The Exclamation Points of Praise

“My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is greater than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” Psalm 108:1-5

I am a whistler and a hummer—it’s in my genes—so were my father and grandfather. There are times when my brain tunes in mid-way through stanza two of a favorite hymn, or well into a memorable song. David’s Psalm 108, though, is, word-for-word, a song of intentional praise. Whether it is sung (or spoken) with emphasis on the “is/will”s of God, or the active verbs “sing/make melody/awake/give thanks/sing praises,” every statement is deliberate, every word counts. Six exclamation points in five verses punctuate not only great resolve, but enthusiastic passion and wholeheartedness in his praise.

How hearty is my music to God? Does it involve my heart and all my being? Does my song awaken the dawn? Does it continue throughout the day?

“Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.

Take my voice and let me sing,
Always, only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.”                                                                                             Frances Havergal (1874)

May I ever exalt You, Lord, by thoughtfully and constantly voicing my thanks and praise.

Conclusion vs. Resolution

In Joshua 22, after war had ceased and Israel was settled in the Promised land, it came time for two and a half tribes, whose land was east of the Jordan but who had joined the nation to take over the land west, to return home and settle themselves. Joshua bid them adieu with hearty blessing and reminders to be careful to follow, love, cling to, and serve the LORD. Then they did something that stirred the pot–they built an imposing altar by their side of the Jordan River.

The people of Israel immediately jumped to the conclusion that they had broken faith and “the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.” They sent a delegation of tribal chiefs, led by wise Phinehas the priest. “What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar in rebellion against the Lord? Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which there came a plague upon the congregation of the Lord, that you too must turn away this day from following the Lord? And if you too rebel against the Lord today then tomorrow he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel. If the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into the Lord‘s land where the Lord‘s tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us. Only do not rebel against the Lord or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the Lord our God.” 

Albemarle Estate statue of two pouring water

Phinehas, in telling them how their decision to build their own altar was perceived, asked them questions that allowed them to explain, and to offer restoration and protection if they had fallen into wrong thinking and rebellion. His reasonable, God-directed approach and argument elicited an equally reasonable and humble ‘defense’ from them: “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith against the Lord, do not spare us today for building an altar to turn away from following the Lord. No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you. You have no portion in the Lord.’ Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.’ Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord and turn away this day from following the Lord!” Matter resolved. Phinehas declared, “The LORD is in our midst,” and the eastern tribes “called the altar Witness, ‘For,’ they said, ‘it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.’”

This account, tucked into Old Testament history, is greatly instructive for our generation of video-recordings, social media, and the easily-offended. Jumping to conclusions foments unreasonable judgment and out-of-control anger that can slide into destruction of property and reputation. Oh, to be a Phinehas!

Mighty One, God, You do know all! Every motive and action is understood by You. Guard me from jumping to wrong conclusions. Give calm reason, the ability to ask good questions, and the grace to offer peaceful resolution. “Teach me good judgment and knowledge. You are good, and You do good.” As Your agents, may Your people so be and do. (Psalm 119:66,68)

Triumphal Procession

“When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.”

The Lord’s ways are mysterious and mighty. The Exodus 14 account of God’s parting and holding back the Red Sea while Moses leads over a million Israelites through thrills my soul every time I read it. He prepares the way. He blazes forward and guards us from the enemy. His arm is mighty to save. He goes before us, He delivers. He is glorified in the salvation He gives.

Road in woods with sunlighto

 

What was an impossible obstacle to the Israelites, mighty God moved. The Egyptians thought they’d won, and they were brought to naught. When an announcement, or a diagnosis, or a painful discovery- any ‘impossible sea’- lies before us, we need not fear. God is not surprised. The Lord of Hosts goes before us, He is our rear guard. His presence  is our pillar of cloud by day and fire by night; we need only follow as He forges ahead. Ofttimes, blind to beyond, we see nothing but Him, and that is the place of sure victory.

“Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.” 2 Corinthians 2:14

God has good plans for us, and will gloriously lead us there. To trust Him is to step into His parted waters. To walk in triumphal procession is to keep our eyes on our King of kings.

Keep me marching right, left, right, left, O Victor, step in step with You.

