The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Psalms

From Everlasting to Everlasting

Psalm 90 contains more thoroughness than I gave it in my last post.  So I’ll attempt to give here what it deserves.  But, be warned:   it’s a most sobering psalm because it contrasts God’s eternality with our frailty.  And Moses, the psalmist, emphasizes our frailty.

That sounds like a bummer, especially at a new year’s start.  But the psalm offers needful wisdom.  In fact, looking back over 44 years of pastoring, I wish I had preached more about suffering and human weakness—not to depress, but to prepare better for the hard times.

THE ETERNAL GOD

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Psalm 90:1,2).

The psalmist addresses the Lord as our God.  Thus, he views God, not merely as  opposite to us (we are “dust” and “soon gone”; he is “from everlasting to everlasting”), but as the answer to our transience and frailty.

The Lord has “been our dwelling place”.  With that, the psalmist offers us hope, which he’ll express at psalm’s end.  As we pass through a troubled life, he is our home.  We’re not homeless nor alone.  We belong to the Sovereign Lord.  In him we find safety and security.

MAN’S “MOMENT”

You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”  For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers (Psalm 90:3-6).

Moses alludes to man’s fall (Genesis 3). The Lord said, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (3:19).

None of us escapes mortality.  We’re members of a race condemned to die because of Adam’s sin, which we repeat (Romans 5:12).  Nor can we escape life’s brevity. Biblical metaphors are disturbing:  life’s like a dream or like grass renewed in the morning that fades and withers at night.  Compared to God’s timelessness, our lifetime is agonizingly brief.

Through my teenage eyes, life seemed a highway stretching  without end.  Now,  through 73-year-old eyes, life seems like a short trail.

GOD’S WRATH

 For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.  For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh.  The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.  Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.  So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart (Psalm 90:7-12).

British Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner comments, “[The] universal shadow [of death as a result of the fall in Genesis 3} is a standing reminder of our human solidarity in sin and the seriousness with which God views this.”

“ . . . by your wrath we are overwhelmed.”  In Judges 20:41 the same word– overwhelmed”–is used of an army facing disaster.  “ . . .our years come to and end like a sigh” .  The words suggest we spend much time in great effort, but it all ends in feebleness.  Moses asks, “Who considers the power of your anger?”  Though we live under God’s anger for our sin, we rarely consider how powerful his anger is. Hence, Moses prays, “ . . . teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”  In other words, “Lord, make us aware how short and fragile life is–and why–so  we may become truly wise.”

Fools presume to be indestructible and not accountable to the everlasting God.  Wise men and women realize God’s wrath hangs like a dark cloud over all humanity and soon we all succumb to death.

MERCY PRAYER

Turn, O LORD! How long? Have compassion on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.  Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.  Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands– O prosper the work of our hands (Psalm 90:13-17).

 God commanded, “Turn back [to dust], you mortals (90:3).  Now Moses asks the Lord to turn–and show his servants mercy.  Specifically, instead of days lived under God’s wrath, Moses prays for mornings when the Lord ‘s steadfast love will satisfy and bring days of joy.  He asks that days of affliction may be balanced by days of gladness!

How lavishly beyond Moses’ prayer is Christ’s mercy!  Instead of “many days you have afflicted us”, the apostle Paul calls these troublesome days “a slight momentary affliction”.  And Moses’ prayer for balancing days of wrath with days of gladness becomes through Christ a great “weight of glory”.  “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

The psalmist prays, not just for his generation, but for those who follow.  Significantly, he calls what he asks for “the favor of the Lord our God”—the grace of God.  But this Hebrew word can more dynamically be translated “delight.”  “Let the delight of the Lord our God—which we don’t merit—be upon us . . . “  What a wonderful prayer to pray!

GOSPEL ANSWER

It grows more full-of-wonder with, O prosper the work of our hands.”  “Prosper” can more accurately be translated “establish” or “cause to endure.”  Moses prays not merely for the Lord’s work to endure, but for ours not to die with us.

How could that be?  Kidner notes that this psalm was often read at the burial of the dead.  (In fact, forty-four years ago, I preached several of my first funerals from this psalm, which I conducted for unbelievers.)  But coupled with Psalm 90, 1 Corinthians 15 was often read.

