Thursday, September 22, 2016

Psalm 45: Bridal Beauty

This describes a royal wedding. The king is humble yet majestic, gracious yet terrible, but the language runs to shocking extremes. In verses 6–7 the king is called God. The book of Hebrews (1:8–9) says this is Christ himself, the ultimate King, infinitely high yet humble (verse 4). And in verse 7 we have a glimpse of the ascension, when Jesus, after accomplishing our salvation, is given the throne of the world by the Father, to rule and direct all things until evil and suffering are destroyed (Ephesians 1:20–23; 1 Corinthians 15:25). We should be as smitten with his beauty as a new spouse—for that is what we are (Ephesians 5:25–32).

The bride is led to the king (verses 10–15). If the king is Jesus, we are his spouse. He is enthralled with us (verse 11), but Ephesians 5:25–27 teaches that he doesn’t love us because we are lovely but in order to make us so, by grace. On the last day we will be united with him, as will all others, in love forever. Christian marriages can display a small bit of the joy that awaits us in heaven. But idolatry is a temptation. We must let our marriages reveal Christ, not replace Christ. And if we are not married but wish to be, we should remember that we already have the only spousal love that will truly fulfill.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Psalm 42: Desiring God

The psalmist has lost not belief in God but the experience of meeting with the living God (verse 2). Human beings need the sense of God’s presence and love as much as the body pants after water (verse 1). His first response to this dryness is to simply remind himself that it will not last (verse 5). “This too shall pass” is a fact about any condition in this changeful world. While often painful, the truth can be used for comfort too. Though our good things will inevitably be shaken, a believer’s difficult times will always end as well. Only when we are safe in heaven, surrounded forever by love unshakable, will all fear of change be gone. Hope in God, for we shall again praise him. 

As the psalm proceeds we see that the phrase “I will yet praise him” (verses 5 and 11; Psalm 43:5) is not a mere prediction of change but an active exercise. When we are discouraged, we listen to the fearful speculations of our hearts. “What if this happens?” “Maybe it’s because of that!” Here instead we see the psalmist not merely listening to his troubled heart but addressing it, taking his soul in hand, saying, “Remember this, O soul!” He reminds his heart of the loving things God has done (verse 6–8). He also tells his heart that God is working within the troubles—the waves sweeping over him are “your” waves (verse 7). This self-communion is a vital spiritual discipline.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Psalm 38: The Painfulness of Pain

Here there is guilt (verse 4) as well as sickness (verse 5). The illness is linked to the psalmist’s sin in some way, either as the physical effects of a tortured conscience or as the result of some foolish behavior or as a messenger sent to humble the psalmist and bring him to his senses about the way he is living. This illness in turn has isolated him from friends and given his opponents an opportunity to move against him (see verses 11–12). So he is suffering from guilt, bodily pain, and injustice. Suffering often comes in such overwhelmingly complex compounds that the only solution is to simply call out to God himself to forgive, protect, and heal.

David does not merely admit his sin but is troubled by it (verse 18). If we only confess but do not also find the sin repellent—for how it grieves and dishonors God and destroys others—the sin will retain its power over us. We will find ourselves doing it again. Also, he seeks not just legal pardon but the restoration of loving fellowship with God (verses 21–22). This is possible because this God is “my God”—the God of covenant grace who is committed to him (Exodus 6:6–7). The depths of that commitment were seen fully only in the one who cried, “My God, my God” and was forsaken so we could be pardoned and brought in.

Psalm 37: The Folly of Fret

Fretting is what we seem to do best.  This four headed monster consisting of worry, resentment, jealousy, and self-pity.  This monster has found a fresh hunting ground in today internet driven world.

Christians should not fret because it is ridiculous to envy evil.  Why you ask?  Those who find their main happiness in this world are living on borrowed time (verse 2).  Furthermore, a fretting Christian is one who is not trusting, delighting, or committing (verse 3-5).  Finally, a fretting Christian will miss those riches and rewards promised in verses 3-6.

