The Song (Sunday) – Psalm 98

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth and sing for joy and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. (Psalm 98:4-5)

A melody is a linear succession of musical tones that the listener perceives as a single entity. In its most literal sense, a melody is a combination of pitch and rhythm.  It may be considered the foreground to the background accompaniment. Melodies often consist of one or more musical phrases and are usually repeated throughout a composition in various forms. (Thank you Wikipedia)

Recent music trends remind me how deeply I value melody. When I walk into the gym I am assaulted by rhythm, not greeted by melody. I ask the proprietor if we can please find an alternative Pandora station. He complies but the next station reminds me rhythm is hot, melody is not. When music is dominated by rhythm, something in me shuts down. Melody, for me, is the sound of music – the hallowed foreground. Percussion serves best as a background. When my ear is deprived of that linear succession of tones I feel ripped off. I agree with Wikipedia…

The true goal of music—its proper enterprise—is melody. All the parts of harmony have as their ultimate purpose only beautiful melody

This week’s Blue Book theme, “The Song”, is not only about the melodies which are embedded in the mountains, the rivers and the trees. It is also about authentic human worshippers. These souls understand the perpetual nature of worship. They also know worship is not just singing a succession of compatible tones, but thinking a succession of right thoughts, deliberately keeping them in the foreground of their consciousness, effecting the composition of everything they say and do.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

O sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done wonderful things, His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him. The Lord has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. (Psalm 98:1-3)

When these beautiful words were penned all was not well with the world’s soul. Evil, just as it is today, was stalking the earth. Death was staking his claims. Disease, pestilence, poverty and other plagues, as usual, were having their say. In the presence of evil, the psalmist is demonstrating the worshipper’s capacity and discipline of keeping those themes in the backdrop. In righteous opposition to the rhythms of this world worshippers militantly displace the pervasive drumbeats of darkness with a melody consisting of one true thought of God after another. Again, listen for the psalmist’s melody.

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth and sing for joy and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout joyfully before the King, the LordLet the sea roar and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity. (Psalm 98:4-9)

Father, help us see where we are majoring on minor themes, where background rhythms are drowning melody. Instead, may we burst forth with the melodies You have planted in us and in all creation. Draw Your melody out from within us. Teach us to sing them with all boldness and joy, all for the glory of your precious name. Amen.


The Song (Friday) – Exodus 15:1-21

I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted, (since) the horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. (Exodus 15:21 parenthesis mine)

On Monday I claimed we each have a song and that the outward expression of our lives is the singing of that song. I also proposed we have responsibilities to these songs. If you have not yet grasped your part as a composer perhaps I can assist. If the following were the first line of your song, how would you complete it? Remember, you are already singing.

I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted, (since) he has… now fill in the blank with your personal experience.

How did you complete your verse? Still struggling? OK, what have you personally experienced with Christ? Exodus 15:3 tells us, the Lord is a warrior. Very well, what enemies has God overthrown in your life? As God’s offspring, we have all had our skirmishes with the world, the flesh and the devil. This is our story / This is our song / (Equipped with these) we are praising our savior all the day long.

These exploits are our lyrics. With our songs we are the bright beams of truth created to shine into the darkness of our specific theaters of warfare. Right here, right now, we are strategically located and divinely equipped to bring glory to God and validity to the gospel’s claim to make all things new.

Some protest, singing their dirges…

I am exempt from exuberant song / I missed the Red Sea Spectacle / Faith is a gift. Some have it. I don’t. / I haven’t seen any miracles. / I have no declarations to make / lyrics composed of my questions do not inspire / blah, blah blah

Moses lived in an hour when God was taking a huge step forward in his self-revelation. We 21st-century people are further down the timeline of this process. In Moses day, the covenant between God and man involved The Law and sacrifice. In our hour, the covenant is administered through grace and faith. So, in this season, instead of waiting for evidence that God can part oceans, we are to simply trust that he can. Rather than waiting for proof, by faith, we are to reckon he is the same then, now and forevermore and relate to him accordingly. Therefore the blanks in our lyrics should get filled in with truths such as this: I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted… 

(since) Jesus has come, taking my punishment upon himself; (since) he has conquered death by his resurrection (since) he sent his Spirit; the Helper to earth (since) his Spirit indwells me – animating my previously dormant spirit; (since) and then, to the on-and-on of our particulars.

Our songs will have both an intimate and a military flavor since much of our personal revelation of God takes place in the heat of battle. It’s really in the trenches where we discover who God is and what he is like. In a fallen world bad things are going to touch our lives. Our songs, if we are honest, will include painful events that seem, at least in the moment, to be a total loss. In theses moments it is a great temptation to see ourselves as casualties of war. But, for those willing to persevere, their eyes will be open to see the present good and an eternity of goodness ahead.