I don’t have time or space to include the entire chapter.  But verses 47-58 powerfully summarize why 1 Corinthians 15 is the gospel counter-balance to Psalm 90.  And why good work can prosper and endure beyond our lifetime.

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

As we begin a new year, Psalm 90 soberly offers us wisdom on the transience and the trouble of our lives.  But it concludes with a hidden hope that 1 Corinthians picks up and makes ours.

Yes, we soon die.  But, in Christ, we share the life of God who is “from everlasting to everlasting.”  Listen to the accompanying video and rejoice in praise to him!

 

 

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Psalm 2 Reflections: Why Do the Nations Rebel?

This psalm shocks.  Not if we skim it, but if we ponder it. .

First, the psalmist claims the world’s nations are rebelling against the Lord’s chosen ruler.

Why do the nations plan rebellion? Why do people make their useless plots? Their kings revolt, their rulers plot together against the Lord and against the king he chose. “Let us free ourselves from their rule,” they say; “let us throw off their control” (Psalm 2:1-3, GNT). 

Paranoid psalmist seeing Israel’s enemies revolting against God’s chosen king?  We might presume so, except that author Luke cites the plot to crucify Jesus as the fulfillment of this psalm.  In other words, it’s ultimately about the world’s rebellion against the Lord Jesus . . .

As soon as Peter and John were set free, they returned to their group and told them what the chief priests and the elders had said.  When the believers heard it, they all joined together in prayer to God: “Master and Creator of heaven, earth, and sea, and all that is in them!  By means of the Holy Spirit you spoke through our ancestor David, your servant, when he said, ‘Why were the Gentiles furious; why did people make their useless plots?  The kings of the earth prepared themselves, and the rulers met together against the Lord and his Messiah.’  For indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together in this city with the Gentiles and the people of Israel against Jesus, your holy Servant, whom you made Messiah. They gathered to do everything that you by your power and will had already decided would happen” (Acts 4:23-28, GNT).

Represented by Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles and Israel’s people, the nations gather in rebellion against the Lord and his chosen ruler.  God has come in human flesh and blood and the nations reject and execute him.  Furthermore, the powers that be forbid his followers to even speak in his name.

Second, the psalmist declares rebellion is futile.  So much so that the Lord mocks their feeble schemes.  Hard to imagine the Lord mocking anyone, isn’t it!  No tougher a stretch for some, though, to imagine God angrily terrifying anybody with his fury . . .

“From his throne in heaven the Lord laughs and mocks their feeble plans. Then he warns them in anger and terrifies them with his fury.  ‘On Zion, my sacred hill,’ he says, ‘I have installed my king'”(Psalm 2:4-6, GNT).

The nations’ plots are “useless”.  Their plans are “feeble”.  Set aside for a moment that these plots and plans are against the Lord and his chosen ruler.  See them simply as the plans for world leaders to govern.  All government isn’t bad.  In fact, the apostle Paul urges Christians to obey the state authorities because God established them (Romans 13:1).  But look at world conditions.  Threatened by nuclear powers.  Refugees fleeing the burning Middle East.  Terrorists killing innocents and hacking into critical computers.  Corruption common wherever you look.  Governments holding it all together with duct tape.  Ordinary people cry out for “good” government.  Might the world’s be “bad” because they’ve “killed” the Lord’s chosen leader?

Third, the psalmist  warns earth’s rulers to bow down and serve the Lord or else his anger will flare and kill them . . .

“‘I will announce,’ says the king, ‘what the Lord has declared.’ He said to me: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.  Ask, and I will give you all the nations; the whole earth will be yours.  You will break them with an iron rod; you will shatter them in pieces like a clay pot.’ Now listen to this warning, you kings; learn this lesson, you rulers of the world: Serve the Lord with fear; tremble and bow down to him; or else his anger will be quickly aroused, and you will suddenly die. Happy are all who go to him for protection” (Psalm 2:7-12, GNT).

Jesus is the Lord’s son.  He’s the king who receives all the nations whose military force he shatters like a clay pot.  Therefore, the psalmist warns the nations’ “kings” to fearfully, humbly serve the Lord, lest his anger flare and kill them.

Sounds more like radical Islam than Judaism/Christianity, doesn’t it!  To a world that views God as overseer and therapeutic helper, this God’s a stranger.  A warrior.  A world government leader.  A potential killer.

