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Friday, September 26, 2008

The Comfort Which Comes From God

In our last study of the Psalms of Ascents, the psalmist was lamenting to God concerning the persecution he faced from others. In Psalm 130, the psalmist turns introspective and cries out to the Lord because of the conflict inside.

Read Psalm 130 (NASB, NIV, KJV)

Here is my working outline. As always, suggestions are wanted and desparately needed.

The Comfort which Comes from God

I. We can cry out to the Lord (1-2)
we can cry out and He answers

II. We can have forgiveness with the Lord (3-4)

III. We wait on the Lord (5-6)
III. We have faith in the Lord (5-6)??

wait = hopeful expectation
         A. Based in His Word (5)
         B. Sure as Morning (6)

IV. We have hope in the Lord (7-8)
this is because of His ...
         A. Lovingkindness/Loyal Love (Heb. Hesed) (7a)
         B. Redemption (7b-8)
                    1. Abundant (7b)??
                    2. Complete (8)??
                    (are these these the same thing??)

After the last few psalms, this one seems much more self-explanatory. However, there are just a couple of issues I will point out to clarify my outline. The first two verses are clear that the psalmist cried out to God and asks him not only to hear and be attentive to his pleas. Anyone with children or dogs realize the difference between hearing and being attentive. The psalmist wanted God to act in response to his request.

Verse 3 and 4 are about forgiveness. Thankfully, the psalmist says, that God forgives those who surrender their lives to Him. Forgiveness can be found, but it is only found through God on His terms, which is the foot of the cross of Christ.

Verse 5 and 6 are where I want to expand my thoughts a bit. Here the psalmist commits to waiting on the Lord. "Waiting" in scripture is an expectation of God to work. So he waits and does not take matters into his own hands. He waits because God's Word says God will act for His people. Because of his trust in God and His Word, the psalmist is more sure of God acting than the sun rising in the morning (6). If the title is the issue of comfort in trying times, which the psalm seems to be about, then I am not sure if "waiting" or "faith" is more comforting. I tend to think emphasis on waiting is more comforting because it indicates I know God is going to act and I am waiting for it. It may be all semantics and not worth worrying over.

Finally, the psalmist is comforted by the hope we have in the Lord. The clauses in the text indicate this hope is due to God's Loyal Love (Hebrew: Hesed - tranlated many times as Lovingkindness but is probably better translated Loyal Love - see interesting articles here, and here). The psalmist also has hop in the Lord because of his redemption. Because of the "and" found at the beginning of verse 8, it seems like he is praising God for his "abundant" redemption and his complete ("all iniquities") redeption. However, these almost sound the same. Obviously, redemption is the other source of his hope. Again, the other issue of abundant and/or complete is simply semantics...probably.

As I think of hymn used in today's churches, one does not immediately come to mind which captures the essence of this psalm. The Baptist Hymnal uses Psalm 130:1 for the basis for the hymn "Out of My Bondage, Sorrow, and Night," which sounds like a great song but I do not think I have ever heard it. I think a more appropriate and interesting pick for a hymn which conveys the author's intent is "Heaven Came Down" (click here to listen). I may change my mind but for now, I think I like this pick.

O what a wonderful, wonderful day, day I will never forget;
After I'd wandered in darkness away, Jesus my Savior I met.
O what a tender, compassionate friend, He met the need of my heart;
Shadows dispelling, with joy I am telling, He made all the darkness depart.

Heaven came down and glory filled my soul, (filled my soul)
When at the cross the Savior made me whole; (made me whole)
My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day,
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul! (filled my soul)

Born of the Spirit with life from above into God's family divine,
Justified fully thru Calvary's love, O what a standing is mine!
And the transaction so quickly was made, when as a sinner I came,
Took of the offer, of grace He did proffer, He saved me, O praise His dear name!

Heaven came down and glory filled my soul, (filled my soul)
When at the cross the Savior made me whole; (made me whole)
My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day,
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul! (filled my soul)

Now I've a hope that will surely endure after the passing of time;
I have a future in heaven for sure there in those mansions sublime.
And it's because of that wonderful day, when at the cross I believed;
Riches eternal and blessings supernal, from His precious hand I received.

