Hope on our Journey (Psalm 130)

Randy “Duke” Cunningham had a stellar resume. Cunningham is a decorated veteran of Vietnam where he served his country with honor flying through the dangerous skies of hostile territory.  For eight terms, he served in the United States House of Representatives, serving on the House intelligence committee and the appropriations sub-committee that controls defense spending.

His career came to screeching halt on November 28, 2005. He stood before a judge who asked him if he had accepted bribes to award millions of dollars of jobs for defense contractors.  He simply said, “Yes, your honor.”  On the verge of weeping, Cunningham said, “I broke the law, concealed my conduct and disgraced my office.  I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, most importantly, the trust of my friends and family.”[i]  Regardless what Cunningham accomplished in life, his journey will be marred by this great downfall into a pit of his own making.

There are times on our journey as pilgrims that we falter. We become distracted by the glitz of sin and forget about the glory and grace of God.  This psalm speaks to us when we are in the pits of sin’s consequence.[ii]

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:1–4, ESV)

As we journey together on our pathway to the presence of God, we need to have hope that our failure is not fatal or final.  We need to find the way out of our distress.  The pilgrim helps us to see the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord as that pathway of hope.

The depths of distress

The psalmist was in trouble. He had fallen into a pit of despair out of which he could find no way.  Surrounded by dark, ominous waters of chaos, he was quickly losing hope.  He was sinking deeper and deeper into distress, despair, and depression.[iii]

Many things can propel us into the chaotic confusion of the “depths.” Relationships can sour.  Our bank account can flounder.  Sickness can invade our bodies or our homes.  But here in this psalm, the chaos was created by sin.  It is not a series of circumstance that creates the despair.  It is the sin that the pilgrim has chosen to follow.  He is in the pit because he took a detour through the slime of sin and fell headlong into the dark hole of despair.

As we make our journey to the summit of God’s presence, sin propels us into the depths of distress and despair. In those moments, self-help strategies won’t work. When sin is our struggle, there is no help but in God.  So, we must join the psalmist and cry out to God from the bottom of the hole.[iv]

Our hope for help

When I have blown it, I need help. We’re on this journey, and we choose to go down a path of our own making.  The path leads us to the depths of distress, because we’ve taken a journey apart from God’s will.  So, we’re crushed by the weight of our separation from God because we’ve chosen sin instead of obedience.  Our only hope for help is from the grace of God’s hand.  We can’t help ourselves, but God can help us, even though there is nothing in us that deserves His help.  He is our only hope.[v]

So we must plead for God’s forgiveness with a heart of humility and repentance. We must seek the forgiveness of God. God has forgiveness for those who come to Him with urgency.  When we seek His forgiveness, we need to look eagerly for the work of God. The psalmist calls the congregation to look eagerly for the Lord’s work of mercy in their lives.

Our hope for help demands that we cling to the promises of God. The psalmist indicates that his personal pathway out of the pit is not an emotional pursuit or an intellectual ascent.  It is the hope found in the promises of God that energizes forgiveness when repentance is on our hearts.

Today, our hope for help out of the “depths” is from the powerful and gracious act of a God who loves us and will forgive us when we come to Him in repentance. God’s mercy and grace draws us back to the path of His purpose and plan toward the summit of His presence.  Today, we have hope in the depths of hopelessness.  God through Jesus Christ has provided forgiveness for our sin and restoration of our joy in His presence.

The psalmist then leads the congregation to pursue a hope that God is ready to help when they falter into the pit of sin. God is faithful to love us. He declares that God has “mercy” for His own.  God pays the price for our victory. The psalmist then declares that God will ransom His people.  He will pay the price for their victory.

Lord, I cry to You from the depths of distress. Distress I’ve created by my own sin.  I ask for forgiveness.  I turn from my sin.  I long for Your gentle touch and cling to the promise of restoration that You have made.  I know that You bring mercy and grace this morning.  Thank You, for the love You display in the forgiveness that You purchased through the blood of Your Son, Jesus Christ, my King and my Savior!

_______________________________

[i]Jill Serjeant, “Calif. Rep. resigns over bribes,” Reuters.com (Monday, November 28, 2005).

[ii]Bernhard Anderson, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today, 3d ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 88.  He notes that the psalmist portrays himself in “the abyss of watery chaos, the realm of the powers of confusion, darkness, and death that are arrayed against the sovereign power of God.”  These depths of distress “speak about separation from God that results from human freedom (sin).”

[iii]Patrick Miller, “Psalm 130,” Interpretation 33 (1979): 177.  He notes that the image of the waters instills fear and foreboding in the reader.  The psalmist was captured “in the depths of despair or the depths of depression.” For a fuller portrayal of the mythic image of “the depths,” see Bernhard Anderson, Out of the Depths, 86.  His monograph on the Psalms has been named after this verse.

[iv]Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 104.  He notes that the stark reality of verse 1 is that we many times believe that only those who fit the “posture of obedience” in the garments suitable for a king has the right to address Sovereign God.  “But this psalm is the miserable cry of a nobody from nowhere.  The cry penetrates the veil of heaven!  It is heard and received.”

[v]Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 195.  The psalmist notes that his iniquities demand a verdict.  As Allen puts it, “he has little claim upon God. . . he has proved an unprofitable servant, and the onus of maintaining it [the relationship with God, the master] can now lie only with the Lord.”

Louisiana Flood Disaster Relief Efforts

The historic flooding that hit southern Louisiana in mid-August has taken 13 lives, damaged more than 60,000 homes, and led to the rescue of 30,000 people from homes and vehicles. But First Baptist Norfolk has been a part of helping those affected. One of our church members, Bob Williams, served as the team leader for two Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV) disaster relief teams in Baton Rouge from Sept. 3-18.

Two other First Norfolk members, Andy Hartell and Randy Morton, served on the first team, and other team members were from Richmond, Colonial Heights, Lynchburg, and Marion. During the second week, the disaster relief team members were from Chesapeake and Chase City. The First Norfolk flood recovery disaster relief trailer was used to support these two teams.

Williams and the two teams aided homeowners in preparing their homes for reconstruction. Some homes were still flooded at the time the teams were in Louisiana. As the water receded, there was much work to be done: water-damaged items were discarded; wall surfaces, insulation, and floor coverings were removed; bathrooms and kitchens were torn out; home interiors were power-washed to remove flood residue; and sanitizing solution was sprayed throughout homes to prevent mold growth.

More important than the humanitarian relief, Williams said, is the emotional and spiritual care they provided. Every disaster relief team member is also trained in spiritual care.

“Our most important role is sharing the living hope we have through faith in Jesus and the resulting inheritance that we have that does not perish, spoil, or fade (1 Peter 1:3-4), as has happened to their homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces,” Williams said.

“We come in the name of Jesus to offer hope to hurting people. We bring hope through our physical presence; someone from afar has come to be with them. We bring hope through humanitarian relief; the cleaning and sanitizing of their homes. We bring hope through emotional solace; we offer a shoulder to cry upon, an ear to listen. Their families and neighbors have had the same experience; emotional relief occurs when sharing their story with someone who has not experienced the same disaster. We bring hope through spiritual care; we affirm believers in their faith, and share the living hope of Jesus with non-believers.”

Donate online to help the Louisiana flood response effort.

