Archive for the ‘Psalms’ Category

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The Limits of Freedom and the Abundance of God: On Rights and Christian responsibility…

January 14, 2013

FDR memorial

So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
(Psalm 90:12-16 ESV)

One of the remarkable facets of the American experience is that we as a people are engaged in a constant national dialogue concerning freedom and its exercise under the law.  To the generational nay-sayers who are quick to pass judgement on this era in American history, I would direct them to almost any coffee table, newspaper, blog, or news channel where the predominant topic is civil liberties and their expression in society.  The nation is humming with discussion of the Second Amendment and firearms, the Fourth Amendment and abortion, and the Tenth Amendment and healthcare.  While our founding fathers would likely blanche at the scope of the issues faced, somehow I believe they would appreciate our commitment to the laws they drafted and their place in our national consciousness.

American Christians have emerged from a period of prominence into a time of trial, and as a result we face an era of unprecedented challenge.  Christians in America are confronted with debates of staggering legal and moral complexity.  Few debates are as complex as the debate over the second amendment.  Our hearts break as we witness events like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora and Sandy Hook.  We join sympathetic voices across the nation proclaiming love and remorse over the tragic loss of life.  With increasing frequency, our free society presents us with ever-exagerated abuses of freedom.  How are we as Christian citizens going to meet these abuses?  How do we as Christians engage this debate in light of our country’s constitution?  More to the point, how do we engage this debate in light of our Kingdom calling?

Our society is constructed around the concept of a social contract, that is, our ability to enjoy freedom is predicated on our ability to coexist with each other peaceably.  In order to do that, in order to enjoy freedom, we sometimes have to be willing to give and take rights in degrees, so that our freedoms do not infringe upon one another.  (i.e. Your constitutional right to move about freely ends at my front door; or my yard.) Limits are placed on the exercise of our rights so that we may all enjoy as abundant freedom as is possible.

Now in regard to guns, practically speaking it will be impossible and impractical to remove guns from our society, regardless of what has been done in Australia or Holland or any other example, guns will always be a part of the American experience, in large part due to the 2nd amendment.  What we have to contend with now is a situation where access to certain weapons seems to be against the public interest.  I think inherent in the rights enumerated in the constitution is the idea that these rights can only be enjoyed to the fullest by a nation that values the ultimate right of the individual to live.

Sadly our society seems to value life less and less.  The founding fathers lived in a time when there was a pervasive understanding of man’s worth being from God, and that human life should be valued. (Unless you were African American or a woman, but even then there was some appreciation for their life, if not their legal standing.)  When society has broad recognition and respect for life, more freedom can and should be granted, with the understanding that people will most likely exercise their rights in favor of life.

But in our day, values have changed, culture has changed, the morals of society have changed, and not for the better.  So when we are faced with a society where individuals can gain access legally to weapons that can inflict great harm on a great number of people; I.e. Semi-automatic/automatic assault rifles with armor piercing bullets and 20-30 round magazines, we have to ask ourselves can we as a society handle that freedom responsibly?  If a large enough group of the electorate concludes that we can not, then there are mechanisms in place to restrict our ability to exercise that freedom.

Think of the debate in terms of drugs, say opium, now there was a time when there were not laws in place restricting access to opium, or cocaine.  But there came a point where we as a society recognized that while we have a constitutional right to imbibe whatever we wish, we did not have the restraint, nor was it in the public interest, to allow unrestricted use of that drug.  So our rights were limited, but for the public good. We did not ban or restrict all drugs, but certain drugs were deemed too dangerous.

When we look at Aurora, or Sandyhook we see instances where individuals legally obtained weapons that caused a tremendous amount of damage in a brief amount of time.  These gunman were not part of the seedy criminal underbelly, but law abiding citizens up to the point of their crimes.  So what everyone is asking is, are they ways that we can prevent just ONE of these tragedies from happening again?  I know that there will always be nut-cases, and criminals who, regardless of the law, will get guns and massacre others.  But is there anything that can be done to prevent even one of these events from happening again?  If, say, we ban multiple round clips, or bushmaster assault rifles could just one of these tragedies be prevented?  If you were the parent of one of the 20 six year-olds killed last month, I think you might be asking yourself the same thing.

