Monthly Archives: January 2014

Psalms 80: God Is Involved

Psalms 80 might not be the most uplifting chapter, but there is a beautiful piece of imagery right in the middle regarding God as a master gardener.

Psa 80:8  Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it.

Psa 80:9  Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land.

Psa 80:10  The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars.

Psa 80:11  She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river.

I am personally not a gardener myself, but I know enough about gardening to know that plants don’t just happen to plant themselves in your garden. Sure, I guess it is possible that a few random seeds might blow into your garden patch from the surrounding plants and trees, but I do not know anyone who creates a garden like that.

Gardening is a deliberate process. You prepare the soil. You plant the certain types of plants that you want in the spots where you want them, and then you care for them as they are hopefully thriving and producing.

That is kind of how God treated the nation of Israel, and I think it is fair to say that we can also extend this metaphor to how God treats individual people.

The apostle Paul had a similar type of gardening metaphor for our Christian walk.

1Co 3:6  I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.

1Co 3:7  So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.

God is the one behind the growth. Just like we heard about Israel, God was the one who made it work. I think that is how we need to keep perspective every day. It provides a very good picture of a God who is involved in a detailed way in the world that we live in.

Psalms 79: Keeping in Context

Psalms 79 is a little bit gruesome because we see the consequences of Israel failing to follow God. Personally, I’m not sure what time exactly is being described in this chapter because Israel was conquered a few times, but the point is that this was not a happy time.

Listen to what the writer, Asaph, has to say in response to this consequence that God has allowed to happen.

Psa 79:8  O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low.

Psa 79:9  Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake.

If I didn’t tell you, you might have thought that this was a New Testament passage. It doesn’t sound all that much different. God is our salvation, and when He forgives us of our sins, He will never remember them again.

However, there is an interesting difference. In this verse, he seems to be largely talking about the physical salvation of Israel. The entire structure of the chapter begins on the physical overrunning of Jerusalem, then we get to the verses I mentioned about needing salvation, and we finally get around to asking God to help avenge the blood of those who had fallen.

This is a very physical type of chapter. This is the type of prayer that you pray when you are in a very difficult situation. Even if you had made some bad decisions that led you to your current location, you can still bring that to God for His help and strength.

Of course, we could spiritualize these verses like I said before. It does sound a lot like some of the spiritual salvation verses that we find in the New Testament, but I would be cautious about doing that. It does not seem to fit the greater context of the chapter, and we want to make sure that we are not reading things in that really are not there.

You all know that I enjoy apologetics, and one of the biggest issues we have in that field is when opponents take Bible verses out of context and “proof text.” We want to make sure that we are not doing that on our side either. Certainly, God is a God who does provide spiritual salvation, but if I was looking for a verse to support that claim, I would not use this one necessarily. This chapter is about a man praying for physical deliverance and salvation from literal captivity.

Psalms 78: The Importance of Evangelism

Christianity is a tradition. It is not like you and I are the first Christians to ever walk this earth. We are part of a faith that has been going on for nearly 2000 years, and it has become an international family.

Psalms 78 begins by explaining how important it is for us to keep our spiritual tradition strong and vibrant.

Psa 78:2  I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:

Psa 78:3  Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.

Psa 78:4  We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.

Notice the important part of passing down the tradition. We have heard these things from our fathers, and we will not hide them from the children. In other words, the important message of Christianity is not something that ought to be taken as some type of mystery that other people might happen to stumble upon if they are lucky.

We really ought to be willing to tell people about our faith. If you aren’t very good at speaking in person, write about it like I do. If you are good at talking in person, go for it. If you do better with music, communicate through that medium. The point is that we are a community of believers who have a message.

We have a message that we believe has eternal significance, and if we truly believe that, wouldn’t we want to tell other people about it? I know that is an overused illustration, but it does kind of ring true. If someone is driving towards a cliff and doesn’t realize the car is about to plunge over the edge, you would want to tell him or her that this cliff is coming up awfully quickly. They are heading towards a bad ending.