Let’s make no mistake.  When Egypt and Babylon and Assyria marshaled armies against Old Testament Israel, they fought the Lord’s chosen ruler.  When Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles and Israel sentenced Jesus to death, they rebelled against the king the Lord had chosen to one day rule the world.

In Psalm 2 the psalmist doesn’t pray about personal salvation; he prays about world politics.  And he warns the world’s rulers now to serve the Lord.  For the whole earth will be his.

“Lord Jesus, your Father will give you all the nations.  The whole earth will be yours.  You will shatter their rebellion like a clay pot.  Herein lies the ultimate failure of human government.  Not faulty policies, but misplaced faith–faith in false religions, faith in godless worldviews, faith in economic programs and military might.

“Lord, mercifully gather world leaders to the foot of your cross.  Bring them to saving faith and then to righteous rule.  And may that repentance begin with ordinary people like us.  May we serve you.  With reverence.  May we bow down to you.  And show by our lives that our citizenship is in heaven, that we belong to the kingdom not of this world.  May we go to you for protection we need.  And find our joy in living under your rule.”

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Psalm Reflections: Forever Happy

Read Psalm 1 today.  Can’t resist some simple reflections.  Here’s the psalm in the Good News Translation (change from the familiar) . . .

Happy are those who reject the advice of evil people, who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God (1:1).

The GNT substitutes “Happy” for the typical “Blessed”.  Both somewhat miss the mark.  The meaning is more like “happy because one is favored by God”.

The psalmist makes a blatant judgment.  We would think it politically incorrect.  Some people are evil.  Not just ISIS.  Not just mass murderers.  Evil people are those whom God judges “sinners”, those who fall short of what he calls “right”.  Because the Bible claims “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), all are sinners apart from God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ.

Of course, in the ongoing process of God’s salvation history, the psalmist would identify sinners as those who didn’t believe in God as revealed to Israel and who didn’t evidence that faith by living according to his laws.

The psalmist identifies “evil people” another way also:  “those who have no use for God”.  That’s the GNT’s take on “sit in the seat of scoffers”.  A good interpretation, though not literal translation.

We’d be dangerously mistaken to assume advice from “evil people” comes only one-on-one.  (I’ll be happy if I don’t take my evil neighbor’s counsel.)  Advice comes much more—and subtly so—through the omnipresent media.  Everything from a sit com to an Internet blog offers counsel, almost all of it “evil”.  Listen with discernment and reject the godless!

Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the Lord, and they study it day and night (1:2).

 

We Christians speak much of faith, little of obedience.  Afraid of falling into salvation-by-works, we ignore obedience as the evidence of faith.  And we overlook the fact that even the Old Testament psalmist was saved by faith, his obedience between faith’s outworking.

It seems incongruous to us that the source of joy is obeying the Lord’s Law (Be free!  Break the rules!) and so we’re driven to “study” the Lord’s Law “day and night”.  Who equates joy with obeying and studying laws?  Apparently, the Lord does!  If I’m to have joy, I must fill my mind with the Lord’s Law(s) and obey that Law in my living.  Note:  the psalmist doesn’t promise obedience brings salvation; rather that obedience brings joy.

They are like trees that grow beside a stream, that bear fruit at the right time, and whose leaves do not dry up. They succeed in everything they do (1:3).

 

The psalmist’s no dreamer.  Life, he knows, has its “dry” seasons.  But even then, those who obey the Lord’s Law prosper.  Like “trees that grow beside a stream” bearing fruit, not drying up, they “succeed in everything they do”.

 

Skeptics here think “pollyanna” (blindly optimistic) or “the guy doesn’t live in the real world”.  Without a doubt, the psalmist knew about suffering.  Hard times God’s people endured were a reality to him.  So “success” doesn’t mean “a pain-free, opulent lifestyle”.  It has a decidedly eternal perspective.

But evil people are not like this at all; they are like straw that the wind blows away (1:4).

 

“Evil”people don’t prosper.  Really?  What about the politicians (to cite just one example) who used their position to enrich themselves?  To cite another, what about the billionaires who get richer by bending/breaking laws because they’re billionaires?

 

” . . . they are like straw that the wind blows away.”  Here’s a hint of the eternal perspective.  The old farmer takes his wheat to the threshing floor.  Throws a pile into the air.  The heavy grain falls to the floor.  The wind blows the lighter “straw” away.  So, says, “evil people” are like that.

