Psalm 42-43 part 2

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Last time we looked at Psalm 42:1-5. In this post I would like to look at Psalm 42:6-11. In the first part of the psalm the anonymous Levite was parched. In the second part he feels like he is drowning.

First, the psalmist indicates he has a sense of the loss of God’s presence (42:6). For some unknown reason the Levite is in the hills surrounding Mt. Hermon. He can’t get much further away from the visible manifestation of God’s presence in Jerusalem than he currently is.

Second, this leads him to have a sense of being incessantly overwhelmed (42:7). If you have been to Israel, and specifically to Mt. Hermon, you have heard the water gushing out of the ground. Notice how the psalmist has lost perspective by claiming that ALL of God’s breakers and waves have gone over him. This is certainly not true, but there are times when it feels like it. If you take the time, turn over to Jonah 2:3.  Jonah seems to be quoting this psalm as he is within the creature’s belly.

Third, the Levite reminds himself of two things that God does (42:8). It is no accident that God demonstrates His loyal kindness. It is no accident that God’s song is with His children in the night.

Fourth, the psalmist asks God two questions (42:9). The first addresses God’s seeming forgetfulness. It does feel at times as though our Refuge is not available. Songs in the night do not always remove the darkness or take away our suffering. The second question addresses the psalmist’s mourning. Why is he responding this way when he knows the enemy can’t really harm him?

Fifth, he retells his story of some intensely painful circumstances (42:10). This is not complaining; it is reality. The mocking words of our adversaries are excruciatingly painful.

Sixth, the Levite asks his soul two questions (42:11a). When the psalmist stares his troubles squarely in the face from a Godward perspective, they don’t seem so overwhelming after all.

Seventh, he commands his soul (42:11b). The psalmist recognizes that hope/waiting is a matter of obedience, not merely a feeling.

The psalmist, as do we, needed to learn to be grateful for God’s mercy toward him. There are at least six manifestations of God’s mercy to be noted here.

  1. He has a thirst for God (and not spiritual complacency or indifference).
  2. He has only a temporary exile (and not total destruction).
  3. He is being mocked (and not the one who is mocking others).
  4. He has actual memories of God’s past faithfulness (God allows us to remember).
  5. He has spiritual sensitivity (and not spiritual dullness).
  6. He is able to practice self-rebuke (he can challenge himself).

Next time I want to wrap this up with Psalm 42:1-5.

Psalm 42-43 part 1

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I have been teaching through Psalm 42-43 recently during our morning service. I thought it might be helpful to share an abbreviated outline from my teaching notes. I am reminded of the helpful book by pastor David Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Spiritual Depression. In the early chapters of this book he addresses Psalm 42-43.

Psalm 42-43 can be divided into three parts. In part 1 the Levite expresses his longing to be in God’s presence in light of drought (42:1-5). In part 2 the Levite expresses his longing to be in God’s presence in light of drowning (42:6-11). In part 3 the Levite expresses his requests to God (43:1-5). I would like to introduce 42:1-5 in this post.

This anonymous Levite was assigned to lead the people of Israel in the worship of God in the tabernacle/temple. At the time of writing he is found in the northernmost part of the land of Israel near Mt. Hermon.

First, he has an intense longing for God’s presence in the face of prevalent drought (42:1-2). He compares his longing for God as a deer in desert country longs for water. His soul is agonizingly parched. If he doesn’t get moisture soon, he may die. He knows that only the living God can satisfy that spiritual thirst brought about oppression and grief.

Second, he has an intense sorrow in the face of prevalent mocking (42:3). Rather than quenching his thirst in a stream of refreshing water, he has only tasted the salty tears brought about the the discouraging talk of others. The persistent scoffing questions concerning his God have brought grief to his soul.

Third, he remembers his past experiences in God’s presence (42:4). This Levite is learning that adverse conditions in life are an optimal context for reflecting on God. His memories of previous pilgrimages to Jerusalem lead him to pray. The Godward bias of his soul moves him to pray.

Fourth, he regards his grief and struggle with doubt (42:5). He initially questions his soul. Why does my soul sit as a mourner? Why is my soul restlessly grumbling within me? But then he wisely commands his soul to wait on God. He demonstrates that while we listen to ourselves regularly, we must learn to talk to ourselves in a Godward manner.

Next time I want to look at Psalm 42:6-11 and the intense longing for God’s presence in light of drowning.

Receiving and Returning the Father’s Love

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John Owen (1616-1683) reminds us that the primary way in which we relate to God the Father is through love. This love must be both received and returned. Consider carefully how Sinclair Ferguson summarizes Owen on this matter.

