Christianity 201

April 30, 2020

An Angry Prayer (Psalm 139)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,

Psalm 139:19 NRSV

Well that does not sound very Christian, does it? What happened to love your neighbours? What happened to love your enemies? What about forgiveness? What about the fruit of the Spirit, namely love, peace, kindness, joy, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control? Nope, none of that seems to be here in the Psalmist’s mind. Rather, “kill the wicked.”

Is a Jesus follower supposed to just ignore verses such as these? Indeed, I sometimes read Psalm 139 at the hospital bedside, as most of Psalm 139 is very uplifting. Sometimes I forgot to end with verse 18 and carry on with “kill the wicked. . . ” It seems very jarring at the bedside of an ill person. It seems very jarring here in this otherwise beautiful Psalm. However, while “hate filled” verses such as these can feel very out of place in our lives, in fact they can be very helpful in our present circumstance. They are in the Christian Scriptures, and for good reason.

We can first recognize what this prayer is not. It is not a prayer for God to take out the people I don’t like. It is not a prayer of revenge upon people that have hurt me.

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—

Psalms 139:19 NRSV

The wicked are defined here not as people who have hurt me, but people who destroy other people as a way of life. This is a prayer for God to intervene and stop the destruction in the lives of the innocent. The bloodthirsty are further described as

those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil!

Psalms 139:20 NRSV

The “bloodthirsty” pay no attention to God, or God’s way of doing things. Having no regard for God, they have neither regard for people created in the image of God, nor regard for the laws which protect those people.

This prayer can help us pray today. In some ways we, at least in Canada, live in a very different world than the Psalmist. While disregard for God may be common among Canadians, an influential heritage of Christian ethics mixed with good doses of reason means that most Canadians could not be described as “bloodthirsty.” We do not fear for our lives near as much as the people did when Psalm 139 was written. Except perhaps we do.

While Canadians are not bloodthirsty, COVID-19 is. While Canadians are not terribly destructive, cancer is. While Canadians are generally nice people, there is nothing nice about Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or any other disease we can think of. If we are not being overly theological about it, Canadians are generally “good” people. There is nothing good about oppression and injustice. The Psalmist’s prayer can give expression to our desire for God to intervene and destroy all these bloodthirsty things in people’s lives. O that you would destroy CVOD-19, O God. We can pray for miraculous interventions. We can pray for perseverance and success for those who are working towards vaccines, cures, and justice. It is not wrong to nurture hatred for destructive elements in people’s lives.

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.

Psalms 139:21-22 NRSV

The Psalmist’s angry prayer is not a prayer for getting revenge, like the prayer I might pray upon the kids that picked on me in grade 6, as much as I might like that. This is not a way to opt out of the difficult journey of forgiveness. This is not an excuse to avoid the difficult journey of growing in love, of picking up one’s cross and following Jesus who from the cross did not pray “O that you would kill the wicked, O God,” but “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

Rather, this is a prayer for justice and mercy. Do our hearts yearn for justice and mercy for all people, across all peoples? Then we will want all people to be freed from oppression and injustice. We will want all people to be freed from disease and illness. We will want all people to have equal access to cures, treatments and vaccines. We will pray for what we want. We may even pray an angry prayer. Perhaps we who are Canadian Christians have been to nice in our prayers.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Canada (rather obvious in today’s reading) who appears here most Thursdays. His recently redesigned blog is Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone.

April 23, 2020

Grumpy Prayers: Making Space for Sorrow

by Clarke Dixon

There is an old Sunday school song I grew up with. There are different versions, but this is the one I learned:

I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!
I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!
Since Jesus Christ came in,
And cleansed my heart from sin,
I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!

This wee song was a favourite, and was often requested. I hated it. At a young age I knew Jesus, and I understood that God loved me. But I also knew I was not happy all the time. My faith has been nurtured over the years and I know God’s love better now than ever. But I’m still not happy all the time!

COVID-19 has given rise to great sorrow around the world. So many have been infected. Everyone has been affected. Even without a pandemic, many have profound sorrow in their lives, even Christians. Are we failing as Christians if we are not happy all the time?

Is there a better song that the one we began with? One which rings true to our experience? Let us remind ourselves that the Psalms are actually songs, that the Book of Psalms is a hymnbook. Let us take an example of what God’s people have sung for centuries:

I cry out to God; yes, I shout.
Oh, that God would listen to me!
When I was in deep trouble,
I searched for the Lord.
All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,
but my soul was not comforted.
I think of God, and I moan,
overwhelmed with longing for his help.

Psalm 77:1-3 NLT

“I think of God, and I moan.” Not too many Christian lyricists are coming up with lyrics like that! The Psalmist goes on;

You don’t let me sleep.
I am too distressed even to pray!
I think of the good old days,
long since ended,
when my nights were filled with joyful songs.
I search my soul and ponder the difference now.
Has the Lord rejected me forever?
Will he never again be kind to me?
Is his unfailing love gone forever?
Have his promises permanently failed?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he slammed the door on his compassion?
And I said, “This is my fate;
the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

Psalm 77:5-10 NLT

There are days where this song from the Bible rings more true for me than the Sunday school song we started with. Perhaps it does for you also.

Here is the point. If the hymn book within the Bible makes space for the expression of sorrow and frustration, we can make space for it in our own lives, in our our walk and expression of faith. Honesty before God is best. Honesty is part of genuine relationship. It would be horrible if my wife and my children only said to me what they thought I wanted to hear, in the way they thought I wanted to hear it, when they thought I wanted to hear it. What kind of relationship would that be? It would be very mechanical. Yet for many people, that is precisely what their prayers look like. Honesty in relationships is best. Honesty before God is best. If we are full of sorrow, let us pray sorrowful prayers. Perhaps Psalms like Psalm 77 can help us find the words.

There is a change tone as the song goes on:

But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
O God, your ways are holy.
Is there any god as mighty as you?
You are the God of great wonders!
You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.
By your strong arm, you redeemed your people, . . .
The earth trembled and shook.
Your road led through the sea,
your pathway through the mighty waters—
a pathway no one knew was there!
You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,
with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.

Psalm 77:11-14,18-20 NLT

Here the Psalmist looks back and remembers what God had done for the people at the exodus, how God led his people to safety like a good shepherd. That would have been a scary time also, with an Egyptian army on one side, and the Red Sea on the other. The Psalmist is thinking here of a time when God made a way, where there seemed to be no way. God helped people who were full of fear, sorrow, and frustration.

We can now remember an even greater miracle. We can think of God’s love expressed in Jesus, his birth, life, death, and resurrection. We can think of God’s love expressed through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Christ God has performed an even greater rescue than done at the Red Sea. He has rescued us from the consequence, impact and power of sin.