Our stories are not complete. We are destined to overcome. Our songs will ultimately account for those places we have risen from the ashes. Our victories, especially to us, will be no less amazing than Israel’s. Our hearts, too, shall sing…

Who is like Thee among the god’s, Oh Lord? Who is like Thee, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders? (Exodus 15:11)

Father, I pray we may discover and nurture the gift of faith entrusted to us. May we embrace all you aspire to be to us and through us. May our stories be updated with fresh encounters with you and with our victories over the enemy. May Your Bride be equipped with new songs until that day when the grand chorus has filled the earth as the waters fill the oceans. Amen.

The Song (Thursday) – Isaiah 26:1-9

The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. (Isaiah 26:3)

This verse stands out like a fragrant flower amidst the devastation Isaiah is projecting for this earth. How sobering that God is the author of this devastation! Isaiah had seen the glory of the coming of the Lord and God was indeed trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath were stored.

Behold, the Lord lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters its inhabitants. (Isaiah 24:1)

But what does this forthcoming holocaust have to do with us who live within the fortified walls of the United States of America – the most powerful and prosperous nation in history? Our steadfastness of mind will be well served to note it was Israel’s idolatry that had aroused God’s wrath. If we define idolatry as devotion to and trust in things other than God, how would America compare to Israel? Is it in God we trust today? Do we look to God as our nation’s ultimate Commander-in-Chief? Are we grateful to him for the security and abundance we have known? Those with any remaining conscience know the profoundly sad answer to this question.

Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lordwe have an everlasting Rock. For He has brought low those who dwell on high, the unassailable city; He lays it low, He lays it low to the ground, He casts it to the dust. (Isaiah 26:4)

We have already acknowledged this week that we each have a song we must attend to. As we compose our song, we must keep in mind a day is coming when God will step in and bring closure to the affairs of this earth. While this process will be anything but peaceful, God’s promises of perfect peace remains to those steadfast in heart and mind. Since we know neither the day nor the hour of this event we must be vigilent to recognize his Truth is marching on whether we or our nation are marching along with it…

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat / He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat / Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!  / Our God is marching on. (from The Battle Hymn of the Republic lyrics by Julia Ward Howe)

We should be swift in not looking at the DOW as evidence God is marching on. We should be swift in not looking at our armed forces as our sole defense. If we are trusting in our economy or our military are we not idolaters who must also be sifted? As with Israel, will God have to demonstrate the frailty of our gods?

Is steadfastness of mind a gift given or is it character acquired by hearing and heeding God’s Word and Spirit? Weren’t we told that it was our responsibility to renew our minds? We must compose our minds by humbly acknowledging every idol to whom we have bowed. We must live our lives with our hearts on the alter, daily volunteering to be sifted so that it does not happen involuntarily on that Great Day of ultimate sifting. Only God can expose our deluded and entrapped hearts. But there is good news; in this place of abandonment, God can awaken our hearts…

Indeed, while following the way of Your judgments, O Lordwe have waited for You eagerly; Your name, even Your memory, is the desire of our souls. At night my soul longs for You, indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently; for when the earth experiences Your judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. (Isaiah 26:9)

It is not wise to be friends with a world that is accumulating God’s wrath. If God must shake our individual or corporate lives we must be swift to recognize his kindness, for by it, he may bring us to repentance. The Lord knows it is better to be shaken now than later. The martyred missionary Jim Elliott may have said it best….

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot loose.

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Father, teach us to abide in you and to swiftly recognize all the sovereign ways you work, including the work you accomplish through trials and suffering which may liberate us from our entanglements with this world. In the abundance of your Spirit expose the poverty of our materialism. May we be steadfast of heart and mind. Establish our trust in you. May our dutiful feet be quick to bring you honor and glory now and forever more. Amen.

The Song (Wednesday) – Zephaniah 3:14-20

In the early part of this book the prophet speaks of the day of the Lord’s wrath;

And on that day all the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy for He will make a complete end, indeed a terrifying one, of all the inhabitants of the earth. (Zephaniah 1:18)

Then at the conclusion of the book the prophet speaks of the Lord’s mercy;

The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy…I will bring you in, gather you together and give you renown and praise. I will restore your fortunes before your eyes. (from Zephaniah 3: 18-20)

If we are trying to compose a song from Zephaniah alone our lyrics will not make sense. God seems to be at cross purposes with himself. He is committed to gathering His people together in order to lavish his affection on them from a spot on the earth where he has just brought a terrifying end to all its inhabitants. How can a new creation emerge from a place of death?

