Gold-Plattered Snot-Fests

Somewhat recently a large group of believers were taken from their homes. Their capital city was attacked and those who weren’t killed were taken captive. They were allowed to live but provided with minimal rations and put under hard labor. We would consider them only a level above being prisoners of war.

What did they do to keep their faith alive while in exile? How would they stir up hope among themselves that God would return them to their homeland? Would they compromise and lose their distinctions and blend in with the culture? Or would they be known as a group within their captivity? What would identify them?

The nation of Israel was taken captive a few times in its national history, a history that is “somewhat recent” to us in light of eternity. The book of Psalms was collected and collated around some of these disasters.

Book 1 (1-41) emphasizes David’s kingship and troubles. Book 2 (42-72) is Israel’s troubles in general. Book 3 (73-89) is Israel in exile, the darkest of the five sections. Book 4 (90-106) is end of the exile and looking to the heavenly King. Book 5 (107-150) is exaltation. It’s a pattern of problems, prayer, and praise found not only in individual songs, but the whole hymnbook leads through the same process.

Many of the Psalms were written in the middle of trouble. The songs were certainly sung in the middle of trouble. These songs were weapons for the soul, in good and bad times.

For example, what if your captors made you sing your praise songs to taunt you? What would you sing? You’d get a psalm.

Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy!
(Psalm 137:6, see verses 1-3 for the context)

We have a variety of strategies for dealing with low tides of the soul, but singing is not usually one of them. Singing hymns and psalms and spiritual songs even less.

I didn’t grow up as a psalm singer. In my childhood at church, we only sang hymns and we only sang out of a hymnal. If you can imagine it, we didn’t have projectors putting lyrics up on a screen for all to read. I think we read from the book of Psalms, probably, or at least some of them such as Psalm 23. The Gideons included it in the back of their New Testament copies so we probably gave Psalms at least a little more attention than Leviticus.

I attended a variety of churches while in college and stuck with one throughout seminary. This is the second congregation I’ve been a part of since graduating seminary. And this is the first church I’ve ever been a member of where we’re actually attempting to sing any actual Psalms.

Some churches I attended just didn’t have a high appreciation for the Bible. The leadership wanted visitors to feel comfortable more than they wanted the truth to be clear. Of those churches that did esteem the truth, most were Epistolary Evangelicals, the truth-tube believers that live almost entirely in the New Testament letters. Ain’t nobody got time for the Old Testament mess.

And why bother? The Old Testament is a mess. Besides, aren’t there issues with New Testament Christians looking to Old Testament contexts for help? As for songs, aren’t there plenty of good, new sources today? And don’t Psalm-people tend to be pretentious people? A few of you may have grown up around gold-plattered snot-fests where patriarchs looked down on anyone who even mentioned the name Sandi Patty or Twila Paris.

I get the resistance. I am a notoriously slow processor. It can take me hundreds of pages and sometimes hundreds of days to think over and work out my responses to certain issues, let alone maybe change my mind. I am also a career contrarian. I do not like to be persuaded; I like to argue. I resist being led (sometimes a strength) and am hard to edify (always a weakness). But I have been persuaded that the chasm between us and the Psalms is worth crossing. It is work, but it is worth it. So, yes, I am trying to persuade us to believe in Christ, to die like Christ, and to know the Psalms just as Jesus did.

In the next couple of posts I want to address reasons that we might not utilize the Psalms in our personal and corporate worship, along with reasons that we should.

A Visible Purpose

Abraham Kuyper stated that his aim was to equip a body

of spiritually mature, sober-living, serious people who, consciously assuming God’s promises and in the tradition of the historic Reformed church, sought to make visible in their personal lives and the life of the nation something of the kingdom of God.

–quoted in For the Healing of the Nations: Essays on Creation, Redemption, and Neo-Calvinism

Most Saturday Nights

On most Saturday nights our household makes dinner into an event. The food may be a bit more fancy as well as the decorations on the table. We get the kids involved with some quick-fire catechism type questions, we all sing the doxology, we pray, and then we feast as an appetizer for Sunday morning’s feast of worship.

One thing I usually do is poor the drinks. Everyone around the table gets a glass of wine, be it a large glass or a kid cup, and to whatever degree it is cut with seltzer water. It’s part of our celebration and my privilege to pour out the portions. Dad sets the tone by doling out the wine.

The Lord also fills cups. The wicked get the cup of fire and sulfur and scorching wind to drink as David described in Psalm 11:6. For the righteous, we can sing along with another of David’s songs,

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
(Psalm 16:5–6)

The Lord is the one who gives us our cup. He gives it to us Himself and in it He gives us Himself. He gives Himself to us now, during worship, as a taste of a forever feast.

What more proof do we need than the word that declares the goodness of the Lord’s Supper? God gave Himself for us so that He could give Himself to us. He gave His body and blood, He gives us Himself. He is our cup and the cup today is an endowment for an eternal heritage of fellowship.

