PSALMS OF ASCENT: A Grateful Discontent  Psalm 120

This morning we’re starting a new series called “The Psalms of Ascent.”  When Ryan came to me, I said, “Man, Ryan, that’s pretty courageous of you to ask me to have the first message for this series.  Thank you for sharing that.”  Then I read the psalm he asked me to preach on and I said, “Oh yeah, thanks a lot, Ryan!”  We’re all going to read it together.  Let’s read Psalm 120 together:  In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.  What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue?  A warrior’s sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree!  Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!  Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace.  I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!  {I didn’t hear any amens on that!}

I go to Ryan and asked him, “Where do you want me to go with this psalm?”  He doesn’t tell us how we have to preach but we discussed it together.  Where I want to go with this psalm right off the bat is go to God, because I think we’re going to need His help as we look at this psalm.  So let’s bow our heads in a word of prayer.  Our dear heavenly Father, what an amazing God you are!  I thank you that you’re here.  I thank you that your Spirit is here reminding us of your truths and your teaching.  Lord, I ask that you will make this psalm come alive to us, because right now it seems like a distant thing.  Lord, would you infuse it with your presence and Jesus, thank you so much, because of your work we’re able to come together now like this.  We love you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  May you be lifted high and glorified.  I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

As I was thinking through this and trying to find some ways to identify with the psalmist, or writer of the psalm, there was a story in my life that happened back in high school.  I have to preface this by saying I’m kind of a wus when it comes to violence.  We saw how the psalmist was struggling with being in a violent context.  I’m kind of a wus like that.  I never got into fighting.  I do remember that in my senior year toward the end of the football season…..I was a football player, can you believe that?  One day we came in from practice.  It was cold, muddy, mid-November.  We had done terrible.  We come in there… locker was here….on this side was my friend Don and on this side was a fella named Charlie.  I could tell that tensions were rising, but I didn’t know anything about the circumstances.  I was taking off my shoulder pads, my jersey and I was working on my shoes, these cleats, and all of a sudden there was this major fight going on over my head!  Charlie had jumped on the bench, jumped over me, grabbed Don, pushed him into the locker.  Don fought back and I’m right there in the middle of this thing, so I take off my shoe and start batting them on their heads, trying to break these two stupid dudes up.  At the time it seemed like a long fight.  It was probably 12 seconds, if that.  Some other guys came over and we were able to break them up.  The coach came in and raked them over the coals.  I could never quite shake that.  That sound of flesh punching flesh.  That wet sound.  It still bothers me!  I felt trapped! There was my locker….there’s Don….there’s Charlie.  I went to the coach and asked for a different locker.  I never got it.  Actually, Don and Charlie got to be on speaking terms.  Sometimes it takes a good fight to be able to talk.  I was still frustrated and angry!  I felt trapped in that situation.  I can remember thinking, “I can’t wait until I go to college next year and get out of this town!”

I think the psalmist is kind of caught in a similar situation.  I think he’s feeling trapped, he’s feeling closed in.  I think that because it may not jump out, but that first verse that says:  In my distress…  That word, distress, comes from a root word that means “narrow,” that means “confined,” that means “closed in.”  I always get the picture that the psalmist is feeling like the walls of his life are beginning to close in on him.  He’s frustrated because of the lying and deception around him.  He’s frustrated because of the violent conditions of his society that’s there.  I like how The Message says it:  Deliver me from the liars, God!  They smile so sweetly but they lie through their teeth.  That gives you a little bit of flavor about what this writer’s going through.   I don’t know if these were gossips talking behind his back.  I don’t know if he was someone who had kind of entered into an agreement with some people and then when he turned his back, they had no intention of following through.  I’m not sure what it was, we don’t know the circumstances, we just know he was ticked.  I look at this ‘they smile sweetly,’ and I have to admit that I don’t have to go very far to think about some sweetly smiling individuals.  Deliver me from….from the advertisers that put these products up on the TV and say, “If you just try this product, you’ll turn out like this hunky model.  Dan, you may even have hair!”  Deliver me from lawyers who get on TV and say, “Hey, you can get rich quick by just suing the pants off everybody around.”  A few weeks ago I was able to go to a conference in California.  We were flipping through the channels there and there was this lawyer I see all the time on our TV….and he was out there in California.  I was ticked.  If I said his byline, you’d all recognize him.  It bugs me.  Deliver me from politicians.  I’d better not go into that!  Deliver me from those religious celebrities that say that if you just do this, this and this and you do it my way, you’re going to please God.  You’re going to be able to go on and be assured of heaven.  Oh and by the way, 25 bucks will really help this thing continue…..     Deliver me from those who smile sweetly, but they lie through their teeth.  I can identify with the psalmist in that.

