Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes will say, “All my springs of joy are in you.”
There is something special about the city that King David loved. I didn’t expect my emotional reaction as we travelled up the hills to Jerusalem from Emmaus, but I found myself crying tears of joy that at last I would see this wonderful city for myself. I didn’t get to see the magnificent temple made of polished gold-toned stone that David planned and Solomon built and where the Sons of Korah sang and played instruments. I didn’t get to see Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city many years later. I do hope to see him return through those gates though.
The story of the Sons of Korah’s journey from the pit of shame to the heights of worship in the temple takes place over generations. It is a story of restoration and of grace. I hope to join them in singing my own song of restoration and grace one day too.
In the meantime, I include a link to a song of praise from my culture that I’ve often sung this time of year.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Behold Thy King cometh unto Thee!
For thousands of years, people who have had the most possessions have been in positions to buy power. That fact is obvious. We’ve seen evidence that “Money talks,” and, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” We are all aware of evil around us that is financed by those who trust in themselves more than anyone else.
Before the Messiah showed up, not many people were in on the secret that God’s plan of salvation involved the poor and lowly people in this world. Young pregnant Mary was. One of my favourite pieces of music is her prophetic poem recorded in Luke 1, “The Magnificat,” which J.S. Bach set to music. It includes an aria for contralto with these lyrics: Esurientes implevit bonis et divites dimisit inanes. (The hungry he has filled with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.)
The Sons of Korah understood before Mary did. After returning to the role intended for them, they spent their days worshipping in God’s presence in the temple. They were in a position to hear God’s voice. The introduction to Psalm 49 includes these lyrics:
My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give you understanding. I will turn my ear to a proverb; with the harp I will expound my riddle:
The words of wisdom were these:
Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me— those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches? No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them— the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough— so that they should live on forever and not see decay.
(Psalm 49: 4-9 NIV)
No one, even Solomon in all his glory, was rich enough to ransom a soul from Sheol. We all die, and our wealth is useless at the most important moment of all eternity. “This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings.” (verse 13)
And yet the psalmists knew God had plans to pay the price and that someday they would see the manifestation of this promise: “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.” (verse 15)
I don’t know about you, but I get a bit scared when I see evidence of the days growing darker. Sometimes I feel helpless under the influence of evil people who do what they like and cover it over by buying good P.R.. But this is nothing new. I’m reassured by the Sons of Korah, who invite us to step back and see a bigger picture. In the end, material wealth and self-reliance fails spectacularly. Only God could pay the price for a soul. Only Jesus, who is both the baby crying in a manger, and the King of Kings who conquered death, could afford to give us eternal life.
“Esurientes” has a playful flute duet weaving around the sound of the voice. It feels like a dance of joy popping out in hopeful measures with the humour of an inside joke., “The hungry he has filled with good things and the rich he has sent away empty!”
As we have heard stories of Your greatness, now we have also seen it with our own eyes right here, in the city of the Eternal, the Commander of heavenly armies. Right here, in our God’s city, the True God will preserve her forever.
We have meditated upon Your loyal love, O God, within Your holy temple. Just as Your name reaches to the ends of the earth, O God, so Your praise flows there too; Your right hand holds justice.
(Psalm 48:8-10 The Voice)
When I was a young child, I thought World War II happened in a place where everything was black and white. All the stories about the war were in black and white, well grey actually, because the films were shot in black and white and shown on black and white television. Then one day I saw a colour film of the people in the Netherlands coming out of their shelters to greet the Canadian soldiers who had fought for their freedom. It seemed more real. Then my uncle, who had been there, told us what it was like then and what it was like when he returned decades later to the same demonstrations of honour. That was even more real because someone I knew had been there. I watched his face. He had seen it with his own eyes.
