There is faith in asking

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I love the Psalms, but they kind of freak me out. They’re shockingly honest about what life following the Lord is really like–and not every day is a Friday. Sometimes it seems like everyone’s got a perpetual case of the Mondays.

Psalm 10 is like this, right from the opening verse, opening with the question no one wants to admit they ask:

Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

But we all ask it, don’t we? Somewhere along the way, we’re all going to have a moment where we’ll be asking, “God, where are you? What’s going on here? Why is this world a giant mess and you don’t seem to be doing anything about it?”

Many of us shy away from admitting it, simply because we’ve been told not that that’s not what faithful Christians say. But in the Psalms and in the prophets, we keep seeing the authors of Scripture asking this sort of question.

In Psalm 55, David the great king of Israel, the man the Bible calls the man after God’s own heart, cried out, “Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!”

Habbakuk’s book opens with these words:

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?

Jeremiah, likewise, experienced so much turmoil in his ministry that he even went so far as to suggest that God had tricked him! (Jeremiah 20:7).

But those are not the only places we see it: Psalm 44:24, Psalm 88:14, Psalm 89:46… Over and over and over again, God’s people keep asking this question when they are so overwhelmed in the midst of trials and suffering, when they are overcome by unrelenting injustice: Where are you, God?

So what do we do with this?

There is faith in asking

Now, one of the things Christians really struggle with is being honest about the difficulties we face. We seem to have bought into this idea that if we don’t understand what God is doing, or opening up about what’s going on and how we’re feeling—to say that it feels like God is absent from our lives—that we’re denying him. We’re abandoning the faith or on the road to apostasy.

And to be perfectly clear, there is a kind of questioning God that is absolutely rooted in unbelief. It is presumptuous. And it is arrogant. When we do this, we’re really just trying to placate ourselves as if to say, “Well, God isn’t paying attention anyway, so I’ll just go do what I want.”

But what we need to recognize is that the author of Psalm 10 is not asking out of unbelief, any more than David, Habbakuk or Jeremiah did. He’s not looking for an out. He’s at the end of his rope. He knows what God has said about justice and mercy and compassion, and he knows the commands of God—that he is to love the Lord with all of his heart and to love his neighbor as himself—but he looks around and sees something other than that. He asks because in all of it, he feels the apparent absence of God, and for the person for whom the presence of the Lord is their greatest and all-consuming joy, that is a terrifying thing.

His question is an act of faith, and it can be one for us, too.

This is something I’ve had to learn and relearn numerous times over the last few years. When we lost a baby—and Emily nearly lost her life—during a difficult miscarriage in 2009, it was hard to understand what God was doing there, despite some of the good we saw from it. When Emily developed epilepsy three years ago, neither of us jumped for joy because we had a new opportunity to glorify God in our circumstances. When I was in a place where every single night I would come home from work begging and pleading for it to be okay for me to go in the next day and resign, and the answer was always no, I didn’t just shrug my shoulders and say, “Well, the Lord’s will be done.”

Life doesn’t work that way, and it’s okay to admit it.

But the point of asking the question isn’t to allow us to wallow in our despair. We ask not out of unbelief, but to help our unbelief. We ask because we need to be reminded, as the author of Psalm 10 did, of the sovereignty of God. He asked because he needed to remind himself that God would indeed act, that justice would be done.

The Lord is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:16-18)

He gives thanks to the Lord, who is king forever and ever—Jesus, the Son of God, the heir to the throne of David, the One through whom and for whom all things exist. The one who even now holds all the universe together and has promised that a day is coming when justice will be fully and finally served. Sin and sadness and death will be no more. There will be no more tyranny or tears. The fatherless and oppressed will rejoice and be strengthened. No man will strike terror ever again. Evil will perish. All the accounting will be done.

That’s what we all need, isn’t it? And the good news is, when we see the injustices in this world that seem to go unmet, we can have hope. No matter how frustrating things are, we need not despair. No matter what circumstances we face, we need not believe God has abandoned us. We need to remind ourselves of this, even as we plead with him to act and call on him to help the humble and oppressed. His is here. He is with us. He is good. And he is faithful to answer your call. He will do justice and man will strike terror no more.

So don’t think asking is an act of unbelief—there is faith in asking.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

This week’s Crossway deals focus on biblical authority:

Be sure to also check out Cross edited by John Piper & David Mathis ($4.99) and Ordinary by Tony Merida ($4.99).