Sinners will be condemned by God and kept apart from God’s own people (1:5).

 

Sounds fairy-tale-ish.  Can’t even imagine it.  Is God going to direct every human who ever lived into one interminably long line, then call each one by one to appear before him while he waves his long-robed arms around and interrogates their life’s habits?  Will he then send “the guilty” to their doom?  Get real.  Couldn’t happen.  Well, maybe not that way.  But, if we accept the Bible as God’s word, we can’t write off Judgment Day because we can’t fit it into our little minds.

The righteous are guided and protected by the Lord, but the evil are on the way to their doom (1:6). 

And so, the “righteous” enjoy the Lord’s guidance and protection.  Not from sore throats or cancer or physical death, but from being thrown away like straw on Judgment Day.  They will be eternally guided and protected.

On the other hand, “the evil are on the way to their doom”.

 

Thus the psalmist divides humanity in two.  Different worldviews.  Different lifestyles.  Different directions.  Different destinies.

The lesson is obvious:  Don’t buy into the counsel of the world.  Study and obey the Lord’s Law.  But only if we want to be happy forever.
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Psalm Reflections: Happy Forever

I read Psalm 1 today.  Can’t resist writing simple reflections on it.  Here it is in the Good News Translation (a change from the familiar . . . )

Happy are those who reject the advice of evil people, who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God (1:1).
The GNT replaces the typical “Blessed” with “Happy”.  Both fall a bit short of the mark, the Hebrew meaning something like “happy because one is favored by God”.  Who are these “happy” ones?    ” . . . those who reject the advice of evil people, who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God.”
The psalmist makes a blatant judgment.  We would think it politically incorrect.  Not the psalmist.  Some people are evil.  Not just ISIS.  Not just mass murderers.  Evil people are those who God judges “sinners”, those who fall short of what he calls “right”.  Because the Bible claims “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), all are sinners apart from God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ.
Of course, in the ongoing process of God’s salvation history, the psalmist would identify sinners as those who didn’t believe in God as revealed to Israel and who didn’t evidence that faith by living according to his laws.
The psalmist identifies “evil people” another way also:  “those who have no use for God”.  That’s the GNT’s take on “sit in the seat of scoffers”.  A good interpretation, though not literal translation.
We’d be dangerously mistaken to assume advice from “evil people” comes only one-on-one.  (I’ll be happy if I don’t take my evil neighbor’s counsel.)  Advice comes much more—and subtly so—through the omnipresent media.  Everything from a sit com to an Internet blog offers counsel, almost all of it “evil”.  Listen with discernment and reject the godless!
Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the Lord, and they study it day and night (1:2).

We Christians speak much of faith, little of obedience.  Afraid of falling into salvation-by-works, we ignore obedience as the evidence of faith.  And we overlook the fact that even the Old Testament psalmist was saved by faith, his obedience between faith’s outworking.

It seems incongruous to us that the source of joy is obeying the Lord’s Law (Be free!  Break the rules!) and so we’re driven to “study” the Lord’s Law “day and night”.  Who equates joy with obeying and studying laws?  Apparently, the Lord does!  If I’m to have joy, I must fill my mind with the Lord’s Law(s) and obey that Law in my living.  Note:  the psalmist doesn’t promise obedience brings salvation; rather that obedience brings joy.
They are like trees that grow beside a stream, that bear fruit at the right time, and whose leaves do not dry up. They succeed in everything they do (1:3).
The psalmist’s no dreamer.  Life, he knows, has its “dry” seasons.  But even then, those who obey the Lord’s Law prosper.  Like “trees that grow beside a stream” bearing fruit, not drying up, they “succeed in everything they do”.
Skeptics here think “pollyanna” (blindly optimistic) or “the guy doesn’t live in the real world”.  Without a doubt, the psalmist knew about suffering.  Hard times God’s people endured were a reality to him.  So “success” doesn’t mean “a pain-free, opulent lifestyle”.  It has a decidedly eternal perspective.

But evil people are not like this at all; they are like straw that the wind blows away (1:4).“Evil” people don’t prosper.  Really?  What about the politicians (to cite just one example) who used their position to enrich themselves?  To cite another, what about the billionaires who get richer by bending/breaking laws because they’re billionaires?