As a Child (Psalm 131)

In order to make our journey into the presence of God with faithfulness, we need to trust the Lord.[i]  In fact, the kind of trust we need is the faith of a little child.  Listen to the words of our Savior, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”[ii]

King David expounds for us the qualities of the child that make our journey a success. His life also portrays what can happen when we fail to live as the child of faith in Christ.[iii]  Perhaps he is looking back over the course of his life and confessing that he became too dependent upon himself.  Too enamored by his own fame.  Too brilliant for his own good.  And now, he sees how the simple faith he had as a shepherd-king led to the best in life, while his self-importance and pride led to disaster.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 131:1–3, ESV)

The lessons we learn from this psalm helps us on our journey into the presence of God. Our commitment is to have the attitude of a child.

An attitude of humility

With the psalmist, we must open our heart to humility.[iv]  Humility is the confession of our heart that we are insufficient for the journey and we need the help of the Lord God.[v]

We recognize that God is Boss of our lives. The psalmist first acknowledges that his heart is not haughty and his eyes are not lifted up.  David has come to realize the necessity of submission to the Lord God.[vi]  It is only through the submission of our will to the will of God that we find the best in life.[vii]

We recognize that God has the answers. The psalmist recognizes also that he does not have all the answers to this life’s questions.  He has worked to understand himself and his world through the lens of God’s instruction.  He has not attempted to outstretch his finitude with lofty thoughts about things beyond him, but has trusted that God has the answers and leads him to the best place in life.[viii]

An attitude of peace

When we stop striving to elevate ourselves through our own efforts, we find peace of mind, body, and soul as humble worshippers before God. We are at peace just as a child is at peace in the care of his loving mother.[ix]

We are confident in God’s provision. The picture of the peace and tranquility that pervades this psalm is one of a child who has been weaned.[x]  It is the portrait of satisfaction in the provision that has already been provided.[xi]  When we have been fed by God’s grace, we are satisfied completely.  We become more and more confident that He will take care of us.

We aren’t consumed by our needs. Like a child weaned, we are free from the burden of self-satisfaction.  We no longer fight and cry for our needs to be met.  We are at peace in our soul because we trust that God will care for us.[xii]  We are at peace because of our close connection to God.[xiii]

An attitude of confidence

The psalmist concludes this song of trust by assigning to Israel the status of the child who trusts his Care-Giver completely.  In the same manner, we must turn to the Lord God to take care of us with complete confidence.  When we journey as a child into the presence of God, we must trust Him with absolute trust and confidence.

God is the object of our hope. When we stop striving to have our own way and submit ourselves into the plan and parental care of our Heavenly Father, then we have the confident expectation that He will take care of us.[xiv]  Only when God, and not ourselves, is the object of our hope will we experience the freely given gifts of blessing and provision from His hand.  We commit to trust Him always.  Therefore, we make the final commitment to trust God forever.  To take Him at His Word and trust His heart of love for us.

O Father, I come before You as a child. Completely dependent and absolutely abandoned to You.  I trust You to take care of me and my needs as I humbly submit myself to Your purposeful plan.  Thank You for loving me!

____________________________

[i]See, M. Dahood, Psalms III: 101-150, AB (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970), 238.  He suggests that this psalm is a song of confidence and trust in God.  Generally, this is the position taken by most commentators.   Interestingly, G. Quell [“Struktur und Sinn des Psalms 131,” in Das ferne und nahe Wort. FS L. Rost, ed. F. Maass, BZAW 105 (Berlin: A. Topelmann, 1967), 181-85] posits that this psalm represents a song of personal devotion at the gates of the temple by a mother pilgrim with her child.

[ii]Matthew 18:3-4, NASV.

[iii]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 447.  He writes: “The name of David at the head of this psalm exposes his character to comparison with the profession he makes.  This has its ironies in the light of his middle and later years, but it also wakens memories of his early modesty, simplicity and lack of rancour [sic], among the qualities which helped to make him great.”

[iv]Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 470.  He writes: “In the presence of Yahweh the singer of the psalm opens his heart.  He presents a declaration of loyalty.”

[v]Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Augsburg: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1984), 48.  “The speaker has not thought too highly of himself (cf. Rom. 12:3), which means he understands the proper relation to God.  It is not a relationship between equals, but is one of subordination, submission, trust, which this speaker gladly accepts.”

[vi]Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 199.  He writes: “Tantalizingly brief though this psalm is, it evidently originated in an individual’s profession of an active trust in Yahweh.  He has come to realize the value of submitting to him.”

[vii]Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, 199.  He writes: “This state of spirituality has been attained only by struggling with his head-strong self.  Many an outburst of self-will has had to be quelled.  Eventually he has learned the lesson of dependence upon God.”

[viii]Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms, 49.  Brueggemann reveals the distinction between this psalm and the myth of modernity.  He correctly concludes that the “myth of modernity believes that real maturity is to be free of every relationship of dependence.”  It is this myth that exalts the individual to god-like status.  This psalm pinpoints the necessity of child-like status.  Modernity concludes that the individual can plumb the depths of all wisdom and understanding through the evolution of science and the human mind.  This psalm declares that there are subjects to lofty for us to reach, and we must depend upon God to give us the answer.

[ix]James Crenshaw, The Psalms: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 21-22; Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 470.  Kraus writes: “The picture of the child that lies in the arms of its mother, contented and sheltered, illustrates the complete confidence that silently looks up to Yahweh.”

[x]Kraus (Psalms 60-150, 470) suggests that gāmŭl “in the OT metaphoric connection before us most often has the meaning ‘wean.’”  He, however, concludes that the term here means “to quiet.”  Allen (Psalms 51-100, 199) takes the verb to refer to the time of weaning in which the parent carries the child as Yahweh supports and cares for His people.  He writes: “The psalmist individualizes this communal caring (cf. 23:1), whether glancing at the child he was even now carrying or merely thinking of the welcome burden that was at other times his own or his wife’s.  Such was his relationship to God, the mother and father of his soul.”  Quell (“Struktur und Sinn des Psalms 131,” 178-79) takes `ăl to mean “upon,” rather than “with.”  In this sense, Quell suggests that the mother is carrying the child on her shoulders or in a sling around her back.  This interpretation gives deeper meaning to the support and care of God for His children.

[xi]Bernard Anderson, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for us Today, 3d ed (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000), 179.  He writes: “The child is described with a word whose root (‘weaned’) means ‘to deal with bountifully, fully or adequately’; thus the child is satisfied.  Such a child has given up the need to suckle because it has been ‘dealt with’ in a bountiful manner, rather than being forced to give up nursing for some arbitrary reason.  The feeling of contentment derived from God’s bountiful provision is the overriding feeling of the psalmist when approaching the Temple.”

[xii]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 448.  “It is freedom (in the light of verse 1) from the nagging of self-seeking, and, as verse 3 would add, from the bondage of delusive frets and fears.  In terms of the New Testament again, it embodies the lesson of both Philippians 2:3ff. (‘Do nothing from selfishness or conceit’) and 4:11ff. (‘I have learned . . . to be content’).”

[xiii]W. A. VanGemeren, “Psalm 131:2—kegamal: The Problems of Meaning and Metaphor,” Hebrew Studies 23 (1982): 51-57.  The point of the psalm is not the age of the child, but the contentment he feels because of the close connection between himself and his mother.

[xiv]Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms, 49.  “The image of Israel is then of one who has ceased to insist on its own way and has submitted to the trustworthy will of Yahweh.  That kind of submission is exactly what makes it possible for Israel (or any other) to hope.  Unless there is submission, there will be no hope, for autonomy and self-sufficiency are finally postures of hopelessness in which free gifts are excluded and one is left to one’s own resources.”