I can also identify with the psalmist when he’s talking about living in a violent type of society.  Verse 5:  Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell among the tent of Kedar!  Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace.  I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!  That’s a pretty strong statement: I’m for peace, but they’re for war.  I wanted to find out more about Meshech and Kedar so we could understand that.  {Dan puts up maps of the Middle East}  The psalmist is writing from Israel.  Meshech is on the north end of modern-day Turkey.  It’s on the shore of the Caspian Sea.  The people of Meshech…it was quite a description of these folks that I found.  They had two types of trade/commerce.  They traded in copper vessels and they traded in people.  People?  That’s right.  They would go to their neighbors and kidnap them then sell them and make lots of money.  That was their reputation.  They were a brutal people.  An interesting description I found about Meshech — they were barbaric, brutal and “they were harsh and tough people, not advisable to live with or especially not to have a conflict with!”  Well, where was Kedar?  Kedar is in Saudi Arabia in the desert.  That’s about 1000 miles in between.  It’s pretty hard for that guy to live in both neighborhoods at the same time. Kedar had a similar reputation.  They were one of the twelve tribes of Ishmael.  They were the ones that stepped into the military role for that nation.  Militarily, they were strong and swift and they were ruthless. Ruthless in the fact that when they conquered someone they would seek to intimidate them and break their will and they did it in horrible ways.  Meshech and Kedar.  It seems what the psalmist is saying is, I live in very violent times and I’m tired of it!  I don’t live near the Caspian Sea or down in Saudi Arabia, but where I live is just a violent culture.  I think we can identify with that especially as we look at this past week.

But it still brings the question where do we go with this psalm?  Come back to the psalm:   In my distress I called to the Lord…..    Distress….I just hate these liars.  I’m frustrated with these violent people.  You know, Lord, I’ve got a solution.  What will you do to them?  I think arrows are pretty good.  Or burning coals are even better.  The psalmist was pretty desperate. It reminds me of my swinging football cleats.  I was doing it with a lot of anger.  I was frustrated.  Where do we go with a psalm like this?  Especially as we’re trying to kick off a brand new series.

As I said, the series is called “Psalms of Ascent,” so we have to figure out what psalms of ascent really are. Aaron gave a very good overview of that.  As I was looking up the Psalms of Ascent and trying to see what it meant…’s 15 psalms.  Psalm 120 is the first one, so it goes to 135.  In this hymn book of the Jewish people, which is the book of Psalms, you have a little chorus book of 15 songs.  They use these on a regular occasion. People have tried to figure out what these mean—Psalms of Ascent.  Sometimes you see “songs of degree.”  One commentary I read, the author thought it meant songs at which they sang at a different key and they kept going up one key at a time.  I’m thinking, “Wow, that’s two octaves.  That’s pretty high when you get there.”  I don’t think that was it.  Some people believe it was when the Jewish people were at the temple and they went from the Court of Women to the Court of Israelites and went up 15 steps and said a psalm on every step.  That could be, that makes sense.  Songs of Degree…..some people feel it’s degrees of growth and maturation.  So it’s different steps in our discipleship life, different steps in our walk with God.  That could be, that makes sense, too.  But I’ll go back to what Aaron said:  I believe what the purpose was of these Psalms of Ascent was as the Jewish people came to Jerusalem, they would sing these psalms together.  There was a command that God had given them that three times a year every Jewish male was suppose to go to Jerusalem to celebrate a feast.  So you had these kind of pilgrimage journeys where you’d start from your village, go out to the main thoroughfare and all of the sudden you’d join others.  They’d become hundreds and they’d become thousands as they were making their way to Jerusalem.  They would recite these psalms together as they were going.  Why is it called “ascent?”  Because Jerusalem sat at the top of the Jerusalem mountains and any place in Israel you had to go UP to get to Jerusalem.