” . . . they are like straw that the wind blows away.”  Here’s a hint of the eternal perspective.  The old farmer takes his wheat to the threshing floor.  Throws a pile into the air.  The heavy grain falls to the floor.  The wind blows the lighter “straw” away.  So, says, “evil people” are like that.

Sinners will be condemned by God and kept apart from God’s own people (1:5).

Sinners (evil people who have no use for God, who flaunt his Law) “will be condemned by God . . . ”  On the future Judgment Day, the “straw” will be “blown away” and “kept apart from God’s people”, who have trusted him, rejected evil counsel, and devoted themselves to live by the Lord’s Law.
Sounds fairy-tale-ish.  Can’t even imagine it.  Is God going to direct every human who ever lived into one interminably long line, then call each one by one to appear before him while he waves his long-robed arms around and interrogates their life’s habits?  Will he then send “the guilty” to their doom?  Get real.  Couldn’t happen.  Well, maybe not that way.  But, if we accept the Bible as God’s word, we can’t write off Judgment Day because we can’t fit it into our little minds.
The righteous are guided and protected by the Lord, but the evil are on the way to their doom (1:6). 
And so, the “righteous” enjoy the Lord’s guidance and protection.  Not from sore throats or cancer or physical death, but from being thrown away like straw on Judgment Day.  They will be eternally guided and protected.

On the other hand, “the evil are on the way to their doom”.

 

Thus the psalmist divides humanity in two.  Different worldviews.  Different lifestyles.  Different directions.  Different destinies.
The lesson is obvious:  Don’t buy into the counsel of the world.  Study and obey the Lord’s Law.  But only if we want to be happy forever.
 
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Forgotten Forever

If you want to peer into a man’s soul, read Psalms.  They are unique in Scripture, because, instead of God talking to a man, they record man talking to God.

A smorgasbord of thoughts and emotions, there are lament and thanksgiving and praise and salvation history and affirming celebration and wisdom and trust psalms.  Interestingly, the largest group is lament.  Again and again the psalmists honestly and fervently express discouragement, disappointment, discontent and distress to the Lord.

Perhaps the most familiar are these heartrending questions from David, which eventually Jesus echoed from the cross . . .

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
from the words of my groaning?”
(Psalm 22:1, ESV).

Here’s an especially poignant cry, again from David . . .

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you
hide your face from me?
(Psalm 13:1, ESV)

Today’s English Version’s  translation packs a bit more passion . . .

“How much longer will you forget me, Lord?
Forever?
How much longer will you hide your face from me?”
(Psalm 13:1, TEV).

Such psalms destroy the foolish notion to be careful not to “confess anything negative with our mouth”.  And, even, I would add the idea that we may tread on thin ice if we complain or get angry with the Lord.  In fact, if we can’t be honest with our Father in heaven about how we really feel, with whom can we be brutally honest? He’s not a prideful monarch whose ego will be crushed and demand satisfaction if we complain to him!

Look at more of Psalm 13.  Ever felt this way?

How much longer will you forget me, Lord?
Forever?
How much longer will you hide yourself from me?

How long must I endure trouble?
How long will sorrow fill my heart day and night?
How long will my enemies triumph over me?
(Psalm 13:1,2, TEV)

For some, “enemies” are violent persecutors.  For others, they are prolonged illness, disability, the physical wasting-away for aging and dying, an abusive husband, an unjust employer, an addiction, a particular sin, Satan.  The list is long; “enemies” come in many forms.  And turning to follow Jesus in faith doesn’t magically remove them.

When “enemies triumph” and “sorrow fill[s] my heart” and “I endure trouble” with no respite, I hit bottom where I feel forgotten.  “How much longer will you forget me Lord?  Forever?”   Can’t be much worse than feeling that my Lord has forgotten me.

But, with one exception (Psalm 88), the psalmist doesn’t stay there.  Though “forgotten”, he prays yet again—the prayer of a desperate, drowning man . . .