Heaven came down and glory filled my soul, (filled my soul)
When at the cross the Savior made me whole; (made me whole)
My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day,
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul! (filled my soul)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My God Will Deliver Me

In our journey through the Psalms of Ascents, we have encountered a couple of psalms which seems a little different and hard to summarize with one thought. That is perfectly normal for psalms, as they were songs and not meant to be analyzed in the fashion in which we are doing. However, because they are additionally the Word of God, we can look at them in a critical fashion and pull out the message we are intended to receive through them. In 127, there seemed to a strange shift from vanity to family. In 128, the issue of family continues only to change into the topic of corporate worship. In 129, the psalmist seems to go back to communicating one idea through the entire psalm. In this case, he is concerned about persecution.

Read Psalm 129 (NASB, NIV, KJV)

Here is my working outline for Psalm 129. Like the many before it, it needs work and I need your help in that. Please help me and those reading through this blog with your comments and suggestions.

Still Working on Title - maybe God Delivers

I. The enemy's persecution...(1-4)
         A. Was often (1-2a)
         B. Has not prevailed (2b)
         C. Was intense (3)
         D. Was stopped (4)

II. God's Retribution...(5-8)
The enemies of the God will ...
         A. Be turned back/put to shame (5)
         B. Wither (6)
         C. Be unfruitful/ineffective (7)
         D. Be un-blessed (8) (I know it is not a word)

The psalmist, with psalm 129, pens a lament of the persecution he faces simply for being one of God's people. He begins by repeating how many times the enemies have persecuted him, ever since he was a child. They continually persecuted him. However, he is clear to point out they have not prevailed. He brings in word pictures of farming to show how intense these persecutions have been. It is as if they have plowed on his back and made their furrows long and deep. This is no light trial. However, even thought they consistently and intensely persecuted him, God in His righteousness puts a stop to it. Using another farming metaphor, the cords indicate the reins one would use on a plowing animal. They have been plowing on my back but God cut the reins and they stopped. The psalmist is lamenting to God concerning the persecution he has faced but then praises God for his deliverance from those trials.

The psalmist moves into a discussion of God's retribution of those who rebel against Him.

Rabbit Trail: hating the Lord does not mean an atheist or a Satan worshipper. Hating the Lord in Scripture is someone who disregards the Creator and Sustainer of life. They are the ones who say "So what if God has said thus and so. I will life my life as I want." These are the haters of God. This principle is affirmed in the New Testament as well. James 4:4 says, "Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (NASB) Jesus says in John 14:1, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (NASB) In the mind of God, one either loves Him and lives in accordance to His word, or one hates Him.

The psalmist looks to God's retribution of those who hate God. God will first put them to shame. "Turning back" and "put to shame" are in parallel here and are used to say the same thing.

God will also cause them to wither like the grass which grew on the their rooftops. In the Ancient Near East, houses were made of clay and had flat roofs. Dirt would collect on these flat roofs and many times grass and weeds would begin to poke up through the ground. However, since the soil was so shallow, the grass would quickly wither. The psalmist says this would be like those who hate God.

Additionally, this grass would not help anyone who was harvesting. the reaper would not be able to harvest anything from this grass. Nor could the one binding the sheaves find anything to bind from this grass. In essence, the reaper and the binder would be ineffective. This is the plea of the psalmist. God will make His enemies ineffective.

Finally, the psalmist indicates that the enemies of God would not receive the blessings which others usually would put forth to others. They are not blessed. Since the psalm ends on this issue, one could place this side-by-side with the previous psalm and see a comparison of those who are blessed by God and those who are not. Perhaps that is the point of this psalm.

I am not sure about a song we know today which captures the point of this psalm. There are not many hymns which sings about God's retribution on those who live their lives independent of them. However, the other side of that coin is the issue of God's deliverance of this people. Thus, perhaps "He Hideth My Soul" would then be appropriate. I will tentatively post it as this psalm's modern equivalent until a better one is brought to my attention (click here to listen).

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
He taketh my burden away;
He holdeth me up, and I shall not be moved,
He giveth me strength as my day.

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.

With numberless blessings each moment He crowns,
And filled with His fullness divine,
I sing in my rapture, oh, glory to God
For such a Redeemer as mine!

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.

When clothed in His brightness, transported I rise
To meet Him in clouds of the sky,
His perfect salvation, His wonderful love
I’ll shout with the millions on high.

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When We Walk With the Lord...

