Tag Archives: U2

What is a song of ascent? (the next U2 album?)

18 Dec

Image result for song of ascents logo

For years the rock band U2 has been hinting that they are going to release an album called Songs of Ascent. What might “Songs of Ascent” refer to?  Why would U2 think of that title?

As the years went by, U2 changed directions a bit, first releasing an album called Songs of Innocence, and just this month, a companion album titled Songs of Experience.  Might there by a trilogy in the works, and Songs of Ascent is forthcoming?  Time will tell.

While there is no U2 album called “Songs of Ascent,” when I first heard they were considering that title, I took interest because there are psalms of ascent in the Book of Psalms in the Bible.  I wondered how these psalms might have sparked U2 to consider an album with that title?  So what are these songs of ascent?

During Advent 2017 at Faith Church we are learning to lament, and the psalmists are guiding us.  During this third week of Advent, we are studying Psalm 126.

Here it is.  Psalm 126

A song of ascents.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
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.

What do you notice first?

That it is short?  That there is no author named?  Both true.

What I want us to focus on is its subtitle: a song of ascents.  What is that?

An ascent is an upward movement.  We ascend the stairs.  I know, we don’t normally talk like that.  It sounds kind of fancy to talk like that.  We tend to say simply, “go upstairs”.  But that is what the word “ascent” refers to, a moving upward.  In Acts 1 we read about Jesus ascending to heaven, and thus we celebrate his Ascension Day.  On that day, Jesus, we believe, physically ascended, flew through the sky, upwards, to heaven.  His disciples, we are told, looked up and watched him fly higher and higher, apparently, until they could see him no longer.  That is an ascension, a movement upward.

So why is this called a psalm of ascents?

Actually all of Psalms 120-134 have this title, “A song of Ascents”.  The Hebrew word for “ascent” could refer to stairs, and even specifically the stairs leading up to the temple.

So the title could be translated “song of the stairs.”  Scholars tell us that these songs of ascent were used in worship in the temple, maybe sung by priests standing on the stairs.  Maybe even as people were ascending those stairs to enter the temple.  Scan through Psalms 120-134 and what do you notice?  They are all very short, and thus could fit well within the short amount of time it would take for people to walk up stairs.

If that is true, that the psalms of ascent were used in temple worship, then perhaps we could say that songs of ascent are a kind of preparatory songs to help people get ready to worship.  You can envision groups of priests and worshipers singing these songs together.

But scholars also tell us that these songs of ascent were used as pilgrimage songs.  There were a couple feasts each year in which Jews made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship at the temple.  Scholars believe that the pilgrims would sing together as they journeyed on foot or on the backs of animals, on their way to the city.

Almost certainly, this group of songs of ascent was written after the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile.  That is the same time period as Psalm 85 last week.  In fact, psalm 85 and 126, as I think will be very obvious, are often grouped together because they are so similar.

Take a look at the text of the psalm again.  Read it through a couple times.  What do you notice?

My first thought when reading Psalm 126 was, “Wait…Is this a lament?  The word ‘joy’ is repeated four times.  Laughter is mentioned.  The people proclaim, ‘The Lord has done great things for us.’ How is this lament?”

Just like last week in Psalm 85, what we see in Psalm 126 is an eruption of joy because the Lord has restored their fortunes in returning some of the people of Israel from exile in Babylon back to Palestine.  But right there in the midst of joy is also lament as they realize how far they as a nation have to go in order to keep the restoration going.

So this is a lament.  Starting with our next post, we’ll take a closer look at how this song of ascent is crafted and how we can learn more about lament from this psalmist.

How to have a good relationship with money – Part 2: Be Rich Toward God – Luke 12:13-21

23 Nov

 

 

 

How is your relationship with money? I wrote this question on the welcome board in our church lobby.  We always have a question of the day, hoping to get people thinking as they walk in for worship.  As I conversed with one person yesterday, we started joking: “My relationship with money?  We don’t see each very much!”  Whether you love money, hate it, there are so many of us that are very frustrated in our relationship with money.

But here is the good news. It is possible to have a good, even great relationship with money right here, right now.

In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus told a parable about a farmer who had a killer harvest one year.  He thought with excitement that he could build bigger barns, and retire early.  He was going to live it up!  But the Lord came to him with shocking news, “Tonight you will die.  Now who will benefit from your harvest?”

The story reminds us to consider the shortness of life.  In so doing Jesus gives us the secret to having a right relationship with money. In verse 21, he leads us to consider, are we storing up things for ourselves?   Are we amassing possessions?  Or are we rich toward God?

We can be so filled with love toward God that we are not enamored by riches, possessions. When we are enamored with God, we’ll see how inferior possessions are to him.

The band U2 has a song titled Walk On that has a wonderful message about possessions in light of the suddenness and shortness of life.

What U2 is talking about is right in line with what Jesus is talking about. It is the right relationship with money. Money will be left behind. But there are riches that will not be left behind. And Jesus is saying that we should invest our lives in those riches. He says in verse 21 that we should be rich toward God.

How do we focus on being rich toward God? It is an attitude, a heart attitude that leads to action. If your attitude is right, God is glorified.  Here’s a question to ask if you’re not sure how to evaluate your attitude:

By what do I want to be remembered? If you stand before God, we should want to hear him say that we used our time talent and treasure to advance his Kingdom. Jesus does not say that being rich, amassing wealth is in and of itself wrong. What is wrong is if we amass wealth and are not also rich toward God!