Now I know that there is the slippery slope argument, that this is just the beginning steps until President Obama and all liberals have some firearm auto-de-fe and trample on the constitution.  However, the problem with slippery slope arguments is that the reductio ad absurdum can be used for just about any initiative on any side of the political spectrum.  (ie like when the political left argues that teaching creationism in schools will lead to a state religion, that is a slippery slope, so does that mean that they have a point?)  While these laws may not be perfect we can not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.  Simply arguing that an assault weapons ban will not end gun violence is not a good enough reason to not do it.  Simply because somewhere down the line this might be used to attempt to limit access to guns in general is not a good enough excuse not to do it.  Something is going to have to be done, for we as a society are forfeiting our ability to enjoy freedom, by exercising it improperly.  When we are facing that slippery slope, we might well ask if it would be better to build a fence on top of the hill or a hospital at the bottom.  Most agree that the fence is easier to build.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves as Christians, apart form whatever the constitution says, are we going to be a people who value access to guns even if that access comes with an increasing toll on human life?  If societal morals were better, then maybe we could trust society with the unrestricted right to all kinds of arms, but as I mentioned earlier society has increasingly showed that it can not handle that freedom responsibly.  A similar argument can be made in regards to abortion.  Every christian recognizes a right to privacy, but the court has extended that right to include the right of a mother to decide in private what she does with her baby.  While we Christians agree with the right to privacy in the 4th amendment, we do not think that it extends to the point where a woman can end a pregnancy and kill a child.  Constitutional law allows a woman to kill her baby, and society has degenerated to the point where this is done with frightening frequency.  As Christians, we recognize the constitutional right, but make an argument that society can not responsibly handle this constitutional freedom of privacy as the court rendered it.  Clearly it was not the intent of the founders that the 4th amendment to be extended to allow for 1 million + abortions a year.  Christian conservatives make arguments everyday that the constitutional rights of women be limited in order to protect the lives of unborn children.

Likewise, while I am thankful for the 2nd amendment and agree with the founders intent to provide society means of protection from government excess, I do not think that it was their intent that the freedom go so unchecked that thousands every year be gunned down with assault rifles and large magazine and armor piercing bullets.  So I, along with others, argue that the some rights of some gun owners be limited to protect the children already born.  It is the same principle, its the same argument.  When society can not responsibly exercise freedom, then it is the burden of the government, of the people, by the people, and for the people to make every effort to protect human life and insure the our access to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

We live in a sinful world, which by its very nature is limited by sin.  We see only in part, we live only in part, and we long for the demise of sin and the arrival of true freedom.  We must recognize our limits, and seek hearts of wisdom.  We must seek our satisfaction in God; and though the days are evil, we must display His work to others and proclaim His power to our children.  Our chief identity should not be in our rights as recorded in the constitution, but in His work on the cross.

I’d love feedback, and welcome any discussion as to whether you agree or disagree.

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The City, a Place Where Wondering Ceases…

June 26, 2011

The city, a place where wondering ceases.  Psalm 107 is a powerful recitation of God’s faithfulness displayed in the shepherding of His nation Israel through the dessert.  The wilderness throughout scripture is a place of testing, punishment and judgment.  Cain is cast into the wilderness east of Eden, punished for spilling his brothers blood.  Israel wanders through the wilderness until God’s righteous judgment is fulfilled, Jesus enters the wilderness led by the Spirit to face temptation and reckon with evil.  Rest for the weary wanderer lies in the cities.

In the Psalms, Israel sings of their land, promised and flowing with provision and blessing.  They were to till fields they had not planted, and to live in cities they had not built.  Psalm 107 tells us of such a story.  God is the great urban planner, who gathered people, “in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.” (vs. 3)  They wandered through deserts and wasted places, souls faint; bodies dried up and thristy for lack of a city.  But God in His enduring lovingkindness heard their cry and “led them by a straight way til they reached a city to dwell in.” (vs. 7)  The cities of man, built by foreign hands, represented for Israel the promised reward for faithfulness in their wandering.

How many in our cities are still wandering?  Led by God’s unseen hand, drawn to occupy apartments they did not build, resting in the security of the city, but filled with spiritual unrest.  They face an eternity lost to wonder apart from the satisfaction found in God.  May God allow me to preach in such a way that they cry to Him their satisfaction, and are led a straightway to an end of their wandering, through the wilderness of life to the eternal city.  Where the weary soul is satisfied and the hungry soul is filled with Good things.(9)

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What is Sin? The Unholy Trinity…

June 24, 2011

Sin, Transgression, and Iniquity In Psalm 51.

What is sin, really? 