Unconquered! (Psalm 129)

The people living in ancient China wanted security from the invading marauders to the North.  So, they built the Great Wall of China.  It stood 30 feet high, 18 feet thick, and 1,500 miles long.  It was a seemingly impregnable defense, and the people certainly believed that they were unconquerable because of this great defense.  Yet in the first 100 years of its existence, China was successfully invaded three times.  Why?  The wall was too long for the enemy to go around.  It was too high for them to scale.  It was too thick for them to batter it down.  But the enemy found a way.  They simply bribed a gatekeeper and marched through an open door.[i]

It’s not that way for followers of Jesus Christ on a journey into the presence of God. We are unconquerable!

The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows.” The Lord is righteous; He has cut the cords of the wicked.” (Psalm 129:3–4, ESV)

As the pilgrim singer considers the journey before him, he is filled with joy and confidence because of God’s work in his life in the past.[ii]  He celebrates the fact that God takes care of His people – they may be beaten or oppressed, but they cannot be overwhelmed or ultimately defeated because God is with them.

As we journey together on our pathway to the presence of God, we need to have the same confidence. Christ cares for us.  We may walk through the valley of the shadow, but we need not fear evil because God is with us from beginning to end.  Christ cares for us and we are unconquerable in Him!

We will not be defeated

The apostle Paul proclaimed this truth: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom 8:37). What are “all these things”?  It is the tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword.[iii]  Even facing the most dire straits, we can be confident of the victory that Jesus Christ delivers by His love.

The psalmist reflects on Israel’s history through the lens of his own experience, and he declares that, with God, we are unconquerable.[iv]  God gives us strength in the midst of attack.  From youth, people have attacked God’s children.  They have been oppressed because of the world’s hatred for God, but they have never been defeated.  Because God has given us the strength we need, we are unconquerable.[v]

God delivers us in the midst of personal pain. God’s people are scourged so that their backs become like furrows of a ploughed field,[vi] but God’s faithfulness brings deliverance from the harness of their attacks.  The “cords of the wicked” paint the picture of the harness attached to the yoke by which the animal is hitched up.  God smashes the cords and we are free!

We are unconquerable! We give thanks to God who always leads us into triumph through our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 2:14).

God stands between us and the enemy

We are unconquerable because God stands between us and the enemy. The psalmist proclaims his confident expectation that God will continue to intervene.  He demonstrates God’s retribution on those who would attack the people of God.

Who are the persecutors? Persecutors are the “haters of Zion.” Zion is the imagery of God’s presence and purpose.[x]  Those who hate Zion are those who despise God’s presence and purpose.  They may be within the church or in the world, but they oppose what God is purposed to do.  They attack Zion, and, in essence, attack God Himself.

What happens to persecutors? They will be put to shame and turned back. They will be frustrated in their attacks by the strong arm of the Lord which pushes them back from the refuge that He has provided for His children.

They will wither. When someone rejects Zion, they reject the river of life (Ps 87:7).  Life will not be theirs because they have opposed the Author of Life, and they will wither. Even their plans will dry up with them and never produce fruit.  In the end, they will not experience the blessing of the Lord.

So, how does this help us on our journey into the presence of the Lord? Each day, we face danger and disaster threatening our well-being.  Some of these dangers we see, but we can be confident that God will guard and protect us.  Some of these dangers we will never see because God has already destroyed the threat.

Sometimes, we will find ourselves strapped to the hot-seat of suffering and struggle, but we can be confident that victory is on the way. Times may be tough on this journey, but they will not defeat God’s purpose working in and through us.  People may hurt us, but God’s compassionate presence will give us the strength we need to move forward victoriously.

In the end, every painful turn on our journey into the presence of the Lord is an opportunity for God to shine His greatness through us. It is an opportunity for us to be completely satisfied in Him, even when nothing around us would promise satisfaction.  It is an opportunity for us to grow ever closer to the only One who can give us the courage and confidence to face every storm with victory.  With Christ Jesus, we are unconquerable.

God, I think of those around me struggling under the burden of persecution and defeat. I pray for them.  I pray that Your glory might shine through them, and that You would overwhelm the enemies that threaten them with pain.  I pray that You would awaken the unconquerable spirit in their soul this morning and give them the strength and the victory!

_________________________

[i]James Emery White, You Can Experience a Purposeful Life (Nashville: Word, 2000).

[ii]See, M. Dahood, Psalms III: 101-150, AB (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970), 230.  He suggests that this psalm is a communal complaint.See, Claus Westermann, The Praise of God in the Psalms, trans. K. R. Crim (Richmond: John Knox, 1965), 81.  He calls it a communal thanksgiving.  See, A. A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms, 2 vols., NCB (London: Oliphants, 1972), 871-72.  He calls it a communal song of confidence.  I take Anderson’s suggestion for the purpose of the psalm.

[iii]“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”” (Romans 8:35-36, NKJV)

[iv]Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 461-62.  He writes: “The history of Israel is one single passion narrative.”

[v]H. J. Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 462.

[vi]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 444.  Kidner notes that the horror of oppression is poignantly pictured in this imagery.

 

 

The Life God Blesses (Psalm 128)

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Brad Pitt described the life he had and the life he wanted.

“Hey, man, I don’t have those answers yet. The emphasis now is on success and personal gain. [smiles] I’m sitting in it, and I’m telling you, that’s not it. I’m the guy who’s got everything. I know. But I’m telling you, once you’ve got everything, then you’re just left with yourself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it doesn’t help you sleep any better, and you don’t wake up any better because of it.”[i]

On our journey, the leader of the pilgrims stops and teaches us how to live so that our life will be the very best.[ii]  It is summed up in verse 1, “Blessed all who fear Yahweh, who walk in His ways.”

We all want to know the kind of life that God blesses. In this psalm we discover that God blesses the life of obedience to Him.

A life of obedience to God

The psalmist describes the kind of life that we will possess when God is busy blessing us.[iii]  The psalmist summarizes what he is describing in verse 4: “Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.”[iv]  The psalmist points out the nature of our obedience that leads to blessing.  He pens this description in two simple statements.  The first is that blessing comes to the one who “fears the Lord.”[v]

The wisest man in history, Solomon, went on a pursuit of the prosperous life. We see the record of this pursuit in the Book of Ecclesiastes.  He tried party and pleasure, wealth and women.  In the end, he found that everything that he thought would bring him prosperity of the soul ended like a puff of wind.  Maybe he was sitting down and thinking about dear ol’ dad.  He realized that all the things that he thought would bring him a prosperous life ended in sorrow and emptiness.  Then he remembered what his dad told him.  Listen to the end of the Book of Ecclesiastes, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments For this is man’s all” (Ecc 12:13).

I am thankful to my father who taught me very early in life to fear the power of the river current, the danger of the timber rattler, bear, or boar on the trail, the deadly trouble of tumbling down a mountain path and getting upside down and lost. But when I think of fishing in the Smokies, my first thought is love coupled with fear.

Our heart is fixed on God’s command. When one “fears the Lord,” he becomes consumed with the desire to please the Father by obeying His commands.[vi]  Our heart’s affection is upon our Lord, and our desire is to follow His commands.  Our heart has been changed by Christ’s salvation to cling to what God wants as the very breath of life.  We find joy of God’s blessings when we open our heart to His commands.  His desire is our desire.  His calling is our vocation.  His command is our obedience.

When we do what God wants, we will have satisfaction in our work. The psalmist portrays the food which we acquire when we have spent our day in labor as a satisfying meal, even beyond what the mere nourishment of bread can provide.[vii]

When we do what God wants, then we will have a family that is fruitful.[viii]  The psalmist portrays the image of the wife as a fruitful vine.  We find satisfaction and fulfillment in our marriage when we obey the Lord.[ix]  Furthermore, we find strength from our children when we do what God wants.  The picture here is that our children will be strong and vital because we have obeyed the Lord.[x]

If we want a blessed life, then we need to make sure of these two things: 1) our heart belongs to Him, and 2) our life reflects His will.