Deuteronomy 16:16 gives these festivals:  Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths.  They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.    Each one of those feasts has some significance in the redemptive history of Israel, but also in the agricultural cycle of Israel.  First we have Spring feasts.  The feasts really start with Passover.  Passover — Wonderful story about how God delivered His people from Egypt.  Passover and Unleavened Bread go together.  Passover is where they had to slaughter a lamb and put the blood on the door and then the Death Angel passed over and then they were removed from Egypt by God’s mighty hand.  But there’s a third feast that falls in that same cycle and it’s about three days after Passover.  It’s called “First Fruits.”  It marks the beginning of the barley harvest, which is the earliest harvest that the Israelites have.  What they were required to do was come with an offering that they would give to God of that first harvest.  What that signifies is that they were bringing the very first harvest that they received, they were giving it to God and trusting God that He’d take care of the weather, He’d take care of all the conditions and He would bring in more harvests after this.  In other words, they were stepping out in faith, trusting God and thanking Him.

The second are the Summer festivals.  It’s only one festival and it’s the Festival of Weeks.  It’s about 50 days or seven weeks after Passover and after First Fruits.  We know it as Pentecost, but it lines up with the wheat harvest.  They would bring an offering of the wheat harvest to God.  They came and celebrated again their gratefulness to God.

Finally, you have the Fall Festivals and there were three.  These were spread over about twenty days.  People weren’t required to come to all three festivals, but they were required to come to the last one, the Festival of Shelters/Tabernacles.  It started with the Festival of Trumpets, where trumpets would sound in the temple and it signified that we’re calling people to come to this place of worship and to come together and we’re going to deal with our sin.  That’s where you have the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur.  It wasn’t really a festival, it was more of a fast in which they would come before God as a nation and through the use of a scapegoat, God would cleanse the nation ritually of their sin.  But, five days later, that would lead to having this festive occasion called the Festival of Shelters/Tabernacles, where everybody lived in tents.  Everybody kind of remembered how God led the Israelites through the wilderness as they lived in tents.  They would also celebrate the last harvest in their agricultural cycle and they would say, “God, thank you.  You’ve brought the harvest in safely. We now have plenty as we’re getting ready for the winter rains and have to wait a long time before we can plant again.”  So there were these three festivals that they were required to come to.

So where does this psalm fit in with that?  Where does a psalm….the fellow seems so discontent, so dissatisfied. How does it fit into getting involved in a pilgrimage?  Or putting your face toward Jerusalem to go to the place where God dwells?  The more I thought about that the more I realized that when I’m really content, everything’s going hunky-dory, I’ve got it all together, I’m not going to move any place.  I begin to MOVE when my heart breaks, when I’m dissatisfied, when I’m frustrated, when I’m angry.  That’s what motivates me to start thinking, “There’s gotta be something better!  There’s gotta be something more!”  Only as we are discontent/dissatisfied—-dissatisfied with our surroundings or our circumstances—-will we long for something better, will we start movingtoward God’s best.  I wrote that on Thursday, but as I was thinking about that I realized I hate the word ‘only’ so scratch it out.  I like the statement AS we are discontent, we long for something better.  God can use any number of things to get us moving, I know that.  But I know in my own life, when I’m frustrated, when I’m discontent, when I’m dissatisfied, THAT’S when I begin to move, that’s when I begin to ask, “God, where is all this stuff you’ve promised?  Why do I live in a world that seems so violent?  Why do we lie so much?  Why? Why? Why?”  Eugene Peterson has a great quote: “The dissatisfaction, coupled with a longing for peace and truth, can set us on a pilgrim path of wholeness in God….  {And I would say that phrase, ‘wholeness in God,” is what the word ‘shalom’ or ‘peace’ really means.  We’re on a quest for shalom.}  A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, or before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace….   The first step toward God is a step away from the lies of the world.  It is a renunciation of the lies we have been told about ourselves, our neighbors, and our universe.”   It’s that opportunity we have to be able to realize the dissatisfaction, the discontentment that is welling up inside of us really can be used by God to take us further and deeper into who He wants us to be.  That’s why I think Psalm 120 has something to do with being grateful for our discontent, because it’s the beginning of getting involved in the journey.