To us, it is impossible to comprehend how the same God can go from wrath to mercy, from judgement to restoration in 3 chapters. Our comprehension suffers because it has no choice. Until that day when we will finally know as we have been known, our grasp of an eternal God is going to be limited by our finite minds.

The finite seems to drive mankind toward the either-or, as opposed to the more complex, both-and kind of understanding. Because we cannot simultaneously hold onto wrath and mercy, we assume neither can God. For many it is hard to worship a God they cannot fully understand, who seems capricious in his dealings with nations and people, who does things that violate their sense of justice and civility. To them God seems cruel or barbaric – unsafe.

Even though God’s wrath is alien to me today, I am not going to quit reading the scriptures or cower in fear before God my Father because I don’t perfectly understand him. God gave us the New Testament as a lens to sufficiently comprehend the deep mystery of who he is. Some are so offended with the God of the Old Testament they are boycotting all but their select opinions about him. I want to take these folks by the hand and say, “Let it go. Here is the good news.”

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in the Son, whom He appointed as heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (from Hebrews 1:1-3)

If our songs are written about an angry Old Testament God our music will sound like a dirge in some minor key. But when we see children in the New Testament being welcomed onto his lap and realize Jesus has become our righteousness, our songs should change. The songs of sons differ from the songs of servants. Exclamation points replace periods! Rejoicing replaces weeping! Dirges become anthems and crying turns into laughter! Nor is God limited emotionally toward us. While…

He will be quiet in His love. 

He will also……

rejoice over us with shouts of joy. (Zephaniah 3:17)

Zephaniah tells us God’s people will be a humble people and will take refuge in the name of the Lord. Humility includes laying down our protests where we do not possess exhaustive understanding. Regardless of man’s conditional position with God in the Old Testament, humility requires us to accept the good news that his children may now be…

kept from stumbling and enabled to boldly stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy! (from Jude 24)

Lord, I am humbled knowing that you adopted me and are now my Father. Thank you that exclamation points are replacing the old question marks. Before the eyes of an unbelieving world, gather and restore us to the fortunes of your grace. Teach us to compose our song from the clear simple truths You have given us. May we sing of your goodness as we pay the bills, buy the groceries, deliver the product or whatever the high calling you have entrusted to us. All for your name’s sake. Amen.

The Song (Tuesday) – Isaiah 12:1-6

For although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. (from Isaiah 12:1)

I have a friend who will not read the Old Testament. The strain between it and the New Testament is just too much for him. I’m not that jaded but I do get it. Does God and his Old Testament dealings with man ever puzzle you or, does this all fit together neatly for you? Our passage today presented a puzzle piece to me and it has prompted me to pray, “Father, if Christ died for me while I was yet a sinner when was it that You were angry with me?”

This was just one of the puzzle pieces the Bible and life’s circumstances had scattered out on my game table. There were also puzzle pieces related to God’s sovereignty and mine and many which related to the interplay between good and evil. Frequently I would look at the disparate pieces and think, God may not be directly responsible but, in his omni-status, he must (and it pains me to even think this) at least be a passive accessory to what I perceive as tragic outcomes.

I desperately wanted to complete this puzzle. Once it was finished I believed that I would have an accurate composite of God which looked the way it needed to – then I could love and trust him. The problem was that new (and definitely unwanted) pieces were continually being added to the puzzle. When I worked the puzzle, dark and misshapen images of God would appear. I was stumbling badly… “Lord, If you can do all things, how is it that (insert your own nightmare puzzle piece) has happened! How can this be!” I had not watched over my heart. Without much work, I had built a case against God. Having pieces that seemed to come from different puzzles did not make me want to sing. It made me want to scream.

Many in this place (like my friend boycotting the OT) have given up finding God in the scriptures or in life. For them there is an unworkable deal-breaking tension between His so-called goodness and the ever present badness of life. For them the strain of this puzzle is is too much. They vow to avoid a God who is so inconsistent, so unsafe.

If you are in this place may I make a suggestion as one who has begun to sing again? Be totally honest with yourself and God about your anger, your heartbreak, your disappointment and yes, even your unbelief. Speak to Him (scream if necessary) with all the emotional honesty you can muster. I promise you, he can handle it. It will in fact be the music he has been waiting to hear from you – a song filled with honest lyrics. This is his specialty. Recall; Jesus is the Man of Sorrows who was misunderstood, rejected and abused, who ultimately hurled his question (and ours) directly at God from the cross…

Father, why hast Thou forsaken me?