A lifestyle of service for Christ

As our heart becomes fertile soil for Christ to show us the pathway of life, we conform our lives to match His commands. The psalmist speaks of blessings poured out upon those who “walk in His ways.”[xi]

Admiral Vern Clark, the former Chief of Naval Operations for the United States, told me one day that “service is at the heart of our faith.”[xii]  God has made each and every one of us a Perfect 10 in some area of ministry.  Not a one shot, quick fix, drive through spiritual snack.  To find true prosperity in life, we need to commit to an entire lifetime of service to the King.

This service finds deeper significance in the context of the church. The blessing of the Lord comes out of Zion.[xiii]  As God blesses the community of faith, we are included in that blessing.  One of the things that we miss as a church is the nature of God’s blessing being tied to His blessing the church.  It involves more than merely a rhetorical cry of “I love my church.”  Rather it is a view that the blessings of life connect to us through the community of faith.  It is also a view that says we are blessed by God through the community of faith, and through the community of faith, we become a blessing to others as we walk in Christ’s ways.

Lord, I pray that I might be a friend to that person You have for me to encourage today. That I might trust myself to Your care, no matter what.  I pray that I might follow Your plan and depend upon Your design to make this journey productively.

___________________________

[i]Interview with Brad Pitt, Rolling Stone (October 28, 1999).

[ii]Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 183.  Allen indicates that this is a wisdom psalm.  See also, J. K. Kuntz, “The Canonical Wisdom Psalms of Ancient Israel,” in Rhetorical Criticism: Essays in Honor of J. Mullenburg, eds. J. J. Jackson and M. Kessler (Pittsburgh: Pickwick Press, 1974), 190-215.  Kuntz demonstrates that this psalm utilizes two of seven rhetorical devices evident in wisdom psalmody.  See, M. Dahood, Psalms III: 101-150, AB (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970), 229.  Dahood proposes that the phrase, fearer of Yahweh, in verse 4 forms an inclusion with verse 1. See, A. Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, trans. H. Hartnell, OTL (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 767.  Weiser also divides the psalm with verses 1-4 and 5-6 comprising separate parts.

[iii]James L. Crenshaw, The Psalms: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 21.  “Persons who fear Yahweh can count on domestic tranquility, with wives like vines and children resembling olive trees (128:1-4).  In company with Job of old, they will see their grandchildren (128:6).”

[iv]See F. Horst, “Segen und Segenshandlungen im der Bibel,” Evangelische Theologie 7 (1947): 23-37.

[v]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 443.  He writes: “The ingredients of true happiness (for the psalm should open with the word ‘Happy,’ the same word as in 2b) are not far to seek.  Here they are summed up as reverence (the right relationship to God, 1a) and obedience (the habits learnt from Him, 1b).”  Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 458.  Kraus suggests that the psalmist begins with an address to “those who with all seriousness are devoted to Yahweh.”  This fear of the Lord is not just a “hackneyed expression for a conventional religious attitude, but an expression for existentially involved existence.  He who fears Yahweh recognizes God as a living reality that is to be feared.  He subjects his entire life to the obedience and service of the hrwt of Yahweh.”

[vi]J. Becker, Gottesfurcht im AT (Rome: PBI, 1965), 270.  The fear of the Lord connects consistently with the heart’s affection for the Lord and obedience to His commands.

[vii]Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 458-59.  He writes that “salvation and good fortune” belong to the qydx – “not prosperity and wealth, but a contented and successful life.”

[viii]Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, 185.  “The botanical similes fill out the promise with emotive content.  The vine and olive tree, sources of the staple products of Palestine along with cereal crops, brought enrichment to daily life and made it worth living (cf. 104:15).  The pictures of joy and fertility conjured up by the grape-laden vine (cf. Ezek 19:10) and the suckers springing up round the old olive tree served to preach as powerful a message to the mind as any television commercial communicates to the eye.”

[ix]Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 459.  He points to the blessing of a large family in this passage, but I have taken it a step further.  I have applied it to the principle of fulfillment in marriage when we do what God wants.  It is more than having “a large cluster of grapes.”  It is having the sustenance of intimacy and fellowship with our soul-mate.

[x]Ibid.  “The young green olive trees in the comparison symbolize the vital strength of the growing children.”

[xi]Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, 185.  He writes: “Before the pilgrims or a representative member of their ranks is set the ideal of a life dedicated to God in reverent obedience to His moral will.”

[xii]Adm. Vern Clark, Chief of Naval Operations, at Student Leadership University in Washington D. C. on July 22, 2004.

[xiii]Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, 185.  He notes that this phrase points to divine origin of blessings.  “Blessing is the largesse of life in abundance from the generous hand of Yahweh himself.  He is no man’s debtor: trusting obedience is not overlooked.  Primarily, blessing is a cultic term: the sanctuary was the medium of its bestowal. . . . but its fulfillment depended upon each pilgrim’s attitude of heart and life to his God.  The hope is expressed in v 5 that the individual pilgrim may be found fit to receive the general promise of blessing as a reality in his own experience.”

 

Productivity on the Journey (Psalm 127)

There is a storm surge that rages against us on our journey into the presence of God. It sends the winds and the rain and the floods to our doors.  As the waters rise, we can become overwhelmed with fear and doubt, despair and dread.  The storm can soak our soul with anxiety about the present and the future.  It can paralyze us on our journey, and we need something that will help.  Today, I would like for us to hear Christ’s Word to us spoken centuries before His earthly ministry.

His Word in Psalm 127 gives us the principles for productivity on this journey regardless the storm surge raging around us. This is a song of hope in times of trouble and difficulty.[i]  It provides hope for us today in a culture and a climate that seems to breed trouble and difficulty for our adventure from here to heaven’s throne-room.

1. We must seek God’s guidance on our journey

We will have a productive journey as we travel in God’s presence when we recognize that only God’s plan will lead to productivity.[ii]  If God is not building, then we are working in vain.[iii]  The principle in this passage is against doing anything in which God is not involved.[iv]  “Unless” in the first verse indicates a desire on God’s part.[v]  If God is not the originator, organizer, and craftsman of our project, then we have gotten busy in futility.  The secret to great productivity is to seek God’s best.

Suppose I travel to fish a stream that I have never fished before. I do the research on the water to find what the fish will bite at this particular time of year and under the weather conditions I encounter.  But when I hit the water, I catch nothing.  I try every trick I know, but all I catch is a cold.  So, I go to the local fly shop and hire a guide who is an expert on that particular stream.  He works with me, giving me instructions on what flies to use and where to cast and how to fish.  But I refuse to do what the guide says.  I still work hard at catching trout, but the guide, who is the expert on this stream, gives me instructions that I do not follow.  I flail along the stream and catch no fish.  Why?  Because I didn’t adjust my fishing to the guide’s instruction.

God is the Guide and the Expert on our lives, our families, our relationships, our work. He did more than learn about it.  He created it.  If we do not adjust our lives to His design, then we are working in vain.  God’s role is to provide the design and to protect and provide for His people.  Our role is to obey.  To follow His instruction.  To trust God in the midst of our journey.

Productivity on this journey through life into the presence of God happens when we hear His instructions and obey. We find His guidance through the embrace of Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  We find His guidance as His Spirit awakens in your heart and mine a renewed commitment to His Word.  He opens our hearts to hear and to see, to taste and to feel the power of His wisdom for the journey we undertake.