We are not told if the Psalmist’s sorrow eased upon reflecting on God’s power and goodness. But his sorrow was reframed. In reflecting on God’s goodness expressed in Christ, we may not become happy, but our sorrows and frustrations will be reframed. Our sorrows are one part of a much bigger, and brighter picture, a much larger, and happier, story.

In reflecting on God’s goodness expressed in Christ, we may not become happy, but our sorrows and frustrations will be reframed. Our sorrows are one part of a much bigger, and brighter picture, a much larger, and happier, story.

A doctor recently called my Dad to tell us that my Mum, who lives in a nursing home, will not be taken to the hospital if she is infected with COVID-19. That makes me sad. However, with regard to my Mum I’m already sad as she is slowly being taken from us by Alzheimer’s disease. There is no sense hiding my feelings from God. I don’t need to. He understands. He is a good and heavenly Father. He came to us in Jesus who of course was no stranger to suffering. We are not allowed to visit my Mum, but this week one of the PSW’s from the nursing home sent us a video of my Mum playing the piano. It just happened to be my favourite hymn! We began with my least favourite song, let’s finish with my favourite:

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
And has shed His own blood for my soul

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul!

“It is Well with My Soul” written by Horatio Spafford

I’m not always happy. Sometimes my prayers are grumpy. But it is well with my soul. Is it well with yours?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Canada who appears here most Thursdays. His recently redesigned blog is Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here

April 21, 2020

We Live Our Lives Both as Offended and Offender

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This is our third time visiting The Serener Bright written by Ian Graham, pastor of the church Ecclesia, located in West Trenton, New Jersey. As always, bless our contributors with some traffic by clicking the headers which appear below these introductions to read at source.

Psalm 35: Enemy Intelligence

If you’ve ever felt like the world is aligned in a conspiracy against you, Psalm 35 is for you. David doesn’t so much write as he shouts protests:

They hid their net for me without cause
    and without cause dug a pit for me,
may ruin overtake them by surprise—
    may the net they hid entangle them,
    may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.   (7-8)

For many of us, we read Psalm 35 and feel like telling David, “Look, man, you’re just having a bad day, the lady who told you you need two forms of verified ID at the DMV is not a cosmic enemy plotting alongside Satan to ruin your life.” Our modern way of naming enemies is by establishing who’s in our camp and who’s not. The people on the other side of the spectrum are the bad, nefarious people while those within our state borders are given the benefit of good faith and good intentions.

Psalm 35 affirms our suspicions that enemies are a part of life. David doesn’t call role, naming these individuals but he identifies them by their injustice and their glee when troubles befall him:

Ruthless witnesses come forward;
    they question me on things I know nothing about.
 They repay me evil for good
    and leave me like one bereaved.   (11-12)

David promises that he will delight in the Lord and rejoice in his salvation (v. 9), but these unnamed enemies glean their joy from sorrow in David’s life (v. 15). They are mockers, slanderers, engaging in the verbal pornography of gossip and secretly fist-pumping when they get a report that something ill or painful has befallen David (vv.15-16).

You may or may not be able to name people in your life who fit this description. Psalm 35 is acknowledging that this is the way of the world, a way of conflict and alienation. This leads us to the second way that Psalm 35 bears witness to us in how we are to live and move in a world fraught with enemies.

Notice how David responds to the presence of his enemies. He does not lash out in anger and righteous retribution. He goes to great length to describe his own innocence, even noting how when he got updates on those who now mock him, when he heard that they were in anguish, he mourned alongside them, as if he were grieving the loss of his own mother (vv. 13-14). We love nothing more in our society and in our stories than when a person, a people, or an entity get what’s coming to them. We say yes and amen to vindicating vengeance either by the law or other means. But David doesn’t become a vigilante for his own victimhood.

Rather, David prays to God. He acknowledges that God is his judge and deliverer. David opens with the plea:

Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me. 
Take up shield and armor;
    arise and come to my aid. 
Brandish spear and javelin
    against those who pursue me.
Say to me,
    “I am your salvation.”   (1-3)

David knows that he is imperiled because of his enemies but he also knows that only the Lord can release him from their snares. He foreshadows what the apostle Paul will instruct the Roman church to do in Romans 12vv17-19:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Jesus will tell those listening that they are not simply to refrain from vengeance, they are to love their enemies. Psalm 35 is a long way from the way Jesus will unmask our true enemies (sin and death) but it gives us a way to live in the world that is often contentious, where people wittingly and unwittingly often live as our enemies.

But in light of Jesus’ teachings, Psalm 35 leaves us with a much more haunting question. Jesus says, don’t look at the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye while ignoring that there is a 2 X 4 sticking out of your own eye (Matthew 7). Jesus compels us to reread Psalm 35 asking ourselves not simply how have we been wronged by others, but how have we, ourselves, been an enemy to others? You see, we live our lives as both offended and offender, and the witness of Jesus declares to all, there is grace for both—forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us (also, providentially, Matthew 7).

April 4, 2020

A Psalm We Need Right Now

Today we’re back with Kristen Larson who writes at Abide.Trust.Believe. This is very transparent, and very timely. Click the header below and read this at source.

My Shelter

Only God could have prepared me for the coronavirus pandemic like he has. Had I known ten years ago, five years ago, even this time last year that this world crisis would come, I would have lived in total fear and tried in my own wisdom and power to prepare.

But in the midst of planning and worrying and preparing, I would not have learned all I have about God. I would not have learned how good he is. I would not have learned how deeply he loves me. I would not have learned of his faithfulness and power. I would’ve ended up living in a panic, ultimately doing it all without him. And when the crisis came, I would not have known him.

Instead, I am living through this with anticipation for all he’s about to do, and in wonder of all the ways he’s already provided. Looking back even over the last three months, I see how he’s made me ready for this.

Over the last week and a half, since this pandemic came to the US, I keep hearing over and over again from different people the reference to Psalm 91. It seems to be the hallmark passage for this crisis. Today more than ever, it means so much to me.

My take away today is that I don’t have to live in fear of what the future holds. I just need to always, in all things, trust the Lord my God. He will direct my steps and set me on the right path.

Psalm 91 NLT

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
though ten thousand are dying around you,
these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes,
and see how the wicked are punished.
If you make the Lord your refuge,
if you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your home.
For he will order his angels
to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras;
you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!
The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honor them.
I will reward them with a long life
and give them my salvation.”


Back in January, 2011 we featured this SonicFlood song which is based on Psalm 91.


Speaking of songs which have been featured here at C201, I’ve put together a playlist of some of the ones I’ve featured here related to Good Friday (or Communion Services). It runs 90+ minutes (at the moment) and contains 21 songs. To get started with the first song, click this link.