And then there was David. Listen to his song when his puzzle wasn’t coming together.

Lord, You have forgotten me. How long until I see Thy redemption?!

All men are confronted with this puzzle; at some level we are all working on it. Some remove pieces until they can assemble an image of God to their liking. Others, in anger, kick the game table aside and say, “To hell with this puzzle!” Then, there are those commendable hearts, like David’s, who, after venting their heartbreak and anger, do what Isaiah did. They choose to sing.

I will give thanks to Thee, Oh Lord…I will trust…I will not be afraid…I will joyously draw near…I will call upon His name…I will cry aloud.

For a season, our sacrifice of praise may include intellectual strain and emotional pain. But every saint who has carried their cross and worked out this aspect of their salvation will testify

There is joy in the morning.

Here is a powerful mystery; In-Christ our spirits have the capacity to behold God as he is, even while the puzzle is unfinished. If we will persevere, hostile thoughts and emotions will eventually wain, wounds will ultimately heal, if they are offered to God with open hands and an open heart. Eventually the sun will rise and we will join Isaiah, singing before the world and the great cloud of witnesses…

God you are my strength and my song and You have become my salvation. I have learned to joyously draw water from the springs of my salvation. You have done excellent things in me and I will tell my story. I will sing my song.

In the mysterious economy of God’s ways, he somehow uses those places of our greatest pain to compose the most significant parts of our songs. It is in the process of rewriting the music in our hearts we discover a more intimate dimension of relationship with God. It is in the daily crucible of life where relationship with God becomes personal, where we make the priceless discovery that he is our’s and we are his.

Father, It is our destiny to sing. Teach us to reclaim our songs from the ash heaps of our life. Help us to entrust our unanswered questions to You until such a time we need to know (if that even exists). Even though our minds cannot catalogue nor organize You, thank You for giving our hearts the capacity to behold You by faith and to sing of Your goodness. May our hearts return in innocence to that place where we not only hold You harmless but esteem You as good.  Amen.

The Song (Monday) – Psalm 100

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth….Come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the Lord Himself is God…Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. (from Psalm 100)

Some may ask, “What does today’s theme have to do with me?” I  suspect everything. I believe we each have a song and, whether we know it or not, we are singing it continually. The question becomes, “Can we name our tune?”

We each have a song scape dictating of our lives. Most of us never intentionally contribute to it; it is composed by default in the happenstance of experience. We should tremble at the notion of happenstance because the enemy of our souls is quite intentional. He has a repertoire of siren songs driving popular culture, each with its own hook designed to snag the indiscriminate consumer, each one providing an alternate and shaded interpretation of reality.

If life is just happening to us, a corrupted reality is being imprinted on us by default. And, if our songs are being shaped by this world, they will become dirges ultimately fueling our worst nightmares. It is in this uncensored atmosphere where the prince of this world operates. In carefully metered dosages he injects his well-crafted distortions into society, leading us like unwitting cattle to the judgement awaiting him and those he will dupe. I believe we must intentionally and continually edit our songs as a matter of life and death.

As agents of choice, the elect are not exempt from the battle. I’m sure Satan revels over his gains among God’s people. Most of us are indiscriminate consumers of everything the world (and our branch of Christianity) is selling. Consequently the church’s song can barely be heard in western culture. However, we can take heart. God too is intentional and he will neither douse the smoldering wick nor will he extinguish a muted song. I believe it is God’s heart to transform our dirges into anthems of praise. I believe this, not only because it is proposed in scripture; I have experienced it in my life.

I learned that music was playing within me the hard way. In 2010, physical pain, emotional and relational distress brought me to my knees, causing me to ask if something might be amiss within me. I knew I had to take responsibility for my song. Although it was not initially good news, I was finally able to name my tune. In fact it was It a hymn. Perhaps you know it;  “It Is Not So Well With My Soul”. There was no joyfully shouting to the Lord. My song was more of a whimpering complaint.

With the help of some seasoned brothers in Christ, I started listening to the song in my heart and taking responsibility for it. Proverbs 4:23 captures the idea beautifully…

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.

I also think of Isaiah 26:3.

The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace, because He trusts in Thee.

And Romans 12:2….

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

These verses are telling us we are responsible to recompose our own songs. We must discover and nurture them, boldly singing them everywhere we go. Until we stand before Him, we must…

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth….Come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the Lord Himself is God…Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.

Father, please reveal our song to us. Please release shepherds who can help us recognize and care for our own music. May our hearts collaborate with you – enabling us to become those singers who will worship you in Spirit and in Truth. May Your Bride hear the Spirit’s song within her. Amen.