Bearing the Ark with Joyful Song

David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brothers as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy. So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joel; and of his brothers Asaph the son of Berechiah; and of the sons of Merari, their brothers, Ethan the son of Kushaiah; and with them their brothers of the second order, Zechariah, Jaaziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, and Mikneiah… The singers, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, were to sound bronze cymbals; Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah, and Benaiah were to play harps according to Alamoth; but Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed-edom, Jeiel, and Azaziah were to lead with lyres according to the Sheminith. Chenaniah, leader of the Levites in music, should direct the music, for he understood it… Shebaniah, Joshaphat, Nethanel, Amasai, Zechariah, Benaiah, and Eliezer, the priests, should blow the trumpets before the ark of God…  So David and the elders of Israel and the commanders of thousands went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the house of Obed-edom with rejoicing… All Israel brought [it] up with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres.” 1 Chronicles 15:16-22,24,28

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” Psalm 95:1-3                

While God created all the different arts as expressions of His beauty, and He gifts people with specific talent for varying types, the one He expressly commands of everyone is singing and making music. It is telling here that when David led the procession carrying the ark, which represented the very presence of God, there was much gladness and song. (Exodus 31:2-5; 2 Chronicles 2:13-14)

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All creation sings for joy with the calm or crash of waves, the click of crickets, the croak or cluck of frogs, the chirp or caw of birds. The LORD in our lives brings ineluctable joy. Our “joyful noise” need not be in perfect pitch or rhythm, and will not necessarily sound like another’s, but its source is God’s Spirit, joy’s endless fount that bubbles and spills out in musical expression. “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Psalm 66:4; 87:7; Ephesians 5:18-20)

Am I bearing the ark into every day and situation? Regularly taking time to behold my Savior’s face, drawing from the well of my salvation, do my melodies reflect His grace and joy, my lyrics gratitude and praise? How readily am I making use of God’s personally-assigned instruments: my workplace, my neighborhood, my tasks and abilities, to sound forth His greatness? (Psalm 16:7-11; Isaiah 12:3)

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace.  

~ Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Amen.

 

The Fruit of Repentance

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lordsay to him, ‘Take away all iniquity.’ I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely… I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. They shall…flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon… From me comes your fruit.” “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” “They should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” 
Hosea 14:1-2,4-8; Luke 3:3,8-9; Acts 26:20

God’s gracious call for us to return to Him from wherever and however we have strayed is laced with a promise so enticing, how can we resist? What iniquity could be so captivating that we would choose to continue in it over confessing it and receiving the Lord’s free and measureless love and all its fruit and fragrance? Of course, it is the nature of sin to blind and deceive us, and even to be pleasurable for a time before it bites, but the awaiting mercy of God beckons us to lay down its allured ultimate death for flourishing and pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11; Hebrews 11:25)

 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5:19-26

Returning to the Lord with words is naming all our filth, our fakery, our flesh indulgences, and turning them in for fruitful replacement. When we drink in the dew of forgiveness, we practice kind words instead of criticism, patience over complaining, faithfulness instead of deceit, uplifting truth over degrading gossip and insult. We fall in stride with the Spirit and put down strong roots that bear lush, aromatic blossoms in the fertile ground He has restored. When our lives, with new power, so bloom, others are drawn to hear and see and smell and savor the Spirit of the Lord emanating from us.

Are there places of stumbling I have kept quiet or hidden from the God Who beckons me return? Or have I fallen into complacent barrenness with the generous promises He gives? What evidence is there that I have been redeemed?

Lord, You died so I could live for You. May I ever bear much fruit in keeping with the freedom You have, by your grace, lavished on me, so others may taste and see that You are good. (Psalm 34:8; John 15:16; 2 Corinthians 5:15)

Never Rote

“[David] appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel… ‘Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!’ So David left Asaph and his brothers there before the ark of the covenant of the Lord to minister regularly before the ark as each day required, and also Obed-edom and his sixty-eight brothers, while Obed-edom, the son of Jeduthun, and Hosah were to be gatekeepers. And he left Zadok the priest and his brothers the priests before the tabernacle of the Lord in the high place that was at Gibeon to offer burnt offerings to the Lord on the altar of burnt offering regularly morning and evening, to do all that is written in the Law of the Lord that he commanded Israel. With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever. Heman and Jeduthun had trumpets and cymbals for the music and instruments for sacred song.” 1 Chronicles 16:4,34,37-42

Daily. As each day required. Regularly morning and evening. For life. The anointed privilege of being a priest carried with it ongoing responsibility, and here we see them faithfully, joyfully fulfilling their duty. There are times in Scriptures when priests’ sacrifices came up empty before all-knowing God, and He condemned them because He knew their hearts were not sincere. I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” But the role was always intended to be one of great joy, since the Lord’s steadfast love endures forever! (Hosea 6:6)

