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.

2011 Books and Recommended Titles

I am left with the impression that I did not read as much as I would have liked, but that I certainly read more than I thought. I am constantly mindful of the quotation from Burroughs that says something to the effect that he will not live long enough to read all the books he’d have liked to have read (and I suppose he did not!). Nevertheless, I am pleased and hope my summation will spur you on to good reading that pertains to you and steer you away from that which may or may not suit your needs ( I am oft reminded of the simple statement from Matthew Henry, “Do not waste your time reading unprofitable books”.) This list is not to mention articles, commentaries (whole or in part), periodicals, devotionals, and book-oodles of information (good and bad) on the world wide web that have encompassed hours of reading (some profitable and some not.) One extremely disappointing and glaring reality about this list is that the vast majority of the authors are living. This is true, save the book edited by Beeke and Najapfour that makes great use of primary sources, a chapter in Feed My Sheep by the late James Montgomery Boice, and one book each by Bonhoeffer and Barth. This is not to say that I do not often consult sermons by dead preachers (Luther Says is always in queue and near at hand), but I have not heeded the warning of Dr. Lewis when he suggested reading one old book for every three new ones. This year must remedy this problem. Along with my reading I always have the Bible in hand and hopefully in heart and recommend as well. This year I enjoyed my first reading of the Old Testament entirely and straight through the Jerusalem Publication Society’s Tanach, and was quite interested in the New Testament NIV 2011 (the committee took freedoms often preached but never printed), and I am now working through the Old Testament in the Holman Christian Standard update.

(Click on Title for ordering information)

Always on the shelf and in queue:

ESV Study Bible

 

 

This is the best study Bible for our day. One could use it for its illustrations alone, but will be immensely blessed by its copious notes and historical and theological helps in what I believe is the most formal and readable English translation today. What’s more, is that the contents are available online for free. Make much use of this eternally helpful Study Bible.

Bonhoeffer – Eric Metaxes

I actually closed the back cover of this book hours before 2011, but it left such an impact on me that trickled on into 2011 in a powerful way. I love history, biography especially, things German, evangelical and exciting. This book combines all of the above. This is an essential read for years to come. This book will leave you wanting to read more of Bonhoeffer himself, and of what others say about him. I read the Cost of Discipleship once more, as well as Barth’s Word of God and Word of Man on the heels of this read with fresh eyes and saw the theology that drove the story of this 20th century martyr.

The Word of God and the Word of Man – Karl Barth

This is a collection of a series of lectures from Barth given through the 20’s and 30’s. If you would like to meet the Barth that influenced young men such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, then this is the Barth to read. One will find many concerns for preaching that are relevant to our day as well as many of his best one line quips. Here is a Reformed theology lived out in the first half of the 20th century that led to the resistance to the Third Reich and an umbrella that turned in to the Barmen Confession and guided the Confessing Church.

The Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. . .” Essential reading for every Christian ever (at least the first three chapters). His exposition on Grace through the gospels and in light of the dark canvas in which he lived is exquisite. Here is someone who exegetes Luther’s gospel for the 20th century. Above all he promotes a discipleship of following Christ and not of a simple turning once, but a continuous turning. If you want to understand why he went to the gallows, and why we must also die to ourselves, immerse yourself in this book.

A Praying Life – Paul Miller

If someone is looking for a book to help him or her get started on “praying,” – outside of scripture, this is the book. Through illustrations from his life and practical advice, Miller guides one step-by-step towards a praying life and not just a praying habit. I have and will recommend this book to those with such questions.

Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook – Mark D. Futato

For the teacher or preacher with at least some knowledge of Hebrew, this is a very user-friendly and helpful guide in properly studying these texts for the purpose of presentation and not reading only. Here is a rich plethora of scripture often relegated to cards and funerals that should be brought front and center to the church. One must not forget that it was this book, along with Galatians and Romans that led Luther to his gospel driven view of God.

Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer – ed. Joel R. Beeke and Brian G. Najapfour

Continuing in an emphasis on prayer (much needed in my life), here are voices that call out throughout nearly three centuries to the faithful to make prayer central in the life of the church. One will find himself challenged and burdened to continue in a life of prayer. Beeke and Najapfour (among others) do an excellent job of allowing dead preachers to preach to our own day. Read. And Pray.

Adopted for Life – Russell Moore

If you wish for your heart to break for the things that break the heart of God, then you must read this book. This book will work in you to promote the gospel of Adoption as well as sever the root of prejudices as well as practically advise those wishing to adopt. This book is not only for prospective parents, but for everyone who wishes to have a firmer grasp on our own adoption and realize what is at stake for the church in this very gospel-driven movement.

Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching – ed. Albert Mohler

This book by men who have towered in the pulpit from bowing before their savior is one that will help anyone who stands in the pulpit. One will be reaffirmed in the preeminence of the word, but will also be reminded of the burden we must have for those to whom we preach – the sheep that Jesus loves and commands us to feed. This is an excellent resource on Word-centered preaching.

Passion Driven Sermon – Jim Shaddix

This book should be read not only by everyone who preachers, but all pulpit (pastor) search committees. Jim Shaddix has influenced a generation in many ways that the generation may not even understand, and that is to a gospel call for good expository preaching – filled with the passion wrought by the Holy Spirit. This book, coupled with the next book along with Piper’s Supremacy of God in Preaching, will long top my list of books on preaching to revisit and recommend.

