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Archive for the ‘Psalms’ Category

How do we worship?  We live in a culture engulfed in how-to books.  We can pick up a “For Dummies” book on just about any topic, or we can search the internet for steps on how to plant a garden, build a deck, or repair our last do-it-yourself project.

One area we may not think about needing a manual for, though, is worship.  Doesn’t worship just come naturally, and we do what we do?  But Scripture tells us otherwise; the Holy Spirit has never been favorably impressed by people worshiping according to their own standards of what is right (remember Nadab and Abihu?).

Christians disagree over the extent to which God has told us how to worship.  Some would speak of a regulative principle, in which corporate worship should consist only of what is commanded or described in Scripture.  Others would talk about a normative principle, saying that many kinds of worship are acceptable to God, as long as they are not forbidden by Scripture.  At its heart, though, the Bible is clear that worship requires a certain attitude, a certain kind of heart, or it is not worship.  Psalm 95 gives us three reminders as we worship day by day:

I.  Worship with Joy (Psalm 95:1-5).
II.  Worship with Humility (v. 6-7a).
III.  Worship While There Is Still Time (v. 7b-11).

It was an unanticipated privilege to consider this psalm with my brothers and sisters at Grace Chapel yesterday.  Audio may be listened to below, or it may be downloaded by right-clicking and “Save Link As” here.  A written version may be found here.

An earlier version of this post, along with an earlier version of this sermon, was posted on Life and Godliness on November 4, 2014.

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How do we worship?  We live in a culture engulfed in how-to books.  We can pick up a “For Dummies” book on just about any topic, or we can search the internet for steps on how to plant a garden, build a deck, or repair our last do-it-yourself project.

One area we may not think about needing a manual for, though, is worship.  Doesn’t worship just come naturally, and we do what we do?  But Scripture tells us otherwise; the Holy Spirit has never been favorably impressed by people worshiping according to their own standards of what is right (remember Nadab and Abihu?).

Christians disagree over the extent to which God has told us how to worship.  Some would speak of a regulative principle, in which corporate worship should consist only of elements that are commanded or described in Scripture.  Others would talk about a normative principle, according to which many kinds of worship are acceptable to God, as long as they are not forbidden by Scripture.  At the very least, though, the Bible has much to say about the attitude we must bring as we come before our God.  Psalm 95 gives us three reminders as we worship day by day:

I.  Worship with Joy (Psalm 95:1-5).

II.  Worship with Humility (v. 6-7a).

III.  Worship While There Is Time (v. 7b-11).

It is always a joy to be with the brothers and sisters of Grace Reformed Church of Oakland, MD, and I am grateful for the chance a few weeks ago to open Psalm 95 with them.  Audio may be listened to below, or it may be downloaded by right-clicking and “Save Link As” here.  A written version may be found here.

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It was a delight to be with the brothers and sisters of Gospel Life Baptist Church in Keyser, WV, again this morning, and a privilege to fill the pulpit as their pastor was away.  For many churches and denominations, missions has been a heavily debated subject.  Must every local church be a part of sending the gospel around the world, or might we be better off focusing our attention and resources on the many people in our own back yard who don’t know Christ?  For that matter, if we send missionaries, what are they to be doing?  Should their first priority be providing needed food and clean water, figuring that starving people will find it hard to listen about Jesus, or do we leave that work to the Peace Corps and focus on pointing people toward heaven?[1]

A full-blown theology of missions must take into account all of Scripture, but Psalm 96 provides answers to both sets of questions—the questions of should we go and why do we go.  It is a call to take the good news of who our God is to all the nations.  But we don’t go simply because Acts 1:8 and Matthew 28:16-20 tell us we have to.  The psalmist gives us four vital reasons to go into all the world:

I.      Go because there is good news of salvation (v. 1-3).

II.    Go because there is only one real God (v. 4-6).

III.  Go because this God is worthy of worship (v. 7-9).

IV.  Go because this God is King of the whole world (v. 10-13).

 

Audio may be downloaded here, or it may be listened to below.  A brief written version is available here.

 

[1] This is an incredibly broad generalization, not to mention a false dilemma—there is a place for doing both.  There remains the much-disputed question about which is our leading priority—if we find we can only do one well, where ought our focus to be?

