Think Again

Often at night I lie in bed and remember You,
    meditating on Your greatness till morning smiles through my window.
You have been my constant helper;
    therefore, I sing for joy under the protection of Your wings.
My soul clings to You;
    Your right hand reaches down and holds me up.

-Psalm 63:6-8 The Voice

Sometimes relief from the exhaustion of wrestling with worry and anxiety is a matter of replacing intrusive thoughts that recycle disappointment and diminishing hope with better thoughts, like thoughts of God’s greatness, of dreams fulfilled, of joy in the morning. Sometimes when our hearts ache and start to slip down the slope of dismal forebodings, our Helper and Protector gently suggests it’s time to change the diet of despair we are feeding our souls.

Sometimes, it’s not the time to escape into denial and thoughtlessness. Sometimes it’s time to have another thought, a better thought, a Holy Spirit-breathed thought. Sometimes it’s time to think again.

In-between

It is always the liminal spaces, those threshold in-between places in our lives, where old things pass away and new things have yet to emerge, where we face our greatest challenges and have opportunity to experience our greatest learning.

-Mark Chironna

The cold weather fell so suddenly this year that the leaves on the trees in the park did not have time to sing their final, colourful adio. They froze mid-roulade and missed their chance to exit to applause before the audience went home. Now they fall, unnoticed, on the dusty, crusty January snow.

Sometimes seasons march out in a grand finale. Sometimes they slink away slowly, finally noticing their time has passed.

Like the leaves, I am reluctant to let go. At the moment, the potential of the next season feels like a sodden weight of too many options, too many yeah-buts, and too little energy. But this is where the future is born –in quietness and rest. There is a rich feast of wisdom and revelation to be found in this season.

This is the time of the in-between.

Midwinter

In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You are aware of the beating of your heart. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.

-Frederick Buechner

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, “All My Springs of Joy Are in You”

Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes will say,
“All my springs of joy are in you.”

(Psalm 87:7)

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!

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, Righteousness and Peace Kiss Each Other

I appreciate the candour expressed in the Psalms of the Sons of Korah. In Psalm 84 they are experiencing the glory of the Lord and the beauty of being in his presence and going from strength to strength. In Psalm 85 they recognize that a distance has crept into their relationship with God. They are again falling back into the old default position of relating to him as an angry God. They cry out for revival, a fanning of embers that seem to be slowly losing their fire.

I’ve been there. Have you? As I’ve been meditating on this Psalm, I believe I am beginning to see a kind of map for renewing the desire to get back to the place of passionate love for the Lover of our souls. It looks like this:

-Worship God by choosing to focus on who he is and remembering what he has done.

-Assess the current state of your relationship and tell him how you feel. Honestly.

-Ask for what you need.

-Listen to his heart and pay attention to his many ways of communicating insight.

-Learn from his advice and seek ways to let it change you.

-Declare the outcome of what he has shown you.

Here it is in Psalm 85:

Worship and Remember

You, Lord, showed favor to your land;
    you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people
    and covered all their sins.
You set aside all your wrath
    and turned from your fierce anger.
(verses 1 to 3 NASB)

Assess and tell him how you feel

Restore us again, God our Savior,
    and put away your displeasure toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever?
    Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
(verses 4 and 5)

Ask

Will you not revive us again,
    that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your unfailing love, Lord,
    and grant us your salvation.
(verses 6 and 7)

Listen

I will listen to what God the Lord says;
    he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—
    but let them not turn to folly.
Surely his salvation is near those who fear him,
    that his glory may dwell in our land.
(verses 8 and 9)

Learn

Love and faithfulness meet together;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
    and righteousness looks down from heaven.
(verses 10 and 11)

Declare

The Lord will indeed give what is good,
    and our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before him
    and prepares the way for his steps.
(verses 12 and 13)

I wondered what was meant by the psalmists use of the metaphor of righteousness and peace kissing each other. (verse 10) That lead me to do a word study.

The word translated kiss here is nashaq. This kind of kiss means a great deal more than romance or affection. We have difficulty understanding this kind of kiss in that culture. It’s not a western custom. The Bible describes the kiss of restoration of relationship when Esau kissed Jacob. The word nashaq is used for the public mark of authority Pharoah granted Joseph to prepare the land for coming famine (Genesis 41:40). We read it again when Israel gave his final blessing to his sons and grandsons. It is used when Aaron went out to meet his younger brother, Moses, as a sign of recognition of, and submission to, his calling (Exodus 4:27). It is used when describing the prophets who refused to kiss an idol and refused to give Baal any acknowledgment of authority or influence in their lives.

