

Have you ever felt abandoned; or maybe been suffering some pretty serious consequences of your sins. And you wonder if God will ever hear you again. But even in this dark time in Israel’s history, it says that He listened to their cries. And He will listen to you—He did listen to you. Why? Because Jesus died for your sins. In fact He heard you, long before you even spoke: He paid for you with the precious life blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him for this purpose long before the world began, but now in these final days, He was sent to the earth for all to see. And He did this for you. (1 Peter 1:18-19)

Let me be even more plain, borrowing from the words of the apostle Paul: For I’m convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Take a line from the psalmist who wrote Psalm 106: Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the nations, to give thanks to Your holy name and glory in Your praise. (v.47) Call upon him. He will hear you, and he will save you.

Singing with the King (75) – How Quickly We Forget

Then His people believed His promises. Then they sang His praise. Yet how quickly they forgot what He had done! They wouldn’t wait for His counsel! (Psalm 106:12-13)

Ears PluggedYou can see a drastic, neck-wrenching conversion between these two verses. And it’s a conversion in the wrong direction. Before these passages, the Psalmist was recounting the beginning of the Exodus, how the people rebelled, even from the start.

But God did something remarkable. He didn’t strike them down, nor did He allow their enemy to catch up and destroy them. No, instead, He saved them for the sake of His name, that He might make His power known. (v. 8) Yet how quickly they forgot what He had done! They wouldn’t wait for His counsel!

So what can we learn from this passage? That our faith and obedience is fleeting. That His nature is unchanging and eternal. If God has made a promise to you, He will keep it. That’s Who He is.

For your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. You rule throughout all generations. The LORD always keeps his promises; he is gracious in all he does. (Psalm 145:13)

God’s way is perfect. All the LORD’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection. (Psalm 18:30)

For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

The Hebrew word for quickly speaks of liquid, and flows easily. That is our nature.

For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.   When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer. (Psalm 103:14-16)

For He remembered that they were merely mortal, gone like a breath of wind that never returns. (Psalm 78:39)

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. (James 4:14)

The good news is found following those verses in Psalm 103: But the lovingkindness of the Child listeningLORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children,   to those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them. God gives a new and eternal nature when we love and obey Him.

If you want your life to mean something more than just grass, draw near to God–He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)

Singing with the King (74) – Praise Enough?

Dancing in the Sun1Praise the Lord! Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever.  Who can list the glorious miracles of the Lord? Who can ever praise Him enough? (Ps 106:1-2)

I’ve probably said this somewhere in this blog, but every time you see the phrase “Praise the LORD!”, it’s literally the English translation of the word Hallelujah! That’s not only a great way to begin the Psalm, it’s a great way to begin your day, because it puts your day into the proper context. The Lord is your focus, the Lord is your purpose, and your thoughts, words, deeds, and emotions are permeated with praise.

Since the Lord is our focus, and our purpose, we discover that the object of this praise and thanks (at least in this Psalm) is: He is good. And His faithful love endure forever. That’s something worth hanging onto, especially when surrounded by the uncertainties, sorrows, and pain that life brings. We need to remember “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) And “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

When you ponder that verse from Lamentations, about a love that never ends, about mercies never cease, you then realize what the psalmist was writing in verse two: Who can list the glorious miracles of the Lord? Who can ever praise him enough? Those are what you call rhetorical questions, because we can never list His glorious miracles, nor will we ever praise him enough.

There’s an old hymn called The Love of God, the final verse goes like this:

Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky
.

And notice that that’s just writing about the love of God. What about His other attributes? Such as His goodness, and His faithfulness. The end of the Gospel of John says something quantitatively similar:

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that His testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:24-25)

May you begin your day with His praise. Because His love endures forever, you may discover that His praise may occupy your day.

 

Singing with the King (73) – In Praise of Judgment

Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he is coming! He is coming to judge the earth. (Psalm 96:11-13)

Judges gavel with  old paperThis psalm begins on a grandiose scale: Sing a new song to the Lord! Let the whole earth sing to the Lord! Nothing less than “the whole earth” is to sing to the LORD. The verses continue to crescendo until, in these final few verses, all of creation joins in the song. The heavens are glad; the earth rejoices; the sea and all its creatures shout His praise; the fields and crops burst with joy; and the trees sing.

That is a pretty remarkable chorus.

But why are they glad, and why are they rejoicing? Why are they praising and singing? Because He is coming to judge. What? All of creation is getting stirred up, tuned up, and geared up because God is going to judge the earth? Frankly, I don’t see a reason for such a production. Doing all that for His love, or His grace, or His mercy—that I can see, and I would even join in. But judgment?

Now I’ve got to admit that my view of judges and judgment is a bit skewed. Because I look at such things in our country and I see little reason to rejoice. In fact there is a verse in Psalm 11 which describes our current state of degradation:  “The foundations of law and order have collapsed. What can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:4)

The good news is Scripture tells us what judgment looks like—God-style.

God is an honest judge. (Psalm 11:7)

He will judge the world with justice and rule the nations with fairness. (Psalm 9:8)

It is God alone who judges; he decides who will rise and who will fall. (Psalm 75:7)

Rise up, O God, and judge the earth, for all the nations belong to you. (Psalm 82:8)

And at the end of the above Psalm it says: He will judge the world with justice, and the nations with his truth. (vs. 13b)

We see that God’s brand of judgment requires honesty, justice, fairness, and truth. If you just consider truth, and how it has been dismissed, is there any wonder why man’s judgment is critically flawed? It also says that He alone is worthy, and since everything belongs to Him, then He alone is rightful.

And when you see God’s version of judgment, then you realize that it will be something to rejoice about. But until that day comes, you must remember: The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (1 Peter 3:9)

Now balance that with this request: They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?”(Revelation 6:10)

Fear His judgment, or praise His judgment. The choice is yours.

Singing with the King (72) – Understanding

When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end. (Psalm 73:25)

waiting3This Psalm was written by Asaph, who was a Levite in the service of King David. He was also a drummer, and spent a lot of time serving before the ark of the LORD.

So the singers, Heman, Asaph and Ethan were appointed to sound aloud cymbals of bronze. (1 Chronicles 15:19

So he [King David] left Asaph and his relatives there before the ark of the covenant of the LORD to minister before the ark continually, as every day’s work required. (1 Chronicles 16:37)

Let’s face it, life is filled with things we don’t understand. No,  I’m not talking about formulae, or equations, or theorems. I’m talking life problems— the kind that cause you anguish, misery, and as Asaph said, trouble.

Now the fact that he was a singer AND a drummer pretty much explains his confusion (oops—sorry). And what he was confused about was that he, as a righteous person, was constantly being punished and under affliction, which he thought, was from the Lord. The other side of this problem was that wicked people flourished, and they never seemed to have any problems. He had wrestled with this long enough to where he wanted to throw up his hands, declare “I don’t care”, and give up. But rather than giving up, he did something important. He entered the sanctuary of God.

Another way I would put it, is that he put himself, his life, and his world, within God’s context. So what’s God’s perspective like?

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.   For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”(Isaiah 55:8-9)

Sounds pretty out of reach and inscrutable. Until you read what Paul has to say about it.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned… “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14,16) You have the mind of Christ!

If you’re facing an unfathomable or agonizing problem, go into the sanctuary of God, and get His perspective.