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What delights you?  What captures your attention, makes your heart race, occupies your daydreams, makes your life worthwhile?  The things we enjoy most tell much about who we are, and Scripture tells us that the overflow of our heart—the things we treasure most put on display by our words and actions—brings either life or death.  In Psalm 16, David captures for us what it looks like to genuinely delight in God, and to find in that delight unending life.

David’s delight.  David opens with a plea: “Preserve me!”  He is looking for a hiding place, and only the true and living God will do.[1]  But this isn’t simply David pragmatically turning to what works.  He loves this preserving LORD, confessing that anything good in him or in his life comes by God’s kindness (v. 2).[2]  And by extension, David loves the people whom God loves, saying of those whom God has made to be saints, “They are the excellent ones”—my heroes—“in whom is all my delight” (v. 3).  As he wrote in Psalm 15:4, he honors those who fear the LORD and rejects those who do not.  What does it look like for David to seek shelter in the LORD?  Loving God and loving others.

How different this saving delight is from the sorrows of idolatry!  The fake gods don’t even deserve mention, let alone worship, and only death waits for those who chase them (v. 4; see Ps. 115:3-8).  But for those who delight in the LORD, He Himself is their inheritance, their sustenance, their life (v. 5).  And not only is He a good inheritance in His own right, but He gives a good inheritance, blessing upon blessing (v. 6).  The LORD teaches David, and by meditating on His Word night after night David teaches himself, too.  David is absolutely confident that the LORD will never leave him rootless, never abandon him, even in death (v. 8b-11), a confidence grounded in David’s absolute loyalty to the LORD (v. 8a).  We can’t be sure how clearly David understood what awaited beyond death,[3] but he did not expect the slow rot of the grave to be the end for him.  Instead, the same LORD who had been his delight, his life, and his instructor would lead him in the path of life, living in the joy of God’s own presence, delighting forever.  As Kidner puts it, “The refugee of verse 1 finds himself an heir, and his inheritance beyond all imagining and all exploring.”[4]

Christ’s delight.  Yet the fact is, David died, and his body experienced decay.  But another rose from David’s line, one who never failed to love His Father perfectly, and who loved those His Father gave Him all the way to the end (John 13:1).  He never pursued safety, pleasure, or joy apart from His Father’s will, and He delighted to walk where His Father led.  He continually meditated on His Father’s Word, displaying divine wisdom by obeying the Scriptures His Spirit had breathed out.  And as Peter told the crowds at Pentecost, while they could go and visit David’s sepulcher, Jesus’ tomb was empty, because David was a Spirit-inspired prophet, and his words ultimately spoke of a greater King whose perfect delight in God would be rewarded by unending, incorruptible life (Acts 2:29-33).  Death was not permitted to interrupt the fellowship of this Holy One with His God; His presence at the Father’s right hand ensures that their joy will last forever.

Our delight.  And for those of us who are in Christ, Psalm 16 also becomes our song.  As we place our trust and find our refuge in Christ, we confess ourselves to be under Christ’s Law, loving God and neighbor (v. 2-3).  We confess that it is God who is the giver of all good gifts (James 1:17), and that we have been placed within a new family, the assembly of the saints, our new brothers and sisters, with whom we are being built up as the living temple of the living Christ (Eph. 2:19-22, 1 Pet. 2:4-5).  We have tasted firsthand the bitter sorrows that come from living for ourselves and for the false hopes that once seemed so real, and as we have turned away from sin to find our joy in Christ, we have found that God has given us an astonishing inheritance—Himself (see Jesus’ assurance in Luke 12:32, remembering that Jesus Himself is the Kingdom of God in flesh)!  We have turned from partaking with idols, counting on a thousand lesser comforts and false hopes to sustain us, and we have begun taking nourishment from the LORD’s cup, eating His flesh and drinking His blood, not only in the Lord’s Supper, but as we find in Him all our identity and all our satisfaction (John 6:51-58).[5]

