Fruit in Its Season: An Ode to Psalms.

psalmslight

“everything written about me in the. . .Psalms must be fulfilled.” – Jesus. (Luke 24:44)

Tonight I end a journey that began on Wednesday night, August 26, 2011. It was on that evening I began walking Psalm by Psalm, stanza by stanza, and at many times verse by verse through the book of Psalms with our Wednesday night Bible study. Our time has been broken up by once a month business meetings, travels, and special events such as VBS and special guests, so by God’s providence tonight is the end of that journey as we study Psalm 150. It is with a jubilant heart of peace and tears of thankfulness I arrive here today. This will not be my last journey and I encourage you as an individual or pastor to take a similar journey. To encourage you, here are a few of my reflections on the Psalms.

The Psalms are the heartbeat of the Bible and therefore the heartbeat of God.  If you want to stay close to His heart, you need to hear His heart. You will find the rhythm in the book of Psalms. I knew as a first time/ full-time senior pastor, I desired to lead in prayer meeting by focusing on prayer. This led me to the conviction (before I knew for sure when and where I would go) our Wednesday night Bible study would initially consist of a study in the book of Psalms.  I read early on, “the Psalms paint pictures.” With that in mind the journey over the landscape of this vast book has been like a hike through the largest National Park with the highest of heights, the deepest of valleys,  with the brightest of sunlight, the darkness of night, the bitterness of stagnate water (of my own heart) and the refreshing and reviving coolness of a mountain stream (of God’s heart). The Psalms tickle the imagination and inoculate the heart with Truth. Spend time in this book and you will find the words more delightful than honey and more valuable than gold.

There are so many things I have learned throughout the study of the book it would be impossible to innumerate them all. However, there are three returning truths one can see from the vantage point of every hill and valley in the book: the mercy of God, the justice of God, and the mission of God. I have also included a word on His protection, providence, and Messiah.

His Mercy

By far, one of the most repeated words in this book is kesed – God’s love. I will never forget an evening cup of coffee with my pastor and a Hebrew professor, Dr. Wayne VanHorn, when he walked me word by word through Psalm 23 (I carry those notes in my Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia to this day) and his bright eyes as he spoke of God’s love (most often translated “mercy”) in Psalm 23:6. Without this kind of love, all of our lives, efforts, and trials are in vain. This is the kind of love God has for His people – very well characterized by the translation “mercy.” Dr. VanHorn told me that night (and I’ve never forgotten it) that one could consider this the “Covenant Love of God”. I have also seen it recently rendered by Alec Motyer as “God’s committed love” and it is also often translated “steadfast love” and “lovingkindness”.  Just as we would have no hope or salvation apart from the kesed of God, there would be no book of Psalms apart from that same kesed. Go to great lengths to find this covenant love throughout the book. It is never far away.

His Protection

We are all refugees. If we do not recognize this, we do not understand the mercy of God. He is our Rock, Fortress, Refuge, Strength and many such other names by which He is called that means He is our home (or “dwelling place” Ps.90:1). We find our rest in the shadow of His wings – in the midst of the “mercy seat” beneath the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. This picture alluded to by David many times is proof positive of his understanding of Salvation. Without God’s atoning sacrifice and the blood upon the mercy seat – there is no hope for sinful mankind. There is power in the blood after all. I have told our Wednesday night gathering, “we enjoy singing ‘the old rugged cross’ for David the song was ‘the old mercy seat’.” It is little wonder Luther was teaching Psalms alongside Romans and Galatians when he came to his core understanding of the Gospel.

His Providence

He cares for us. Jesus makes sure we know this when he quotes Psalms to us in the “Beatitudes” of the Sermon on the Mount. God is a God who fills us with “the finest of wheat.” Without the Psalms of David, there would be no songs of Mary and Zechariah in the book of Luke.

His Justice

Some of the most puzzling lines for many in the book of Psalms are those lines labeled “imprecations”. However, in the full counsel of God’s word and understanding of His character, they are not as difficult as they would be isolated from the context. God is a just God. He has or will visit justice on all of His enemies. This includes and is not limited to sin, death, hell, the wicked, and those who cause His little ones to stumble. Every prayer in the book of Psalms will be answered, including the imprecations against the Psalmist’s enemies. The reason for this is that all of our true enemies, are actually God’s enemies.

His Mission

Psalms is a missionary book. One does not have to read too long about God’s special people to realize He desires all the goiim (Greek: ethnay) to become part of His special people. This is the staff on which the music of the book of Psalms is written. The Psalms by nature are invitational and provide motivation for God’s chosen people to be missionaries to the ends of the earth. They will be drawn in by our pure worship of Him as Creator, Sustainer, and Savior.  This is perhaps best illustrated with the shortest Psalm – also the shortest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 117. This Psalm is not only the heartbeat of the book of Psalms, but is quite literally the heart of the Bible. This Psalm has the same number of chapters from Genesis 1 to its first verse as it does from its last verse to Revelation 22.