This chapter reminds us that Christianity is paradoxical. Believers sometimes seem weak, but they are ultimately strong. We are “persecuted, but not abandoned” (2 Corinthians 4:9; verses 12–15). Those who live for their own power may have temporary success, but sin sets up strains in the fabric of life that will lead to breakdown. “Their swords” in various ways “will pierce their own hearts” (verse 15). Also, “having nothing,” we “yet possess everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10; verses 16–20.) Righteousness is no guarantee of prosperity. It is possible to be faithful and hardworking and end with “little” (verse 16). Yet riches can erode quickly and can’t help you in the next life, so only God himself—and his unfailing love for you—are investments that never lose their value.

The faithful don’t see their money as their own but give and lend freely in order to bring about blessing (verse 26), trusting God to provide for them (verse 25). While David had never seen believers’ children impoverished, Habakkuk 3:17–19 famously tells us that even when we fall into poverty God is with us and is our true wealth. We may be “struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:9). We may “stumble”—may sin or fail or suffer calamity—but God won’t let us go into free fall (verse 24). He will use these troubles, if we trust him, to turn us into something great and beautiful (2 Corinthians 4:17).

We are to “do good” (verse 27), and verse 28 shows that this means living a life of justice. The Hebrew word for “just” is mishpat. This means to treat people equitably, not having one standard for people of your own race and another for others (Leviticus 24:22). It also means caring for the rights and needs of the poor, immigrants, widows, and orphans (Zechariah 7:10–11). Many Christians think of social justice as an optional interest, but it is an essential characteristic of those the Lord loves and delights in. Jesus told his followers to have the poor and disabled in their homes regularly (Luke 14:12–13). Are we listening to these summonses to live justly?

Living for yourself inevitably comes to nothing (verses 35–36), but for us “a future awaits” (verse 37). This doesn’t necessarily mean a prosperous life. It does mean a future of increasing joy and love in this world and infinite amounts of both in the next. We will be resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:35–58). We will not go to nothing. We will not be just a floating consciousness. We will not become part of an impersonal cosmic force. Our future is a world of love (1 Corinthians 13:12–13). We will walk, eat, converse, embrace, sing, and dance—all in degrees of joy, satisfaction, and power that we cannot now imagine. We will eat and drink with the Son of Man “forever” (Psalm 23:6)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Psalm 50: Superficial Faith

The nations are summoned around Zion to hear God speak (verses 1–2). We expect God will be judging the heathens, but instead we are startled to find that he is assembling the nations to witness as he brings testimony against his own people (verses 5–7). God’s judgment “begin[s] with God’s household” (1 Peter 4:17). While our salvation in Christ assures us that our sins can’t bring us into ultimate condemnation (Romans 8:1), it also means that with our greater spiritual resources God holds us more responsible for living as he prescribes. To whom much is given much will be required (Luke 12:48). Christians are more loved and pardoned—and yet called to a stricter account at the same time.

God rebukes his people for two things. The first is external religiosity without inward heart change. Verses 8–13 show people who think their worship offerings are somehow doing God a favor. This is moralism, the idea that with our ethical life and religious observance we can put God in our debt, so that he owes us things. On the contrary, grateful joy for our undeserved, free salvation should be motivating all we do (verses 14–15). Examine your heart. Do you feel God owes you a better life? Do you obey him because you feel you have to in order to get what you want, or out of loving wonder for what he has done?

The second thing God rebukes is doctrinal profession of belief without life change (verses 16–21). Some worship weekly and profess an orthodox faith, but they engage in theft, adultery, slander, and gossip (verses 18–20) based on too small a concept of God (“you thought I was exactly like you,” verse 21). The judgment is terrible—but Jesus took it for us. He was torn to pieces (verse 22)—scourged, speared, nailed, crowned with thorns. Those who trust in him respond with a life of gratitude that honors God and reveals salvation to the world (verse 23). No one who is truly saved by faith and grace can fail to live a changed life of love for God and others (James 2:14–17).