From the very first verses in this psalm, David is upfront and honest about his actions and the punishment he deserves.  He has not only missed the mark, and failed to follow the law, he has actively engaged in criminal activity, adultery, murder, lying, theft, all of which leads up to a virtual rebellion against the God he now implores for forgiveness.  This is a pattern of evil easy to criticize, but also all too easy to mimic in our own lives.  Thankfully we serve a God or mercy, and compassion.  There is no reason that we should be accepted by a Holy God.  All of us from ‘small’ sins to great transgressions display hearts in rebellion to our maker.  Our only choice is to throw ourselves at His mercy and plead for grace.  David models both the confession and the call for mercy, for his sins, his life of iniquity and pattern of transgression.

 a.     Sin: The word used twice in this Psalm for ‘sin’ is the word חַטָּאָת or chatta’ath.  This word is rooted in the idea of mis-step, to stumble or falter.  To miss the mark, induce sin, or bring guilt and or condemnation.  It is from these sins that the Israelites sought absolution through sacrifice.  David rightly seeks to be ‘cleansed’ from this act and will feel confronted with his sin continually until he is forgiven.

 b.     Iniquity- The word here is עָוֹן or ‘av-own’. It occurs some 237 times in the Old Testament and describes a pattern or display of criminal activity.  This is not merely sin, or missing the mark but engaging in a crime, for which one would be prosecuted, tried and judged.  Sometimes it is the penalty for sin, in that sin brings about iniquity, a pattern or ‘life of crime’.  It is rooted in the idea, and comes from the word to bend or pervert, to twist or distort.  So one could see the natural transition here, from twisted and perverted to iniquity and crime.  To bend and twist the law to fit your own way is to commit a crime.  Certainly David is guilty of this, and rightly seeks to be absolved of his crime, ‘wash me thoroughly from my iniquity.’ Vs. 2.

 c.   Transgression- The word here is פֶּשַׁע or ‘pesha’.  It occurs some 99 times in the Old Testament.  It is rooted in the idea or rebellion or revolt.  Its root word means as much, to turn away from.  Israel was in rebellion against David’s kingdom (1 King 12:19) This is to commit sin against someone else, Joseph’s brothers transgressed against him by selling him into slavery.  Israel.  One can and does transgress against God, every time one sins.  God promises to punish those who transgress Ps. 89:32 but to those who he forgives, He not only forgives but places their transgressions far from them. Ps. 103:12.  But Christ was numbered among the transgressors bearing the sins of many and interceded for them. (Isa. 53:12)

John MacArthur writes:

“If I were to sum up what David was feeling, I might say it like this, “Sin had made him dirty and he wanted to be clean. Guilt had made him sick and he wanted to be well. Disobedience had made him lonely and he wanted to be reconciled. Rebellion had made him fearful and he wanted to be pardoned.”  That’s what comes out of Psalm 51, a man who feels dirty, sick, isolated and afraid…all consequence of his sin. And out of that, he pours forth this confession and it has all the right perspectives of a true confession would be threefold…see your sin for what it is, see God for who He is, and see yourself for who you are. Any true confession is going to have to interact with those components.”[1]


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Our Abiding Help… Can we lose the Spirit?

June 17, 2011

Psalm 51 is David’s great penitential psalm.  A record of his words of remorse and repentance following his adultery with Bathsheba, murder of Uriah, and deception of Israel.  In it he pleads to God for mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation. (You can read my previous thoughts on his prayer here.)

Many of us have prayed this prayer.  Athanasius, the great church father suggested that it should be prayed by all believers when the lie awake at night.  Martin Luther said of the psalm that, “There is no other Psalm which is oftener sung or prayed in the church.”  For some of us Psalm 51 has become a well worn road of faithful repentance; relied upon frequently to reorient our minds toward our maker and renew our broken and contrite hearts.  But when we come to verse eleven, as Christians post-calvary, post-pentacost, having received the Spirit, how do we pray this prayer? In verse 11 though, he makes a request that is startling to consider; ‘take not your Spirit from me.’  All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for among other things training in righteousness; but concerning this verse, can it be prayed in light of the cross?

The answer is yes, we can pray this prayer, and recite this psalm to God, taking comfort from David’s prose and the God it addresses.  The task is not whether the words can be prayed but, what we mean by the words, and how we pray them.

Below are three treatments of the verse.  One, courtesy of Don Stewart, author and apologist and the other from C. John Collins and the ESV Study Bible both address the Old Testament context of the prayer.  And finally Charles Spurgeon from his Treasury of David, on how we should word this verse, consistent with our understanding to the abiding Holy Spirit and the desired favor of God.  I hope they are helpful.

 Can we Lose the Holy Spirit?[1] -Don Stewart

 Once the Holy Spirit enters a person, can He leave? In Psalm 51, David prayed:

Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me (Psalm 51:11).

 The Bible gives the example of the Holy Spirit leaving Samson:

 And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” So he awoke, from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him (Judges 16:20).