Praise the Lord, all nations!
    Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
    and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!

His Messiah

From the prophecies of Psalm 22 to the promises of Psalm 91, one finds Jesus fulfilling every ounce of unrequited expectation of the couplets and questions of the book. As with the Bible, so goes Psalms. If one reads the Psalms and misses Jesus, he has missed the book of Psalms.

Praise Him!

As I close this time and study in Psalms, I have also crossed another great milestone in reading through Spurgeon’s Treasury of David. Having spent so much time with Mr. Spurgeon, it seems fitting to give him (almost) the last word from his final introduction of a Psalm,

“We have now reached the last summit of the mountain chain of Psalms. It rises high into the clear azure, and its brow is bathed in the sunlight of the eternal world of worship, it is a rapture. The poet prophet is full of inspiration and enthusiasm. He slays not to argue, to teach, to explain; but cries with burning words, ‘Praise him, Praise him, Praise ye the LORD.’

“Here, the word says, ‘let everything that has breath praise the Lord,’ what if that were reversed and it said, ‘let everything that praises the Lord have breath?’” – David Platt.

Indeed. Hallelujah. Amen.

I praise Him not only as one who was found in mud and brought to new heights, but as one who hopes to be planted deep in mud with roots reaching down to the waters of life. On His word, may I meditate day and night.

Study Materials

There is nothing quite like reading the Psalms in one’s heart language and “meditating on them day and night.” However, I have found many sources to be of great value for further reflection and recommend them to the pastor wishing to embark on a similar journey or as the leader of in-depth Bible study. Of irreplaceable value has been the original language of the book of Psalms. This, coupled with Koehler and Baumgartner’s Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon has been a treasure trove of riches. If your Hebrew waxes and wanes, I highly recommend Zondervan’s Hebrew Reader’s Bible (it’s “Bible” feel, sizable font, and accessibility is superb). Of inestimable value at different intervals for personal devotional reflection have been the Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon, Calvin’s commentaries, W.S. Plummer’s Commentary on the Psalms (Banner of Truth Trust), and lately The Psalms by Day: A New Devotional Translation by Alec Motyer. Of instructional value have been Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook by Mark D. Futato and David M. Howard, Jr., the ESV Study Bible, and the MacArthur Study Bible.

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Happy Birthday Jack

I do not know that I could understand my understanding of Christianity apart from an old Anglican Saint whose birthday is today.  C.S., Clive Staples (His friends called him Jack) Lewis was born on this day in 1898.  He has come bounding back into influence in the past several years with his “hero” status in John Piper’s Desiring God and with the recent re-interest in his Narnia Chronicles that are being brought to life by Walden Media.  His nicotine habit, producing a smoke ring that would make Santa Clause jealous, and yellowed teeth coupled with his super intellectual and awkward appearance probably are not the images many look for in someone who would reveal Jesus to them.  But this “most reluctant convert” had a great deal to say, a knack for saying whatever it may be, and a few of those things are quite worth listening to.  Other than my insistence that you run and read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe immediately, regardless of age, I thought I would share a few particular insights of Jack that have meant volumes to my personal faith. 

Incarnation

“The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. ”

Lewis actually wrote an introduction to Athanasius’ volume On the Incarnation that is worth reading, but this particular insight from one of his World War II radio addresses that is memorialized in Mere Christianity is one that I always think of this time of year for advent.  Somehow in this witty quip I believe is part of the power of the “kenosis” of Philippians 2.  The emptying of God, and His putting on of flesh (John 1:14) we can get at just a little bit if we could try to wrap our minds around this whole slug thing.  Lewis was not afraid to go here in his thought, and I think it quite helpful to let our imaginations run with his long enough to realize there is no way that we could  really “get the hang of it.”

Celebration

“we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.”

This insight from Lewis in his Reflections on the Psalms is one of the most helpful thoughts I think he could have shared.  We must delight, and we must celebrate.  He prior to this rattled off a list of all those things that we delight to enjoy and praise from lovers to favorite teams, but none could encompass the great deal of delight that we must have in God, and that is ultimately reflected in the language of the Psalms.

Transportation

“Further up and further in.”

Last but certainly not least,  Lewis has probably done more for me in my thinking of heaven than any other source I can think of outside the Bible itself.  All the business of The Last Battle, coupled with The Great Divorce (as well as myriads of other thoughts and comments throughout other volumes) merge to make for quite a robust vision of Heaven. The idea that heaven is more real than anything else we can imagine, with all the brightness and color, delight, and realization that Jesus himself is the light, that we see, work, and do and enjoy is all wrapped up in this neat package.  Heaven for Lewis is not a whispy Spirit world, it is real, and is more real than we could ever imagine or anything we could experience. We will talk, we will recognize, and we will find there our ultimate desire, and find that He really was worth it after all. We will never get enough as we go “further up and further in” and we will find that it is only the beginning of the first chapter of the real story.

Thanks Jack, and happy birthday.