To read Psalm 91 as a metrical psalm (poem) go to the second half of this 2014 Christianity 201 article.


For six promises from Psalm 91, go to this 2012 C201 article.

January 20, 2020

Devotions: Breaking Out Into Song(s)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is an archived article which appeared on the writer’s blog in 2016. Julie Meyer is the author of Singing the Scriptures (Chosen Books, 2018) and we were referred to her blog, Into the River.

Spontaneous Worship

For years, part of my personal devotions have been to simply open the Bible and sing the Word. I have found that it is possible to be in the most depressed state of mind – where hope is far away and frustration is knocking at the door of your heart —then I begin to sing the Word – suddenly that song – those words of life actually get inside of me and literally  begin to stir up my heart, mind and spirit to take hope in God. Spontaneous worship and singing the Word of God are powerful tools we all need in our tool belt.

David says it over and over in the Psalms. He writes with complete honesty regarding his feelings, his hopelessness, his discouragement, his despair. Then David begins to sing beyond his feelings. It’s as if this spontaneous song, this prayer that David in complete honesty is writing and singing before God – he begins to stir his heart, his emotions, his mind to remember God. He begins to sing out and write down the questions that he is feeling. He writes down & sings out the answer to the questions. Remember to hope in God. Don’t forget God!

In Psalm 42, David bring us into the whole journey. As I was reading the Matthew Henry Commentary on Psalm 42, he writes the titles do not tell us who the penman of this psalm is, but most probably it was David. And then David presented it to the ‘Sons of Korah’ to sing this song to the congregation.

David writes,

‘My heart is breaking’. He goes on to write, ‘I am deeply discouraged, yet I remember you God.‘

In this Psalm, we go on a journey with David in his spontaneous prophetic worship where he writes down every emotion and sings our every discouragement, but he does not stop in his downcast state. He also gives the answer to his discouragement.

He is writing down quite possibly what his eyes are beholding, a storm over the seas;  he sees the raging seas and the storm.

I hear the tumult of the raging seas
as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.

Possibly his emotions identified with that storm and he began to sing of the storm within his soul, his heart and his emotions. But he doesn’t just write the negative – he also – because of the spontaneous worship that he lived a life of – he began to sing the answer.

Then suddenly the Psalm begins to turn and he begins to sing the answer, bringing great hope to His soul, heart, mind and emotions.

Why am I discouraged?
Why am I so sad?
I will put my hope in God;
I will praise Him again!

David was possibly encouraging his own heart from the Torah. The Word of God that He had in his days. We have David’s songs, prayers, and cries today so we can sing the same words. They do the very same thing to our own heart, emotions, mind, and soul.

This is the powerful effect of prophetic spontaneous worship. We can simply open the Living Word of God, sing these same words, and have an encounter with Hope that will bring anyone out of the deepest despair. This is the power of singing the Word; the wonderful simplicity of just opening the Bible and beginning to sing Words that are already written down.

This Spontaneous Prophetic Worship is for everyone.

Oh Lord, make us like David!

December 30, 2019

Fearing Man More Than Fearing God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Over a year ago, I discovered a set of small gift/devotional hardcover books, Ten Minutes in the Word. There is one each for Psalms, Proverbs and John. Back in October, this one was sent to me by email. The link in the header below takes you to the publisher page where you may purchase the book.

Whom Shall I Fear?

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; He saved him out of all his troubles

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and He delivers them

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him

Fear the Lord, you His holy people, for those who fear Him lack nothing
– Psalm 34: 6-9, 11

Read Psalms 34-37

Doesn’t it seem as if being encouraged to fear God must be some sort of a typo? If God loves us and wants good things for us, then why should we fear Him? While the “fear of God” actually does suggest an apprehension of divine punishment, the fear of the Lord we are generally called to consider is a specific sense of respect, awe, and submission to God.

When we look at David’s backstory, we don’t really see this full sense of respect, awe, and submission to God. There was a time when Saul sent men to apprehend and kill David at his home. David fled through a window and Michal, David’s wife, took an idol and laid it on the bed as a decoy. When Saul’s men came for him, she said he was ill so that David might get away with a good head start.

Another time, David was expected to sit at Saul’s table for a feast, but he asked his friend Jonathan to lie to his father about David’s absence. Imprisoned, he faked insanity to gain release. David once fled from Saul to a city called Nob and lied to a priest named Ahimelech, saying Saul had commissioned him to carry out an urgent task. David requested provisions and a weapon. Ahimelech gave him some of the consecrated bread and the sword David had taken from Goliath. When Saul heard of the favor David had received in Nob, he commanded that eighty-four priests, including Ahimelech, be executed. Not only the priests, but also every man, woman, and child. David later acknowledged his deception was indeed costly, as he was morally responsible for the massacre at Nob.

During this time, David approached all his problems in a down-to-earth and practical way, and deception and violence became his way of dealing with his fear. It seemed acceptable and made perfect sense if it was done to preserve his life and help make him feel safe and secure.

However, in Psalm 34 we see David recognizing that his biggest problem was that he feared man in these situations more than he feared God. In other psalms of David, we see him encourage us not to fret about the prosperity of the wicked, but to remember their soon and sure destruction. And he calls us to focus on all the good and victory God has in store for those who trust Him.

You might not resort to deception and violence, but do you often find yourself focusing on what others have done or might do to you or what might happen? Do you try your best to run or hide, but continue to worry and fret? If so, you might not be living with a full sense of respect, awe, and submission to God. Endeavor to remain loyal and patiently leave the situation with God.

Lord, search my heart and show me all the ways I fear others and fear my circumstances more than I trust in You Remind me again and again how big You are and how small and weak my afflictions are in comparison to Your power and strength Teach me to diligently follow Your ways and believe You when You say You will come to my rescue every single time.

No matter how bleak it may look right now, trust it will all be well for those who fear the Lord.


 

September 15, 2019

Worship Moments in Creation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Today I went back for a third visit with a writer we’ve used here before only to find the blog no longer active. I decided to pursue it further however, and came up with one of the original posts from 2012 that I felt would fit well here. Jonathan Parrish wrote for six years at Walking With Christ Daily; click the header below to visit the site. The same creation which inspires our worship is part of the general revelation of God that leaves the unrepentant without excuse.