Repeated Refrains

Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there.  And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands.  Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” Joshua 21:43-45

I love repeated refrains in hymns that emphasize at the end of each stanza’s ‘story’ the truth it illustrates or supports. “Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou, my God, wouldst die for me?” Throughout Scripture, repeated refrains of God’s good plans fulfilled are sung over and over. The resolution of Israel’s establishment in Canaan was an ‘Amen’ to all God had promised, all He had trained His people for through the Exodus from Egypt and the wanderings in Sinai, all He had instructed and Joshua had obeyed. And this settling in the land foretells the higher and better rest we will know one day, ‘that day,’ when we are with Jesus forever. The God Who calls, promises, and equips brings all to pass. The LORD gave the land, the rest, the enemies into their hands, the fulfillment of His promises.

Yosemite lake w mountain reflection in grey

Reading this passage near the end of Joshua, I cannot help but think of Revelation 21:3-7: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’  And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.'”

Great is Your faithfulness, Lord, unto Your people. Every time You do what You say You will do, You strengthen my faith and anticipation in what will be. What occurs here on earth is a beautiful reflection of all You will one day fulfill. You determine every glorious resolution, and Your constancy and fidelity to Your word inform and encourage me through my present journey. Jesus, Jesus, how I trust You! How I’ve proved You o’er and o’er! It is indeed well with my soul.

Surrounded

When I am on a stand-up board, I prefer to paddle into the wind. I can see the current in triangles of water, anticipate the movement of the waves, maneuver to cross wakes at the best angle for keeping balance. Paddling with the wind, I am often caught unaware by its force from behind, breezing along at a nice clip but shaken by the irregular swells that sneak up and wobble me. It takes more power to advance into the wind, but is actually less difficult, with every stroke directed and purposeful. I am unsettled by what I cannot anticipate or see.

Windy water

Charging ahead brings a certain rush, especially when we are following a confident, knowledgable leader, or have a clear map and destination. But do we always check on what follows us? Am I aware of the niggling doubts, the past failures, the weight of unknowns that can unsettle me from behind or drag me down?

“The LORD will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” “Fear not, for I am with you. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” “The LORD is on my side as my helper.” Isaiah 52:12; 41:10; Psalm 139:5; 118:7

What comfort there is in knowing that my God not only leads me, but surrounds me, clearing the path as I forge ahead and fending off attack from around and behind. I have only one set of eyes, but His eye is on me and He sees all. He is “the shield round about me and the lifter of my head.” (Psalm 3:3)

Lord, You are above and below me, before and behind me. May I so live, and others see, that Christ be all around me.

Taking Possession

“Then Joshua said, ‘You are a numerous people and have great power. You shall not have one allotment only, but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders. For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong. How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?'” Joshua 17:17-18; 18:3

After my father died, I bought his car from the estate. Money changed hands, it was titled in my name; I owned it. Over the following year or so, I kept discovering features I hadn’t known it possessed, and I called it my ‘Holy Spirit car.’ He is ours, indwelling us, holding power and wisdom and insight and ability that we own, yet often do not appropriate.

albemarle-estate-land-1-charlottesville.jpg

Taking possession of the Promised Land for Israel required their taking up arms, moving in, and taking over by displacing its inhabitants. For me, appropriating all that is available to me in Christ requires a putting away of selfish intention, old thought- and practice-habits that prevent the exercise of healthy ones, and taking the new land of the fullness of Christ in courageous faith.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:3,7-9,11,13-14

Lord, You train my hands for war. Fit me and fuel me for taking all things that are mine in Christ, and for living what is true. (Psalm 144:1)

Fruitful in the Land of Affliction

I love Joseph. God has imprinted much of his story on my life over the years. In Genesis 41, I am struck when he names his two sons: Manasseh (“For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house”) and Ephraim (“For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction”). We know some of his suffering from the Genesis story, but it is a factual accounting, sans complaint. We imagine more physical and emotional suffering than Joseph ever lets on; he remains steadfast and faithful.

In 42:21 his brothers mention “the distress of his soul,” and Psalm 105:17-18 reveals hewas sold as a slave. His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron.” We know he endured ridicule, cruelty, betrayal, false accusation, imprisonment, yet Joseph does not belabor his hardship. He exalts his God Who was in charge through it all, purifying his mind and renewing his spirit as He bore eternal fruit. Joseph wants his sons to bear witness to the greatness of his God.

Summer peaches

May my life be known by my eye for God and not self! Make me fruitful in the land where You have planted me, Lord. May You be my clothing, my song, my story, my countenance. In my heart’s afflictions, my inward struggles, may my “offspring”—what I produce in words, activity, service–call to mind my faithful God above all else.  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)