It’s one thing to hear stories, or read stories, or study stories. It’s another to see it with your own eyes. Generations of the Sons of Korah had heard stories about God’s greatness, but in Psalm 48 the generation of a new era sings about what they have seen and experienced in the reality of life in Jerusalem. This is the account of what happened on the first day in the temple David’s son, Solomon, built:
When the Levitical priests returned to the crowd from the most holy place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves for this special occasion, regardless of their duties), all the Levitical singers (Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and their sons and their relatives) were wearing fine linen, standing east of the altar, playing cymbals, harps, and lyres, along with priests blowing 120 trumpets. In unison, the musicians and singers with trumpets and cymbals and instruments praised and glorified the Eternal.
Levitical Choir: He is good! His loyal love will continue forever!
At the sound of the music, the Eternal’s temple was filled with a cloud, the glory of God, which prevented the priests from continuing to minister to the Eternal. The descent of the glory of God filled the house of the God of Israel.(2 Chronicles 5:11-14)
It was a sight their ancestors never imagined when they decided to rebel in the desert. The sons of Korah knew what it was to be bereft of hope (see Psalm 43). Now the restored generation of worshipping Sons of Korah wanted not only to celebrate what they had experienced, but to tell the next generation.
So because of Your judgments, may Mount Zion be delighted! May the villages of Judah celebrate!
Explore Zion; make an accounting, note all her towers; Reflect upon her defenses; stroll through her palaces So that you can tell the coming generation all about her. For so is God, our True God, forever and ever; He will be our guide till the end. (Psalm 48:11-14)
When people ask me why I talk about God so much, I say I can’t help it. In the temple made of living stone, in the place where the Holy Spirit dwells and where I meditate on his love, I have seen the greatness of God. I have experienced his love and sensed his glory.
I want to tell what I have seen. Like the restored Sons of Korah in the temple and like the disciple Philip in Galilee who went to look for his friend, Nathaniel I want to urge, “Come and see! We have found the One. Moses wrote about Him in the Law, all the prophets spoke of the day when He would come, and now He is here—His name is Jesus!” (John 1:4)
Can you hear the joy in their voices? Perhaps Psalm 47 was written after a victory, or the recollection of a victory. Since some of the Psalms of the Sons of Korah have been proven to be prophetic, the triumph celebrated may be about a future event. We know that Psalm 45 is about Jesus, the King.
O clap your hands, all you people; Shout to God with the voice of triumph and songs of joy. For the Lord Most High is to be feared [and worshiped with awe-inspired reverence and obedience]; He is a great King over all the earth. He subdues peoples under us And nations under our feet. He chooses our inheritance for us, The glory and excellence of Jacob whom He loves. Selah. God has ascended amid shouting, The Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises; Sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises in a skillful psalm and with understanding. God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the people have gathered together as the people of the God of Abraham, For the shields of the earth belong to God; He is highly exalted.
(Psalm 47 Amplified Version)
Can you sense the change in the hearts of these artists who once mourned and walked in discouragement and poverty of spirit as they carried inherited shame?
When God lifts the burden of shame, guilt, rejection, and self-loathing, he replaces it with a better identity. When we see ourselves in our heavenly father’s eyes, the way he created us to be, we also find our purpose.
Worshippers worship. It’s just what they do. Purpose is found in a restored relationship with God. Some people find their purpose when they worship. It fits. It’s what they were created to do, especially when it is expressed creatively. Whether they sing, or dance, or shout, or write, or play instruments, or take photographs, or design houses of worship, or prepare food for the hungry, their hearts are full when focused on God. They sense his pleasure. The connection motivates a desire to give praise with excellence, and more importantly, creates a deeper hunger for deeper understanding.
The Creator wired his beloved in different ways. Korah, as a Levite, was given a position in the place of worship. His desire for control and recognition abused the characteristic that would give his descendants purpose. In this psalm we see purpose restored in the sons once marked by rebellion.
I’m including links to four different expressions of Psalm 47. Some styles of music can be more accessible to us depending on familiarity and custom. All are performed with skill. Like the Sons of Korah, having gained some understanding of the character and nature of God, I long for more.