I want to share some thoughts/observations about Psalm 120.  I go to the one verse in Psalm 120 that really jumps out at me that I think is the key to this psalm.  It’s verse 1:  In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me.   When I read this psalm a number of times, in the beginning I skipped that verse.  I don’t know why.  I kinda jumped because I was into some of the details….the arrows, the burning coal.  In my distress I called to Lord, and He answered me.  First observation, let our distress drive us to call out to God.  When I say let it drive us, that means we’ve got to acknowledge it.  That means we’ve got to call it what it is.  That’s where I think the psalmist does such a great job.  I don’t know who he is, or who she is.  The writer just lays it out there — I’m sick of this!  You may not have those confining situations that the psalmist talks about.  You may not be all upset about people gossiping.  You may not get whacked out about violence like I do.  I don’t know what it would be in your life that is making you feel trapped, where the walls seem to be closing in.  Maybe it’s a job that just keeps eking away more and more of your time and robbing you of that precious time you want to have with your family.   Maybe it’s a family that has stopped relating.  Maybe it’s the fear of raising kids in a world like this.  Maybe it’s just reading headlines.

I’ll go back to my week and share what was kind of trapping me and making me feel frustrated.  It was a sadness when I heard that Eli Wiesel passed away.  Eli Wiesel was a holocaust survivor.  He committed his life to making people aware of the holocaust, that they would not forget what took place.  The thing that was interesting to me was his death occurred right when I’m reading a book on Auschwitz, the extermination camp.  I started about a week and a half ago {it’s summertime and I should be reading some fluffy beach book}.  I’m seeing these depictions of violence, of man against man.  I’m wondering how in the world can something like that happen. What a debauchery!  Then we get the news about Dallas.  What a debauchery!  Five policeman killed trying to protect people who were upset with them.  In the process, they lose their lives.  Throughout the week, Channel Nine news had a special on the rise of heroin addiction in our community.  As Kerry and I watched those little reports every night, it was startling, it was numbing to see kids, in the prime of their life, sitting on a bike path shooting themselves with heroin and realizing that it’s going on (all over).  In the process of all this this week, I’m trying to prepare for this message and I’m sitting there frustrated and then I go to the message.  I start working on Bible verses.  Then I watch the news and I get frustrated.  Then I go back and work on….    It’s like, come on, Dan, you’re the one who’s suppose to be preaching on In my distress I called to Lord….   So I was like, oh, I should call to the Lord.  So I began to lay it out to Him and to call on Him.   Of all those things (that frustrated me this past week), I was extremely brokenhearted about the heroin addiction and I just hurt.  So I began to call out to God about that.  In the process…..I don’t know if it was a little voice, I don’t know if it was an inner conviction, but all of a sudden, I began to realize hey, I’m a man of peace and I live in a world that calls for war.  I identify somewhat with the psalmist here.  Wow!  A man of peace.  I want to say to each and every one of you that has Jesus Christ in your hearts, you are people of shalom.  You are people that God has transformed and changed from the broken flesh that we are because Jesus has reconciled us to God’s intention. Is there any wonder why we’re discontent with the world we live in??

Look at Colossians 1:19-20 — It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in , and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace {shalom} through the blood of His cross.  Jesus came to reestablish the shalom of peace that God had intended when He created this world.  He came to bring peace between sinful human beings and a holy God.  He came to bring peace/shalom between others.  He came to bring peace and shalom between ourselves as we wrestle with who we are.  I thought this was a great little quote I read this week:  “When Jesus died on the cross, He signed the peace treaty with His blood and ended for eternity the war between humanity’s sin and God’s holiness.”  He signed a peace treaty and his blood covers us.  Is it any wonder that we are dissatisfied with the broken world we live in?  I just want to encourage us not to get too content with our surroundings, but let’s be dissatisfied….