Since I received such a rousing response to my question regarding feedback about this blog, as you can see from the comments posted on the previous post, I will nevertheless continue in my study of the Psalms of Ascents since it is, as the very least, somewhat therapeutic for me.

In the last post, I noted that Psalm 127 seemed to be the pivotal point of these 15 psalms. This does not mean that Psalms 128-134 all spiral down into despair. Instead, it seems there is a shift of focus in the last half of these psalms than from the first half. The first seven Psalms of Ascent seem to about the anticipation of going to Jerusalem, the praise of being there, and worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even though there are aspects of lament and supplication in these first seven psalms, the major thrust seems upbeat.

Starting in Psalm 128, the Psalms of Ascent seem to go another direction. Playing off the last half of 127, Psalm 128 is concerned about the family and spiritual health of his people. In Psalm 129-132, the psalmist cries out to God about different concerns he has (we will address them as we continue on through our study).

I am not sure if this shift in focus is correct, but it seems like the tone changes after 127. Any insights on this would be helpful. Nevertheless, lets look at Psalm 128.

Read Psalm 128 (NASB, NIV, KJV)

I am really struggling on an outline for this psalm. I am getting closer but I really need help with this. If you are reading this, please put your two-cents in.

Still working on a title

I. Personal Blessings (1-4) ??
          A. Our work will be blessed (2)
          B. Our families will be blessed (3)
                    1. They will be prosperous (3a)
                    2. They will be stable (3b)
          C. Certainty of blessing (4) ??

II. Spiritual Blessings (5-6) ??
          A. God will bless you wherever you go (5a) ??
          B. The worship of God will continue (5b)??
          C. The people of God will be whole (6) ??

This outline needs serious help but I thought I would post it in its current form to get help and to show the development of thought. The main thing I am struggling with is the two main points. It seems obvious to me that the psalm has two main thoughts: the blessings one has when you live a life obedient to God and the thoughts about Zion, Jerusalem, and Israel. This second set is harder to nail down a thought which encapsulates what the author is saying. I will cover that in a minute.

I summed up the first thought with "Personal Blessings." Verse one is clearly tells the qualification of these blessings. When a person walks in God's ways, lives a life habitually obedient to God and His Word, then God will bless that person. It should always be in the forefront of one's mind that the psalms are not promises. This may put a bur under someone's saddle but that is the case, nonetheless. Therefore, this is the psalmist saying a lot of the time, when a person walks with the Lord, that person will experience these blessings. It goes without saying that a single person who is walking with the Lord, will not have a spouse or children, but they will still be blessed. However, this psalm refers to these things. This does not nullify the blessings for anyone who walks obediently.

The first blessing the psalmist mentions is that the work of one's hands will be productive, satisfying, and will be enjoyed. He continues to move from work to family. He says one's wife will be fruitful like a vine. Many will say this has to do with bearing children, but it has more a thrust of a Proverbs 31 woman. One who is industrious and does whatever is necessary to provide for her family. Staying with the theme of family, the author says that the children of one who is faithful will be like olive plants. This is a picture of stability. When olive trees are young, they do not produce fruit. When an olive tree ages to about 14 to 15 years old, it begins to produce fruit and can continue to do so for an extremely long time. One who faithfully obeys the Lord will be blessed with children who will be stable and produce fruit for a long time. Again, this is not a promise but a condition that usually is the case. He finishes this section by restating what he did in verse one, these blessings are for those who revere the Lord (4) and thus live in accordance to His ways (1).

The next section moves into a spiritual realm of blessings. It may be this is not personal blessings but more communal blessings. However, verse 5 does not indicate a communal aspect (maybe you can convince me otherwise). He begins to pray that Lord will bless his reader from Zion. The issue here is that God's presence was understood to be in the temple on Mount Zion and blessings would be issued out from there. This indicates that wherever the faithful would travel, God would bless them from Zion. It is more about the source of blessing then where the person receiving the blessing is located.

Second, the psalmist prays that the reader would see Jerusalem prosper all the days of his life, and he prays that the reader would live a long, long life. He is praying for the city which was the center of worship for his people. There is a direct relationship between the welfare of Jerusalem the the welfare of the worship of God. If Jerusalem was doing well, then the worship of Yahweh was doing well. If Jerusalem was ransacked and the enemy had taken residence, then not only was the author's worship interupted, but the entire people's worship had stopped. Thus, he prayed for Jerusalem so that the worship of God would continue. The first half of verse six is part of this request. If the reader would see Jerusalem prosper all the days of his life, then the psalmist is also asking God to let the reader live a long life.

