Continual Praise

Evils had encompassed the songwriter. His iniquities had overtaken him. Strength to “suck it up” and “gut it out” had dried up as his heart failed him. And his enemies, those who delighted in his hurt, laid in wait like vultures waiting for opportunity to snatch away his life. So he likens his situation to being in a miry bog, stuck and destined for destruction, with no way to help himself out. Situation desperate!

So what do you do when there’s nothing left to do?

I waited patiently for the LORD;
   He inclined to me and heard my cry . . .
Blessed is the man who makes
   the LORD his trust . . .

(Psalm 40:1,4a ESV)

Hovering over the fortieth psalm this morning. Recognizing it as a messianic psalm (40:6-8), but making connection with all who know the blessed reality of having made the LORD their trust.

Those who, by divine grace and supernatural enabling, can raise their heads out of their all encompassing pit and remember their ever present Provider. Those who, even when they feel forgotten, know that “the Lord takes thought of me” (v.17). Those who, having once declared the glad news of deliverance, are ready to do so again knowing that the Lord will not restrain His mercy, and that “Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness will ever preserve me!” (v.11).

No one wants “situation desperate” . . . and not to minimize how hard the hard stuff can be . . . but there is something about being down that makes you look up. Something about apparent defeat that reminds of true victory. Something about our weakness that becomes a platform for knowing His strength. And in that, a catalyst for continual praise.

But may all who seek You
   rejoice and be glad in You;
may those who love Your salvation
   say continually, “Great is the LORD!”

(Psalm 40:16)

Ours is praise which transcends the pit. Ours a new song inspired by any situation, whether its “the best of times or the worst of times.” Ours worship independent of how we’re doing, but fueled as His abiding presence reminds us of who He is. And as such, continually we can say, and we long to declare, “Great is the LORD!”

For those who love His salvation–salvation past when we received forgiveness and were redeemed from the penalty of sin, and salvation future when we’ll sit at a great table having been delivered from the presence of sin, and who love even the hard times of salvation present, when, in every situation we can know rescue from the power of sin as through every circumstance we are conformed more to the likeness of the Savior–they can say continually, “Great is the LORD!”

Continual praise. Might that be our reality.

By His grace. For His glory.

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The Terror and The Touch

If the New Testament had already been written and he had already read it, maybe at that moment Peter was thinking, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). Or perhaps verses from the psalms which he had memorized as kid flashed through his mind, “At Your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both rider and horse lay stunned. But You, You are to be feared! Who can stand before You when once Your anger is roused?” (Ps. 76:6-7)

Whatever Peter was thinking, when the cloud descended and the Voice thundered, all he could do was hit the dirt in fear.

Poor Peter. For a guy prone to a ready-fire-aim approach to life, after seeing the transfigured Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah all he could think of was, “How can I help? How might I make this more special? What can I do to enhance the glory?”

Really? Jesus is lit up like the sun, the veil having been pulled back which has cloaked His heavenly glory. What’s more, Moses, the great deliverer and friend of God, is standing there with Him. And so is Elijah, the one who was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind, death’s transport superseded by chariots of fire sent to escort him home. Talk about “heaven came down and glory filled my soul!”

But to take it in with silent awe was kind of beyond Peter’s natural makeup. And so he offers to make three tents, one for each of them. Wouldn’t that be a nice add?

Really? Yeah, that’s kind of how Peter rolls.

And God interrupts Peter’s good intentions but misguided efforts. And more glory descends upon the mount in the form of a bright cloud. And a voice thunders from heaven, “This is My beloved Son . . . listen to Him.”

When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.

(Matthew 17:6 ESV)

And maybe Peter’s thinking, “At Your rebuke, O God, both rider and horse lay stunned. Who can stand before You?” But regardless of what he was thinking, without a doubt we know they were terrified.

Too much glory. Too close an encounter of the divine kind. Sensory overload. God had spoken and now Peter was face to the ground in fear. God had addressed him specifically, and he was terrified.

Terrified. It’s kind of what happens when mere mortals encounter the eternal God of all creation. That is, until they feel the touch.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

(Matthew 17:7-8 ESV)

But Jesus came . . .

Another encounter of the divine kind. Still mortal man up close and personal with eternal God. But now it’s not terror they feel but His touch. Now, instead of being compelled to go facedown, they are told to rise up. Now, instead of being terrified, the Voice says, “Have no fear.” Now it’s not some bright-shining ethereal cloud they see, but Jesus only. Jesus their Master. Jesus their Shepherd. Jesus their Savior.