Overlooking Glory

There is a stage of development as Christians are learning to love righteousness that can cause its own kind of damage. There is no way to not love righteousness and have that be good. There is also a way to love righteousness that is not as good as it could be. It can happen between peers, it can happen from parents and pastors, and really anytime someone watches someone else sin.

Here are two ways to state it positively, one from Proverbs and one from an apostle. Solomon said,

Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
(Proverbs 19:11)

And Peter said,

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

In each circumstance there are real problems: an offense was committed and sins were multiplied. These are not okay, and they are virtually impossible to avoid in a community or a classroom or around a kitchen table. Yes, we are to help one another recognize and repent from sin. Yes, we are to train our kids to obey and respect. Yes, we are to be a people who love righteousness.

But how can we have the glory of overlooking an offense without anyone committing an actual offense against us? And are we loving earnestly by always grinding confession out of others? It is not good sense, let alone our glory, to be fussy with the fussers. We may have been sinned against, but we may sin in being so easily offended.

The Fruit of the Womb

November is National Adoption Month and in this first week of the month elections took place across our country. It may be too much to tie together an exhortation to confess from these two threads, and yet they may be in a knot already.

When we worship God we not only see what He is like but also what He likes. More than that, we begin to like the same things. It is possible to study His interests without becoming interested in Him or the subjects, but we will not sing from our souls about Him having certain loves and then act as if our loving the same persons or things is inconsequential. The godly will be like the God they praise.

Our God cares about the fatherless. In Psalm 10 David celebrated that the LORD “will incline [His] ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed” (verses 17b-18a). He “settles the solitary in a home” (Psalm 68:8). Widows and orphans are His cause (James 1:27).

So then must we also care for the fatherless. It may be providing permanence. It may be helping in transition. It may be working at prevention. It could be adopting, fostering, providing emergency care or respite care, or just helping financially in any part of the process.

We also ought to be voting for officials who will not kill our children before they are born (or kill our widows because they are a “drain on society”). How the wicked have been making men fatherless, not because men grow up without fathers, but because the wicked urge fathers to kill their kids. When men worship the god of their belly (more money and time for themselves) they hate the fruit of the womb. But God cares about them.

Our kids are not a hindrance to our fruitfulness, they are our fruitfulness. Until we get (or regain) that perspective, one that can only come as we worship God, our nation will continue to be barren and barbaric.

Everything in Subjection

Though David wrote Psalm 8 about man as in mankind, the author of Hebrews also recognized a unique application for the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,
“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:5–9)

God gave man dominion on earth, but God gave His Son dominion over the dominion-takers, the history-makers, and even over the nay-sayers. “At present we do not see everything in subjection to him.” Sinners still live and sin and stand against the Son of Man. Men still reject their Creator and suppress the truth they know about Him.

We have not reached the final chapter, but we will see all things in subjection, we will see God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, because Christ’s dominion is not potential. It is established; He is risen from the dead.

All things, including governments and businesses and neighborhoods, will be in service to the Son because He already suffered, died, and rose again. He did it as grace. He did it as a substitute. He did it to redeem “many sons” and bring them to glory through sanctification (Hebrews 2:10).

He is helping the tempted now (Hebrews 2:17-18). He is changing us now. He is identifying with us, unashamed to call us brothers now (Hebrews 2:11), even as He invites us to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

At present we do not see everything subjected to Him. But the world ought to see us in subjection to Him as we gather at His Table.

There Is No Spoon

More from Saving Leonardo about the inevitable results of a man’s defective theology proper:

When artists were persuaded that nature operates by blind, undirected processes—-with no overarching purpose, order, or design—-then consciously or unconsciously they began to express that worldview by refusing to impose any order or design on their starting materials….If the universe does not have an author, if it was not created by a supreme artist, then what basis is there for humans to create works of art? (158)

Protecting Our Talk

The doctrine of creation does more than provide science with the origins of the universe. Because we know the first cause, in particular, because we know the first Who, we know that we are not alone. We are not alone and we exist for someone else’s purpose. That means that we all exist for Him, each and every one of us, and that means that we should be careful how we talk about His stuff.

Again, Genesis 1 and 2 reveal how we got here, who we are, and what we’re supposed to do. God made us, He made us in His image, and He commanded that we be fruitful and take dominion. There are now over 7 billion people living on the planet. Many of us have cell phones bouncing off of satellites to order our food via voice activation. Yet there’s one area of stewardship that we still struggle with.

[N]o human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. (James 3:8–9)

Creation establishes morality, both in terms of to Whom we give an answer and for what we will answer. Morality belongs with how we respond to God and how we relate to one another. We have more means of communication today than at any other time in history, but there is no technology that can protect our talk. Only theology can protect our talk. Whether we text, post, call, or whisper about someone else, only one type of thing should come out.

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:10)

How you think about and talk about your neighbor starts with worship. We should take our talk seriously because God has authority over us and because God has given dignity to those around us.