One of the things that struck me about that, too, is as I put it in the context of the Psalms of Ascent, I realized here are Jewish people who are coming together.  They’re looking towards Jerusalem, where they know the throne of God is, and they’re going to go worship together and they’re going to celebrate together and have a great time.  They’re motivated to move in that way.  But then they’re going to come back.  And they’re going to come back to the same broken places, with the same violent people and the same gossips and liars.  The Psalms of Ascent do not talk about escape.  No!  They talk about a pathway to God and then we can come back to the same place.  I think that many times in our American Christianity we have developed much more a theology of deliverance.  Whereas the rest of the world has developed a theology of endurance.  God calls us to come back, to live among the violent people, to live among the gossips, but to live with shalom, that peace that only God can bring into a broken situation.  Therefore, we go on pilgrimage to Him, but we return.

Second observation might seem obvious — Be honest about it!  When we cry out to God, be honest about it. Don’t try to cover it up with some pious language.  I don’t know how we’ve done it, but I’ve grown up in the church and know the churchianity route and I’ve learned how to pray pious prayers.  Impressive prayers.  God’s not impressed, because He knows what’s going on in my heart.  He knows if I’m spitting angry, so why not just be angry at God?  The psalmist was.  What a great example.  I think God encourages us to because He knows how He created us and He doesn’t want to see us stuff it down.  If you’re angry, be angry at God because He’s big enough to take it.  If you’re brokenhearted, be brokenhearted with God because He’ll pick you up and hold you.  Many of you know this — I am a worry-wart.  I’m a wus and a worry-wart!  God knows I worry, but you know what, when I worry I go to those things that are closing me in and I just hold them to myself and I worry. And I keep them with me instead of lifting them up to God.  Philippians 4:6-7 says:  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God {the shalom of God}, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Again, I want to show you what The Message says about this (same verse) because I love how it translates that word peace:  Don’t fret or worry.  Instead of worrying, pray. {Did you catch that? You can either worry or you can pray.  You can either worry or you can call out to God.  Worry keeps me from going to God with my distress.  I can still take my anxiety and give it to Him.}  Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.  We have to acknowledge that so we go to God in pure honesty, trusting that He will take us.

One last observation—and to me it’s a key observation coming from this verse.  God hears and God answers. God hears when we go to Him even when our verbiage is a little rough.  God hears.  And God answers.  I can’t tell you what the answer may be.  In fact, when I go to this psalm, I’m convinced, as I studied this psalm, that God’s answer to this person is not in this psalm.  Some commentators have thought the arrows and burning coals is really God’s response when the psalmist says what should they get.  Tell you the truth, that’s more my answer.  That’s like my football cleats banging somebody’s head.  I don’t think God’s answer is in this psalm.  And I think that’s a wonderful gift to us, because if his answer is in this psalm we’d say that’s gotta be our answer, too.  I think God communicates to each and every one of us, individually, uniquely, with His answers for our lives with what we are struggling with, what we feel closed in about, what seems to be hampering us from looking toward Him.  He answers us.  If we’re going to receive those answers…..we’ve got to listen.

That was one of the things I was asking myself—how do I listen better?  How do I listen period to God?  How do I tune my heart to be able to receive what He has?  There’s all kinds of ways to do it, but is there something in this psalm that can help me.  This wild psalm where he’s complaining about violence, he’s complaining about lying, he wants them to get pierced with arrows, burned with coals…   I think there is something…..I don’t think I can say IN the psalm, but OF the psalm, because this is the first psalm of the Psalms of Ascent. Therefore, I needed to step back and take a look at the context of how these people were singing it.  They’re singing it on a road to pilgrimage.  They’re headed to Jerusalem.  Then I asked myself, “I wonder what it would be like if I started everyday, during this series that we’re going to have, just reminiscing, meditating upon this festival cycle.  Would that soften my heart to God?  I wish I could tell you I got this idea two weeks ago.  It came to me on Thursday so on Friday morning I decided to do this.  Wouldn’t you know, at The Guys Must Be Crazy (early morning men’s Bible study), without me even trying, we started to do it.  Reflecting on the festivals.  The Spring festivals, Passover — Yes, the Israelites were in Egypt. Yes, the Passover lamb…the blood was put on the door, but guess what? Jesus was the perfect Passover lamb.  And Jesus himself came in and lived in this world with everything that we had, yet he sacrificed his pure self and his blood was taken and covers us. The Death Angel has no control over us any more.  We are freed from the fear of death.  We can live this life in fullness, because Jesus, our Passover Lamb, came.  We can approach Unleavened Bread and we can realize the leaven can be cleaned out of our lives, because Jesus has cleansed us.  He has done the work.  We can start this journey following Him.  First Fruits — three days later —- Jesus rose from the death he had on the cross.  He was the first fruits from among the dead and He invites us to come and join Him in his resurrection of new life.