2. God will passionately take care of us

The psalmist teaches that God must be the Protector and Provider.[vi]  Our tireless efforts to fulfill this journey is unproductive – even though we take the safest course of action and the most conservative outlook possible – if God is not present with His protective activity.[vii]

We find confidence in conflict and chaos when Christ is in control of our lives. When we trust Him, He will accomplish more in our sleep than if we worry and fret through this journey in our own strength.  The power of this principle is that Christ promises to provide the rest needed for His beloved.[viii]  “Beloved” is not a term that is used by God for the whole of humanity, but it is a term that denotes a personal relationship and fellowship that exists between God and the family.[ix]  So, what the psalmist teaches us this morning is that we will have rest (confidence) when we walk in fellowship with God, when we trust Him to take care of us.

The One who called light out of darkness is the One caring for us today. The One who led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, who brought forth manna, quail, and water to His beloved.  The One who gave His instruction manual to a rebellious people that they might know the best way to live.  The One who sent a fish to swallow a prophet so that He might bring salvation to a pagan people.  The One who made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  The One who is the perfect Father — who will certainly provide perfect blessings to those who love Him and obey Him.  He will take care of us.

3. God uses people to help us

The psalmist finally moves to the principle of people God uses to help us make this journey. He uses images to describe relationships that we have with others.[x]  The image of “arrows” depicts the security that God provides through relationships.[xi]

I was talking with one of the Single Adults in our church recently. She is a single mother with challenges far beyond what I could ever imagine.  In the midst of her difficulties, she told me that this church was her family.  God uses the church to help us fulfill God’s dream for our lives on this journey into His presence.

Many years ago, researchers interviewed former prisoners of war to see what methods were most effective in breaking their spirit. They learned that physical torture wasn’t the most effective tool of the enemy.  It wasn’t the bamboo splinters plunged underneath the fingernails.  It was solitary confinement.  It was being separated from friends.  The researchers also learned that the soldiers found strength to survive the tough times from the close-knit friendships they had among other soldiers in the prison camp.[xii]

God uses friends who love Jesus to help us make this journey into His presence productively. A friend that loves us at all times, even tough times (Prov 17:17).  A friend like Jesus who sticks to us like glue (Prov 18:24) and who sharpens us for whatever turn our journey may take (Prov 27:17).  We need people in our lives who will stand up for us.  Friends and family who “go to bat” for us in the public arena.  Friends and family from whom we find God’s favor and strength to move forward today and tomorrow on this journey to the summit.

Lord, I pray that I might be a friend to that person You have for me to encourage today. That I might trust myself to Your care, no matter what.  I pray that I might follow Your plan and depend upon Your design to make this journey productively.

_________________________

[i]Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 167-68.  “If vv 1-3 are interpreted with reference to the past, it is hardly possible to avoid relating them to the return from the exile and the rebuilding of the temple and city of Jerusalem. . . . Either the verse or the whole psalm is probably post-exilic.” See, M. Dahood, Psalms III: 101-150, AB (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970), 217-18.  Dahood proposes that the entire psalm is a reference to the past and that it is a pre-exilic account.  See, A. Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, trans. H. Hartnell, OTL (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 760.  Weiser does not attempt to provide an historical backdrop, but relates the psalm to “the cult community’s expectation of salvation in times of adversity.” A. A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms, 2 vols., NCB (London: Oliphants, 1972), 2:131. Anderson also contends for a post-exilic date.

[ii]G. Campbell Morgan, Notes on the Psalms (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1947), 257. As G. Campbell Morgan wrote poignantly: “Jehovah is the one Worker . . . He is the one and only Strength of His people.  He must build the house and guard the city.  He must be the Partner in toil, giving to His beloved even when they rest in sleep, after the toil is over.”

[iii]James L. Crenshaw, The Psalms: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 22.  “The vanity of human endeavor, apart from divine surveillance and active support, comes to expression in Ps 127:1-2.”

[iv]F. B. Meyer, Psalms: Bible Readings (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, nd), 153; Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 454.  Kraus suggests that the three-fold repetition of awv “emphasizes the senselessness of all painstaking endeavor undertaken without Yahweh.”

[v]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 441.  He writes that the project will either “be the Lord’s doing or it will be pointless; there is no third option.”

[vi]The qal participle of the verb shamar means the one who keeps, guards, and preserves.

[vii]Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 454.  He writes: “The watchman’s busy activity on the lookout guarantees no protection for the city; it is ‘in vain’ if Yahweh is not present with his protective power.”

[viii]Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 455-56.  “Yahweh continuously takes a personal part in the life of human beings.  More than that: he alone is the Lord who creates and preserves life.  All toiling and worrying on the part of the human being that goes on without him is in vain.  Human beings live exclusively because of Yahweh’s intervening, protecting, and giving.  He lives because of the presence of God.”  For an examination of the formula (127:2), see, F. Bussby, “A Note on anv in Psalm 127, 2,” Journal of Theological Studies 35 (1945): 306-307 and J. A. Emerton, “The Meaning of anv in Psalm CXXVII, 2,” Vetus Testamentum 24 (1974): 15-31.

[ix]The term yādîd [BDB, 391] is used in prophetic literature to describe the relationship between the husbandman and his family.

[x]The psalmist portrays the picture of God’s super-impending project of the family.  God has given a lasting legacy to His people in the creation of the family.  Our future is dependent upon the gift of God to provide something that lasts for our lives.  Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 456; Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 441.  Kidner writes: “God’s gifts are as unpretentious as they are miraculous.  The two halves of the psalm are neatly illustrated by the first and the last paragraphs of Genesis 11, where man builds for glory and security, to achieve only a fiasco, whereas God quietly gives to the obscure Terah a son whose blessings have proliferated ever since.”

[xi]Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 181.

[xii]S. v., “Grouped for Strength,” Our Daily Bread (Feb 11, 2001).

 

Fall Leadership Training

My recent reading of Real Life Discipleship by Jim Putman left me intrigued by an interesting observation he made about Jesus, saying that He had “completed His work” as recorded in John 17. He poses a great question – How could Jesus say this when He had not yet gone to the cross? His answer is that the work God had given Him to do and the work that He had completed was to make disciples!

This completed work led to His final assignment to his followers (Matthew 28) to go and make more disciples. For our church, LIFEgroups are the vehicles we have chosen as our primary avenue for making this happen. It is through our groups that people’s lives are connected in such a way that God uses the combination of His Word and these relationships to help us grow into missionary followers of Jesus who love God, love others, live the mission, and continue the process of making disciples. SO, that begs the question, how are you doing in your assignment to “make disciples?”

In order to help us all take steps in that direction, you will be blessed by the line-up of trainers we have with us for the one-day Fall Leadership training on Sept. 25. I am thrilled to have a practitioner with us this year as our keynote speaker to challenge us to be even more effective in this high calling! Bill Donahue is one of the most recognized names today among discipleship pastors around the nation as God has used him to shape and influence the lives of countless men and women in their quest to live in obedience to this command of Jesus to “Make Disciples!” Join us for this one-day training — you will not be disappointed!

Find more information and register for the Fall Leadership Training.

 

 

A Prayer for the Journey (Psalm 126)

When I was growing up, we almost always began any road-trip with a prayer. It was a simple prayer asking for God’s protection on our way.  This morning, God gives us a “traveling prayer” as we make our way into the summit of God’s presence.  On this journey, this prayer invites us to remember God’s powerful work in the world, to ask for His work to continue today, and to rejoice in the confident expectation that He will continue to move with power in this world through the lives of His people.[i]

The psalmist provides us with a prayer for our daily lives as God’s people who are striving to be who He has called us to be.  It is a prayer for our journey as we take one more step into the glorious and ultimate satisfaction of His embrace.