So the gaining of wealth is not the issue. It is the heart.

John Wesley famously said “Earn all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can.” There is nothing wrong with being able to make a lot of money. If God has given you that gift, then by all means, amass wealth.

BUT, save it! Don’t spend it. And by “save it” Wesley did not mean what the farmer in Jesus’s story meant. The farmer planned to store his wealth away so he could have a comfortable life. But Wesley meant “do not spend it on yourself.” Instead…

GIVE all you can.

In the wonderful little book, The Treasure Principle, we read about R. G. Letourneau. In the early 1900s he made a fortune in the earth-moving business. He was a committed follower of Jesus and made the decision to give 90% of his income, he lived on 10%. And you know what he said? “As fast as I gave it away, God shoveled it right back in.”

It’s not wrong to amass wealth. If your heart is right, if you love God, amass wealth so you can be lavishly generous with it.

Plan an investment portfolio to be rich toward God.

Pay off debt, so you can be rich toward God.

As people earn more, stats have shown that they are less generous. So fight that trend and give more.

Practice a generous lifestyle. Give your time, talent, treasure.

What do your private choices tell about you? If we could display your bank account transactions on a TV show about your life, what would we learn about you? Would we be able to tell that you are being rich toward God?

If we could display your calendar on that show, what would we learn about you? Would we be able to tell that you are rich toward God?

If we could have camera footage of what happens in your home, what would we learn about you? Would we be able to tell that you are rich toward God?

Let us be a thankful people. People who are thankful remember that he is the giver of all good gifts. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that we created our wealth, that it is ours. Instead, it is God’s, and he owns it. The capabilities of your mind, your body…not yours. They are gifts given to you by God.

This past summer when a group from our church took a mission trip to Kenya, one of the phrases that we used was that we hit the geographical lottery. We Americans have hit the geographical lottery. We are so blessed here.  We have opportunity.

Why are we rich?…Paul says in 2 Cor 9:11, we are rich so we can be generous. As Jesus will say later in Luke 12:48 “To whom much is given, much is desired”

Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not rich. I can barely pay the bills, and sometimes, I can’t even pay the bills.”  I understand. My family is carrying some debt right now that bugs me to no end. I want to pay it off.

Remember that we have opportunity here in the USA. Work hard, pay off debt, so you can have more financial space to be generous. For many of us, it is our debt that is keeping us from being generous.

And perhaps, like some good friends taught us, when things are tight, that is the moment we need to show our trust in God and give. Watch him provide.   Plan your life so you are rich toward God.

Saying “NO!” to yourself

30 Aug

It is one of the hardest things to do. 

When there is chocolate peanut butter cup ice cream in our freezer, it is nearly impossible.

When U2 releases a new album, it basically IS impossible.

What is it?

Self-control. Patience.  Two of the most difficult words in the English language.  How many of you struggle with them?  Every couple weeks for the last two years I have been trolling the internet for hints and clues of when U2 is finally going to release their next album.  Why is it taking so long?  They are notoriously, maddeningly slow in releasing new stuff.  It’s looking really good (see pie chart).

Then there is the peanut butter cup ice cream, made by Turkey Hill.  I’ve had others which are good, but nothing compares to Turkey Hill’s version.  We almost need a special locking freezer to keep it from disappearing in one night, with the raging metabolisms in our house.  My wife bought some last night for our small group which is coming over tonight, and she had to give a stern warning about not touching the ice cream.  I wonder if it worked…  She had to leave the house today for a few hours, and I am at the office.  There’s no telling the power of Turkey Hill Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup ice cream.Turkey Hill Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup

So as we prepare to study self-control and patience, how about you?  Can you say “No!” to yourself?  What areas are hardest for you to have self-control and patience?

Getting to know Bono

23 Feb

U2 is my favorite band for many reasons.  I have a lot of respect for the lead singer Bono, and I would love to sit down and have a nice, long talk with him.

I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I’ve come close!  I’ve seen U2 in concert twice.  Going to those concerts was a lifelong dream come true for me.  U2 tickets are very hard to come by, and I thought it would never happen.  But a couple friends made it happen.  (Ray and Todd, if you’re reading this, let me say thanks again!)  In Denver, CO, in Nov. 2001 during the Elevation Tour my friend Ray and I were on the floor in general admission.  The next was with my wife in Philly in May 2005, during the Vertigo Tour.  There we were seated to the right rear of the stage, so close we could read the lyrics off the teleprompter.  I actually got within 20-30 feet of Bono each time.  For years before the concerts, and ever since, I’ve bought their music and videos, read the books, and followed their website.  I feel like I’ve gotten to know Bono especially well.

But here’s the rub: if I showed up at his house, and he answered the door, while I would be super-excited, I’m pretty sure he would say “I don’t know you or where you come from.”

I would say, “Yeah but, I was at your concerts.  I read your books.”

But he would say, “Sorry…I don’t know you.”

Those are hard words to hear, aren’t they?  They make me think of the classic romantic movie, where a major breakdown has happened in a relationship, and one person says “I don’t know you, anymore.” There is shock and pain involved, extreme disappointment.

Wouldn’t it be awful to have God say that to us?  Here’s the awesome news, we don’t have hear that!  There is a better way.  Want to hear about the better way?  Join us tomorrow morning at Faith Church, or wait for the podcast on Monday!