Rocks and Caves and the Arc of Everything

It was good to be back in the saddle again — this past Sunday I was afforded the opportunity to guest worship lead at a church Alyssa and I visited a few weeks back. When we visited we were both impressed by how enthusiastically the congregation sang. So I was quite excited to be invited to offer some songs for us to sing together.

By the time my tenure at New Song ended the Inland Hills band had grown to a huge number, larger than any other team I’ve led before, but this past Sunday it was just my keyboard and I and the congregation singing some of my favorite songs. I’m a bit allergic to putting on a show, it makes me break out in a particularly itchy rash of pride, so it was nice being so low-key.

We sang some hymns I’ve not sung in a long time and we sang “We Will Feast in the House of Zion”. It was particularly nice to sing “We Will Feast…” as it was a song that I sang to the NSIH band as a gift at our last rehearsal and then again sang it at my last communion service at New Song. Singing it with a new congregation reminded me of the beautiful promise that one day we in Christ will all feast together at the table prepared for us in the house of God. Time and space and distance cannot break the bind of Christ’s body and blood as we gather to eat the bread and drink the wine.

This weekend at Doxa Fellowship in Woodstock, Illinois we sang the following songs:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty – German Hymn
We Will Feast in the House of Zion – Sandra McCracken
Rock of Ages – Hymn, Augustus Toplady
How Great is Our God – Chris Tomlin
The Doxology – Hymn

Attached is a Spotify playlist with several different versions of these songs. Chance the Rapper included a version of “How Great” on his new mix-tape which I’ve added to this playlist and my arrangement of “Rock of Ages” favors the Brooks Ritter version included on the playlist.

If you enjoy any of these songs please support the artists and purchase the songs.

 

Both “Praise to the Lord,…” and “Rock of Ages” are favorite hymns and so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on both:

Rock of Ages

In Numbers 20 the Israelites, having no water because — you know — they’re taking a casual forty-year hike in the desert, bring their complaints to Moses and his brother, Aaron, “If only we had died! Why did you bring us out of Egypt where we were slaves?!?! It was so much better then!!!” And God in His lovingkindness heard their complaint and told Moses to take his staff from the presence of God and to “ask this rock to give water and it will.” But Moses in his frustration with the people and in his sin took the staff and instead of speaking to the rock, strikes it twice.

Water gushed.

The Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians 10 says that rock struck was Christ:

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

1st Corinthians 10.1-5 NIV

And David, as we read his story in the books of Samuel, was twice pursued by his enemies. First King Saul, fearing for his own power and wanting to maintain political prominence, chased David into the hills where he hid in the caves. And after his affair with Bathsheba, King David was again chased into the hills by his son Absalom who was attempting to usurp his father because of the damage wrought by David’s sin. David writes regularly in the psalms of God as a rock and his hiding place:

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;

my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.

I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”

And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Psalm 32.3-7 NIV

“Rock of Ages” is a harrowing tune, my arrangement has some well placed minor chords to accentuate the lyrics. In it we sing of our inability to rescue ourselves, our helplessness, our nakedness and frailty. In singing this classic hymn by Augusts Toplady we join our cries for help to David’s in the caves as we’re each pursued by our shared enemy of sin and we join our complaints to those of the impatient Israelites wandering in the desert.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed
be of sin, the double cure,
save from wrath and make me pure.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

The church has been singing this hymn for good portion of the last millennium, it was written about four hundred years ago in Germany and was translated into English about two hundred years after that. With the opening verse singing, “All who hear now to his temple draw near, gladly forever adore Him” this song serves as a classic call to worship though ironically is largely based on the final psalm, Psalm 150 (and 103 — but we’re gonna ignore that for the sake of the argument I’m about to make because I’m a real serious scholar).

I’ve spent that past few years majoring in the psalms, at one point reading the whole psalter every month, and as I’ve mentioned before there’s no experience or emotion left out of the Psalms. The Psalms give voice to every cry and bandages every wound.

Beyond that though the Psalms reveal to us the arc of human experience with all of its achy joints and sleepy afternoons. If you take the thousand foot view of the book you’ll see that it is divided in to five difference books (significantly not unlike the Torah’s five books) and each of those books ends with exhortation to “Praise!” And the final book in the larger book of Psalms ends with, not insignificantly, five psalms of praise. Psalm 150 existing as the praise exclamation point.

By opening with “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” we begin with a call to praise and remember Psalm 150. The Psalms include of all our cave complaints, desert grumblings, our brokenness, our frailty, our nakedness, our helplessness and yet they end in praise. The Psalms teach us that the arc of humanity is not pain to pain but praise to praise.