And as we find our life in Christ, and find that He has given Himself to us, we also find that He has given us so much more.  To be counted as part of Christ’s family, to have access to the Father’s love and joy through the Son, would have been kindness enough to sing about forever—but He has also made us coheirs with Christ, and has placed us in exactly the right places at the right time!  Whatever our circumstances—whether they are clearly delightful or filled with temporary sorrow (and for those in Christ, all sorrow is temporary, even though real; see Ps. 30 and Rom. 8:18-39)—we have been placed where we are by the sovereign hand of a Lord who wisely, lovingly works all things to our good, making us more and more like Christ through every hardship and every joy (Rom. 8:28-30, James 1:17-18).  By His Spirit and through His Word, Christ teaches us, making us wise and keeping us from falling (v. 7-8).  And because we find ourselves rooted in Him, we will never be moved (v. 8b), and we rejoice that, though we experience death, our bodies will not rot forever (v. 9-10).  As the medieval writer Geroch of Reichersberg noted, the thief on the cross was also not left in Hades, because he was hidden in Christ.[6]  And neither are we.  Because Christ was raised from the dead, and because we are in Christ, we too shall be raised in gloriously physical bodies, no longer subject to the curse of sin and death, never to die again (1 Cor. 15, 2 Cor. 4-5).  Even now the Holy Spirit dwells within us, and a day is coming when we shall see Christ face to face, knowing and being known, delighting in His presence forevermore.  In the meantime, enjoy!

Grace and peace, Mike Yates

 

For further thought and discussion: What do I delight in?  Who or what does my life show matters most to me, by my actions, words, and daydreams?  What will I get angry if I miss out on, or be relieved if I get?  What takes center stage?

 

 


[1] Waltke notes that the word translated “I put my trust” or “I take refuge” consistently means “to seek refuge,” not “to have found refuge.” Bruce K. Waltke and James M. Houston, with Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 328.

[2] So also Jerome, who translated the verse as “my good does not exist without you,” and saw connections with Ps. 127 (cited in Waltke and Houston, Psalms as Christian Worship, 309).

[3] Though Waltke makes a good case for seeing a future hope in the Old Testament; ibid., 335-36.

[4] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 86.

[5] John 6 is not about the Lord’s Supper, though many well-meaning brothers and sisters have read the Supper back into this passage.  Refusing to eat the Passover meant that one was not part of God’s people under the Mosaic Law (Exod. 12:14-15, 44-46).  In John 6:53-54, Jesus is announcing Himself as the true bread and wine of the ultimate Passover; if we do not participate in His death and life, we are not part of God’s covenant people.  The Lord’s Supper does not make us part of Christ, though sharing in the Supper is a picture of our obedience to John 6; it declares our ongoing loyalty to and dependence upon Christ.

[6] Cited in Waltke and Houston, Psalms as Christian Worship, 312.

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Christians have long discussed how we ought to relate to the so-called imprecatory psalms, those that pray for God to judge enemies in specific, often shocking terms.  C.S. Lewis called them “devilish” psalms, unworthy except as warnings of how not to pray.  Derek Kidner sees them as good and right prayers on the lips of David and other Old Testament saints, but says that since the coming of Christ we are not to pray in the same way.  Still others have been happy to espouse these prayers as thoroughly Christian.

As we think through psalms like Psalm 109, there are several observations we should keep in mind:

1.  This isn’t David’s first response to others’ sin.  He has been praying for his enemies, seeking to do them good.  Psalm 109 is a man who has patiently returned good for evil, but is now at the breaking point as he sees no end to suffering unless God puts a stop to it.

2.  David isn’t seeking revenge.  He could have taken measures to get even–he’s king.  Instead, David is praying to the God who has revealed Himself to be committed to justice, asking this faithful God to bring justice, just as He has promised.

3.  At least in part, David’s prayer looks ahead to those who rage against a greater King.  Peter applies Psalm 109 to Judas, and in AD 70 Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, and the rest of the temple establishment that rejected Jesus lost their positions, their families, and their lives.  Ultimately all who insist on fighting Jesus’ kingship will face the same judgment—guilt, death, and utter loss, with the effects of sin bringing harm to generations yet to come.

4.  David’s prayer in Psalm 109 is rooted in God’s character, a character that has not changed with the coming of Christ (see Luke 20:15-19, 2 Tim. 4:14, and Rev. 6:10-11).