When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, And we are glad.” (Psalm 126:1–3, NKJV)

1. In prayer we remember what God has done

The psalmist begins with a call to remember what the Lord God has done for His people in the past.[ii]  We must remember what God has done in our lives and in our church.  It is an essential quality of prayer throughout the Scripture.  To rehearse openly and regularly the mighty acts of grace and goodness that our Savior has poured out upon His people.

And what has He done? He brought us out of captivity.  The Lord restored the fortune of Zion.[iii]  The psalmist remembered, and we can see, that God has continually taken the faithful from captivity to blessing: from Egypt to the Promised Land, from Babylon to Jerusalem, from the hands of the Philistines to the blessings of David’s Kingdom.  The reversal wrought by God’s powerful, rescuing love was so deep and profound that it could only have been accomplished by God’s hand.[iv]

From our vantage point, we can see what God has done for us. He has redeemed those who were held captive by sin and brought them life through Christ Jesus.  He has taken those who have wandered from Christ’s embrace of love and led them (sometimes with a stick of discipline) to the place of blessing once again.

And what has He done? He has given us joy.  God brought joy to His people.  Listen to this paraphrase: “It was like a dream!  How we laughed, how we sang for joy . . . how happy we were.”  The joy is like what happens when God brings revival to His people.  The joy of Christ’s people in the grip of God’s work.[v]  Literally, the psalmist remembers that the Lord God filled their mouths with laughter and their hearts with a song of joy.[vi]  When God moves on behalf of His people, we cannot help but rejoice.

And what has He done? He made us to shine His glory. When the other nations of the world saw the reversal of fortune for the people of God, they declared, “The Lord has done great things for them.”  When God moves to bless His people, the world takes notice.[vii]  And so should we!

In prayer, we remember what God has done in our lives. He has brought us up out of the pit of sin and shattered the chains of guilt through Jesus Christ.  He has taken away the rags of mourning and given robed us in the garments of praise.  He has caused us to shine His glorious majesty in a world of darkness.

Thank You, Lord, for the great things You have done!

2. In prayer we ask for God’s blessing

Our prayer moves from praise and remembrance to a request. As the Lord has helped us in the past, we ask Him to bless us in the present and future.  This is the prayer of the faithful.  It is a prayer for the streams of the South to return to our lives.

The streams of in the South were essential for life in the Middle East.  During the summer months, the river beds were dry until the winter rains filled them.  These springs and wells of the Negeb were essential for life to occur.[viii]

The transformation that we must request from God is that He pour out His blessings upon a dry land.[ix]  To fill up the arid wilderness of our lives with the shower of His Love and Life through the pouring out of His Spirit.  Although many may be happy to feed off the nostalgia of the past work of the Lord in their lives, we must be a people who are asking God to bless us today.[x]  To bless His church.

Lord God, would You once again make Your name and fame great through Your gracious activity in my life and in the work of our church?

3. In prayer we reap the joy of faith

The remembrance of God’s work in the past leads the psalmist to request God’s blessing in the present and to expect God’s work in the future. Through this prayer, the psalmist conjoins his ministry with that of a prophet – declaring with confidence the fulfillment of God’s promises in the future.[xi]

God honors the prayer of the faithful. He transforms weeping into shouts of joy as He reverses the fortunes of His people.[xii]  We must be a people of optimism.  It is an optimism not built upon what we have done or the title we carry.  It is an optimism built upon the certainty of God’s power and desire to bless His people.  God is at work to honor His name among all the nations of the earth.  We are the instruments that He will use to honor His name.

So, today, and every day, we can live in the supreme confidence that God will use us to make Himself shine brightly. He will pour His power in our lives to show His power in the world.  He will pour His love into our hearts to show His love in the world.  He will blaze a pathway through every mountain in our way to demonstrate His faithfulness in the world.  God can.  God will.  And when we pray, we pray with confidence and trust in a loving, holy, righteous God who works in our world to display His glory through us.

O Father, I praise You this morning, knowing that You are moving and working right now. Even though I sow the seeds of sorrow over circumstances too weighty for me to conquer, I confidently await the harvest of joy that You bring as I live for Your glory and fame right now.

_____________________________

[i]Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 449.  He notes that this lament is structured similarly to Ps 85.  He offers this structure of the psalm:

Historical retrospect of God’s faithfulness (1-3)

Petition and lament of God’s people in the present (4)

Comforting promise for God’s people in the future (5-6)

[ii]My approach is to take this passage of the psalm as Kraus did: a reflection on what God has done in the past.  For an opposing view point, see, H. Gunkel, Die Psalmen, HKAT 2.2, 4. Ausgabe (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1926), 551.  Gunkel takes the verbs of 1b and 3 as “prophetic” perfects in a divine oracle.  B. Duhm, Die Psalmen, Kurzer HKAT, 2. Ausgabe (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1922), 274.  Duhm also renders the passage to the future as a contemplation upon what God will do.

[iii]The phrase in verse 1 literally reads, When Jehovah returned the fortunes of Zion.  For this translation of the phrase, see Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 170.

[iv]For the various interpretations of µymil]joK] [kechōlemîm] see J. Strugnell, “A Note on Ps. 126:1,” Journal of Theological Studies 7 (1956): 239-43; S. Speier, “Sieben Stellen des Psalmentargums in Handschriften und Druckausgaben,” Biblica 48 (1967): 507; W. Beyerlin, “Wir sind wie Trumende.” Studien zur 126. Psalm, SBS 89 (Stuttgart: Verlag Kotholisches Bibelwerk, 1978), 19-31.

[v]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 439.

[vi]The Hebrew in verse 2 reads, Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with a ringing cry.

[vii]Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 439.  He writes: “Whether Zion’s [reversal] was from famine or seige, captivity or plague, it had been obviously miraculous and widely talked about.  It remained a vivid national memory.”

[viii]Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible, trans. A. F. Rainey (London: Burns and Oates, 1967), 24.  Aharoni writes: “Most of these floods swept into the Mediterranean and were useless in antiquity; however, along these river beds are located most of the springs and wells of the Negeb which were essential for permanent habitation.”  See also, N. Glueck, Rivers in the Desert (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1959), 92-94.

[ix]Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 439-40.  He writes: “Sudden bounty has its perfect illustration here, since few places are more arid that [sic] the Negeb, and few transformations more dramatic than that of a dry gully into a torrent.  Such can be the effect of a downpour, which can also turn the surrounding desert into a place of grass and flowers overnight.”

[x]See Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, 174.  He writes: “The self-reminder of earlier divine intervention has served as an encouragement to believe that Yahweh would again intervene so signally.  He has the power to bless [H]is people in their land.  The retrospect has functioned as a virtual inducement to their God, in whose presence they have met, to come once more to their aid.  The psalm moves to an explicit appeal in v 4.  The cycle of misfortune and deliverance celebrated in v 1 has half come round again.  The community bring their prayer for restoration with the hope that Yahweh will repeat [H]is saving activity.”

[xi]J. W. Rogerson and J. W. McKay, Psalms 101-150, CBC (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 124.

[xii]James L. Crenshaw, The Psalms: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 21.  “Weeping transformed into shouts of joy over bountiful crops signals restored fortunes in Psalm 126:5-6.”