Who are you? How does God see you? Do you know your purpose in life? What motivates you to keep seeking when pain is all around and nothing seems to make sense?
Ask him. Pour out your heart. There is more for you to discover.
Psalm 46 contains one of my favourite verses for meditation: “Be still and know that I am God.” (verse 10) It also contains a verse that, as a lover of nature, troubles me. “Come behold the works of the Lord, how he has wrought the desolations in the earth.” (verse 8 NIV)
I’ve seen what happens when a mountain crumbles. I’ve driven past Turtle Mountain in the Crowsnest Pass many times. The remaining mountain, standing there by the highway like a badly chipped giant tooth, has been carefully observed for movement since The Slide that destroyed the town of Frank in 1903. I don’t want to be on that road if another chunk comes down.
Translators have had a problem with this verse. The Hebrew word causing the problem is transliterated ‘shammah.’ Comparing translations, it can read: Come and see the desolations, or devastation, awesome works, amazing things, ruins, marvels of God, horrific events, wasteland, places he destroyed, breath-taking wonders… and that’s only in English. Jeremiah used shammah a lot to describe what he foresaw coming to Israel and Judah if they didn’t listen and make a course correction. It wasn’t good for them. “Shock and awe” might be an apt modern paraphrase. And yet, God sent many of his own to plead with the people to change because they were on a dangerous path of self-destruction.
I had a dream. I was in a huge banqueting hall where people had filled their plates with the kind of delicacies we see in advertisements for the finest in cruise cuisine. There was so much fine food that people were skipping nutritious food, taking one bite of each rich pastry and throwing the rest in the garbage. While in the hall, I received a phone call from someone who I knew heard God’s voice more clearly than I did. To make this short, I was arguing with him over the placement of a book in the Bible. Suddenly I heard a very loud gunshot over the phone. It stunned me into silence. I dropped everything and ran to this man’s house expecting to find him dead. He wasn’t. He was sitting in the kitchen. A shotgun leaned against a cupboard.
“You did that!” I exclaimed. “You shot off a gun in my ear. I was in shock! My ears are still ringing! Why would you do something like that?”
“Got your attention, didn’t it? Now are you ready to stop arguing and listen?” he said.
When I think about it, I remember walking my young son to school. His younger siblings and a couple of other children I was caring for came along, of course. Suddenly our younger son stepped off the sidewalk in pursuit of some distraction. Usually there was no traffic on that road, and he was careful to stay beside me with a hand on the baby carriage, but this time he stepped out on the road just as a vehicle came up behind us. I yanked his arm hard to get him out of danger. I hurt him. He cried, but he was on a dangerous path that could have killed him. A good parent takes that risk when they need a child to pay attention immediately. That was the moment when I realized recurring ear infections left him unable to hear properly and he needed an ear specialist in a bigger city. I went home and made appointments. He now listens for a living.
Recognizing this psalm is about acts of God in the context of national and international conflicts and terrifying battles, changes the way I see it. That it was written by the clan of Korah (identified with one of the most terrifying responses to rebellion in the history of the Children of Israel) means “Be still and know that I am God” (verse10) is not merely a nice platitude. It comes in the middle of a poetic song that remembers that if he needs to, God will open the earth, crumble mountains, make a whip and toss tables, or yank your arm so hard he could dislocate your shoulder to save you from a destructive path if he has to.
But there is another way. I see the assurances when we respond too. He is our help and refuge in trouble. There is no reason to fear (and doesn’t fear provoke us to make some crazy decisions?). There is a river of gladness where God dwells. His voice is greater than the gathered nations’ might. He is the one who stops wars –however he chooses to do it.
In this current time of upheaval, the message of Psalm 46 is vital. It says essentially, let God be God. It may not look like he is coming to straighten things out, but he is –in his time. If you try to usurp his place and take on the role of God yourself, doing things your own way in your own limited wisdom, you are only going to mess up on some essential foundational truths.
Be still. Listen. Stop striving and you will know deeply and intimately who God is.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
A song needs a singer. I love Marty Goetz’ version of Psalm 46.