 In another instance, the Holy Spirit is said to have left Saul:

 But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him (1 Samuel 16:14).

 These passages seem to teach that one can lose the Holy Spirit. But this is not necessarily the case. There are other possible solutions to this question. Some believe that the situations of David, Samson, and Saul must be understood in their Old Testament context. It appears that during that period, the Holy Spirit did not indwell believers on a permanent basis; but rather His presence in the life of the believer was of a limited duration.

 Special Anointing

 A second view holds that it was not the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that left these people, but a particular anointing or empowering of the Spirit that departed. David and Saul were kings and had a special anointing from God to rule the people. Samson also had a special anointing from God to lead Israel. What left Samson and Saul and what David prayed to retain was not the indwelling of the Holy Spirit but rather the Holy Spirit’s anointing to rule. In the same way, the Holy Spirit always indwells a believer, but can anoint that New Testament believer for a specific and temporary purpose.

 Whatever the case may be, the New Testament makes it plain that the Holy Spirit will not leave the believer.

 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever (John 14:16).

 Having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession (Ephesians 1:13,14).

From C. John Collins and the ESV Study Bible: (Crossway, 2008)

Ps. 51:11 “take not your Holy Spirit from me.” Some have taken this to imply that the Holy Spirit can be taken from someone, at least in the OT; others have suggested that the Holy Spirit is viewed here in his role of empowering David for his kingly duties, and that this is a prayer that God not take the kingship and the divine anointing for kingship from David as he did from Saul (1 Sam. 16:14;1 Sam. 16:13).

To evaluate these views, one should observe that the OT rarely discusses the Holy Spirit’s role in cleansing the inner life (besides here, Ezek. 36:27 is the main OT text on the subject), and certainly does not enter into technical questions of the Spirit’s permanent indwelling. Further, the fact that this is a psalm for the whole congregation argues against the idea that this is David’s personal prayer about his kingship.

The whole tenor of this psalm is that, if strict justice were God’s only consideration, he would have the right to bring dire judgment on those who sin (which includes all of his own people), and that the only possible appeal is to his mercy. The function of the psalm, as a song sung by the entire congregation, is to shape their hearts so that they feel this at the deepest level, lest they ever presume upon God’s grace.

Charles Spurgeon on Verse 11:

“Cast me not away from thy presence. Throw me not away as worthless; banish me not, like Cain, from thy face and favour. Permit me to sit among those who share thy love, though I only be suffered to keep the door. I deserve to be forever denied admission to thy courts; but, O good Lord, permit me still the privilege which is dear as life itself to me. Take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Withdraw not his comforts, counsels, assistances, quickenings, else I am indeed as a dead man. Do not leave me as thou didst Saul, when neither by Urim, nor by prophet, nor by dream, thou wouldst answer him. Thy Spirit is my wisdom, leave me not to my folly; he is my strength, O desert me not to my own weakness. Drive me not away from thee, neither do thou go away from me. Keep up the union between us, which is my only hope of salvation. It will be a great wonder if so pure a spirit deigns to stay in so base a heart as mine; but then, Lord, it is all wonder together, therefore do this, for thy mercy’s sake, I earnestly entreat thee.”

[1] Don Stewart, http://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/stewart.cfm?id=489

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What is man? Our place in the mind of God…

June 6, 2011

Psalm 8 is a masterful meditation with a tapestry as rich and complex as the night’s sky. Here a king comes to grips with the significance of God and the minuteness of man. David might be seen strolling atop his palace at night glancing across God’s chosen land into His created heavens, and amid the trappings of royalty, the gold and the silks and the rooms of opulence, he gazes upon a splendor that surpasses all that man can manifest. The earth is wrapped each night in the majestic testimony of the creator God, whom David calls by name. “Oh Yahweh, our Lord.” How many nights he must have seen the heavenly drama unfold, tending sheep. The God he calls to, called him a child an infant, to rise up and still the enemies of Israel. As a small boy, ruddy in complexion, and ruff in demeanor, God used him to establish strength and build a nation, slaying giants and founding cities. Such favor prompts the response, who am I? What is man that You are mindful of him?

Throughout the immensity of earth and the inexhaustible vastness of space God focuses on us, on children in mangers and shepherds in wilderness fields. On single moms and struggling families, students and corporate tycoons, He sees us and is aware of our condition. As we pass by the hurting around us, mindful of only our own needs, God is mindful of them and all of us, and has set about a plan for our redemption and glory.