The terror and the touch. There’s a place for both. A place for remembering that our God is Jehovah, the great I AM, an awesome God and consuming fire, One to be feared. But a place also for us to wonder afresh that our God is Immanuel, God with us, come in flesh, come that we might know His touch. And knowing His touch through His abiding Spirit, we rise in full assurance of faith. His perfect love casting out all manner of fear.  When we lift up our eyes and see Jesus only.

We respect the terror. But how we long for the touch.

Such is His sustaining grace. Ever for His shining glory.

Amen?

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A Willing Heart

I’m a sucker for happy endings. Maybe that’s why I get all squishy inside as I read the final chapters of Exodus. I know, I know . . . the end of the book isn’t the end of the journey. Things are going to go south (multiple times) before they finally end up in the promised land north of Egypt. But, for now, I’ll bask in the warm and fuzzy of a people whose heart is stirred, whose obedience overflows, and who see the glory come down.

The instructions for the tabernacle have been given by the LORD to Moses and communicated by Moses to the people. The construction lead has been identified, the LORD having called him by name and having “filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship” (Ex. 35:31). Blueprints completed? Check. Construction crew in place? Check. All that’s left is acquiring the materials needed for the tabernacle. Cue the warm and fuzzy’s.

Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORDs contribution . . .

Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORDs contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart . . .

(Exodus 35:4-5, 20-22a ESV)

The ask went out. The Spirit moved. And the people responded. Bringing so much material that Moses ultimately had to tell them to stop, “for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more” (36:7).

Forget about the times of whining for food and water. Put away the past murmurings of how it might have been better to stay in Egypt. The ugly golden calf failure was in the past. For now, the peoples hearts were stirred, their spirits moved, and they responded sacrificially. Repeatedly, the Spirit moves Moses to record that fact in these last chapters. At this time, by God’s mighty moving, the people of God acted with a willing heart.

A heart inclined towards doing as the Lord has commanded. A heart moved to respond to a divine and noble task. A heart incited towards sacrificial generosity. A heart wanting to freely and fully give, the high cost inconsequential when compared to the grand cause.

What was it to be part of such a movement? How unifying was it as each person gladly brought what they could and deposited it at the staging area for the craftsmen? What was the sense of anticipation as they heard of different components of the tabernacle being completed? And then, what was it for them to gather as Moses erected the tabernacle of the tent of meeting? To see the offerings of the their willing hearts take shape into something explicitly commanded of God? And then to witness the glory come down?

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.  

(Exodus 40:34 ESV)

Not to say that we’ll see so dramatically the results of a willing heart every time we are moved to give of our treasures, or time, or talents. Sometimes ours will be to faithfully sow seed, trusting that others will water and God will give the increase, though we may never see firsthand the harvest. But other times, God will permit a glimpse of the fruit of a willing heart. Of the glory that can result when generous giving to a high and lofty cause is mixed with the great power of a high and lofty God .

And when the glory comes down, the praise goes up!

Like I said, I’m a sucker for happy endings.

Because of grace. For His glory

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Saturated

It’s one thing to wonder at the limitless nature of God, it’s another to appropriate it as our own. One thing to acknowledge that with God there is goodness beyond comprehension, another to believe that He has bestowed all that goodness upon us, blessing us in Christ “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). One thing to imagine our Father’s house and the glory that must fill the place where He dwells, another to live in the assurance that in His house are many rooms, and the anticipation that His Son is even now preparing a place for us in that house “that where I am you may be also” (Jn. 14:3).

And the list could go on. One thing to believe Jesus died for my sin, another to actually walk in the freedom that my sin has been entirely erased. One thing to believe in the perfect holiness of the Savior, another to boldly live in the confidence that His righteousness has been credited to my account.

As I chew on such things, the words of the songwriter in Psalm 139:6 come to mind:

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
   it is high; I cannot attain it.

So what’s got me thinking such high thoughts? Noodling on things beyond my ability to noodle? It’s another song of David. A song that reminds me that, though I might feel dry and empty at times, in reality I am saturated.

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
   Your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
   Your judgments are like the great deep;
   man and beast you save, O LORD.

How precious is Your steadfast love, O God!
   The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
They feast on the abundance of Your house,
   and You give them drink from the river of Your delights.

(Psalm 36:5-8 ESV)

The songwriter is captivated by the steadfast love of God. He has no way to describe it but to pull out as many “over the top” analogies as come to mind. The LORD’s steadfast love “extends to the heavens” . . . His faithfulness reaches to the clouds . . . His righteousness is high as the highest mountains . . . and His justice is a deep as the deepest oceans (36:5-6).

But it’s one thing to believe and declare that boundless love and goodness of God, it’s another to think it is made available for us. And that’s what David does. And does it with just as “over the top” language.