When Your Twenties Are Darker Than You Expected

Paul Maxwell:

The human body starts dying at age 25. Our twenties slap us with the expiration date of sin’s curse (Genesis 6:3): slowly, in our ligaments; tightly, in our muscle fibers; subtly, checking for bumps; decimally, with a rising BMI. We feel death in our twenties; emotionally and relationally, in ugly and odious ways. Death latches its chain to our frame, slowly pulling us deep into an answer to the question “Death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Our twenties bring so many answers to that question — transition, failure, desperation, dependence, accusation, responsibility, moral failure, stagnation, unfulfillment. “Sting” isn’t sufficient. Our twenties can be a dark time.

How should writers and editors work together?

Aspiring writers, you’d do well to take this advice from Gavin Ortlund seriously.

Does Open Theism solve the problem of evil and suffering?

Randy Alcorn:

I don’t enjoy opposing a doctrine that seems to comfort some suffering brothers and sisters. However, I believe open theism redefines God Himself, altering one of His most basic attributes, omniscience, in a misguided and unsuccessful attempt to make it more compatible with His love.

4 Things the ‘Hate Psalms’ Teach Us

Wendy Stringer:

My husband and I spent the first 15 years of our life together with a church that sang the psalms in corporate worship. They were set to old hymns and anthems, with language similar to a sonnet and sung a cappella. Opening burgundy psalters, waiting for four notes blown on the pitch pipe, we would break into harmony and sing our hearts to God.

It was a beautiful experience, but every once in a while we would come to an imprecatory psalm, and I couldn’t choke out the words. Singing Psalm 137, for example, felt offensive and unnecessary; Jesus is not explicitly present, so why sing as though he has not come and saved us?

Why these imprecatory psalms? Why Psalm 137? What do these psalms tell us?

Faithfully Delivering the Gospel

Erik Raymond:

If we really believe that the gospel is the power of God for salvation we probably would not mess with it. It is not wise to edit perfection; we have not been given proofreading writes by God to add or delete elements from his masterpiece of Christ exalting truth.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

And over at Westminster Bookstore, you can get Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real With God About Sex by John Freeman for $9.99 or $7 when you buy five or more.

The Great, Redemptive Multi-Tasker

Nick Batzig shares a great meditation on Christ.

The King Who Never Married

Petar Nenadov:

It’s an odd story when the king never marries. Ancient kings not only married, but also married again and again. And if dozens or hundreds of wives could not suffice, there were always concubines.

Wouldn’t a king who never married be some kind of lesser king?

Is World Magazine A Muck-Raker?

David Murray:

This New York Times headline caught my attention yesterday: A Muckraking Magazine Creates A Stir Among Evangelical Christians. I scrolled through my mental rolodex and couldn’t imagine what magazine they could possibly be writing about. I clicked through to discover that it was World Magazine they were referring to.

Yes, World Magazine! A muckraking magazine?

Stunned, I could only assume that World Magazine had suddenly fallen into Rupert Murdoch’s hands, or that the highly-respected editorial team had been ousted in a Hollywood Reporter coup, or that I had missed some World-shattering online revelations in the week since I’d last read the magazine.

Not alphabet soup: the truth about Psalm 119

Jesse Johnson:

Psalm 119 is the longest poem in the Bible. It is the longest prayer in the Bible. It is the longest acrostic in the Bible. It is the longest chapter in the Bible. It stands at the center of the Bible, and it is about the Bible. The longest Psalm is a psalm about Psalms. The most intimidating chapter in the Word is also a chapter about the Word.

The irony of God’s strength

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In, Psalm 8:1-2, David gives God praise, describing the gloriousness of His nature and the majesty of His name. And almost immediately, he presents us with a curious irony: God’s strength is displayed in weakness:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. (emphasis mine)

Notice how God has established his strength—”out of the mouth of babies and infants.” God reveals His majesty using the “weak” and “foolish” things of this world. He uses voices that don’t matter, at least in worldly ways. He revealed himself to the world through the nation of Israel—redeemed slaves taken out of the land of Egypt. Through Moses, God revealed himself to Pharaoh with power and authority. Moses, a man who stuttered. Later, as Israel’s earthly throne was established, God rejected Saul, who was the epitome of what a human king should be, and gave the throne to David, a lowly shepherd boy.… On and on we could go through the Old Testament as God consistently used seemingly insignificant voices within the culture of the time—the poor, women, children—to reveal his power and majesty to the world.

And today, it’s no different. God continues to reveal his strength through the weak things in the world. He reveals himself through the church. A church founded by uneducated fishermen, a former tax collector and zealots, with a message that sounds like absolute lunacy to most who hear it: that God would come in human form, suffer and die on a roman cross to pay for the sins of the world, and rise again from death.