Our problem has been that our gaze has been fixed either on our own sin (we are unlovely and unlovable), or like a person with a squint, we have looked past, rather than at, the love of our Father. Instead, we are meant to fix our eyes on Christ, so that they may be raised through Him to the Father’s love that is demonstrated in Him. To change the metaphor, we are to drink so deeply of God’s love in Christ that we reach the head of the waters found in the heart of the Father. When the eye of faith sees the Father’s love, the mouth of faith will drink deeply of the streams of grace. As we do so, we not only receive His love, but we also find ourselves inevitably, irresistibly, returning His love. And, wonderfully, just as Christ is the One through whom the Father’s love comes to us, so in Christ our love is returned to the Father.

It should not escape our notice that this, in turn, takes place through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Here, the choreography of the Trinity brings love down from heaven to earth, and then, as though the music accompanying the dance of grace now indicates that the direction of the dance is reversed, our love is returned to the Father through the Son by the inner ministry of the Spirit.

Yes, the Father’s love for us, and ours for Him, differ. His is a love of bounty; ours is a love of duty (albeit love, not duty, is its motive). His love is antecedent to ours; our love is consequent to His. Our love goes to Him although we were once haters of God; His has come to us because He is a lover of man. We love the Lord because He has first loved us. His love is, like Him, unchanging and unchangeable; ours is mutable. He may not always smile out His love to us, but He never ceases actually to love us. (The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen, 58-59)

Ordinary Mothers

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Michael Horton, in his helpful book Ordinary, writes concerning ordinary mothers. I agree with the gist of what he says here.

Nowhere is the ordinary more important to culture and yet less valuable in our society than in relation to motherhood. I’m not saying anything pro or con here about women working outside the home. I’m only suggesting that the burdens we place on women–even from childhood–make them anxious about life and drive them to expect dissatisfaction with the normal and everyday aspects of life that are so crucial for the development of deep roots, wisdom, and nurture for the whole family.

Many of the things that mothers do in the home are not even measurable, much less stupendously satisfying on a daily basis. Much of it can be tedious, repetitive, and devoid of the intellectual stimulation found in adult company. In a myriad of ways, the daily calling of dying to self is felt more acutely by mothers. What they need is fewer guilt trips and expectations and more encouragement as they invest in ordinary tasks that yield long-term dividends.

In other vocations, we can often follow best practices, with the general expectation of successes that can be evident to us and to others. Yet there is no promotion in motherhood. Successes are measured in years, not days or even months, and you can never be quite sure of all the things you did each day that made a difference. Mothers stand at the core of that gift exchange as it radiates into ever-wider concentric circles, from the home to the neighborhood and church, and to society at large. Precisely because they are gifts and not commodities, domestic labors sustain communities that cannot be measures or valued in the marketplace. That is their strength, not their weakness. (192-193)

I am thankful for my wife who exhibits this daily, and who has done so for the decades of her role as an ordinary mother. A woman who has poured herself out for the goal of glorifying God through her interactions with the children whom she birthed.

A Practical Aspect of the Triunity of God

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The doctrine of the Trinity (or Triunity) of God has been a joy to my heart for many years. A growing understanding of the Biblical distinctions of God has deepened my love for each person of the Triunity. My worship of each has increased in ways previously unknown to me.

To be sure, there are those who have scoffed at my emphasis of the distinctions between the members of the Triunity. Ignorance is often the mother of scoffing. Thankfully there have been those who have embraced the Biblical distinctions. What a joy to watch others grow in their understanding, love, and devotion to the Triune God. As Sinclair Ferguson once wrote, “Right understanding always involves making careful distinctions.”

One of those distinctions focuses on the cross. Many of us have heard people pray to God the Father, thanking Him for dying on the cross for their sins. This is theological heresy! The Father did not die on the cross, the Son did. The Father sent the Son to die for us. Let us pray with proper theological understanding.

In a tremendously helpful smaller (less than 150 pages) book on John Owen (1616-1683), Sinclair Ferguson writes:

For if neither the Father nor the Spirit died for us on the cross, that means it is only the Son we praise for making such a sacrifice. We have unique reason for thanking Him (in distinction from the Father and the Spirit), which means there is a unique element to our fellowship or communion with Him. Yet, at the same time, this also suggests that there are also unique elements in our communion with the Father (“Father, thank you for sending your own Son for me”) and with the Holy Spirit (“Holy Spirit, thank you for being with and sustaining the Lord Jesus when He died for me on the cross.”).

This is an ever-expanding insight. The more we reflect on the way Scripture details the activities of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, the correspondingly fuller and richer our communion with God will become. It will no longer be communion with an undifferentiated being, but fellowship with a deeply personal, indeed three-personal, Being in all that He is in His three persons, each one in the undivided Three making Himself known to us in special and distinct ways. (The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen, 39)

Papa, Why do We Pray at Meals?