This may be the ultimate in lazy photography. I woke up and saw the sun shining through the window. I liked the way it looked, even without my glasses. I grabbed my phone and snapped a photo –still without my glasses. Who needs focus when the light is right?
Those flowers on the ledge were meant for someone else, but they started dropping petals before I could take them to her. They looked a little past their prime, but not dead yet, so I stuck them on my own window ledge with plans to get her something else. Then the sun lit them, and the whole room, a golden yellow.
I put my glasses on and sat on the edge of the bed. That’s when lines from a song by Kristene Demarco started playing in my head (and heart).
Let me show you what I see. You can’t dream too big for Me. So get up, get on your way. We’ve got things to do today. Fear not! If I could say it any louder, I would!
I’ve been feeling discouraged lately. My body can’t keep up to the pace it used to. I’m behind schedule. I should be much further ahead in in spiritual and emotional maturity by now. People around me are excited about new projects and I feel like I’m still knee-deep in mop-up operations. There are things that have been the focus of my prayers for such a long time that are still a mess.
Then I remember that “dis-couraged,” like “dis-graced,” is description of lack, the removal of something that was once there. My heavenly Father no more deprives me of courage than he deprives me of grace. He is the source of courage as much as he is the source of grace — and I have already experienced his lavish grace in weakness.
Thank you, Lord for comfort in the form of a sunbeam and a song. Tears of joy come in the morning.
There are so many ways I could go with the word carry. Carry out, carry through, carry on, carry over, carry away, carry around… What I hear in my heart is a line from a song by Selah called “Audrey’s Song.” The part of the song I keep hearing is “I will carry you.”
The song is sung by a mother to her child in the womb. Doctors told the parents that the baby had anomalies incompatible with life and recommended abortion. Instead, the they chose to love their child and honour the life she had, how ever short it would be. (Warning, it’s a tear-jerker.)
I Will Carry You (Audrey’s Song) by Selah from the album “You Deliver Me”
There were photographs I wanted to take
Things I wanted to show you
Sing sweet lullabies, wipe your teary eyes
Who could love you like this?
People say that I am brave but I’m not
Truth is I’m barely hanging on
But there’s a greater story
Written long before me
Because He loves you like this
I will carry you
While your heart beats here
Long beyond the empty cradle
Through the coming years I will carry you
All my life
And I will praise the One Who’s chosen me
To carry you
Such a short time
Such a long road
All this madness
But I know
That the silence
Has brought me to His voice
And He says … I’ve shown her photographs of time beginning
Walked her through the parted seas
Angel lullabies, no more teary eyes
Who could love her like this?
I thought about others in the faith who died young. I have often wondered why Jesus chose James, along with his brother of John – the other half of the sons of thunder— and Peter, to be his three closest companions. Jesus would have known that James wasn’t going to live long. King Herod had him “put to the sword.” In a manner all too common in political machinations, when he saw favourable numbers in the local population’s response to his handling of the disruption caused by these Jesus followers, Herod decided to kill some more of them. Peter was miraculously delivered from prison, but James hadn’t been. James was killed.
Why would Jesus invest so heavily in someone who wouldn’t be around very long? Who can say James’ life was of less value than the life of John who lived to a very old age? Jesus obviously loved him and could have rescued him. James obviously had faith and he was surrounded by the same faithful people who prayed for Peter to be released.
Somehow, we have adopted the idea that a successful life is a long life, that people ought to be valued for accomplishments, or at least potential accomplishments. Baby Audrey lived outside her mother’s womb for only two hours, but I believe God saw her life was as valuable and he loved and appreciated her as much as a 100-year-old woman with many accolades.
God loves us for who we are. He loves us because he loves us. Nothing we do or don’t do can make him love us any more or any less. Can we also take the risk of loving someone who may be leaving life on earth shortly? Being separated from a loved one is extremely painful, but not eternally painful. I admire those who can risk the pain of loss and love freely, carrying another person in their heart because they know they are loved by Love Himself.