Finally, the psalmist asks for the peace of Israel. "Peace" here is the word "Shalom" and it means much more than "lack of war." It connotes the issues of "completeness, wholeness, wellness, peace." In short, the psalmist is praying for the well-being of those who worship the one true God. He not only wants the worship of Yahweh to prosper (above) but he wants the worshippers of Yahweh to be well, too.

As I say at the end of all these posts, any suggestions you give would not only help me, but would also help many who have been looking at and reading through the Psalms of Ascents posts.

As with the rest of these particular psalms, I have been trying to match a song we sing today which would relay the same heart as the psalmist for that individual psalm. The Baptist Hymnal uses Psalm 128:1 for the basis of the hymn "Would You Bless Our Homes and Families," but I do not know that hymn. When I think of this psalm, the hymn "Trust and Obey" comes to mind. The psalm begins by essentially saying, "if you trust and obey the Lord, then He will bless you." This is the same message of this hymn (click here to listen).

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet.
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way.
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Book Review: How to Read Literature Like a Professor

Have you ever read a story or watched a movie and knew something more was going on than what you were reading or seeing on the surface? Have read a popular fiction book and thought it seemed awfully familiar but you convinced yourself you were reading too much into it. Have you watched Pleasantville or The Truman Show and wondered just what the director wanted to convey? If you have and you want to become better at reading between the lines, I have recently finished a book which you should enjoy.

The book is entitled How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines by Thomas C. Foster of the University of Michigan at Flint (New York: Harper Collins, 2003). Foster must be a fantastic professor because the book easily guides the reader along different themes which convey a deeper meaning than at first glance and teaching the reader great insights without sounding like a textbook. His easy and humorous style make the book easy to comprehend and keeps it from being intimidating. It was a fun read.

In twenty-six short chapters, he enlightens the reader to this new world of symbolism, metaphor, and authorial intent (kind of). After these chapters, he presents a test case with which the reader can test what he or she has learned from the book. As a good instructor, he asks questions of the students understanding and then asks the students to compare their insights with his. For what is essentially “homework” is was quite fun.

Some of the chapters which really helped me was the chapters which spoke of the literary connotations of rain (10), the Christ figure (14), sex (16 and 17), and then the issue of irony in literature (26). The test case (27) was a nice touch for the book. I also appreciated Foster’s Reading List found in the Appendix.

There was some things I did not care for in the book. For one thing, Foster cites a lot of books (as well he should) to prove his point and as he does, it feels like he is consistently showing me how little I am well-read. This is not his fault as I am sure he must read and enjoys reading these books he mentioned. Most the books I have to read for my classes and enjoy reading for my self are non-fiction and if one attempts to go deeper than what the author is saying, then one is really distorting the book. Nevertheless, when he cites these books, he does a fantastic job with telling the reader who has never heard of these books why he is using them. In fact, there are several, after he explained his point, which I will want to pick up and read for myself.

Additionally, I did not find the chapter on Sonnets all that helpful, but again, that is not Fosters fault. I just do not read much poetry. This is because I do not understand poetry. Which may be because I do not read poetry. Anyway…the Sonnet chapter really did nothing for me.

I appreciate the fact that Foster did make brief mention of movies. I have been able to see things in movies that are deeper than the surface more than I have in literature. In fact, because of this post, I may post on this later. I have not been that observant with literature. This may be because 1) I do not read that much fiction and 2) I just have not been actively looking. After reading How to Read Literature Like a Professor, you can be sure that the next fiction book I read will be slowly reading through the rainstorm, or really looking at that road in the book, or wondering why the character has that particular illness. Who knows, maybe I will see something which will make the story even better.

2T22 Rating

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Anyone There?

I have not posted in a week but have not forgot our study through the Psalms of Ascents. However, I was hoping for some feedback before I moved forward with more on these special psalms.

Has any of the posts on the Psalms of Ascents helped you in some way? Maybe helped you in a preparation of a bible study or sermon? Or helped you in your personal study? Do you have any suggestions on the outlines which would help others?

If you are just stopping by, but found these posts helpful or even a little interesting, I would appreciate a quick post to share that.

I am not trying to be self-serving. After all, we all could use a little encouragment every now and then.