5.  The coming of Christ does change the focus of our prayers.  Christ reveals God’s just wrath against sin to be much greater, and to be carried out over a longer time frame, than David knew.  When we see that God’s ultimate judgment is eternal hell for those who insist on rejecting His mercy and goodness, and when we realize that we, too, have earned that penalty, but found mercy when Christ took our just penalty at the cross, our prayers will shift.  That isn’t a negation of Psalm 109; it’s praying that for these enemies Psalm 109 will be fulfilled in a makeshift courtroom in Jerusalem, where accusers gathered to find the only Innocent One guilty, where the priests declared Jesus’ appeal to His Father as blasphemy, where it was determined that His life would be cut short and His family would have to rely on whatever John could arrange.  The cross shows a man undergoing the punishment for his father’s and mother’s sins—and for the sins of a countless multitude more.  He had never failed to show kindness to the weak, nor had He cursed them, but He took on the curse of Psalm 109 for all who will believe His promises—for us, and for those who have wronged us, if they will listen.  We pray for justice, but also for reconciliation by justice at Golgotha; we pray Psalm 109, but Psalm 109 is not our only prayer—as it was not David’s only prayer.  We will still pray for justice, but Christ’s love in us will press us to pray that our enemies will be reconciled to God, just as we were, and we will warn them to flee the coming danger.

Audio may be downloaded here, or it may be played below.  A text version may be found here.

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It will come as no surprise to anyone who has read this blog for any length of time that I’m convinced that the psalms are a rich source of doctrine and practical theology.  In a world that struggles to figure out how people fit into the world around us, a world that sees humans either as top-of-the-food-chain masters of all we can grab or as glorified amoebas, one more animal species that has blundered into existence and will soon enough be replaced by something bigger and better, the Bible gives us a different picture, and Psalm 8 summarizes that picture nicely.  We are both small and significant—dwarfed by the magnitude of God’s power and the majesty of His creation, yet purposefully placed within that creation to reflect and imitate His rule as recipients of His gracious attention.  We are weak, sometimes stumbling, yet by God’s grace significant rulers of the Creation because of Christ, the one who is both the LORD, whose name is excellent throughout the earth and above the heavens, and the perfect Man, under whose feet all of Creation resides.  That’s enough to humble those of us who are prone to exaggerate our own importance and to raise up those of us who tend to belittle ourselves and assume that we don’t matter.

Audio may be downloaded here, or it may be played below.  A print version is available here.

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The universal application of Psalm 14—the reality that left to ourselves we are all fools who live like there is no God, or at least not a God who would disagree with me about what matters in life—raises an urgent question.  Given that there is a God, and given that my actions and desires have put me at odds with the Maker and King of the universe in which I live, what shall I do?  How can I possibly survive before the face of a holy God, let alone come to enjoy His presence?  It is not by accident that in the very next psalm David raises this issue, and the Holy Spirit answers.  Psalm 15 was one of the most commonly read and copied passages among ancient Jews, revered as a brief, poetic summary of the entire Law,[1] capturing the essence of what it looks like to be a holy, godly person—the kind of person welcomed into the LORD’s home.

Salvation by Works?  Perhaps this summary makes us uncomfortable.  Doesn’t this sound an awful lot like a mere list of dos and don’ts?  As those who love being under the New Covenant written in Christ’s blood, aren’t we under grace?  Maybe we get antsy to just stamp “fulfilled by Jesus” at the top of the page and move on.  Or, depending on our church background and our own tendencies, perhaps we’re more apt to read this and say, “I’m doomed!”

First, understand that Psalm 15 is not a claim that if we’re good enough we can go to heaven.  Look again at Psalm 14:2-3, where David confesses that no one stands righteous before the perfectly holy God (and see also his personal confessions in Ps. 32 and Ps. 51).  We have no reason to think that David forgot his own sinfulness—let alone the Holy Spirit who inspired this psalm!

But second, Psalm 15 reminds us that God does care deeply about what kind of people we are—and that concern did not end with the coming of Christ.  That’s why Peter commands us, “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:15-16).  When the Father announces that He is using every circumstance to conform us to the image of His Son—to make us in every way like Jesus (Rom. 8:28-29)—we can be sure that He is not content for us to fall short of that mark.  The person described in Psalm 15 is one who reflects YHWH’s own character, the kind of person that passages like Romans 8:29 and 1 John 3:2 envision.

The Goal.  So, then, what does a faithful follower and guest of YHWH look like?