Creation Proclaims: Psalms 19:1-6

Before you read this, I want you to take a moment to think of a place you’ve been where you were just awe-inspired by Creation. That place for me is the Grand Canyon. All I used to say about it was that it was just a giant hole in the ground, but when I stood there on the edge looking over the expanse of this creation, I saw God. God had created this giant, amazing, beautiful hole in the middle of the desert. I was humbled in my heart by the idea of God’s majesty and power and how He had spoken it into existence as stated in the first chapter of Genesis.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
(Psalm 19:1-6 ESV)

Of all the books of the Old Testament, the book of Psalms represents the faith of the Lord’s followers. The psalms are Holy Spirit-inspired responses of the human heart to God’s will and revelation. David becomes inspired and proclaims that the heavens declare the glory of God. David goes on to say that Creation is always proclaiming the existence of God and that He rules over it. Though it isn’t audibly heard, its message extends to all the ends of the earth, to every nation and people, proclaiming the Glory of God.

As Christians, we see the night sky full of stars, the sunrise over the horizon, and the sunset in the west, but do we really think of God when witnessing such beauty? Do we praise God for His creation and glorify His name? Are we humbled in our hearts by such an awesome God or do we just snap a photo and walk away?

Believers know the truth in these vast arrays of God’s creation. However, for non-believers, “they are without excuse” as Romans 1:18 explains:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
(Romans 1:18-20 ESV)

Paul exclaims here that God is revealed in Creation and that humanity suppresses the truth because of our unrighteousness. Because of this, we have no excuse not to recognize the truth in Creation. So when a non-believer stands before God and says he never heard the truth, he will have no excuse because everything had been already revealed to him.

In Psalms 19, David talks about the sun and how it rises and sets each day. It’s seen by all creation and is yet another instrument aiding in the glorification of God. Did you know if the earth was closer to the sun, we would not be able to survive because the planet would burn. If we were back farther from the sun the planet would be too cold to support life? God placed us perfectly in space so we could survive and live to glorify Him..

When you as a Christian think of Creation, do you think of God, or is it just some cool thing? Do you feel humbled by the awesomeness of God who created the universe in six days? Do you realize that God created all this knowing He would have to send His Son into the world to die on a cross for our sins?

 

June 14, 2019

Faith Enough to Trust

We’re back again with David Kitz at I Love the Psalms. David has served as an ordained minister with the Foursquare Gospel Church of Canada. For several years now, he has toured across Canada and into the United States with a variety of one man plays for both children and adults. For further information visit: http://www.davidkitz.ca/

Grown-up Faith or Childlike Faith?

Reading: Psalm 78
(Verses 17-22)
But they continued to sin against him,
rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High.
They willfully put God to the test
by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God;
they said, “Can God really
spread a table in the wilderness?
True, he struck the rock,
and water gushed out,
streams flowed abundantly,
but can he also give us bread?
Can he supply meat for his people?”
When the Lord heard them, he was furious;
his fire broke out against Jacob,
and his wrath rose against Israel,
for they did not believe in God
or trust in his deliverance
(NIV).

Reflection
Psalm 78 is largely an indictment against the people of Israel for their lack of faith and their rebellious ways. As the psalmist says, They willfully put God to the test.

As a child I recall reading the entire book of Exodus and thinking to myself, “Wow, these people sure are dumb. How could they see God’s amazing miracles and then a few days later grumble, complain and doubt that the LORD would help them? These people are real losers!”

Then I grew up and had a family of my own. At times I saw amazing miracles and God’s supernatural provision. But guess what? When the next big difficulty arose, I found myself doubting that God would come through. I complained about the difficulty I was in and acted just like the people of Israel in the wilderness.

Oops! I thought I was different. I thought I was smarter than those spiritual dullards in the Old Testament. In reality my grownup faith was much weaker than my childhood faith. When real testing and temptation came, I was and still am, as susceptible to unbelief as any of the wandering Israelites in the wilderness. Faith is a gift from God—a wonder-filled gift that carries us through the hard times.

The indictment against Israel is that they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance. Do I truly believe in God and trust in his deliverance? Is my faith more than a creedal statement? Does it have legs and wings to carry me through the toughest situation? Often I am more like the rebellious children of Israel than I would like to admit. How about you?

Response: LORD God, I humbly ask you for the gift of faith—faith to sustain me through the tough times ahead. You are my help, my salvation and my deliverer. I praise you for your faithfulness. Amen.

Your Turn: Do you have grown-up faith or childlike faith? Which is better?

 

May 12, 2019

A Worship Sunday Trio

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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First, from the blog Alicia J’s Space, this repost of Psalm 112 in the CEV. (Click the link for the audio of the KJV.)

Psalm 112 Contemporary English Version (CEV)🕊

God Blesses His Worshipers🕊

112:1 Shout praises to the Lord!
    The Lord blesses everyone
    who worships him and gladly
    obeys his teachings.
Their descendants will have
    great power in the land,
    because the Lord blesses
    all who do right.
They will get rich and prosper
    and will always be remembered
    for their fairness.
They will be so kind
    and merciful and good,
that they will be a light
in the dark
    for others
    who do the right thing.

Life will go well for those
who freely lend
    and are honest in business.
They won’t ever be troubled,
    and the kind things they do
    will never be forgotten.
Bad news won’t bother them;
    they have decided
    to trust the Lord.
They are dependable
    and not afraid,
    and they will live to see
    their enemies defeated.
They will always be remembered
    and greatly praised,
    because they were kind
    and freely gave to the poor.
10 When evil people see this,
    they angrily bite their tongues
    and disappear.
They will never get
    what they really want.🕊


From the newsletter of popular Christian author Frank Viola, a reminder that we need to cleanse ourselves before we come to God in worship:

When Jesus seems distant

When Jesus seems distant, the antidote is not to run away from Him. Ignore Him. Or throw your hands up and decide to become a practical atheist.

It’s to act as if He’s near. That’s called faith. You can’t see Him, but you believe that He is with you (as He promised) and act accordingly.

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6

Now if you’re tolerating a particular sin in your life, drawing near to God means dealing with that sin and eliminating it from your life by the power of the Holy Spirit. (I’ve explained how elsewhere.)

This is how James puts it:

“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:8-10


In light of what Frank wrote, we end today’s trio of articles with this piece from John Curtis at the Exchange Ministry Blog.

Crucifying the Flesh

Galatians 5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Observation:

In his defense of salvation by faith and not works, it was important to cite that salvation by faith is not a prescription for an unbridled lifestyle with a goal of fulfilling every base passion and desire.  Paul made a list of behaviors that are inconsistent with Kingdom living – sinful practices that his critics would identify easily from the Law of Moses.  And yet they were practices that they also indulged in, which Paul knew from his earlier life.

Contrasting those were the nine-fold fruits of the Holy Spirit.  They didn’t just contrast behavior – they contrasted behavior with attitude.  And then came the punch line above.  It is a crucifixion of passions and desires that the believer does.  THAT is the action that overcomes all the foul outworking of the flesh.  So sin is cut off at inception.  It is not allowed to fester into action since its core – the flesh, that which gratifies but does not satisfy – is to be nailed to the cross to die a slow death.