We learn from the beginning of this Psalm that God is something that we ought to talk about. If you have a message, you aren’t supposed to keep it hidden. If it matters that much, use whatever talent you have to tell other people.

Rom 10:14  How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

Psalms 77: Trusting God When He Feels Distant

Psalms 77 finds Asaph in a difficult situation. Because of the way that his life had become, he developed a list of questions about God.

Psa 77:7  Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more?

Psa 77:8  Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore?

Psa 77:9  Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.

Think about Jesus as He was being crucified asking why God had abandoned Him. This isn’t all that much different from that. Asaph feels like God has maybe cast Him off forever. Is He ever coming back? This is not a pleasant place to be in to say the least. Separation from God is difficult even if it is only perceived.

I brought up the point about perception because it seems as if deep down, Asaph really did not believe that God had entirely abandoned Him because of the rest of the chapter.

Psa 77:11  I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.

Psa 77:12  I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.

Psa 77:13  Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God?

Psa 77:14  Thou art the God that doest wonders: thou hast declared thy strength among the people.

Psa 77:15  Thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.

All of the aforementioned questions are still certainly valid, and there is no doubt that Asaph felt like he was very far away from God, but when you read the rest of these verses, he did not deny the power of God, and he certainly seems to believe that God can still do amazing things.

That is an important distinction. For some people, they have the questions that Asaph lists, and they stop believing in God. They feel like God has abandoned them, and they give up on the reality of God. Other people respond like Asaph did. If you don’t feel like God is close to you right now, think about those times when His presence was undeniable. Remember the works of God.

Taking that perspective is helpful because it is not like God existed at that time and does not exist now. Even if it feels like He is far away, I would encourage you to remember why you started following God in the first place. I don’t mean something like you did because your parents did. I mean think about the time when you first understood and believed that God was real and Jesus was the Way of salvation. Remember the work that God started performing in you that day. Remember what put you on this Christian road in the first place. Obviously, at that point, God was right beside you in such an obvious and convincing way that you were willing to put your faith and trust in Him.

That is the strategy we see here in Psalms 77 for persevering through those times when God feels like He is far away.

Psalms 76: A Powerful God

Psalms 76 reminded me about how we serve a God who is above all the military power in the world. His power is beyond human comprehension, and it is futile for people to try to contend with His power.

Psa 76:3  There brake he the arrows of the bow, the shield, and the sword, and the battle. Selah.

Psa 76:4  Thou art more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey.

Psa 76:5  The stouthearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep: and none of the men of might have found their hands.

Psa 76:6  At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, both the chariot and horse are cast into a dead sleep.

Psa 76:7  Thou, even thou, art to be feared: and who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?

At this time, all of these weapons were state-of-the-art. They might not seem like much to us in modern times, but these were indeed the weapons of general warfare, and God was above them. For today, you could substitute machine guns, nuclear submarines and stealth bombers, and the analogy would still hold. It doesn’t matter what the technology is, but the point of the passage is that God is above any type of earthly power that might develop.

Look at the final verse I gave you. It is a rhetorical question. Who can stand against God when He is angry? Obviously, after reading the preceding verses, your response is supposed to be that nobody has the power to stand against God. If the military can’t do it, and if the military is the best expression of human power that we have on earth, then who out there would be able to contend with God?

Think about it. Military generally have the power to overrun. If you have a well-organized and well-equipped army, they have the potential to impose their will on most people on earth. It is hard to resist that kind of force.

However, God is above that. Even the brave and the stouthearted can’t stand against God. The strongest military can’t do it either.

What does that tell you and me?

I think that we need to recognize this power. We live in a world where people don’t always want to acknowledge that God is this kind of being. They create some kind of fluffy image that strips Him of His power. That is simply incorrect. God is indeed powerful, and as a result, He deserves our worship and our respect.

Psalms 75: Obedience Where You Are

Welcome to the halfway point of the longest book in the Bible! Psalms 75 is interesting because it shows how our perspective should be of our own power.