 

Power for the Journey (Psalm 125)

One of my favorite movies is a John Ford classic (1956) starring John Wayne. It’s called “The Searchers,” and it details the search for Debbie Andrews, a little girl captured in an Indian raid.  The search goes on for a dozen years, led by a man, Ethan Andrews, who is really searching for something more than a lost girl.  He’s searching for peace and joy in his heart and life.  The closing scene of the movie gives the meaning of the “Search” in a song:

“A man will search his heart and soul, go searchin’ way out there, his peace of mind he knows he’ll find, but where, O Lord, oh where?”

We’re all searchers, looking for life and peace that can only come as we journey into the presence of God through the powerful work of Jesus Christ in our lives. As followers of Jesus, however, we can be confident in God’s power for the journey.[i]

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.” (Psalm 125:1, ESV)

This psalm teaches us that God is the source of strength for His people in times of difficulty.[ii]  As we journey through this pilgrim’s life, we can be certain that God will give strength to those who turn to Him in times of trouble.

1. Christ gives us power to stand strong

The pilgrim declares the kind of strength a person has when he places his trust in the Lord.[iii]  It’s the kind of trust we have in our “E-Z” chair at home.  We can depend upon it to be there.  We can depend upon it to hold us.  That’s the kind of trust we need to have in our Lord.  We abandon ourselves to Him.

God gives us stability to withstand every storm. When we trust in Him, He makes us like Mount Zion.[iv]  Like the mountain of God, nothing can shake or move us when we place our lives in His hands.  The image continues in verse 2.  God gives us comfort in the refuge of His care.  God surrounds us with His strong arms, encompassing us in a place of divine comfort and safety.[v]  Jesus wraps us up in His arms of comfort and care when we place our lives in His hands – just as the hills surround Zion with their protective care.

2. Living life God’s way gives us power for the journey

In verse 3 the setting of the pilgrim’s song becomes clear. There is an “ungodly force” that oppresses God’s people living in The Land.[vi]  Here, the righteous come to the forefront of the song of strength.  The righteous are those who are faithful to God in word and in deed.[vii]

Those who are faithful to Christ find an end to the troubles. The pilgrim declares that those who are faithful will see an end to the oppression that they face.  The promise of God is that those who are faithful to Him will experience His faithfulness in times of trouble.[viii]  There will be an end to the testing times.[ix]

We need to make sure we endure to the end. The ungodliness that oppresses the land is a temptation for God’s people.  To be influenced by ungodliness presents a certain struggle for us.  But we must endure.  We must remain faithful and not fall prey to ungodliness that permeates our culture.[x]  We find strength for our journey when we make a commitment each and every day to remain holy, even as God is holy.  Jesus warned us, “Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold, but he who endures to the end will be delivered” (Matt 24:12-13).

3. The confident expectation that God gives the best life

The pilgrim’s song moves from confidence and assurance to a prayer. This is our prayer for strength today as we face the debilitating distress of a distant journey to the divine embrace.  God plants His joy in the hearts of the faithful.  We ask the Lord to plant joy in our hearts.  The psalmist asks: “Do good, Lord, to those who are good.”[xi]  We find strength as the Lord moves through our lives with grace, bringing good to those of us who are devoted to Him.  He brings us strength of joy and rejoicing, as a man who once was in a pit but has been delivered finds the strength of joy in the bright light of the sun and the firm foundation of solid rock.  Today, we find joy in God’s work of grace in our hearts.

God also brings judgment upon the rebellious. We find strength when we are devoted to Him, but if we turn away from His path, then He will deliver us into judgment.  Those who walk in the crooked paths find the discipline of the Lord God upon their lives.

God gives the best of life to His people. Ultimately, we declare that God brings “peace,” the best of life, to those who are His people.[xii]  We do not find the best in life for ourselves or for our church when we compromise the will of God.  We find peace when we seek the will of God and travel through even the difficult path that His will may lead us.

Dear Jesus, I pray that You would bring the best life my way as I seek to honor You with all that I am. I pray that I might find the power of Your embrace today helping me shine Your glory in this world.  I pray that I might live life according to Your purpose and plan so that Your power might surround me at every turn.

___________________________

[i]Claus Westermann, The Praise of God in the Psalms, trans. K. R. Crim (Richmond: John Knox, 1965), 52-55.

[ii]Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 167-68.  Allen suggests that the backdrop of the psalm is post-exilic occupation of Judah by a foreign power.  Whether this is the case or not remains tenuous.  He writes, “In the course of worship in the temple, Yahweh’s people bring to Him in prayer this situation (cf. Neh. 9:36-37), which is aggravated by the collaboration of certain Jews in flagrant breach of their ancestral faith.  It is this faith that is foremost in the worshipers’ prayer.”

[iii]“Trust” [batach] is confidently depending upon Yahweh to secure and strengthen. Hans-Joachim Kraus [Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 445] suggests that these are the people who “rest the hope of their lives entirely on Yahweh.”

[iv]L. Allen, Psalms 101-150, 167.  “In the Songs of Zion Yahweh’s supremacy is described in terms of victory over nations massed against Zion.  Their attack is related to the threat of chaotic forces subdued at the creation of the world.”  Kraus [Psalms 60-150, 445] suggests that this “is an allusion to ancient traditions that proclaim the unshakable firmness of Zion, the mountain of God.”

[v]James L. Crenshaw, The Psalms: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 21.  “The hills surrounding Zion evoke the comforting thought of encompassing divine arms.”

[vi]Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 444.  “Thus a time of foreign rule is to be assumed.  Because the song in its style and in its world of thought points to a postexilic time, we must think of a corresponding period.” Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 438.  He suggests that it does not necessarily point to “foreign domination: the heathen have no monopoly of sin.”

[vii]L. Allen [Psalms 101-150, 167] suggests that săddîqîm “refers to those in right relationship with Yahweh through the covenant, whose lives are lived in conformity with that relationship.”

[viii]L. Allen, Psalms 101-150, 168.  “Foreign occupation is a travesty of Israel’s traditional theology, which inextricably linked the covenant between Yahweh and the (obedient) people with the gift of the land . . . The people’s sole tenancy is a divinely given privilege to which they may boldly lay claim before Yahweh in an implicit appeal for [H]is intervention.  He will surely not allow such profanation to continue lest [H]is people grow weary in their faith and turn away from [H]im in despair.”

[ix]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TDOT (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 438.  “Evil is always glad of something to corrupt; and 3b takes this seriously.  Cf. the saying in Matthew 24:12 on wickedness and the cooling of love.  It must be God who shortens its reign, and we are assured that He will.”

[x]Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 445.

[xi]The hifil imperative of yātăb means to “make glad” which is the resultant state of its alternative meaning, “to do good.”  Kraus [Psalms 60-150, 445] states: “May Yahweh mercifully incline to those who lead their lives in uprightness of heart, and may [H]e do good to them.”

[xii]Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 438.  “By contrast, the final words of the psalm have arrived at peace, not by compromise but by the only road that leads to it [peace]: the way of righteousness.”

 

Security on our Journey (Psalm 124)

For some, the journey of this life means everything but gratitude. Swallowed by monsters and swept away by storms, these pilgrims languish in a life that is chaotic and confusing.  The original pilgrims of Plymouth Rock faced the harsh realities of an unsettled world, but they also found a reason and season to rejoice.  In the mist of misery, God provided a beautiful harvest of blessing.  It was food!  It was life!  And these deeply devout followers of Christ determined to thank God for His care.  Living on the edge of world filled with scary monsters and awaiting storms, the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock lived in security.