And a slow death it is, for long have people learned to lean into passions and desires, to coddle and entertain like toys.  These diversions are to be crucified by the believer, put on open display where they were formerly covered as they achieved their clandestine destruction.  This is the stuff of testimony, the glory of overcoming.  For God has so saved his children that they arm themselves with battle gear that they wield as guided tactically and strategically.  But the core work is that of replaced passion.

Application:

How does my group of flesh toys look on the cross?  Is it growing in number?  Am I leaving it there?  And it’s not just deeds I put up there, but the passions and desires that produced them.  Are those seen on the cross as well?  Have I crucified selfishness, malice, pride and anger?  Again, not just angry deeds, but anger.  I must concede it is an ongoing task.  Let me not be discouraged by the tense of the verb – “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified…” – for certainly there are passions and desires that are well-crucified and no longer reign in my heart.  And let me not lose heart in the battle against learned responses – for no one comes to Christ without a former straying from the truth.

Also, no one who would serve Christ in this world is immune from temptation.  Only let me identify such a lure by its core desire – what is it that would draw me down?  What is lacking?  What is being falsely promised?  Why is this passion so alluring to me?  Those questions deal less with the action of sin than they do with its intent.  For it is that intent that brings out the crucifying hammer in me.  Finding it, rooting it out, making its lies an open display.  THAT is the work of crucifying the flesh, for when I allow the Spirit I do that, it is a solid work of redemption.  May it be my regular and progressive spiritual exercise.

Prayer:

Father, it is your work of grace that brings me to awe and wonder.  Continue your work in me for I open myself to you.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

December 12, 2018

Writing Out The Psalms in Your Own Words

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.  – Psalm 42:1 NIV

Today we’re returning to Aaron Smith, whose writing we featured here several years ago. His website is also the name of his new book, Cultural Savage. The publisher blurb describes it as “a collection of essays about mental illness and Christianity and where the two intersect. Sometimes they crash into each other, and other times they coexist peacefully. When the two collide, it manifests as the Church characterizing mental illness as a spiritual problem.

Have you ever written out a passage of scripture in your own words? It can be a tremendously helpful exercise, particularly as you question your own choices of interpretation and ask yourself, ‘Is that what the text actually says?’

In this exercise, Aaron also mentions Jesus, who the Psalmist did not know by name, though in the Messianic Psalms we have no doubt He was known prophetically.

Retelling Psalm 42

Something in me pants for you oh Jesus.
Somehow, just like a beast of the forest craving and clawing for water in the heat of drought, my innards thirst for you
the living God.

 So, someone, please tell me: when can I see this face of Jesus that I long for? Instead, I feast on tears, and sorrow fills my chest
as the refrain ” You have no God ” rings in my ears.

But I remember, even as my bone’s ache. 
I was with the congregation. Leading the music
bringing out songs of thankfulness for blessings 
and pure happiness at singing to you.

 So why, O heart, are you fallen?
Why this disturbance, this restlessness within?
Can I hope in Jesus? Can I again praise him?
Is Jesus my help? Is Jesus my God?

This restlessness brings remembrance though.
Remembrance for all the places you’ve led me, where we have walked.
Depth echo’s depth.
The echoes of wave after wave have swept me into the undertow.
See, love that can’t fail drips from Jesus’ hand
and songs carrying hope put me to sleep.

 Still, I say to this God, this foundation, this one stable thing in my life:
Why? Why? Why have you forgotten about me? Where are you?
Here I am weeping as I walk because all I see are injustices.
The rich getting richer, oppressing those under their feet.
And when I say God will overturn these tables, they laugh.
“Where’s your God? “

Oh, heart, why so fallen?
Why this disturbance, this restlessness within?
I will hope in Jesus, and I will again praise his justice.
He is the help of we the oppressed.
He is our God.
The living God.

 

November 22, 2018

Most Worthy of Praise (Psalm 96)

by Clarke Dixon

Listen to the 33-minute sermon on which this article is based at this link.

What do we pursue with all our strength? What is of such great relevance to our lives that we invest heavily into it? Crime gives us an indication of what people pursue. The three big pursuits of crime are money, sex, and power. People go to great lengths for the sake of these three things. That might not describe us, but these three may point to things we invest heavily into, such as wealth and security, relationships and intimacy, validation and influence.

Of the roughly 19,000 people in our town, how many are pursuing wealth, relationships and influence? Of the roughly 19,000 people in our town, how many are pursuing God? How many see such a great relevance of God to their lives that they are investing in a relationship with Him?

Perhaps those who are pursuing other things are right? Perhaps wealth is more effective, human relationships are more important, and influence is more useful to daily life? Maybe security feels more necessary, intimacy more satisfying, and validation more important than figuring out the God question? As we consider Psalm 96, we quickly discover that the Psalmist could not agree:

Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!
He is to be feared above all gods. Psalms 96:4 (NLT)

We might not think we have gods, but things like wealth, relationships, and influence become gods when they sit at the centre of our lives. The Psalmist would have us know that nothing we invest our lives in can compare to God.

The gods of other nations are mere idols,
but the Lord made the heavens! Psalms 96:5

The Lord is the Creator. How can anything compare with that?! We are often made to feel that churches cannot compete with sports and entertainment for the attention of people. Maybe so, however, nothing can compare with God for importance to people. God is most worthy of praise! The Psalmist goes on:

6 Honor and majesty surround him;
strength and beauty fill his sanctuary.
7 O nations of the world, recognize the Lord;
recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong.
8 Give to the Lord the glory he deserves!
Bring your offering and come into his courts.
9 Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor.
Let all the earth tremble before him. Psalms 96:6-9

God is most worthy of praise! Some would translate verse 9 with “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” While there are ugly sides to money, sex, and power, there is nothing ugly about God or His holiness.

The Psalmist continues,

10 Tell all the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
The world stands firm and cannot be shaken.
He will judge all peoples fairly.
11 Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice!
Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
12 Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
Let the trees of the forest sing for joy
13 before the Lord, for he is coming!
He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with justice,
and the nations with his truth. Psalms 96:10-13

God is the ruler who judges “all peoples fairly.” We can take note of the great joy evident in Creation at the thought of the coming king. God is a good king, the kind of king you long for. He is not the kind of king that causes you to run for hiding. God is not the kind of king whose presence you can’t stand the thought of. God is the kind of king you celebrate! God is most worthy of praise!

Thinking of the judgement of the coming king, those of us who are Christians might immediately jump to thinking of the final judgement at the arrival of Christ. The earlier singers of the Psalm would not have thought in those terms. They would have been thinking of freedom for their tiny nation from all their big oppressive enemies. God will judge their enemies “with his truth”. God is most worthy of praise!