Psa 75:4  I said unto the fools, Deal not foolishly: and to the wicked, Lift not up the horn:

Psa 75:5  Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck.

Psa 75:6  For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.

Psa 75:7  But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

Promotion doesn’t come from anywhere except for God. That’s kind of a weird statement because I think of promotion in a professional sense. I think of promotion as getting a higher position in my office or something much more along those lines.

In this Psalm, I think we need to take a much broader picture. God puts people where He wants to put people. All of us are good at different things, and we are suited for different roles. Some people might be great physicists, but that would definitely not be me. Some people might be really good at evangelism whereas others might be more skilled at helping people who are sick and need assistance.

As such, God will sometimes use each of our individual gifts for different purposes. Naturally, some people will do things that are considered “great,” and others of us will be relegated to more average, everyday kind of work. We might want to move somewhere different and do something entirely different, but God has given us these talents to be used where we are.

If God wants to promote us and move us to a bigger stage, he certainly has the power to do that. Think about someone like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was obedient and concerned with preaching the word of God wherever he went. There are plenty of pastors who do the same thing every Sunday, but they certainly do not become as famous as Bonhoeffer. However, that doesn’t mean that either one is less important. They are being obedient to the call that God has given specifically to them.

Like the verses say, promotion does not come from ourselves. God judges where He wants everyone, and it is our responsibility to be open to that calling. The foolish and the wicked apparently don’t heed this advice. They continue trying to be known. For us, we need to be comfortable wherever God places us. He might create you to become the next Billy Graham and preach to millions, or you might be a little bit more ordinary. Either way, we have jobs, and we need to go about doing the job that was given to us.

Psalms 74: How Long, God?

Psalms 74 must have been written during a difficult time. Listen to the first verse by itself.

Psa 74:1  Maschil of Asaph. O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture?

There is a definite sense of abandonment here, and you get the sense that bad things have been happening to the people of Israel. They feel like these bad things wouldn’t be happening if God was intervening. Let me give you a few more verses from later on in the chapter.

Psa 74:10  O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme thy name for ever?

Psa 74:11  Why withdrawest thou thy hand, even thy right hand? pluck it out of thy bosom.

Why is God allowing all of this sin and adversity to continue? Why doesn’t He end all of this evil?

Certainly, He has the power to do it. If God is all-powerful, He has power over evil. We also know that God hates evil, so you would think that God would want to get rid of it and would be motivated to remove it from existence. He is also acutely aware of evil; it is not as if He is living in some kind of bubble where He is simply not aware of all the bad things that happen here on earth.

We have come back to the problem of evil. This seems to be a favorite spot for people to attack. As Christians are need to be aware of these kinds of issues. We certainly don’t need to deny that there is evil in the world, and we just as strongly don’t need to deny the existence of God.

Like the psalmist is saying, there are things that are bad about the world, and we all might wonder why God doesn’t intervene if He does have all of those characteristics that I have claimed previously. He has the ability, motivation and knowledge to eliminate sin right now, but there is some reason He chooses not to.

However, even if we don’t understand everything, if we can provide reasonable evidence that God exists and evil exists, then it follows that it is not logically impossible for them both to coexist. If they can both exist, we don’t necessarily need to understand why God is motivated to allow sin. If both of these are true, then the conclusion that a good God could not allow evil is demonstrably false as shown by both of those statements being simultaneously true.

I have outlined this approach in more detail on another page if you want to check it out. The problem of evil is a difficult one, and even in this Psalm, you can see that it is hard to understand why God allows evil to continue existing even though it has caused so much trouble in the world. However, the problem of evil does not necessitate that we give up believing in God.

Psalms 73: Eternal Justice

Psalms 73 is very reflective of the world we live in today. One of the biggest complaints that people have with our current economic system is the fact that there is a huge divide between the incredibly wealthy and the incredibly poor. If you read this chapter though, you’ll find that this problem is nothing new. There has always been some type of inequality, and sometimes, the people who seem to be doing really well are doing it in the wrong way.