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As the sea is constant in her rhythms, tides waxing and waning twice a day, month in, month out, the same, yet always different, so our God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, is alive bringing fresh mercies every morning. His deeds are wondrous, ongoing in accomplishing His divine purposes, always working for our good. This eternal never-changing God is worthy of praise that is earnest, fresh, present, and zealous. (Malachi 3:6; Lamentations 3:22-23; Romans 8:28; 12:11; Hebrews 13:8)

For us, has offering sacrifices of praise and substance to the Lord, whose steadfast loves endures forever, become old? Rote? Meaninglessly routine? If so, where have we slid into spiritual lethargy, to thoughtless repetition, or airy neglect? Has a slow slip into ease kept us off our knees, or our heads on the pillow? Hearts caught up in Him ignite souls that are captivated by Him. Eager eyes see His life showing forth different aspects of character and power and beauty, and we can daily sing a new song. (Psalm 96:1)

Would I awaken each day and choose to practice a regular habit of fresh praise? Will I trust Him for divine hunger, and exercise creative variety in worship to guard against empty words? Would I allow Him to identify new ‘sacrifices,’ new areas of my inner and visible life for offering? Routine need not be rote; it can be exhilarating and inspirational when it is a mode of thoughtful worship.

Worthy Father, let me never grow stale in joyful, regular worship. May I live in ongoing, vibrant praise.

When We Don’t Want to Go

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.’ But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord… Jonah [went] down into the inner part of the ship and [lay] down and was fast asleep… The men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he told them… And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.” Jonah 1:1-3,5,10,17

How quickly the flesh takes over when we do not like God’s commands! As easy as it might be to criticize Jonah’s outright rebellion, we must consider our own hearts in areas we do not want Him to touch, and admit that we, too, often flee to Tarshish. And it is quite easy to do so. Circumstances often smooth the path for disobedience, making the berth for self-will enticing and available, and when we are determined, we can see this as an approval to do our own thing. But we can never hide from God. Turn your back, take the detour, find the boat, buy the ticket, hide away in selfish escape, and God in His mercy will still find you out.

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It is God’s enemy, the devil, who tempts us to think God’s way is too hard, our way is better, we can be king of our lives and control our environment and make our own plans and that’s what God intended anyway. If we let him, he takes over our thought processes and resolve and makes a mess of our walk. But it is the Spirit of God Who enables us not only to see the long view as He sees, but to have the strength to say no to sin and yes to God’s ways. It is the Spirit Who reminds us of His true promises and sows them into our minds for quick reference. It is the Lord Himself Who supplies grace and strength to turn from our flesh and say yes to His Ninevahs, as hard as the assignment is. (Luke 4:1-12; John 14:26; 16:13; Titus 2:11-12)

In what areas of my life: habits, fantasies, language, expenditures, entertainments, have I crossed my arms and said, “Stay out!”? Are there specific things God is calling me to do that I resist because they will require too much time and effort, because I prefer ease and comfort, because those He wants me ministering to are not the ones I would prefer? Where are my hideaways of attempted escape so I can shut off God’s voice and heed my own without interruption? Thankfully, in irresistible mercy, He will pursue me and provide the way to return to Him and His path. Will I take it? (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Good Father, identify my bents of clear rebellion against Your word, and replace them with a willing delight to obey. Pull me out of my Tarshishes, push me to Your Ninevahs, and stretch me to do Your will.

Pull it Up, Clean it Off, Keep it Out!

“Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and… be renewed in the spirit of your minds. Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth… Do not sin;.. give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear… Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” “Put to death what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. You must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Ephesians 4:22-29,31-32; Colossians 3:5,8-10

The difference between a strong and useful ladder and a sturdy but useless one is where it is kept. It is imperative around salt water to keep metal up and out for it to stay clean. A dock ladder crusted with oyster shells and barnacles invites slashed feet, and likely will not fulfill its purpose. It takes hours of determination and hard work, along with a good set of tools and gloves, to chisel away at a the foreign, concrete-like clingers on a ladder left in the water too long.

Isn’t this a vivid picture of our lives? We were made to be conformed to Christ Jesus. When we immerse ourselves and remain in the world’s liquid without the respite of fresh air, we gather a growing crust of unsavory language, worldly thinking, and self-centered motivations. Personal rights and petty irritations cling to our mindset, and over time these attitudes and practices are almost impossible to chisel out. Submerged in the darkness, without coming up for regular cleansing with pure living water, and remaining in the light, our hearts grow hard. Barnacles of resentment, self-focus, sensual indulgences collect one on top of another until our created identity can hardly be recognized, and our effectiveness as God’s ambassadors decays. (Romans 8:29-30)

Where have I grown callous to sin? From what default habits of judgment or favoritism, or choices of entertainment, or creeping roots of bitterness, must I extricate myself in order to be filled with the Spirit? Once I repent and yield to God’s chisel, how accountable am I to staying clean? With what new shine am I replacing the old crust?