If the earlier readers of this Psalm could see how much better the Creator was than all other gods they might worship, then in our day we can see even more clearly that God is most worthy of praise. We have an even better picture of God. We have even more reason to celebrate his presence. We have the benefit of God revealing himself in Jesus. We have the presence of the Holy Spirit. We celebrate the once for all work of Christ in breaking the penalty of sin. We celebrate the ongoing work of the Spirit in breaking the power of sin. While rescue from oppression as spoken about in Psalm 96 is important, God goes further to rescue us from the worst oppressor there has ever been; the evil one himself.

We pursue so many things, investing in them with vigour and even excitement. They are not all bad things. However, we may not pursue God with as great a passion as we pursue these other things in life. I forget the exact words, but Timothy Keller tweeted something like “the things you daydream about, can become the things you worship.” It can be very subtle, but God slips from the centre, and good things take His place. However, the good things, no matter how good, are are never a substitute for God. Our Lord is “most worthy of praise!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

All Scripture references are taken from the NLT

August 11, 2018

The Psalms as Narrative

This one involves a lengthier introduction.

It started a few days ago when I was composing a book review where I noted that while there has been much emphasis lately on the importance of respecting the various genres of scripture and reading each according to its unique style; the author of the book I was reviewing “suggests that they are all narrative, even to the point of labeling the poetic books as ‘wisdom stories,’ existing alongside ‘war stories,’ ‘deliverance stories,’ ‘gospel stories,’ ‘origin stories,’ and yes, in a category by themselves, ‘fish stories.'”

Unless it’s one of the Psalms which contains historical narrative such as #137:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
3a for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;

…I personally don’t tend to think of the dramatic or narrative elements.

So when our son Aaron posted this to his blog earlier this week, I needed to read it twice to see the movement from micro-narrative to macro-narrative.

To make it easier for you to do, I’ve added a few sentences in italics below. It’s also helpful to ask yourself, “What is my present vantage point in this narrative?”

You can also click the title below to read the original.


Psalm 23 (CEV) 1 The Lord is my shepherd.
    I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
        he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
    they protect me.

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
    my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
    will pursue me all the days of my life,
    and I will live in the Lord’s house
    as long as I live.

The Shadow of the Valley of Text

by Aaron Wilkinson

I’ve been reading about Hebrew poetry lately and I’ve realized that I may have been reading Psalm 23 all wrong.

Over-familiarity is our worst friend when we’re trying to develop a deep understanding of a text. I’ve heard the words “The Lord is my shepherd” and everything that comes after so many times that I’ve come to take it for granted. It becomes an absent-minded recitation. While I think all of us who grew up in the church have a grasp for the basic ethos of the poem, I’m discovering that Hebrew poetry demands that the reader slow down to really unpack the parallel images and words that characterize it.

I’ll assume you’ve read or heard or sung this poem before. Shepherd, Green Pastures, Quiet Waters. This part makes me feel nice. Although the line “I shall not want” feels more like a wish than an assertion. When I see my friends getting promoted or engaged, I definitely do want. I could say a lot about how profoundly rebellious this statement is against an ambitious and consumeristic culture, but that’s not my main point.

The tranquil tapestry of this mellow meadow ends with this.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

And then…

New paragraph. A gap in the formatting of the text! Now we’re going to talk about a new idea. If this were a film, we might put a scene transition here.

The camera pulls back from a tight close-up to a wider shot.

The tone is still optimistic but we’re no longer in that prior pastoral paradise.

But were we ever?

The way that the text is usually formatted suggests a shift that I’m not sure is meant to be there. Verse 3 and Verse 4 both use language of journeying. Being lead down the path and walking through the valley. Verses 1 and 2 show us images of stillness. Verses 3 and 4 get us moving. Unless the editors of the text are using the gap between the verses to symbolize a valley between hills, I think this break can be misleading.

Picture this: our scene opens on a young lamb, grazing on grass and sipping from a stream. We then see the lamb approached by a strong but gentle shepherd who signals to the lamb with his staff that it’s time to get moving. The lamb hops up and begins following the shepherd. As they go, they walk. They don’t run. They don’t hide. They walk.

The camera pulls back again.

Zoom out and we see that the two are, in fact, in a dark valley. Clouds thunder overhead and predators growl in the distance. Abandoned arrows, slash marks from swords, and spots of blood speak of some battle that was fought here recently. Warriors may still be crouching around the next bend. And there they walk, the sheep and the shepherd. Stopping for a break and a snack every now and then.

The green fields with quiet waters and the valley of the shadow of death aren’t two places. They are one. And Verses 5 and 6 will confirm this for us. How does the poem begin? Fields to graze in, water to drink, rest for the soul. Food, drink, rest. How does it end? A table in front of my enemies, an overflowing cup, goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life. Food, drink, rest – not in some idyllic ethereal otherworld, but in the very presence of enemies and threats. There are always the enemies, the shadow of death, but also the shepherd offers provision and comfort.

The camera pulls back one last time, this time showing a macro-image beyond imagination.

What’s more, we’ve zoomed out even further. We began in the sheep’s little world: the grass, the water, the shepherd. We zoomed out to see what the shepherd is protecting the sheep from: the valley. Now we are in “The house of the Lord, forever.” We end in the eternal transcendent House (surely this encompasses all creation) and the enemies and valleys are left sandwiched – surrounded – between the immediate local provision of the shepherd and the eternal promises of the future.

I’m sure there are layers of this poem that I’m still missing. The Israelites were masters of poetry so I’m sure that there are layers that shine out much better in the original language. But this poem is dense even in English. It’s packed. The images are tied together brilliantly and even the subtle implications of a verb like “walk” are carefully selected to tell us something about the beautiful relationship that God has to his creation, and the relationship between his providence and our challenges.

I think we miss this when we treat the Psalms first as theology and as poetry second. When we slow down and read them as poetry, their theology becomes much more profound.

August 8, 2018

The Lord Cares for the Poor

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Last year at this time, we introduced you to Neil White, a Lutheran (ELCA) Pastor, currently Senior Pastor for Rejoice Lutheran in Frisco, Texas. His blog is called Sign of the Rose. We returned for a visit only to find him in the middle of a series on Revelation. Rather than jump into one of those at random, we sourced this item from last summer. Click to read at source.

Psalm 41 The One Who Cares for the Poor

<To the leader. A Psalm of David.>
1 Happy are those who consider the poor; the LORD delivers them in the day of trouble.
2 The LORD protects them and keeps them alive; they are called happy in the land. You do not give them up to the will of their enemies.
3 The LORD sustains them on their sickbed; in their illness you heal all their infirmities.
4 As for me, I said, “O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
5 My enemies wonder in malice when I will die, and my name perish.
6 And when they come to see me, they utter empty words, while their hearts gather mischief; when they go out, they tell it abroad.
7 All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me.
8 They think that a deadly thing has fastened on me, that I will not rise again from where I lie.
9 Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.
10 But you, O LORD, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them.
11 By this I know that you are pleased with me; because my enemy has not triumphed over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.
13 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.