Psa 73:3  For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Psa 73:4  For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm.

Psa 73:5  They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.

It seemed kind of backwards. The wicked people were the ones who were getting rich, and you would expect it to be the other way around. We are trying so hard to follow God and do what is right that we should be the ones who get rewarded. They just continue doing bad things, and it feels as if they are getting some kind of benefit for their behavior.

Psa 73:12  Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.

Psa 73:13  Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.

Wait a minute. Asaph, the writer of this Psalm, seems like that he suddenly had a revelation. He suddenly realized that whatever these wealthy people had was confined to the earth, and he had something much better.

Psa 73:26  My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.

Psa 73:27  For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee.

Psa 73:28  But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.

Now, let’s put it all back together. It feels unfair that the wealthy people are wealthy despite the fact that they are wicked. It seems more fair for those who do good and follow God to be rewarded for that. However, there is more to reality than money here on earth. Like Asaph says, God will be our portion forever. There is eternity to consider, so even if it may seem like that the world is what it ought to be, remember the other promises that we do have from God. This world is not the end of it, and ultimately God is a God of justice. The wicked might prosper for a short time, but it is not going to end well for them.

Psalms 72: Follow Your Heart? Probably not.

I would have to assume that David was the author of Psalms 72 because it is specifically addressed to his son Solomon. It is interesting what David asks for right at the beginning, and it seems as if there was something very prophetic about these words.

Psa 72:1  A Psalm for Solomon. Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son.

Psa 72:2  He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment.

David knew that his son would be king, and he wanted God to provide him with righteousness. First, this implies that humans need righteousness to be imparted from God, and we can see that in many instances throughout the Bible. However, notice how David says he is going to use that righteousness.

He is going to judge his people with righteousness. When Solomon had the opportunity to ask God for whatever he desired, what did he ask for?

1Ki 3:9  Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?

He wanted wisdom so that he could judge the people well. He knew that he could not do it on his own because there were so many people in the nation of Israel, and he was only one person. He needed the wisdom that comes directly from God.

It is interesting that that is exactly what David wanted God to give his son. We have two people here who both sought to follow God with all their hearts, and they knew the importance of trusting in God while making decisions.

Both of them seem to stress that God helps us make decisions. From a basic theological perspective, that makes an awful lot of sense. If we are separated from God because of our sin nature, it seems to me our sinful hearts might not provide us with the most reliable advice when we are trying to make decisions. Would you want to trust something that is faulty?

If we can’t rely on our own hearts, we should be looking somewhere else, and as Christians, we look towards God. Like David and Solomon, we need to look towards the one who is actually righteous. I have been working on trying to memorize Bible verses lately, and here are a pair that had come up to review the other day.

Pro 3:5  Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

Pro 3:6  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

Trust in God rather than yourself.

Psalms 71: The Benefit of Experience

I am 22 years old, and I certainly know more about God and about the world in general than I did when I was 12 years old. However, I don’t know nearly as much as I will when I am 92. That is one thing that stood out to me as I was reading through Psalms 71.

Psa 71:17  O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works.

Psa 71:18  Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.

We are talking about a lifetime of faith here. From youth all the way to old age, we can certainly continue proclaiming the greatness of God. In fact, once we get old, we have even more opportunities to show how great God really has been. Think about having 80 years of experience that you can look back on through the benefit of hindsight.

We don’t always understand what we are going through at the time, but when we do go back into our memories, it is easier to see how God was working in certain situations. I have learned that already, and I don’t have nearly that much life experience. However, I can look back and see things from a different perspective than I did at the time.

There is also the implication here that we are supposed to pass this knowledge on. We need to show what God has done for us to future generations. Obviously, we can pass on the testimony of the Bible, but we can also share personal stories. We can explain how God was looking out for us specifically in particular situations over the years. Again, with a lifetime of experience, we should be able to have a plethora of examples that we have a responsibility to share.

If God was good to us, shouldn’t we be interested in telling other people about it? We can do that all throughout our lives. You’re never too old to share your faith.