For the children of man who will take refuge in the wings of the Almighty, there is a table set to satisfy every hunger. Not just a coffee table with a few snacks on it, but a banquet table overflowing with the best of the best, and that, without end.

For those who place themselves in the shadow of the God of all creation, there is a river–not a stream, not a brook, but a mighty, raging river which flows without ceasing to satisfy every thirst. And from it we are offered limitless refills as we “fill our tankards with Eden spring water” (MSG).

The table is set.  The river flows.  And we are invited to come and to feast, literally to be saturated, with heaven’s fine fare.

God’s children are invited to take freely and take fully of God’s overflowing provision. To eat until we are stuffed to the gills. To drink until we can drink no more. To fill ourselves to the full with His fullness. To drink ourselves to the point of being intoxicated with His love. To be saturated with His abundant, never ending provision.

Over the top language for an unimaginably blessed people. And this, all and only, through an indescribable Savior.

Saturated.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Going With Us

For Moses it was the ultimate litmus test that he and his people had found favor in the sight of God. Beyond their deliverance from bondage; greater than escaping their enemies by walking through a parted sea; more indicative than having their thirst satisfied from a rock or being fed bread from heaven; there was one thing that, if it were not true, would cast doubt upon their claim to be the people of God.

What, in Moses’ mind, really showed them to be a set apart people? What was the grand distinctive? It was God’s “going with us.”

And [the LORD] said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And [Moses] said to Him, If Your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not in Your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and Your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”

(Exodus 33:14-16 ESV)

The golden calf incident had rocked Moses’ world. God’s just wrath almost superseding His abundant patience if not for the intercession of His servant, Moses (Ex. 32:11-14). Even then, some 3,000 died as result of the rebellion of a “stiff-necked people” (32:25-28).

But now it was time to regroup. Time to resume their pilgrimage to the land of promise.

But Moses wasn’t going anywhere if the sin at Sinai had in any way altered God’s predisposition toward him and his people. No sense taking another step if God’s favor was going to be left shattered at the foot of the mount along with the dust from Israel’s broken idol. So Moses, in one of this “face to face” tent conversations with the Almighty (33:9-11), wants assurance, “Now therefore, if I have found favor in Your sight, please show me now Your ways, that I may know You in order to find favor in Your sight. Consider too that this nation is Your people” (33:13).

Show me Your ways. Continue to let me know You. Confirm that we are people of Your favor. And God says, “My presence will go with you.”

And Moses responds, Yes! That’s what makes us unique. That’s what declares we are Your special people called out for Your special purpose. That’s what declares the height of Your love, the breadth of Your mercy, and the depth of Your grace. That is our grand distinctive–that You are God “going with us.”

Just as God had made Eden paradise by desiring to walk in the garden with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8a), so too it was God’s willingness to accompany the people He had brought out of slavery that truly set them apart. That He would accompany them, even in the wake of great failure, marked them, as nothing else could, that they were God’s people of promise. His grace greater than their sin. His patience outlasting their propensity to wander. His faithfulness continuing despite their flakiness. His presence, their banner indicating they were the people of God.

Our God is a God “going with us.” And that, so often, despite ourselves.

Isn’t that what truly sets us apart? Isn’t that our grand distinctive? Isn’t that our enduring hope?

Praise Him for His presence! Lift up of the Name of Him who deigns to come down. Worship the One who walks with us.

Because of His ever-abiding, abundantly flowing grace. For His everlasting, ever to be declared glory.

Amen?

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The Lord Is Near

Just got off the phone with my daughter who’s driving home from Los Angeles. Asked her where she was. She didn’t know. Knew she was on I-5. Knew she was heading north. But where exactly she was? Not really sure. GPS confirms she’s on the right path and heading in the right direction, but it’s too dark out to make out landmarks. Visibility is limited, so driving “by sight” is restricted to whatever the car lights illuminate. So she needs to, in a sense, drive by faith until dawn breaks and she starts to again see clearly her surroundings. Kind of like the songwriter.

David was on the right path–the path to fulfilling God’s call on his life. Samuel had revealed he was destined for the throne of Israel and his anointing was, in a way, the “on ramp” (1Sam. 16:1-13). But David really had no idea what lay ahead. Right road, limited visibility.

He ended up serving in the house of Saul (1Sam. 16:14-23) . . . closer. Taking down Goliath gave him visibility and some measure of credibility (1Sam. 17) . . . closer. The natural heir to the throne, Jonathan, had ceded his rightful position to David (1Sam. 18:3-4) . . . closer. David marries Saul’s daughter (1Sam. 18:17) . . . closer still. But still driving mostly in the dark.