In his excellent book, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life, Dale Ralph Davis describes the day General T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s world came crashing down around him. His wife had given birth to a stillborn son, then she suffered an uncontrollable hemorrhage. In the span of a few hours, Jackson went from joyful expectant father to crushed widower.

The next day he wrote his sister Laura; he told her he thought he could submit to anything if God strengthened him for it; but he made no attempt to cover his sad despair. But then there in the middle of his note, there is a most moving one-liner. He says: “Oh! my Sister would that you could have Him for your God!”

Can you imagine that? Can you think of anything weaker than Jackson dashed and devastated by the Lord’s “taking away”? Here is a man beaten and crushed who nevertheless says, Oh that you could have him for your God.

This is one of the great ironies of the gospel: God’s strength is made known in weakness. That is what God has entrusted to us. Fallible, foolish, sinful people, who, by God’s grace, have been saved and redeemed by this foolish message of good news and great joy. And so, like David, we give God praise because of the irony of his strength.


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The righteous don’t go with the flow

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The happy man (or, the man enjoying God’s blessing) is the separated man, a man who is not in neutral but who has a bias against evil in all its forms.… So… how happy the man who does not… He is countercultural. He is, in a word, different. He is not just a nice, easy-going, tolerant chap who likes to share a Löwenbräu with you. There’s a difference between the righteous man here and what my culture calls a ‘good old boy.’ He resists the vacuum-cleaner power-moves that evil puts on him. Mardy Grothe tells of a long-lived lady who, when asked what was the best thing about being 104, replied, ‘No peer pressure.’ But the righteous man in [Psalm 1:1] is not 104 and he meets plenty of peer pressure. It may cost him. But the righteous man is the one who does not go with the flow.

Dale Ralph Davis, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life: Psalms 1-12, 15

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Book Review: The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms

The Psalms is one of the most read books in the Old Testament. It’s not hard to understand why since, in many ways, it is the most human book of the Bible. The Psalms are weighty and textured, showing God’s people rejoicing in faith and lamenting in despair. They contain some of the most comforting and provocative words in all Scripture.

Yet, because of the span of time between us and the culture in which they were written, there are a few things that gets lost in translation. When was Psalm 110 written? Why is Selah off to the side in Psalm 3:2? And what is a miktam, anyway? While there are a lot of resources out there that can help readers dig into the meat of the Psalms and clear up confusion about words, expressions and ideas, many are not terribly accessible for a popular audience. With The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms, authors Brian L. Webster and David R. Beach provide readers with a helpful introductory level companion to this beloved section of Scripture.

In many ways, The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms serves as an amped-up version of the introductory notes you’d find in your typical study Bible. They give a very brief overview of the background and structure of each psalm, as well its type and unique characteristics. For the average reader, this is tons of information, but it’s all valuable. There have been many times as I’ve read the Psalms where having some of this material would have been very handy.

A nice feature of the book is the “Reflections” section of each synopsis. These sections offer a devotional element as the authors share their own thoughts on the content of each psalm.

While there are a number of elements that I appreciated, there were a few things that stuck out as negatives. Some are simply preference issues (I thought the majority of the accompanying images were a bit on the cheesy side, for example). But there was one big miss for me, which is that some of the background notes lacked an appropriate connection to Christ. [Read more…]

D.A. Carson: Getting Excited about Melchizedek #TGC11

In the final plenary session of The Gospel Coalition’s 2011 National Conference, D.A. Carson expounds on Psalm 110, the psalm most quoted in all the New Testament.

The audio is available for download here. Video footage can be viewed below:

 

My notes follow:


The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”

The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.

Rule in the midst of your enemies!

Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.

He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses, he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.

He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head. (Psalm 110 ESV)

Most of the controlling themes in the Bible don’t resonate well with the dominate culture in the west. Think of the categories:

Covenant. Priests. Sacrifice. Blood Offering. King. Passover. Day of Atonement. Year of Jubilee.

King. We speak of King Jesus. When Jesus announced His coming, He did not announce the coming of the republic of God. The king of the Bible is not a constitutional monarch. King has very different references.

We’re not thinking in these terms alone.

Yet Melchizedek turns out to be one of the most instructive figures in the whole Bible for helping us put together our Bible and seeing who Jesus is. God has put things together in the Bible in this way for our good.

Melchizedek only shows up in the OT in two places, once in Genesis and once here. And he shows up only once in the NT and that’s it. Yet he is absolutely revolutionary in our understanding of the Bible.