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Many Christian parents can point to some moment in time when their children asked, “Why do we have to pray before we eat?” This is a legitimate question. Sadly, it is a question that is not even asked in some professing Christian homes because they don’t pray before mealtime. I vividly remember one of my children returning home from a visit to a professing Christian home with the declaration, “Dad, they didn’t even pray before they ate!”

As a young person I remember hearing various people to be asked to “bless the food.” Took me a while to figure out the Biblical basis for the request, and I would probably change that just a bit to say, “Bless the God who gave us the food.”

So why should Christians pray before they eat? Let me set out three reasons to reinforce this spiritually healthy practice.

First, Jesus practiced it.

  • Jesus prayed before the feeding of the 5,000. (Matthew 14:19; Mark 6:41; Luke 9:16; John 6:11, 23)
  • Jesus prayed before the feeding of the 4,000. (Matthew 15:36; Mark 8:6)
  • Jesus prayed at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26-27; Mark 14:22-23; Luke 22:17, 19; 1st Corinthians 11:24).
  • Jesus prayed before eating after His resurrection. (Luke 24:30)

Second, the apostles practiced it.

  • Paul prayed (in the presence of unbelievers) before eating. (Acts 27:35)
  • Paul ate after praying. (1st Corinthians 10:30)

Third, the Bible assumes it.

  • Romans 14:6
  • First Timothy 4:4-5

I have watched and listened as Christians have struggled with praying before eating in public. They apparently feel self-conscious about bowing their heads in gratitude to God, wondering what people will think of them. Some have even joked that its okay to drop a napkin on the floor and then bend over to pick it up and say “thank you” on the way back to a vertical sitting position. Something is amiss.

Let us humbly follow the practice of Jesus and the apostles. Bless God for the food He has faithfully provided. There is no shame in showing Godward gratitude.

Children in the Church Services

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I have long been a proponent of having children in the regular church services. Even though in my past I have led children’s church, I have come to the conclusion that it is not a viable solution for the congregation which I shepherd. I recently talked with a person who led children’s church in their congregation for decades. They stated, “Now it has become little more than entertainment or craft time. They are not learning the Bible at all. They don’t know how to sit still, and their parents don’t make them.”

Michael Horton, in his helpful book Ordinary, has written on this theme:

Our church has a cry room, where parents can still participate in the service to some extent, but it is a chore. Yet isn’t it a chore of parenthood? Eventually the parents decide when they will move out of the cry room. It is remarkable how early children learn habits of sitting and listening. Even if they doodle and daydream for a couple of years, these habits of participation in the communion of saints are like a trellis. These habits do not guarantee that everyone will eventually respond in faith, but they do make for better hearing of that gospel through which faith takes root and grows in our hearts.

Besides the concern for parents, many Christians wonder if it is good for children to have them in the regular service. After all, they cannot understand what is going on. But imagine saying that you’re not going to have toddlers sit at the table for meals with the family because they do not understand the rituals or manners. Or keeping infants in a nursery with nothing but mobiles and squeaky toys because they cannot understand the dialogue of the rest of the family around them. We know, instinctively, that it’s important for our children to acquire language and the ordinary rituals of their family environment in order to become mature. Or imagine keeping our teens from their grandparents’ funerals because they don’t understand it. We take them precisely so they will, knowing that our patience (and theirs) will be rewarded in later years and that the event will itself be an opportunity for maturity. Jesus grew in wisdom and knowledge. He learned the Psalter and the rhythms of the synagogue liturgy. When, as a young adult, he took up the Isaiah scroll to read about himself, he know exactly where to roll it. (185)

I watch with great joy service after service as children of all ages sit still and listen in our congregation. And I am genuinely thrilled when small children, who are learning to write, come up to me after the service to hand me their “notes” copied from the bulletin or the marker board. Why do they do this? Are they super-special children? Not necessarily. But their parents take parenting seriously because they take God seriously. I have listened to various professing Christian parents whine about how hard it is make their children sit still at church when their method of parenting involves planting their children in front of the TV all week. Parenting may indeed be a chore at times, but the fruit of “doing chores” is the joy of having children who listen to God’s Word service after service.

Helpful Book on the Doctrines of Man, Sin, and Salvation

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For the past couple of months I have been slowly working through George Zemek’s book A Biblical Theology of the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace. I have been encouraged by the careful scholarship of the author. I don’t know Zemek, but I find him to be a kindred spirit in his writing style and his approach to studying a Biblical doctrine.

The subtitle of his book is: Exegetical Considerations of Key Anthropological, Hamartiological, and Soteriological Terms and Motifs. Or, to say it another way, how do the doctrines of man, sin, and salvation work together to explain how God brings salvation to fallen people and glory to Himself?

George Zemek has done us a great service in providing this resource. Make use of it. You won’t regret the time spent.

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