Look at me, O Lord my God, and answer me.
Restore my strength; don’t let me die.
Don’t let my enemies say, “We have defeated him.”
Don’t let them gloat over my downfall.
(Psalm 13:3,4, TEV)
“Look at me”—the opposite of the Lord “hiding [him]self”.  Do I hear anger in “Look at me”?  Or just desperation?  David’s need is critical.  Begging for strength, because he’s weak.  Afraid the Lord may let him die.  His enemies are readying a celebration over his downfall.
But, again, David doesn’t stay there.  He moves on, on to envision coming rescue.  I marvel.  I’m prone to camp in verses 1 and 2.  Or maybe barely (angrily?) crawl in verses 3 and 4.  How do I reach the height of David’s faith in these last two verses?
I rely on your constant love; I will be glad,
because you will rescue me.
I will sing to you, O Lord,
because you have been good to me.
(Psalm 13:5.6, TEV)
“Constant love” comes from the Hebrew chesed, the word used of the steadfast, covenant love of the Lord.  He has made a covenant with us who trust him.  And he cannot not be faithful to his covenant.  Jesus himself is the guarantee of this better (than Old) covenant (Hebrews 7:22).  It’s this that Paul echoes in this assuring promise . . .
If God is for us, who can be against us?
Certainly not God, who did not even keep back his own Son,
but offered him for us all! He gave us his Son –
will he not also freely give us all things?
Who will accuse God’s chosen people?
God himself declares them not guilty!
Who, then, will condemn them?
Not Christ Jesus, who died, or rather, who was raised to life
and is at the right side of God, pleading with him for us!
Who, then, can separate us from the love of Christ?
Can trouble do it, or hardship or persecution or hunger
or poverty or danger or death?
As the scripture says, “For your sake we are in danger of death at all times;
we are treated like sheep that are going to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we have complete victory
through him who loved us!
For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love:
neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers,
neither the present nor the future,
neither the world above
nor the world below –
there is nothing in all creation
that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God
which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:31b-39, TEV)
On this love we can rely.  Because of this love we will be rescued.  He has been good to lavish his love on us in Christ Jesus.

Feeling forgotten?  We will be glad!  Feeling forsaken?  We will sing!

 

* * * * *

NOTE:  Break from blogging the rest of this week.  Back early next week.  Appreciate all you readers—all 700 subscribers!  May the Lord grant us our heart’s desires, as we delight ourselves in him!

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God-Sleep

O PreacherFeel like God’s asleep?  Psalm 44 records a time when Israel actually prayed this . . .

“Awake!  Why are you sleeping, O Lord?” (44:33a).

Sacrilegious?  Offensive?  Does the Lord reject such from-the-heart, frustrated prayers?  Apparently not, since he included this in his Word.

We can’t be sure what national calamity evoked this prayer—perhaps one of the captivities the nation suffered at the hand of foreign enemies.  Whatever it was, the nation didn’t understand the disaster.  She had been faithful to the Lord.  This wasn’t punishment for sin or even discipline for correction.  Whatever the case, here’s the prayer . . .

We remember the Lord’s past power for his people.

We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago.  With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our fathers; you crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish.  It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.  You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob.  Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes.  I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory;  but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame.  In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever. Selah (44:1-8).

When I read Scripture, I’m confronted with deliverance from Egypt, opening of the Red Sea, manna in the wilderness, little David sling-shotting Goliath to death and Jesus rising from the dead.  Those are the works of our God!  We celebrate them in song and praise him in worship.

But now we’re stricken and shamed.

But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies.  You made us retreat before the enemy, and our adversaries have plundered us.  You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations.  You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale.  You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us.  You have made us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us.  My disgrace is before me all day long, and my face is covered with shame  at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me, because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge (44:9-16).

Who can read the Old Testament and not be taken aback at the anguish of God’s people?  In the days of the judges ” . . . the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains . . . ” (Judges 6:2).  And in the New Testament we’re transfixed by the cruel, unjust crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of his self-righteous enemies.  In fact, the crucifixion leaps from the all too familiar words of the last half of the text above.

From the Scriptures I remember the Lord’s powerful past works.  Then I think of my pain and the suffering of so many of God’s people all over the world.  And I find myself with the psalmist asking . . .

Why, O Lord, do you sleep?

All this happened to us, though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant.  Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path.  But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals and covered us over with deep darkness.  If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god,  would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart?  Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.  Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?  We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.  Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love (44:17-26).

The people aren’t claiming perfection; they’re protesting that they’ve been true to the Lord’s covenant.  They’ve walked in the direction of obedience and offered the prescribed sacrifices for their disobedience.  So, why?  “Why do you sleep?  Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?  Wake up, O Lord!”