Then we come to the Summer Festival, the Festival of Weeks, fifty days later, the Festival of Pentecost.  The Jews were celebrating how God provided the harvest for them, but we celebrate how God provided His Spirit for us.  And how his spirit comes and indwells us and we become the temple of God ourselves and every place we walk, He goes with us.  He empowers us.  He fills us with teaching and with knowledge.  Yes, Jesus is the Passover Lamb, He’s the First Fruits from the resurrection, but because of that, we now have God himself dwelling within us….   We come to the Fall Festivals and we hear those trumpets blasting, calling the people to come worship God and you know what, we can worship God EVERY day.  We don’t have to go to Jerusalem.  You don’t have to come here to South.  We can worship God everyday because His temple is within us and He calls us to come into His presence.  When we come into his presence, we realize how unclean we are.  Yeah, lying lips, violence….sure, I look at other people, but guess what, I’m whacking people in the process.  That’s that Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur — realizing that God has cleansed me because Jesus himself became the scapegoat that carried my sin out of the camp and it never came back.  And it brings me to this Festival of Tabernacles, where the Jews were looking back at when they lived in tents, but we now look forward to how God himself is going to tabernacle with us.  The day is going to come when He is going to dwell among us and there’s not going to be any separation.  When I began to mediate upon that (the Festivals), when I began to see that cycle of redemption, it filled my heart with gratitude.  It enabled me, at that point, to be able to go before God with my frustration and say, “God, I know you’ve got an answer.  I’m going to trust you for it because this is amazing.  Thank you!”

The Psalms of Ascent — I invite you to go on that journey for these next 8 to 10 weeks.  I invite you to reflect on these festivals each day and realize those Jews long, long generations ago were headed toward Jerusalem to worship God.  We can worship Him now!

I’m reminded of my locker room encounter — Don and Charlie.  Don was the first of my high school classmates to die.  He died about a year (after graduation) in Vietnam.  I got word while I was a freshman in college.  I was saddened for Don—I didn’t know if he was a follower of Christ.  It reminded me again of that fight and…..oh, Charlie.  It made me frustrated at him.  Twelve years ago, I went home to visit my mom and dad.  Mom told me Sara got married.  (Sara was probably the cutest girl in our youth group.  She sang at my wedding.  She had a beautiful voice and was a godly woman.  She had married an older gentleman and lived on a farm together.  He died of cancer.  Five years later she remarried.)  I asked mom who she married. Guess what?  She married Charlie!  My first response was, “She married Charlie??!!  What happened to Sara?”  My dad looked at me and said, “Dan, I think you should ask ‘What happened to Charlie?'”  They told me that Charlie had accepted Jesus as his savior and that he’d been transformed.  They said that Sara and Charlie were united in a wonderful marriage.  I called Charlie that night.  He sounded just like he did in high school.  I’m still picturing a guy with a vile temper and yet, he said, “Dan, it’s great to hear from you!  I gotta tell you!  I’m a follower of Jesus!”  I said, “I heard that!”  He told me the whole story.  He told me how he now worked in the youth group and would pore into kids.  In two weeks from that phone call he was going to go with a group of people to Haiti and they were going to minister together.  He said, “Dan, this is the best!  I just love what God’s doing!”  You know, in my distress, cry out to God and He answers, even when we’re not listening for that answer.  He’s still working.

Let’s pray.  Our dear heavenly Father, what an amazing God you are!  And how amazing is the gospel, the Good News.  That you came and sacrificed yourself to be our Passover Lamb, our scapegoat.  You’ve removed our sins as far as the east is from the west.  You came and dwelled within us and you call us to come and dwell with you.  What a tremendous God you are!  Lord, as we begin this journey of ascents, would you teach us from the experience of the Jewish people.  But Lord, would you teach us today, in our context, how to approach you? How to step by step ascend to your throne.  We praise you and thank you.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray this.  Amen.