And then, an apparent detour. Saul becomes jealous of the young upstart. Ends up enraged at Jonathan’s allegiance to the son of Jesse. And eventually decides the palace isn’t big enough for both himself and this kid shepherd who would be king. And so the kid must go . . . permanently. And while Saul’s attempts to take his life fail, David must flee.

Cue the occasion of the songwriter’s song. After fleeing from Saul, David ends up in enemy territory before a Philistine king. Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire! Being “much afraid,” David “changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard” (1Sam. 21:13). Kind of humiliating. Kind of desperate. But the trick works. The king didn’t need a madman in his courts and so he sent David packing and David ends up in the cave of Adullam. And it was in remembrance of this part of his journey to the throne that David wrote Psalm 34.

And I’m chewing on one line in the song in particular.

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.

(Psalm 34:18 ESV)

On the right road but not quite sure where. Unexpected detours. Unanticipated dangers. Uncertainty increasing. Fears growing. Pressure mounting. And in all this, limited visibility. Where is God?

He is near the brokenhearted. He is next to the crushed in spirit.

Not just some pie in the sky wishful thinking. But the testimony of the Sovereign Himself.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

(Isaiah 57:15 ESV)

When we’re not quite sure why the journey is getting so difficult, when uncertainty sets in, when fears assail, when the anxiety seems beyond bearing, and the heart is broken and the spirit is crushed . . . and all this, with limited visibility, . . .

This we can know for sure: the LORD is near.

The One who is high and lifted up and inhabits eternity, descends and draws alongside those who are low and pressed down and facing uncertain reality.

And so we keep on keepin’ on. Though we may be driving in the dark, we know we are on the right road and we are certain that the LORD is near.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
   Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!  

(Psalm 34:8 ESV)

By His grace. For His glory.

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Befitting and Beautiful

Honestly, I don’t get songless saints. I can’t enter into the mindset of believers who, when gathered with God’s people to worship, look bored. Whose lips don’t move. Whose eyes are glassed over. Who’d rather talk to the person next to them than declare the glories of the God who saved them.

I’m not being critical. Not judging. I just don’t get it.

Probably, at least in large part, because God wired me for music. Way before becoming a Christian, music was in me and all around me. It was always in my home. On radios . . . then record players . . . then cassette players . . . then CD players . . . then iPods . . . and now, my streaming devices. When I became a Christian, God didn’t take away the music, instead He gave me a new song. So I get that I may have a stronger propensity for melody than others. That my soul is somewhat “naturally” attuned to music.

But this morning, as I chew on Psalm 33, I’m thinking that the enigma of songless saints isn’t due just to my innate preference, but is even counterintuitive to divine imperative.

Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous!
   Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre;
   make melody to Him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to Him a new song;
   play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

(Psalm 33:1-3 ESV)

This isn’t instruction to the sons of Asaph, the “worship team” of David’s time. It’s to the righteous and the upright. For us A.D. folk, it’s for those who have responded to the gospel, been forgiven of their sins, and have had Christ’s perfect nature credited to their account. It’s for those who have known the power of God for salvation through the gospel, “for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith'” (Rom. 1:16-17). We be the righteous! Those who have believed, received, and are, “in Christ,” the upright.

So shout for joy! Strike up the band! Give thanks to the LORD. Make melody to Him. And sing to Him a new song.

How come? ‘Cause praise befits the upright.

Did a bit of leg work on that word “befits.” Has the idea of something being comely and suitable or, of something that is seemly and beautiful. In other words, not only does it fit, it adorns. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s makes lovely those who do it.

The word is used only nine times. Four of those times in Solomon’s love song to describe the enticing beauty of his beloved. Three times used in Proverbs in a negative sense to describe something which is not befitting–as in excellent speech, extravagant luxury, and unrestrained honor being unfit for a fool. And then twice in the Psalms the word is used to describe what is fitting, and what is lovely.  And in both cases, it’s praise.

Befitting and beautiful. Such is the praise of the righteous.

Suitable and seemly. So should be the worship of the redeemed.

Sunday morning songs aren’t just the prelim’s for the main event of preaching. They’re not intended to part of some mindless, by rote liturgy. Instead they are an opportunity. A glorious, God-ordained, heaven-imitating opportunity.

An opportunity to declare His awesome majesty. An opportunity to rehearse His mighty works. An opportunity to confess again our great need. An opportunity to acknowledge anew His great salvation. An opportunity to profess our desired allegiance.

And when we take advantage of the opportunity, it is befitting and beautiful.

Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! 
   Praise befits the upright.

Because of grace. For His glory.

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