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Psalm 150 NIV

16427957187_bc583c3c60_o.jpg
Zion National Park 017 Rock of Ages 2pan. June 8, 2007. Peter. Some Rights Reserved.
Rocks and Caves and the Arc of Everything

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Tommy Welty!

I’m trying out a different format, the song titles and playlist are at the end. All the fun stuff first. It’s like dessert before dinner.

Next year Cubs fans! Amiright or amiright?!
Next year Cubs fans! Amiright or amiright?!

Dear Great Pumpkin,

I’m looking forward to your arrival on Halloween night. I hope you will bring me lots of presents. You must get discouraged because more people believe in Santa Claus than you. Well, let’s face it. Santa Claus has had more publicity. But being number two, perhaps you try harder. Everyone tells me you’re a fake, but I believe in you.

P.S. If you really are a fake, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

There I was Saturday night sitting in the most sincere pumpkin patch, not a single hypocritical pumpkin to be found, hoping that the Great Pumpkin would choose my patch – the sincerest pumpkin patch – to visit and give me lots of presents. But, to the shock of no one, I awoke Sunday morning without having seen the Great Pumpkin. Despite the ridicule of my friends and family I’m pretty hopeful that next year will be the year.

My favorite of the psalms is Psalm 126:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
We were like those who dream
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.

Psalm 126, a psalm of ascent

A psalm of ascent is a song that worshippers would sing as they approached the temple. It’s a road song. A song on the way. This particular psalm was written to commemorate the Jew’s exile to Babylon, when they hung their harps on the willow branches. This song remembers when they had no song.

For an exile hope can seem of no use. What’s the use in trying? Things are as bad as they’ve ever been. For 70 years, a whole generation, the Jews were exiled from their promised land to Babylon. God, through his prophet Jeremiah, told the hopeless exiles to take up shop, that they were going to be there awhile and that they should “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29.5-8 NIV)

The exiles were comissioned to make the best of a bad situation. But, what about their promised land? What about home? Like Linus in the pumpkin patch waiting on that elusive Great Pumpkin, home was a dim dream for the exiles in Babylon. Maybe next year? For 70 years they waited, and planted gardens. They sowed their sorrowful seeds, their fading hope a harvest of joy.

But the promise of Psalm 126 is that what was planted would indeed become a bountiful feast. Because this is what God does. He brought the exiles home, and what a sweet homecoming: Those who wept, now laughed. Those who were filled with sorrow, now sang joy. Those who planted in sadness, reap with glad hearts in Isarel.

This is the way of God: the poor of spirit inherit the kingdom of Heaven, those who mourn are comforted, the meek inherit the earth, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are satisfied, those who are merciful are shown mercy, the pure in heart see God, peacemakers are called His children, those persecuted for His namesake will never be destroyed. The last are first, the humble are exalted, the exiles come home.

As we lead up to Thanksgiving later this month, and – at a distance – celebrate this year’s harvest we remember that “those who go out weeping, carrying seeds to sow, will return with songs of joy, carring sheaves with them.” Psalm 126 reminds us of our former exiled state and points us forward to a future kingdom of dreaming and joy and laughter.

Photo Credit: Terri Van Grol.
Photo Credit: Terri Van Grol.

We sang a new song this Sunday based on Psalm 126, “We Will Feast In The House Of Zion” before and during communion and Terri Van Grol reminded us that: “The bounty on your [Thanksgiving] table will never compare to the bounty that was on the table during the last supper.”

We approached the communion table as exiles in our sin, wanderers on this earth. And at the table we remembered that Christ sojourns with us, that he has sown in sorrow on the cross and has harvested joy in resurrection. We remembered him as we ate the bread and drank the wine, waiting until he returns when we’ll “feast in the house of Zion, singing with our hearts restored.”

At the table, as exiles, we declared that the Lord has done great things for us and that we are glad.


The songs we sang this week were:

  • The Mighty Hand of God by Citizens & Saints
  • Open Up Our Eyes by Elevation Worship
  • We Will Feast In The House of Zion by Sandra McCraken
  • Thank You God For Saving Me by Chris Tomlin & Phil Wickham

Attached is a playlist of most of those tunes, except for the new one. Sandra McCracken has opted not to put this album on Spotify – maybe in the future, but not yet. For a limited time “We Will Feast In the House of Zion” and the album it came off, with bonus material, is available at Noisetrade where you can name your price – or download it for free. Seriously, this is one of the best albums of 2015 – easily the best worship album. It’ll make your heart happy. You’ll be angry if you don’t follow this link: Psalms, Sandra McCraken http://noisetrade.com/sandramccracken/psalms GO DOWNLOAD! FAST!

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Tommy Welty!