He will carry them too.
Why the photo of spring flowers on the windowsill? These words in 1 Peter inspired me.
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
For, ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.’”
And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25)
I’m using an old photo today because it fits so well. One day I was up in the woods praying, well complaining to God, actually.
“I feel like no matter which way I move, the way is blocked. I don’t understand what is going on. It’s like my hearing is muffled and I can see clearly enough or far enough to have a sense of which direction I should take. Everything I know to try is inadequate. I feel stifled and cramped in this place, and I don’t know what to do. What is this dark confining place? And what am I doing here? Where am I?
A still quiet, but firm voice answered, “Under my wing.”
I try to remember this when I feel the need to do something – anything, to fool myself into feeling like I’m in control, like I can rely on my own wisdom and see the eternal repercussions of a decision. Sometimes God is protecting me from the world, and sometimes I think he might be protecting the world from me — especially when I’m sputtering outrage.
Sometimes the safest place is when I am not insisting on being control and instead, I’m invisible to “fans” and “foes,” known and unknown. There’s a time to explore and there’s a time to run home. Sometimes, in those intense moments of choosing to respond to God, of choosing to agree to stay hidden in Him, and not giving away my position with a random self-defensive squawk, I remember this song using St. Patrick’s words. God’s love is a shield that has us covered front, back, side to side, and above and below. The song is called St. Patrick’s Breastplate. It’s also called the Deer’s Cry.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me
This has been a difficult time in British Columbia. A massive storm caused floods that destroyed roads and bridges and triggered landslides. The photos are heartbreaking. We are okay in our new home In Kelowna, but since the highways between here and the major west coast port and main agricultural areas of the province were closed we are very aware of the devastating consequences of the storm. People who had been travelling were stranded and trucks and trains carrying goods couldn’t connect with the interior of the province (although I believe one round-about route is open for essential travel now.)
Panic buying started a week ago and many shelves were empty by the next day. The grocery store near us had no fresh produce (other than cilantro and a few potatoes), no meat other than expensive steaks, no eggs, no dairy products, no bread, no rice, no canned or frozen vegetables or fruit, and no toilet paper. For those of us accustomed to abundance, it was a shock.
When disaster occurs I go into survival mode. My mind races ahead to prepare for all the possibilities we could face. Perhaps it comes from being a mother who had to anticipate dangerous situations children could get into or inconveniences I could face if I neglected to pack everything I could possibly need in the diaper bag. I like to be prepared, but after years of trying to be ahead of the game, I realized I had taught myself to expect a worst-case scenario. This time I decided not to rush out and buy more than we usually bought for the week.
In the midst of the panic I heard a song by Jonathan Ogden that was new to me. It was called “Slow Down.” I still have so much to do with settling in to this new place that the thought of slowing down was, frankly, a little annoying. Then I realized that God was using the song to speak to my heart about the need to slow my racing thoughts and listen for his voice.
The oft-quoted scripture verse, “Be still and know that I am God,” is in Psalm 46 which describes situations that are anything but tranquil. The first three verses in The Passion Translation read:
God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge! You’re a proven help in time of trouble— more than enough and always available whenever I need you. So we will never fear even if every structure of support were to crumble away. We will not fear even when the earth quakes and shakes, moving mountains and casting them into the sea. For the raging roar of stormy winds and crashing waves cannot erode our faith in you. (Pause in his presence)
Lately I’ve been having dreams about the importance of staying close to God in these perilous times. I know it’s absolutely necessary to lean on him and trust his ways. Sometimes his ways are counter-intuitive, but the impossible becomes possible when let God be God.
This is not about passivity or laziness. We still work to help feed and house evacuees or doing whatever we can to help those affected by the storm. This about learning to quiet our souls and becoming more effective because we come from a place of rest and trust where fear doesn’t call the shots.
Surrender your anxiety. Be still and realize that I am God. I am God above all the nations, and I am exalted throughout the wholeearth.