Faithful Preaching – Tony Merida

It is not often that one gets to read a book that he had a very small hand in. This book by my friend and short term mentor is a practical “how-to” guide to the above mentioned text and a user-friendly fast track to the larger volume, Power in the Pulpit by Vines and Shaddix. Everyone who proclaims the word in our day will be helped by this text. This book also includes a great skip across the history of preaching.

The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules – Carolyn Custis James

I loved this book. I love the book of Ruth, but James does a fantastic job in scholarship as well as looking at this very woman-driven narrative through a female heart. Through obvious years of reading, consultation of commentaries and phenomenal use of Hebrew, James presents a Ruth as she should be seen, along with the all-important Naomi and the kinsmen redeemer Boaz. I taught a Bible study on Ruth while reading this book and was excited to see what was in store week to week. What’s more is that one will be brought through the valley of suffering and left being centered on Jesus Christ. I highly recommend this book for study, commentary, or lay reading. What’s even more, it is only $1.99 on Kindle.

Sacred Marriage – Gary Thomas

Cheryl and I had the opportunity to go to this conference earlier this year. As good as the conference is, the book is great and extremely helpful. One is reminded that marriage is a covenant and Thomas explains his thesis that marriage was designed more so to make us holy than happy. He incorporates scripture, church history, and practicality in ways that will benefit Christian couples for the better.

Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian – John Piper

This was my last book for 2011, and one of the most important I have ever read. This book is essential, particularly for those of a similar background as Piper, white – born in the south – predominately white church backgrounds – with inherent prejudices – but will benefit every type of people struggling with ethnic differences. I say this, because it speaks for me at least through part of my life, as it does for the vast majority of my denomination. I pray, along with Dr. Piper, for days of racial reconciliation this side of eternity that will echo the sweet fellowship around the throne that will foreshadow the eruptive praise of the peoples gathered around the throne of the Lamb. Brought to light are many shattering statistics that are themselves shattered by the gospel. I believe an individual truly changed by the gospel may overcome racism in a lifetime, and we should. Read this with me, pray with me, let’s work together.

King’s Cross – Tim Keller

This is a fantastic journey through the book of Mark. Keller’s scholastic bent with practical illustrative ability and heart for the text and the person of Jesus Christ will aid anyone in a walk through this engaging gospel narrative. This book will be consulted anytime I preach passages grappled with in its pages and I highly recommend it to you. Also – I was happily interrupted in a Starbucks in South Louisiana by a member of Redeemer Presbyterian on a mission trip while reading this book.

Keeping Holiday – Starr Meade

I confess: I enjoy well-written allegorical juvenile Christian fiction. While I maintain no one will ever top the Chronicles of Narnia, we should not avoid books that rhyme pretty well with this story. A great holiday read, this book will cause you to reflect deeply about the gospel. This is worth a fire-lit evening or two to revel in the Founder.

Chosen Ones: The Aeydyn Chronicles – Alistair McGrath

This book also fits well in the above-mentioned made-up genre (well-written allegorical juvenile Christian fiction). This one is a bit more fanciful than the above book, but is fascinating in its own right. It is worth reading just to see the imagination of one of the world’s leading theologians come down to earth to aid young people in grasping deep truths about God. Lewis would be proud of his fellow Ulsterian and Oxford scholar. Read and enjoy.

If you don’t like to read, get out of the ministry. – Charles Wesley

Creepy Crawly Creatures, or The Wonder of the Spider

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy

–       Psalm 92:1 – 4

 

I do not know if I will ever understand all the creepy crawly things people seem to like to decorate their houses with this time of year for supposed celebrations of “halloween.”  One thing I will never forget that I do not see as much anymore is the cotton like spreadable substance that served as fake “spider webs.”  It was kind of like a polyester cotton candy.  Anyhow, as with many things, this fake thing could never replace the real thing. The spider, and his web, though detestable to many, may be one of the most intricate and wonderful works of the Creator to whom praise is due.

It is rare that one might find the glory of God in the workings of the spider, but I challenge that if you have not found it, you really have not paused to think.  I was reminded of the glory of God a few mornings ago while walking the dog and seeing over a large field the scattered silver traps of the little arachnids shining and glistening with the morning dew.  As I knelt to look closer at one, my heart sang with the gladness of the works of the Lord.  I was also reminded that I am not the first one to make this observation.  Check out this excerpt from Great Awakening preacher Jonathan Edwards:

“OF all insects, no one is more wonderful than the spider, especially with respect to their            sagacity admirable way of working . . . Nor can anyone go out amongst the trees in a         dewy morning towards the latter end of August or the beginning of September, but that      he shall see hundreds of webs, made conspicuous by the dew that is lodged upon them,    reaching from one tree and shrub to another that stands at a considerable distance, and they may be seen well enough by an observing eye at noonday by their glistening against           the sun.”

– Of Insects, Jonathan Edwards (Interested persons who want to read more may do so here:

http://www.apuritansmind.com/JonathanEdwards/JonathanEdwards-Scientific-Insects.htm )

courtesy of Cheryl Blackmon

courtesy of Cheryl Blackmon

So, this time of year, as you walk around and see the silliness of people’s creepy decorations and the ridiculous marketing of Wal-Mart, think about the real thing that is represented, the Spider, a mysterious little designer crafted by the Master Designer.