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.

By the Waters of Comfort

Relieve and comfort all the persecuted and afflicted;

speak peace to troubled consciences;

strengthen the weak;

confirm the strong;

instruct the ignorant;

deliver the oppressed from him that spoileth him;

and relieve the needy that hath no helper;

and being by us all, by the waters of comfort,

and in the ways of righteousness,

to the Kingdom of rest and glory,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

-Jeremy Taylor

I sat in a waiting room this week. I knew before I got there the wait would be long. The day after Christmas and New Years holidays were over had a fun-is-done back-to-business feeling at the medical lab. It may have been business-like, but there were so many feelings swirling about in that room.

Legal measures taken to protect patient privacy are trumped by thin curtains between beds or loud conversations between patients and a masked receptionist behind a plexiglass wall. It reminds me of a scene from the old comedy show “Get Smart” when secret agents are covered by a “cone of silence” which required them to yell because they couldn’t hear each other. When the plexiglass wall of silence is in the middle of a crowded waiting room, all pretense of privacy is gone.

Some people are mortified at having to explain what is in the sample bottle they are dropping off and they avoid eye contact with other humans for the rest of the day. Others don’t seem to care. In fact, some people give their information freely (and repeatedly due to the impediments to communication). Then they take a number, sit down, and look for someone to tell their troubles to. There are a lot of troubles expressed in a crowded waiting room at the hospital lab in the week after the holidays.

I’m not good at blocking the sights and sounds out. I’ve been given advice on how to ignore sad stories whether they are told in winces and groans or given in long detailed descriptions, but I know what it is like to cry and not be heard. So I listen. It’s something I actually like about myself, so I’m not likely to take the advice to block people out. I can’t imagine a caring Jesus blocking out people out. Prioritizing getting away to a quiet place where he could hear his Father’s voice? Yes, but not by pretending he didn’t notice or treating people as if their stories were not important. He always brought encouragement.

It’s the getting away to be heard by our heavenly Father, and to listen to His peace and kindness that heals our own souls and allows us to walk in hope in the middle of hopelessness. The comfort he has given us is shareable. It’s called compassion.

Earlier, while waiting for my husband at his own appointment, I was able to stop by the lake on a cool cloudy January day. There, by the waters of comfort, I found peace in the presence of the Lover of my soul. I could continue a day of tests of various types knowing, no matter what, I am loved and therefore able to extend love. And when I’m running low, I’m learning there’s plenty more where that came from.

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, Why Should I Fear When Evil Days Come?

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!”

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!