We know he doesn’t sleep.  “Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4).  But, oh, those terrible times when it seems as if he is!  And, with the old Israel, we ask the “why?”

For the Lord’s sake.

There in the bold-face font in the text above is the not-so-satisfying answer:  it’s for the Lord’s sake.  The apostle Paul quoted these words in Romans 8:36.  I see the sense of it all there.  Paul is an apostle.  He suffers to advance the gospel for the Lord’s sake.

But I’m no apostle, just an ordinary guy.  In what way can my being stricken be for the Lord’s sake?  I don’t know.  And even though Israel prayed these words in Psalm 44, I doubt they fully understood either.  At best, in “for your sake”, they expressed their faith in their Lord without understanding.

And so the psalm ends with deliverance.  The people end by begging to be redeemed “because of your unfailing love.”  This is precisely what Paul professes . . .

As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors
through him who loved us. 
For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers,  neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:36-39)

We may face death all day long.  We may be thought of as nothing but animals.  We may not understand how our hardships can be for the Lord’s sake.  But his Word claims they are.  And we are called to boldly trust our Lord from whose love nothing can ever separate us.

Jesus and Disciples at Sea in a Storm

Remember?  In his time he woke up and stilled the storm!

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Sappy Seniors

My blog-topics jump all over the place, don’t they!  That’s partly because I read my devotions for the day and find my heart moved to write about what I’ve read.  So, if you can take the jolting from the jumping, here we go again.  This time it’s the last four verses of Psalm 92.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the LORD is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Sappy seniors.

But this “Sabbath Song” (see title at the top of the psalm) doesn’t center on them.  It sings of them only in relation to the One who is “Most High.”

It is good to gives thanks to the LORD,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High.
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy (92:1-4).

It’s because of him that “the righteous flourish” and “still bear fruit in old age.”  Because his love is steadfast, old-agers still bear fruit.  Because he is faithful, creaky-voice seniors still sing praises to his name.  Because he is Most High, the elderly push through pain and hobble to gathered worship and find that it is good to gives thanks to the LORD.

When Lois and I came to Florida 24 years ago, we were 46 years old and the congregation was virtually all over 60.  Compared to our church in New Jersey, this had a nursing home feel about it.  Now that I’m 24 years older I’m a little wiser.  Seniors who know the Lord and walk in righteousness after him are no less alive, no less attractive, no less precious  than the energetic, forward-looking, enthusiastic young.  Pity I had to grow old to learn of the Lord’s steadfast love and faithfulness to the old!  We might sing more off-key, have trouble keeping up with the words to some Old English hymns or some upbeat contemporary songs, but the Lord enjoys our worship as much as he does the worship of the young and we find it just as soul-satisfying.

But let’s be honest.  Not every oldster walks as gracefully as a palm tree or stands as strong as a Lebanon cedar.  In fact, the apostle Paul said, ” . . . our outer nature is wasting away” (2 Corinthians 4:16a).  And think of Job scraping his infected skin with shards of pottery (Job 2:7,8)!  He couldn’t comprehend what was happening to him until the Lord revealed himself in ways Job had never known and restored his blessings beyond expectation (Job 38-42).  But Paul knew:  “Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light and momentary affliction (!) is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:16b-18a).

So we “seniors of the Lord” might be stumbling and struggling on the outside, but inside we’re still growing (92:12), still planted in the presence of the Lord (92:12), still bearing fruit in our old age (92:14a), still sappy and green (92:14b).  We know that one day soon we will enjoy “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17b).  That’s what we try to keep our sights on (2 Corinthians 4:18).  (Maybe that’s why we sometimes stumble–we’re looking at the unseen, eternal things!).

Meanwhile, we know why we’re kept sappy and green inside.  We know our mission.

” . . . to declare that the LORD is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him” (92:15).

Sappy seniors.  Still singing of our Lord.

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Raw Honesty

Reading my devotions for the day, I’m often moved to respond in writing.  Today Psalm 88 did it.  It’s not a “Gee whiz, everything is wonderful!” prayer.  Quite the opposite.  “Heman the Ezrahite”, the identified composer, was darkly despondent.  I’ll quote only a portion of his 18 verses.  Read slowly.  Keep in mind Heman is praying this to God . . .

O LORD, God of my salvation;
I cry out day and night before you.

Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!

For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol (the place of the dead) . . .

You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep.

Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves . . .

