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Monday, February 07, 2011

Chapter One of "King Me"

Here is a sample of my latest book, "King Me." It's the entire first chapter (minus the QR Codes in the print version). You can buy "King Me" from Amazon by clicking here.

Chapter One: Jailhouse Rock

Psalm 47 (NIV)
For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.

1 Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.
2 How awesome is the LORD Most High,
the great King over all the earth!
3 He subdued nations under us,
peoples under our feet.
4 He chose our inheritance for us,
the pride of Jacob, whom he loved.
5 God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.
8 God reigns over the nations;
God is seated on his holy throne.
9 The nobles of the nations assemble
as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kings of the earth belong to God;
he is greatly exalted.

If the Kingly Psalms were a rock opera (and that’s how I like to think of them), Psalm 47 would certainly do a good job of rocking the house from the start.

“Crank up the drums. Crank out the bass. Crank up my Les Paul in your face (a quote from Sammy Hagar’s ‘There’s Only One Way to Rock.’ It’s a fun song even if it isn’t true).”

Scholars have written many things about how to read the Psalms. We will discuss some of them here. Understanding form, genre, history, poetic device, setting, tone, word structure, original language . . . they can all be helpful in our study of the scriptures, and I think it is good to pursue all those avenues.

But while there are some very helpful scholarly tools to help us understand the Psalms, I like to start by asking,

“How does it make me feel?”

“How does this song move me?”

Honestly, this is how we approach any other piece of literature or art. We take it in, examining how it moves us. And good literature should move us.

Otherwise, we call it a textbook.

The Bible is not a textbook, just something we study. It is not simply a roadmap. It is full of poetry, song, romance, intrigue, murder, deception, history, prophecy, sex, love letters, wisdom . . . the list goes on.

So read Psalm 47. How does it make you feel?

There are nations clapping.

People shouting.

Cries of joy.


There has been a victory.

Promises have come true.

There is music.

The Tower of Power horn section is there.

People are singing.

Someone is shouting out instructions like a Jazzercise© instructor.

“Sing praises!”

Someone is pointing to a King.

It’s a party.

It’s chaotic.

It’s Jailhouse Rock.

I’ve heard the Book of Psalms defined as an “instruction book” for us. Many books and devotionals have been written on how to “use” the Psalms to better your life.

Everything within me rejects that notion.

Maybe it’s because I’m a feeler. Or a songwriter. Or a poet. They all blend together.

I can’t read a Psalm like Psalm 47 and think of it as instruction manual.

It’s an invitation.

It’s a call to get on the Soul Train.

Could you imagine reading a book about “how to throw a party” and actually enjoying it?

1) Buy neato lights
2) Stock the fridge
3) Clean the house
4) Send out invitations
5) Plan some neato games

By reading that “how to” book, would you actually become a better partier?

The only way we can possibly view the book of Psalms as “instruction” is to place ourselves in the middle of the party and allow the psalmist to be our DJ.

If the psalmist is calling out dance moves, then sure, I can see it as instruction.

However, the instruction isn’t like being prescribed medicine, it’s instruction that comes by trying it on for size.

It’s not step-by-step instruction.

It’s instruction by immersion.

My wife is a great cook. In order to enjoy her food I simply have to open up my mouth and put the food inside. The experience is the lesson. If I don’t try it, I don’t enjoy it.

I need to experience her cooking in order to enjoy it. Reading her recipes, while she is a good writer, is not fun and it doesn’t fill me up.

The instruction in the Psalms is that of accepting the invitation and experiencing God’s goodness along with the blessing of unity with His people.

There is a scene that is played over and over in movies—it is a tried and true motion picture device. You can probably think of ten movies that use this same formula:

1. Somebody is depressed (usually over a guy or girl breakup).

2. The friends stand by, telling their friend to pull out of it and “cheer up” (usually with something like eating ice cream out of the carton together).

3. Then someone gets an idea to do something really crazy to shake their friend out of this state of blah (a trip to Vegas usually works).

4. Next thing you know, they blow off work and pull an all- nighter celebrating and remembering what really matters—they have each other.

The empty talk and instruction to “pull out of it” never works. It takes breaking the routine and monotony, pulling together as friends to do something a little crazy, to move on and regain focus.

Maybe the Psalms are a little like a trip to Vegas (without the hangover or the regrets).

But only if we go.

Reading the brochure doesn’t count.

Still, the Psalms are more than instruction. More than invitation.

They give permission.

To join in.

To shout.

To dance.

To laugh.

To cry.

There is a big “feeling” element to the Psalms.

My aunt Jane is a published poet and my uncle Bob is a painter. I spent a lot of time with them as I was growing up. Aunt Jane read me poetry and taught me how to write it. Uncle Bob gave me blank canvases, paint, and turpentine and coached me to make pictures. They also had a Kimball “Magic Chord” organ and a few songbooks they encouraged me to mess around with.