A nashaq kiss can symbolize a fastening to someone. It can indicate a restoration of order in relationships. Sometimes it was symbolic of a formal equipping with authority that could include power or weapons. This authority is publicly conferred upon the person receiving the kiss.

When love and faithfulness meet, righteousness and peace kiss each other. They form a bond which is mutually empowering. Righteousness that comes from God the Father through Jesus Christ makes peace possible. The peace that Jesus gives is beyond understanding, but it enables righteousness to replace shame and guilt. Both, together, give us a place and a standing in the family of God, not by anything we have accomplished, but by God’s grace.

Faith-fullness (which also comes from God) gives us a means to receive and something to offer back to our heavenly Father. His response, his ‘anah (explained here), to our prayer made in faith that he will hear and answer, is the righteousness of Christ which came down from heaven. When we are born again, it is Christ’s in which we live and move and have our being. It is his righteousness which went before and prepared his steps and now goes before and prepares our steps toward greater intimacy with our Creator.

Because of God’s response to our earnest cries for his unfailing love to revive us again, we can declare with confidence, “The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest!”

I don’t know about you, but I have some talkin’ to do with the Lord. If you want to join me in worshipping, expressing, asking, listening, learning, and declaring restoration and revival for your own heart, for your family, for your household of faith, for your community or city, for your country and for the world, you are welcome.

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, Grace and Glory

What a change! From the pit of despair to the height of the grace and glory of God’s presence. Wow.

Do you remember the starting point for the leader of the rebellion in the wilderness, when Korah and his followers blamed Moses for all their problems? Here is some background of the story.

Then Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: Is it too small an honor for you that the God of Israel has singled you out from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to perform the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them; and that He has brought you near, Korah, and all your brothers, sons of Levi, with you? But are you seeking the priesthood as well? Therefore you and your whole group are the ones gathered together against the Lord; but as for Aaron, who is he, that you grumble against him? (Numbers 16:8-11NASB)

Many years later, a remnant group of descendants, who had born the stigma of being from the family that rebelled, found their way home. In his deliberate denial of God’s goodness and lack of trust in his plan to rid them of old mindsets in the process of going to the Promised Land, Korah and his friends and followers demanded power for themselves. After travelling the path of repentance, the path of changing course and returning to God’s ways, the once shamed band of poets and musicians King David assigned to lead worship experienced finding their true home. They wrote in Psalm 84:

How lovely are Your dwelling places,
Lord of armies!
 My soul longed and even yearned for the courtyards of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
The bird also has found a house,
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may put her young:
Your altars, Lord of armies,
My King and my God.
(verses 1-3)

Korah and his friends were jealous of Aaron. They had served the congregation on the threshold of the tabernacle, but they wanted more power.

The Sons of Korah found the God they served on the threshold of the Tabernacle generously poured grace on them, even though they didn’t rise to hold positions of highest honour in men’s eyes.  This is where they experienced his glory. God did not withhold any good thing from them as they walked in integrity and simply worshipped. They found joy in service, not in control.

For a day in Your courtyards is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
Than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord gives grace and glory;
He withholds no good thing from those who walk with integrity.
Lord of armies,
Blessed is the person who trusts in You!
(verses 10-12)

As Gayle Erwin wrote, “No one jostles for the position of servant.” It takes a long time for some of us to realize that ambition can drive us seriously off course when the goal is to have control, or to gain a position that demands respect, or accumulate fans, or make money. The road back from rebellion is the road to joy and godly contentment. It’s learning that striving to reach our own definition of the “top” is itself a form of slavery. It’s a change of heart that comes more in line with the truth of the gospel that if Jesus, the Son of God sets you free, you will be truly free. The road back is discovering that God is who he says he is, and he is worthy of our trust.

Blessed is the person who trusts in You!

How lovely is thy dwelling place – Johannes Brahms, John Rutter, Cambridge Singers, Aurora Orchestra – YouTube

Better Is One Day – Here Be Lions (Official Live Video) – YouTube

The Road Back: Psalms of The Sons of Korah, “With Our Own Eyes”

Psalm 48

Jerusalem, The Eastern Gate, From the Inside

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)

Come and see!

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, With Skill and With Understanding

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.