I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
my eye grows dim through sorrow . . .

But I, O LORD, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.

O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me? . . .

I suffer your terrors; I am helpless . . .

They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.

You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness.

That’s the way the prayer ends.  No climaxing chorus of victory.  Not a note of hope.  Just lonely darkness.  Where’s this guy’s faith?  Why doesn’t he remember the Lord’s glorious works of old?  Why doesn’t he quote some good promise of the Lord for tomorrow?  Because this is how he honestly feels.

Hasn’t there been a time or two (or more) when we’ve felt like this?  A soul full of troubles? Tired of living?  Trapped in a deep, dark pit with no escape?  Drowning?  Cast off from God?  Terrorized and helpless?  Alone and assaulted?  As if God is angry and hiding?

Apparently it’s acceptable to tell God things like this.  To be brutally honest about how we’re feeling.  If this prayer is any indication, God won’t strike us dead or condemn us for questioning him and, yes, even painfully complaining to him.

Nobody wants to stay like this.  We’d rather pray Asaph’s prayer in Psalm 79.  He begins reciting how the nations have devastated Jerusalem, how they’ve “poured out [the] blood [of the Lord’s people] like water.”  He asks, “How long, O LORD?  Will you be angry forever?” (79:5).  He prays for God’s help (79:9), then makes this confident  affirmation at the end:  “But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise” (79:13).  He’s full of faith that the Lord will defeat his enemies.  Heman, however,  is in no mood to consider coming victory.  The Lord has “assaulted” him (88:16).  He’s ready to die (88:15).

There are actually Christians who claim if we speak this way we create the condition.  Don’t say God has put you in a dark pit or else he will!  That’s heretical nonsense.  Of course, we can drive ourselves into deeper despondency if Psalm 79 is always our model prayer.  It’s good for us when we feel unloved to pray, “I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever” (Psalm 89:1a).

But there are times (ask Heman) when we’re so despondent that honesty requires a kind of “raw-ness” to our prayers.  No need to pretend.  No need to sing “faith is the victory” when we feel like “why do you hide your face from me?”  The Lord understands.  He prefers raw honesty to hypocritical religiosity.

So “pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8).
” . . . weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5b).  And we will sing . . .

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy;

that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever (Psalm 30:11,12).

(Note:  If you’re reading this on Saturday, tomorrow is Sunday.  Gather with God’s worshiping people and get lifted up!)

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You Are What You Think

I’m reading Psalm 103 as part of my prayer time this morning.  The psalm begins this way . . .

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (verses 1-5).

David, the psalm’s God-inspired composer, is singing of the benefits of the Lord.  This is why he begins praising the Lord.  One might call this an exercise in positive thinking.  It’s far more than that, of course, but not less.  David thinks positively about the Lord’s benefits, so is moved to “bless” (praise) the Lord.

Are we moving dangerously close here to the psycho-babble of professed Christians whose entire “gospel” is “you are what you think” and “create reality with your words” and “name it and claim it”?  Not really.  We’re just stealing the content of their words (“God wants me rich” or “God wants me healthy”) and replacing it with the content of God’s.  “The Lord . . . forgives all your iniquity . . . heals all your diseases” and so on.

Thinking or saying those words carry greater impact to us when we personalize them like this . . .

The LORD forgives all my iniquity, heals all my diseases, redeems my life from the pit, crowns me with steadfast love and mercy, satisfies me with good so that my youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

For even more personal impact, turn it into a prayer . . .

Lord, you forgive all my iniquity, you heal all my diseases, you redeem my life from the pit, you crown me with steadfast love and mercy, you satisfy me with good so that my youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Notice a huge change in focus?  The positive-thinkers’ approach finishes by putting the focus on the benefit you want (wealth, health, a BMW, etc.) while the Bible’s approach finishes by putting the focus on the Lord.  “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (103:1).  Are we still remembering all his benefits?  Absolutely.  They’re benefits we enjoy.  But they are his benefits.  So, while remembering his benefits, the focus shifts from forgiveness and healing and redemption and goodness that we enjoy to the Lord who gives them to us.

The result?  We treasure the Benefit-Giver more than the benefits.  To put it another way, in a world where life is short  (103:15,16) and suffering is real (103:l6), we become Lord-praisers.  For our mind remembers his benefits and can’t help but turn to bless his holy name.

 

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