Auntie Jane and Uncle Bob encouraged me to perform as well—to share what I had created or learned. When family came over, they would ask me to stand on the coffee table and sing.

I remember very clearly performing Eagles’ “Best of My Love” for all my cousins and their families. It was just part of who I was and who I was becoming.

It was natural.

Doesn’t everybody sing and perform and paint and stuff?

Later in life, I found out the answer was “no.” At least, not without encouragement, freedom, and permission.

Their encouragement and permission gave me the freedom I enjoy in worship today.

As I got older, I lived with that same reckless abandon and freedom of expression my auntie and uncle fostered in me. But . . .

The church tried to beat it out of me.

Not “The” Church, but the little church I was part of with my parents for awhile.

We sang while holding hymnals, starring straight ahead, not too much volume in our voices, definitely not making up any parts or straying from what the page said, cold, monotonous . . . I’m getting shivers thinking about it.

I so badly wanted to shake things up a bit. I asked if I could play guitar to liven the mood and use my talent for the church.

I was turned down.

Guitar was an instrument of decadence to these folks. Guitars drew attention to themselves, along with a host of other instruments. There would be no guitar in The Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church of Foresthill, California.

I wonder if they ever read the Psalms.

That was my experience.

So who beat you up?

Who or what tried to steal your joy?

What made or makes you scared to engage?

There is a great deal of freedom, encouragement and permission to participate in the Psalms. You don’t have to look at the Psalms that are specifically music-centric (like Psalm 150) to see that celebration is part of the deal for the people of God. Even when instruments are not specifically mentioned (though implied since these are songs) there is a great rumble. Loudness.

Continuing with the “how it makes us feel” line of observation, let’s ask some questions, looking more closely at what and who the people (and we by invitation) are celebrating.

Psalm 47 is grouped with 93-100 as a Kingly Psalm because of similar language, tone, and so on. But here, sandwiched in between 46 and 48, it makes great sense. 46 and 48 celebrate a kingdom, a city within a kingdom and a holy place.

This place is Zion—The Holy Mountain.

This place has a King.

This King is victorious.

Over all kings and kingdoms.

Commentators point out that this imagery of a mountain, a city, and a king is metaphorical language very similar to the language used to describe the myths of the Canaanite pantheon of gods, whose chief deity was named El. In their mythology, El had a palace on a mountain, and all good things flowed from there.

The Hebrew poets may have borrowed this imagery to one-up the myths. Psalm 47 invites all nations and peoples to examine Yahweh, the great King, who rules over all.

But it’s not just an “our God can beat up your god” sentiment, though there is a bit of that in the Psalms. It is an invitation. It is what some might call evangelistic in nature. It is headline news: Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Yahweh is King. Come join the party.

Some believe this song was commissioned and composed for use in the Hebrew temple corporate worship liturgy in connection with the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). It was at one of these celebrations that King Solomon dedicated the temple in I Kings 8.

Imagine the scene. All the elders of Israel were called together along with the heads of the tribes, the priests, and the families. Thousands were there when The Ark of the Covenant was brought into the temple.

It was like one of those college frat parties where word leaks out and the next thing you hear is someone saying, “How in the world did this happen?” Where did all these cars come from?

Except, in this case, no one said, “My dad is gonna kill me.”

Dad was pleased.

God’s presence showed up like a cloud and filled the temple.

King Solomon blessed the people and prayed. He reminded them of God’s promises and what He brought them through and gave a passionate speech about the ultimate King, Yahweh.

He reminded the people that it was not about them.

The temple could not contain God.

The foreigner was welcome.

They partied for fourteen days straight.

I love the very center of the Psalm—verses 5 and 6:

God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
The Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.
Sing praises to God.
Sing praises.
Sing praises to our King.
Sing praises.

The “centers” of Psalms are important (we’ll talk more about this in chapter 2). They are like the bridge, the part you are supposed to get. They are the summary. They drive it home.

In Elvis’s rendition of “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” I have always loved the bridge:

Like a river flows surely to the sea
Darling so it goes
Some things are meant to be

The rest of the song is important. The other lyrics matter. They fill it out. They set the tone. But here, the melody breaks into a haunting minor key that stands out and grabs your attention. If you get nothing else, know that “I Can’t Help . . .” is a song about fate. Love happens. Just like water flows downhill into the sea.

And so it is with the center of Psalms like 47. If you get nothing else, in case you are wondering what this song is about . . .

Yahweh is King.

There is a party.

You are invited.

Sing. Sing. Sing. Sing.

We will see similar sentiments throughout the Kingly Psalms.

So, how does Psalm 47 make ME feel? I feel like dancing. I feel like rocking. I’m bringing my guitar. I have been invited and given permission to raise the roof. Everyone is dancing.

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