So we begin with Psalm 110. [Read more…]

James MacDonald: Not According to Our Sins #TGC11

James MacDonald is the founding pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel here in Chicago. His message comes from Psalm 25.

The audio is available for download here. Video footage can be viewed below:

My notes follow.


Not sure if this was a gift or Carson throwing down the gauntlet—“let’s see you preach Christ out of this text, yo!”

Before we can preach Christ, we first need to preach. Many are not actually heralding the Word that has been given to them. We need to preach Christ from all the Word.

4 things by way of background on Psalm 25:

  1. It’s a psalm. They’re the most quoted books of the OT in the NT. They’re quoted over 400 times in the NT. The psalms are the songbook of Jesus.
  2. It’s a poem. Ancient Hebrew poetry with two main artistic structure. It’s an acrostic and the truths come in couplets, synonymous parallelism.
  3. It’s a pattern. Prayer, creed, prayer. It’s David in pursuit of total trust in God. That’s why I’ve called this message “When You Don’t Know What To Do.” Some of it’s about learning, some is about leaning, but it’s all about building trust.
  4. It’s the plea of a broken-hearted man. Don’t ever let your study cause paralysis in remembering that this is a real life. A psalm like this can only come from someone who understood what it was like to be crushed. Many debate when this took place in David’s life, but most agree that this has to do with Absalom (see 2 Sam 3-15).

Psalm 25:1-2a: Trust God. The whole theme of the psalm. The word for “soul” means the center of the desires, but can include the whole body.

Psalm 25:2b-3: No Shame. Can his prayer be anymore clear? “Let me not be put to shame.” It may look really bad today, your heart might be in the vice of some crushing reality, but it’s not over. What we have to learn is that there is no shame. Not in the end, not when God’s done. Is there ever an excuse or reason to be betrayed? Pastors, parents, children, people don’t deserve that. [Read more…]

Sermon Audio: When God Delivers His People

On Sunday, March 6, 2011, I had the privilege of preaching at Sovereign Grace Community Church in Sarnia, Ontario. The message, “When God Delivers His People,” was preached from Psalm 14:1-7:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

 

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the LORD? There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. You would shame the plans of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge.

 

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

The complete audio is available here: :

You can also download to listen later.

My original sermon notes are available for download here.

I hope you find the message edifying. Please feel free to provide some feedback in the comments. Thanks!

Sermon Audio: Delighting in Devotion

On Sunday, February 20, 2011, I had the privilege of preaching at Gladstone Baptist Church in Gladstone, Ontario. The message, “Delighting in Devotion,” was preached from Psalm 1:1-6:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seats of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

The complete audio is available here:

:

You can also download to listen later.

My original sermon notes are available for download here.

I’d love to get your thoughts on how this message has impacted you (if at all). Looking forward to hearing from you!

Sermon Audio: Spiritual Poverty and the Worship of God

On Sunday, July 25, 2010, I had the privilege of preaching a message called Spiritual Poverty and the Word of God at Brussels Community Bible Chapel in Brussels, Ontario. This message from Psalm 63 looks at our need to be satisfied and comforted by God’s presence as we seek Him in His worship.

An MP3 of this message is available here.

The original sermon notes follow: [Read more…]

Blogging the Psalms: Rejoicing in Foreknowledge

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.

You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. . . .

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. . . .

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-16, 23-24

I love Psalm 139. As David moves through the psalm, we see him confronted with a keen awareness of God’s sovereignty—that God fully knows David. He knows every deed.

And he knows every thought.

“Even before a word is on my tongue . . . you know it altogether,” he writes. Every thought. Every word. Every action.

Every ugly sin that David would try to hide from anyone else, God knows it.

How does he react? Guilt? Shame?

Awe. [Read more…]

Blogging the Psalms: The Perfect Worshiper

Who is the perfect worshiper of the Lord? Who is worthy of standing before Him?

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.

Psalm 15:1-5

[Read more…]

Blogging the Psalms: Psalm 119

Psalm 119, like few other psalms, shows us passion for God’s word beyond measure. In the longest of all the psalms, the author expresses repeatedly his passion for God’s commands:

My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times (v. 20).

Your testimonies are my delight (24).

…my hope is in your rules (v. 43b).

…I find my delight in your commandments, which I love (v. 47).

When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O Lord (v. 52).

My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word (v. 81).

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth (v. 103).

Your testimonies …are the joy of my heart (v. 111).

I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments (v. 131).

In just these few verses, the Psalmist exclaims again and again: “I long for the salvation of the Lord! I am consumed by Your commands! I cannot live without them. They are my delight, they are my joy, and my comfort. They are my hope!” [Read more…]