This psalm is not about our insignificance but rather our insurmountable role as those who would exercise dominion over this creation. God takes the small, the weak, the unwise, the poor and gives them the kingdom of Heaven as an inheritance. Despite being like children, weak and defenseless; despite being the most fragile of God’s creations, as generations of us will pass in the life of a single star, God has chosen to display His glory through us. All that He has created shall be planted beneath our feet and we shall reign.

How majestic is this God? The word majestic used twice in this psalm, is glorious, wondrous, illustrious, illustrating God’s preeminence above His creation. The term is just as good when used to describe the scene in Genesis when the stars are formed, as it is to describe their fall in Revelation. And like his majesty displayed at both ends of scripture, David closes this reflection with the echo of God’s renown. Who are we, but a vast tapestry of God’s grace, millions of minute points of light shining in the darkness bearing witness to His unlimited grace and infinite greatness.

That He is mindful of us in never in doubt, what remains to be seen is if we are mindful of Him.

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The Heavens declare, the King Reflects…

May 30, 2011

Psalm 19 is a masterful text within the Psalter, arguably peerless in its scope and impact.  C.S. Lewis describes it as, “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”[1]  This Davidic psalm exists as a humble meditation on the part of its author and a powerful instruction directed to its reader.  We must remember that it was written by a king whose sole preoccupation was the governing of his people.  This was by no means an easy task, ask any politician or governor or judge, if you are responsible for enforcing laws, and maintaining peace and freedom, your burden is great. For Israel’s kings the guidelines for governance were specifically laid out in Deuteronomy 17:18-20:

18 When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy these laws on a scroll for himself in the presence of the Levitical priests.  19 He must always keep this copy of the law with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of this law.  20 This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. This will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.”

From the very first day as king and ruler, David had to begin focusing on the word of God and the Law contained within it.  He would copy it, carry it with him, read it daily and rely on it to avoid slipping into prideful arrogance and wrongful ruling.

David rightly saw that God’s law, His order of love and justice, was not just written with pen and ink, but with stars, clouds, the expansive heavens above, and nature below.  All of creation testifies to God’s grace through revelation of a purpose behind the spoken words.  And within this psalm the purpose of God is laid out in mirror image to the rest of scripture.

Within fourteen verses there exists an encapsulation of the entire narrative of the Bible.  Beginning with creation, (vss. 1-4a) God’s ‘handiwork’ the work of His hands, the heavens molded majestically reflecting His glory.  Expanses of sky and echoes on earth, testify that the creator reigns.  Then the psalm progresses to how God reigns over His creation, from one end to the other, missing nothing and seeing everything (vss. 4b-6); He then gives His law to restore, enlighten and endure (vss. 7-11); which exposes our need, prompting our confession (vss.12-13); and concludes where all scripture does on the Lord, our redeemer (vs.14).  (It is easy to see Christ in this psalm, the Rock of ages, the redeemer of all who call upon Him.)

The sun/Son which shines on all creation exposes all that is hidden, including our own secluded faults; ultimately our ability to tell right from wrong lies in our willingness to walk in its/His light.  An illuminating law revealed in nature, sealed in ink, and written on our hearts.


[1] (Reflections on the Psalms, p. 56)

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What Can Flesh do to us?…

April 8, 2011

Psalm 56:3-4, 13

The Psalms enrich the life of the believer in a multitude of ways.  But they can pose difficulties.  For instance, how can I pray a psalm that focusses on relief from human oppression?  I am rarely if ever being pursued, apprehended, or foiled by others.  My enemies are typically spiritual and/or personal.

Three verses in this psalm transcend any difficulty that I might have, verses 3,4, and 13:   “when I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God whose word I praise, in God I trust, I shall not be afraid, what can flesh do to me.”  You can almost hear David building up the argument within his own mind, preaching to his soul, building the case for courage in the face of oppression and despair.

Thankfully, by God’s grace, I do not know oppression.  But I do know fear.  The gift of this Psalm is the perspective that it offers.  What are we to fear?  Christ instructs us that we are not to fear the one who can destroy our body, but rather we are to fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in Hell.  Fear rightly expressed toward God dispels all other fears and eliminates the very source of worry.  What can flesh do to me when I have verse 13; ” For you have delivered my soul from death, yes my feet from falling, that I may walk before God, in the light of life.”

Once God has saved my soul from the eternal death that awaits it apart from His grace, what could possibly arise against me to inspire fear.  What darkness could encompass me when I walk in the Light of life.  A light, that John tells us, has not been overcome by darkness, but rather has overcome the darkness with light.  What can man do to me?  What can I do to myself?  O God rise up and save me from my enemies.  Save me from myself, I believe God, help my unbelief.