Good Father, pull me up out of complacency over ungodliness, cleanse me, and renew me day by day. May my life be a conduit for others to rise up to behold and love You.

The Push and Pull of Worship

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” “Praise the LordPraise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Psalm 95:6; 145:1-3; 150:1-2,6; Revelation 4:11

I watched silver fish jump this morning, their flat sides glistening along high and wide arcs in the early sun. One was so high I thought it had dropped from above. The merriment was a lovely combination of the happy exertion of these limbless creatures high into their ‘other world,’ and the pull of a mighty, powerful Creator Who, by His very worthiness, draws His creatures to worship.

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Our strong and gracious God is a fire, drawing us to His light; His love is a magnet, pulling us to press close. When we, swimming in our normal and humdrum routines, recognize His magnificence, His transcendence on the outskirts of everyday living, holy desire compels us to rise up, to jump out of our world to exalt Him. His Spirit awakens yearning to absorb His light, taste His goodness, and relish His favor. His very greatness is a pull on us to worship, and our innate longing to know and understand Him, because eternity has been planted in our hearts, responds in supernatural expression of exultation in the divine. (Psalm 34:8; Ecclesiastes 3:11)

O soul, do you feel His pull? Can and will you rise? Are you stuck fast in drudgery with cataract eyes and over-stuffed senses, or will you exert your will to lift high God’s name and glory?

Though in our day-to-day we do not see the physical Jesus, we know Him by faith, and believe He is present. We see His hand working His designs in relationships, infirmities, changes of heart. When we love Him, His constant abiding fills us with inexpressible joy that cannot be contained, and it spills out in praise. While our troubles may pull us down and threaten to drown, the Sovereign’s lift is stronger; we experience His victory when we push through the surface of our circumstances, our pain, to worship. Our act of the will connects with the Almighty in incomparable union and gladness and expression of His glory. (Psalm 16:11; 1 Peter 1:8)

My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being!” Psalm 108:1

Resplendent King, You have made me to know You and Your mighty works. May I ever rise to praise You, leaving behind all that pulls and pollutes to exult in Your presence. May the joy of my salvation be contagious. (Psalm 139:14)

 

All in a Family

Jesus… would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them, ‘My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.'” “Now Thomas, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’” John 7:1-6; 20:24-25

There are several instructive vignettes in Jesus’s life with His siblings and disciples that pull back the curtain on family dynamics. Jesus’s own brothers didn’t initially understand or believe in Him. Peter was impulsive, owning great faith, an often-uncontrolled tongue, and always a strong opinion. John knew Jesus loved him, but he and brother James, nick-named “sons of thunder,” craved positions of esteem, an ambition likely planted by their mother, who thought they were so entitled. Thomas waffled between bold comrade and doubting skeptic, devil’s advocate. What I love about Jesus is that He loved every one of them well, and spoke and ministered to each according to his specific personality, weakness, need for growth, correction, and affection. (Matthew 16:16-17,21-23; 20:20-24; Mark 3:17; 10:35-41; John 11:16; 13:23)

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Whether related or not, there are people among whom we live, work, and worship, with whom we are bonded by God’s omniscient plan and Holy Spirit. In His creative mastery and wisdom, God intends the varied blessings and challenges in these relationships to display His beauty and develop our unique personalities and character, to teach us Christ-likeness in our thinking and doing. (Philippians 2:2-7)

What prevents our loving well those in the family God has given us? An air of superiority and knowing best, of disdain for another’s choices or political views, of impatience for a loved one’s maturing? Jesus has covered my multitude of sins, and when I love others  through Him, His love does the same– covering their sins I would otherwise dwell on, and sins against me that would otherwise foster hurt or bitterness. In a family, our bond of fidelity and love should override lesser things and free us to pursue common purpose and sanctification. (1 Peter 4:8)

Am I willing to disregard others’ weaknesses and quirks and chafing, and rather, try to understand them? Petty irritations focus on me, compassion on the other. Will I be bold enough to lay aside a healthy dose of my preferences and tastes and desires to pour out blessing and encouragement? Can I deliberately stop letting certain things get under my skin, and instead remember Jesus died for every flaw and bit of fickle, and extend His grace? Can I set aside my agenda to listen attentively, and respond with mercy, kindness, and affirmation?

Lord, help me love my beloved family better. May I set aside self to build up and bless Your people.