This morning, we join the pilgrims in a song of praise and thanksgiving to God for the security He provides.[i]  As we journey into the presence of God, we join the psalmist in praise for the protection that God has provided.[ii]

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124:8, ESV)

Today, we are on a journey into the presence of God. We are pilgrims passing through this world into our Homeland of Heaven.  As we go, we face the dangerous drops and dips of life, but our God is faithful and loving to give us safety when the marauders of malice attack and when the storm-saturated streams swell to sweep us away.[iii]

1. God is with us on our journey

The opening words of the psalm describe the only hope that we have for safety on life’s journey.[iv]  God is with us on our journey through this life into the summit of His presence.  In the context of this passage, the people of God declare this affirmation of confidence. Israel can say, “God is with us.”[v]

On this side of the cross and empty tomb, Israel is not the only people who can declare, “God is with us.”  All who have received God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ have been adopted as sons into the family of faith.[vi]  All of us who have been bought by the blood of Christ have been brought under the protection of God.  God is with us, for us, and utterly committed to our safety and strength on this journey.[vii]

With God on our side, we have the hope we need to face the difficulties of the journey. Just as Israel declared their hope of defense when evil men[viii] stood up against them, we can declare by faith that God will be our defense when the marauders of evil and death take their aim upon our soul.[ix]  When adversity strikes us today, we have hope that Christ will guard us and strengthen us to meet the difficulties of our journey.

2. But there are monsters and storms on the journey

Without the protection of God’s hand, the monsters of life would devour us.[x]  These monstrosities are aroused by anger against us.  In the time of David, this picture would be the hostile army arising in battle against the smaller nation of Israel.  It is a picture of “David and Goliath” played out in our lives.  The monsters we face are real.  They may have faces or names.  They threaten to swallow up our hearts with fear.  They threaten to destroy our future.

When the storms would come, they would flood the valleys of Palestine and sweep everything away in its path.[xi]  The pilgrim on the journey to the presence of God portrays the storms of circumstance sweeping over his soul and stealing his life.  Without God’s presence in our lives, we would be swept away by the raging torrents of circumstance.  The tragic death would destroy us.  The broken relationship would kill us.  The plight of pain would execute us.  The darkness of disease would drown us.  That’s the life without the presence of God.

3. We must acknowledge God’s greatness and goodness in our lives

We need to begin our journey each day with the declaration of praise to God.[xii]  He is the Maker of Heaven and Earth.  He has cleared the pathway for our journey from beginning (at salvation) to end (at Christ’s appearing).  By God’s hand, He has pulled us out of the snare.  We were like a trapped bird in the hunter’s snare, but God has set us free.[xiii]  He has broken the snare of sin and given us the power to soar once again on our journey.  Just as He has given life and meaning to the world, He has heard our cry for help.  He has kept disaster from dealing death to us.  He has given us safety on our journey through this life into His presence.[xiv]

Listen to William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Plantation, as he describes the storms of Plymouth Rock pilgrims.

They have now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succor. . . . [Indians] were readier to fill their sides full of arrows than otherwise. And for the season, it was winter . . . subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast.  Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men . . . What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace?  May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: “Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness, but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity.”[xv]

Like the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock, we may find ourselves trapped in wave after wave of difficulties. But let’s praise Him today!  Let’s praise Him for the delight of His powerful presence in our lives on this journey.  Let’s thank Him for the security that He gives us on this journey into His presence.

 

A Prayer from the Pilgrims

 

            Thou art the blessed God, happy in Thyself, source of happiness in Thy creatures, my maker, benefactor, proprietor, upholder. Thou hast produced and sustained me, supported and indulged me, saved and kept me; Thou art in every situation able to meet my needs and miseries.

            May I live by Thee, live for Thee, never be satisfied with my Christian progress but as I resemble Christ; and may conformity to His principles, temper, and conduct grow hourly in my life. Let Thy unexampled love constrain me into holy obedience, and render my duty my delight. If others deem my faith folly, my meekness infirmity, my zeal madness, my hope delusion, my actions hypocrisy, may I rejoice to suffer for Thy name.

            Keep me walking steadfastly towards the country of everlasting delights, that paradise-land which is my true inheritance. Support me by the strength of heaven that I may never turn back, or desire false pleasures that will disappear into nothing.  As I pursue my heavenly journey by Thy grace let me be known as a man with no aim but that of a burning desire for Thee, and the good and salvation of my fellow men.

 

_____________________________

[i]Claus Westermann, The Praise of God in the Psalms, trans. K. R. Crim (Richmond: John Knox, 1965), 102-111.  He indicates that this psalm, unusual in its community expressions through the use of the plural, exemplifies the nature of individual thanksgiving.  Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 163, examines the nature of communal thanksgiving in the psalter and concludes that the rarity of the communal thanksgiving.  He concludes that “the psalm exhibits individual language clothed in plural dress.”

[ii]L. Allen, Psalms 101-150, 164.

[iii]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 436.  Kidner places this psalm during the early stages of David’s reign.  As the Philistines sought to destroy the fledgling nation, David saw no hope for his kingdom in his own power or defense, but rather in the power of God to defend His people.

[iv]Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 139.  The opening participle, if not the Lord were with us, is used as a subjunctive and repeated twice for emphasis.  This is the opening thought that portrays the positive statement of God’s presence and protection.

[v]Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (reprint, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 441.

[vi]One image of the Christian community is the “people of God.”  The avenue for community is found through faith in Christ Jesus.  Faith is not only the avenue into the family of God, but it is also the avenue to a community that hopes in the work of Christ in the present mission and future eschaton [Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: SCM Press, 1977; reprint, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1993), 76].

[vii]Walter Brueggemann, Message of the Psalms, 139.

[viii]H-J Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 441.  He notes that “over against the mighty protective power of Yahweh the attackers appear as frail human beings who are subject to death.”  Breuggemann writes: “The threats are presented in varied imagery, but mostly refer to the power of the evil chaotic waters.  Even the opening verb, ‘swallow,’ in verse 3 probably refers to being swallowed up by evil waters.  The waters are Israel’s best way of speaking about a general, massive, and seemingly irresistible threat.  They are ‘presumptuous waters,’ waters that know no limit and respect no boundary” [Brueggemann, Message of the Psalms, 139].

[ix]James L. Crenshaw, The Psalms: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 20.  This psalm expresses the gratitude of God’s people because He has delivered them from adversity.

[x]H-J Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 441.  “Like a monster the enemies would have devoured the people of God alive (v. 3).  Hostile people are represented as devouring monsters also in Ps. 79:7; Isa. 9:11; Jer. 51:34.”  Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 436.  He writes that this image “is of some monster large enough to need only one gulp at its prey.”  Elmer Smick, “Mythopoetic Language in the Psalms,” Westminster Theological Journal 44 (Spring 1982): 92.  In his examination of the poetic language in the psalms, Smick suggests that “Psalm 124 presents an impressive array of figures based on the behavior of the gods.  Although the Psalmist is talking about his human enemies, they cannot literally ‘swallow him alive’ or ‘sweep him away with raging waters’ or ‘tear him with their teeth.’  The New Testament understandably transfers this type of behavior to the Devil (2 Tim 2:26, 1 Pet 5:8).”

[xi]H-J Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 441.

[xii]Friedrich Horst, “Segen und Segenshandlungen in der Bibel” Evangelische Theoligie 7 (1947): 31.  The meaning of baruch is to declare the greatness and power of the object of baruch.

[xiii]L. Allen, Psalms 101-150, 165-66.  “The reversal of doom-laden danger by means of incredible rescue is dramatically described in terms of a pitiable trapped bird that surprisingly regains its freedom.”

[xiv]Ibid., 166.

[xv]From Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation, as quoted by Edwin Scott Gaustad, A Religious History of America (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), 48-49.