The final psalm in the first book of the psalter (Psalms 1-41) begins with a beatitude (Happy/blessed are…) just like the first psalm in this collection. Psalm 1 begins by stating “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked…but their delight is in the law of the LORD” and now closing this section of the book of psalms we hear, “Happy are those who consider the poor.” The structure of the book of psalms wants to encourage us to hear the connection hear between a life that avoids the way of the wicked and delights in the law of the LORD with a life that considers the poor. Looking back at the previous forty psalms that comprise this first section of the psalter it becomes clear that one of the central messages is that God hears those who have been oppressed or isolated from their community and so the one who considers the poor models their path after the God who hears the cries of the poor and neglected of the world. This psalm begins with the one who considers the poor being able to count upon the LORD’s deliverance in their own time of trouble. A life that is blessed is one that in following the law of the LORD hears the way in which they are to be a community which cares for the weak, the widow, the orphan, the alien and all the others who are vulnerable in society.

The similarity between the beginning of this psalm and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: 3 (or Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:20) is just one of many places of resonance between the psalms and the message of Jesus. Jesus vision of the kingdom of God reflects the law of the LORD which imagines a society where the wicked no longer take advantage of the weak. The psalms, along with the law and prophets, the gospels and the letters of Paul as well as the rest of the bible attempt to imagine for the world a different kind of community. I’m reminded of a story that the New Testament scholar Mark Allan Powell shares about the parable of the prodigal son in Luke’s gospel.

He asked his American student why the son who goes to a foreign country ends up starving and they almost all point to him squandering what he had, the son’s life was his own responsibility. When he had the opportunity to ask students in Russia the majority pointed to the reality that in the story there is a famine in the land, that the person’s peril was due to external conditions in the environment. Perhaps most interestingly for the reflection on this psalm was the answer he received when he was in Tanzania about why the son was in danger of starvation: “Because no one gave him anything to eat!” and they went on to explain that:

The boy was in a far country. Immigrants often lose their money. They don’t know how things work—they might spend all their money when they shouldn’t because they don’t know about the famines that come. People think they are fools just because they don’t know how to live in that country. But the Bible commands us to care for the stranger and alien in our midst. It is a lack of hospitality not to do so. This story, the Tanzanians told me, is less about personal repentance than it is about society. Specifically, it is about the kingdom of God. (Powell, 2007, p. 27)

This is the type of society that this psalm attempts to help us imagine, a world where the poor are considered and cared for, but the psalmist doesn’t live in that world. Just because the poet believes that God delivers those who care for the vulnerable they also are honest that attempting to live righteously does not exclude them from the challenges of life or from feeling the exclusion that the poor often feel.

The poet spends most of this psalm reflection on how their own community was not a blessing to them in their time of trouble. The LORD sustains those who care for the poor on their sickbed, but now the psalmist community has only the LORD to call to for healing on their own sickbed. Perhaps their community believes that the illness is a judgment from God and therefore they are justified in their exclusion of this one. It may also be that the illness demonstrates the true nature of the community. The community seems to be a place where only those who can actively contribute are valued and where people are actively waiting on the death of the psalmist to inherit his property. At a time where the community was needed the most for the poet, they found themselves a member of an unjust society that does not consider the vulnerable and weak. The community of the speaker has become warped and close friendships revealed as fading and shallow. Yet, the LORD can bring the one who has a deadly thing fastened to him back to life.

Like in Psalm 38 the psalmist wrestles again with a connection between sin and sickness. On the one hand many modern Christians too quickly dismiss any connection when there are times when one suffers because of one’s own actions or choices. Yet, there are other times where both people too quickly and tightly assume a connection. As Rolf Jacobson shares from his own life:

Even modern agnostics or atheists prove themselves capable of making this assumption when they assume that a person’s poor health is automatically the result of poor lifestyle choices. In my own life, when I was diagnosed with cancer as a teenager, a well-meaning but misguided neighbor remarked to my mother that it was a shame she had not been feeding her family the proper, high anti-oxidant diet, or her son would not have developed cancer. Besides being incredibly unhelpful, this comment was simply wrong—the type of cancer I had is not lifestyle dependent. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 390)

Regardless of whether a person’s plight is caused by personal actions and choices or whether they simply find themselves among the weak, sick, injured, poor, or otherwise vulnerable the psalms imagine a community that can respond differently than what the writer of Psalm 41 discovers in their community.

The psalmist asks to be able to ‘repay’ those who have not acted as a supportive community in their plight and unfortunately in English we lose the double meaning of this phrase. On the one had the psalmist does desire that their health would be restored so that those waiting on their death to claim their payment from their property would have no inheritance because the psalmist continues to live. But the word translated to repay comes from the noun shalom and has the connotation of making complete, restoring, to recompense or reward. (Brueggeman, 2014, p. 200) The poet may also be pointing to being a person who can demonstrate what a righteous life looks like by in the future caring for those who failed to care for them in the present.

The LORD has cared for the one who has cared for the poor. The righteous one can point to their own life as a witness to the LORD’s action on their behalf. Even when their community failed them God proved to be faithful. And they end this psalm and this portion of the psalter with a blessing to the God who has avoided the way of the wicked, who has delighted in the law of the LORD, and who has cared for the poor.

 

December 10, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today’s article is best read at the author’s site because it contains a video of a different type of congregational singing which may or may not work depending on your system. But I encourage you to read this there on the off chance that it plays for you, which it did for me one time. The author is Kyle Borg who is a pastor in Winchester, KS in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the website is Gentle Reformation. Click the title below to read it there. There’s also an introduction which you need to read at that site as well.

What Then Shall We Sing About

God wants us to sing about depression. Yes, even believers get depressed and the Psalms give us songs to sing in the blackness and ache of depression, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5) and, “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave” (Psalm 88:3-5).

God wants us to sing about persecution. Jesus warned that in the world we will have many troubles and the Psalms give us words to express the troubles that come for bearing the name of Christ, “For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me with cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies(Psalm 69:1-4).

God wants us to sing about children. Though many view children as an inconvenience in our culture, God delights in opening the womb and the Psalms instruct us to sing of their blessedness, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3-5).

God wants us to sing about death. Often death is viewed as an almost taboo topic and yet the Psalms give us language to sing not only of its dark reality but of our confidence in the midst of it, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4), and “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

God wants us to sing about sleep. The rest that is given to us is traced even to the gifts of God, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8), and “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest; eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:1-2).