  • She pursues righteousness in habits, actions, and words.  Her way of life, the things she does, and the words she says—even to herself—reflect God’s faithfulness and goodness (v. 2).
  • He is self-controlled in his words, not attacking or avenging himself.  He doesn’t slander or gossip, doesn’t do things that will harm others, and does not speak evil of them (v. 3).
  • She is loyal to God, evaluating people the way God does.  She doesn’t admire the wicked, even when they are successful in life and “get things done.”  Instead, she honors those who honor the LORD, taking fellow Christians seriously and treating them with respect, regardless of their wealth or poverty, level of education, or station in life (v. 4a-b; see also James 2:1-9).
  • He loves others by how he uses his promises and possessions.  Reflecting the faithfulness of the covenant-keeping LORD, he keeps his word, even when it becomes inconvenient or costly (v. 4c).[2]  When others are in need, he gives generously, not working out a rate of return that builds his portfolio by taking advantage of another’s desperation (v. 5a), nor does he allow the prospect of financial gain to override God’s commitment to justice (v. 5b).

Three Right Responses.  If we are reading honestly, our first response to Psalm 15 ought to be one of humble confession: this isn’t me.  Too many of my words and deeds are still marked by sin.  I still bite and snarl (less physically and more verbally these days, but it’s still there).  Do the glitz of success and the approving smiles of wealthy or academically respectable worldlings still catch my eye?  Do I regard every brother and sister as worthy of time and care?  Am I quicker to make commitments than to follow through?  What do my finances say about my King’s generosity (see 2 Cor. 8:1-15)?  We will find no lack of opportunity to repent and grow.

But there is one who has perfectly kept every line and every implication of this psalm, one who has every right to abide in the LORD’s tabernacle and to sit, enthroned and never to be displaced, in God’s holy hill.  Jesus’s every deed and every word was righteous.  When accused and threatened, He did not reply in kind, but entrusted Himself to His Father’s care.  He rejected the self-righteous and self-important, yet welcomed and welcomes every sinner who turns from themselves to His way out of Spirit-given fear of the LORD.  His every promise is true, and He has held nothing back to rescue those who cannot rescue themselves.  Jesus has entirely fulfilled God’s Law, and He has done so on behalf of all who will trust Him as Rescuer and King, even as He took the exile and death our disobedience deserved (see comments on Psalm 14, as well as 2 Cor. 5:21).

And in gratitude to Jesus for rescuing us out of our Psalm 14 foolishness and giving us His Psalm 15 righteousness, we look again to this psalm to learn, in part, what it means to live as Christ.  As He continues to teach us and change us to reflect His character, Psalm 15 moves from being a summary of the Law that we could never fulfill to a concrete application of the law of Christ—a series of snapshots of loving God and neighbor.[3]  No longer a troubling reminder of our sins and failures, Psalm 15 becomes for us a portrait of our elder Brother and Pioneer of our faith, and then a family portrait as we find ourselves partaking in His character, taking on His likeness—haltingly at first, but gloriously and fully some day.

Who may dwell in the LORD’s holy hill, and never be moved?  Those who by faith are rooted in the Christ who rules and reigns there forever, our guide in the way of wisdom.

Grace and peace, Mike Yates

 

For further thought and discussion: In which of the areas highlighted by Psalm 15 has Christ’s grace most changed you?  Where do you feel you have furthest still to go?  As you walk the path of wisdom, cling to the one who has already walked it; we will not be justified by meeting Psalm 15’s requirements, but by knowing that its Author has met them in our place.


[1] So Dr. Russell Fuller, “Psalm 15” (unpublished classroom lecture notes, 21600—Psalms, Louisville: The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, January 2007).

[2] Sometimes circumstances make it impossible to fulfill our promises—we make a commitment and then remember we already had an appointment elsewhere at the same time, or perhaps our boss tells us that the company will not agree to the deal we made with a client.  First, this reminds us to make promises sparingly and after careful thought.  Second, though, this passage (and a love of neighbor in general) urges us to resolve such conflicts by seeking the other person’s interest, even when it costs us.  Perhaps we can reschedule one of the appointments satisfactorily, even if it means more running for us; perhaps we will have to put in some overtime to come up with a solution for our client, but we are seeking their good, whatever it takes.

[3] Charles Leiter’s brief book, The Law of Christ (Hannibal, MO: Granted Ministries, 2012) is an excellent resource for considering further what the New Testament means by the term “the Law of Christ,” pointing to the fulfillment of Old Testament law in Christ and the even higher, more perfect standard set as Jesus commands us to love God and neighbor, and as He demonstrates that love Himself.

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