God wants us to sing about atheism. The Psalms show us, in singing, how to interpret the world and its systems around us, even the system of unbelief, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:1-3).

God wants us to sing about prosperity. The Psalms demonstrate to us that God cares not only for our souls but also our physical well-being and blesses us in this manner, “May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace; may our granaries be full, providing all kinds of produce; may our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields; may our cattle be heavy with young, suffering no mishap or failure in bearing; may there be no cry of distress in our streets! Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!(Psalm 144:12-15).

God wants us to sing about enemies. It’s probably hard for the Western and contemporary church that has experienced little by way of outward and physical oppression to comprehend the way the Psalms invite us to sing over our enemies. But the Psalms are filled with warlike victory anthems, “I pursued by enemies and overtook them, and did not turn back till they were consumed. I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet. For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me. You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed. They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them. I beat them fine as dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets(Psalm 18:37-42).

God wants us to sing about missions. The scope of the gospel isn’t confined to the borders of any nation or people group. The knowledge of Jesus Christ knows no boundaries and we are to sing of the advance of the gospel to foreign lands and foreign people, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth(Psalm 67:1-4).

God wants us to sing about alcohol. The Psalms celebrate that it is God who waters the earth causing vines to grow which produce wine to cheer the heart even of the afflicted, “From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Psalm 104:13-15).

God wants us to sing about sin. Not only are we to sing about sin’s pardon and forgiveness but the Psalms often emphasize the great danger that accompanies sin. We are to sing out these warnings and cautions, “For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealous with their idols. When God heard, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel” (Psalm 78:58-59), and “Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death” (Psalm 107:17-18).

God wants us to sing about hell. Frightening, terrifying, and sorrowful as the topic is — to bear the unmitigated wrath of God is unimaginable — yet the Psalms direct us to sing even of this, “The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17), and “Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (Psalm 49:14-15).

In the Psalms we sing of protecting the poor (Psalm 15:5), angels (Psalm 91:11-12, 104:4), political upheaval (Psalm 2:1-4, 135:8-12), frustrations (Psalm 73:1-3), history (Psalm 95:8, 106:32), the birthing of animals (Psalm 29:9), the keeping of vows (Psalm 76:11, 116:14), the failure of friendship (Psalm 55:14), family relationships (Psalm 128:3), false gods (Psalm 135:15-18), and so much more. These are some of the things that fill the content of the very songs that the Holy Spirit has given to the church… And he himself has approved these things to be expressed through the gift of singing in order to impress them upon our minds, provoke the emotions of our hearts, and activate the deepest recesses of our memories as our tongues are loosened to sing the praises of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

October 15, 2017

Sunday Worship

A few years ago we were reading Psalm 106. You know that one. The one where the Israelites are reminded of all the times they screwed up as a nation. The times they forgot their God. Then it suddenly occurs to me. This is a PSALM. They SANG THIS. This was one of their WORSHIP SONGS. As in, “Take your hymnbook and turn to number 106.” How do you SING stuff that is so self deprecating? Definitely a minor key.

6 We have sinned, even as our fathers did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly.

7 When our fathers were in Egypt,
they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

13 But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his counsel.

14 In the desert they gave in to their craving;
in the wasteland they put God to the test.

15 So he gave them what they asked for,
but sent a wasting disease upon them.

16 In the camp they grew envious of Moses
and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the LORD.

17 The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan;
it buried the company of Abiram.

18 Fire blazed among their followers;
a flame consumed the wicked.

19 At Horeb they made a calf
and worshiped an idol cast from metal.

20 They exchanged their Glory
for an image of a bull, which eats grass.

21 They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,

22 miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.

23 So he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him
to keep his wrath from destroying them.

24 Then they despised the pleasant land;
they did not believe his promise.

25 They grumbled in their tents
and did not obey the LORD.

26 So he swore to them with uplifted hand
that he would make them fall in the desert,

27 make their descendants fall among the nations
and scatter them throughout the lands.

28 They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor
and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods;

29 they provoked the LORD to anger by their wicked deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.

30 But Phinehas stood up and intervened,
and the plague was checked.

31 This was credited to him as righteousness
for endless generations to come.

32 By the waters of Meribah they angered the LORD,
and trouble came to Moses because of them;

33 for they rebelled against the Spirit of God,
and rash words came from Moses’ lips. [c]

34 They did not destroy the peoples
as the LORD had commanded them,

35 but they mingled with the nations
and adopted their customs.

36 They worshiped their idols,
which became a snare to them.

37 They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to demons.

38 They shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.

39 They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves.

40 Therefore the LORD was angry with his people
and abhorred his inheritance.

41 He handed them over to the nations,
and their foes ruled over them.

42 Their enemies oppressed them
and subjected them to their power.

43 Many times he delivered them,
but they were bent on rebellion
and they wasted away in their sin.

Okay, I left out a few of the good verses. But even so…

We always want our songs to be happy.  The modern church doesn’t do lament well. What if Western Christians had a song that was the modern equivalent to this?  In her review at Thinking Out Loud of The Ben Ripple my wife wrote:

All in all, it is important for us to know stories like Ben’s.  The places where God meets us face to face, and the places where he stands quietly behind us.  What the family next door might be going through and what they may deal with from one day to the next.  It’s been said that we live in a world that has forgotten how to lament — to cry out to God our pain and fear and loss.  This book is just such a thing, but like so many of the laments in Scripture, it ends on a note of “nevertheless…”  The possibility of healing, the value of trusting, the necessity of faith in one who loves us.

In a review of a new NLT edition that contains a section of laments, I quoted the authors:

“These are the questions we’re all afraid to ask God, and the complaints we might hesitate to voice to him. The truth is, God desires our honest doubts, questions and complaints. After all, the writers of the Bible regularly lament, crying out to God and questioning him about injustices, pains and problems.

In 2012 at Internet Monk, Chaplain Mike looked at our propensity to edit the Psalms of Lament to suit our purposes in a piece about Sanitizing the Wilderness:

Contemporary “worship” music is especially weak when it comes to giving voice to the full spectrum of human experiences and emotions. Even when today’s songwriters make use of the Psalms they tend to transform the raw, earthy language that describes our complex, often messy relationships with God and others into easily digestible spiritual sentiments…

…It takes one image from a rich, profound, complex and realistic description of life and latches on to it because the image evokes a simple devotional sentiment that prompts an immediate emotion. We set it to music, and voila! — people get the idea we are singing “Scripture.”

Instead, in Psalm 106, we have true scripture, but the part of it that we tend to ignore or forget. But in its own way, this too is worship.


We also looked at Psalm 106 in a June, 2012 article, God Keeps Putting Up With Us.

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