Trusting in the Wings (Sermon)

HERE is the audio of the sermon “Trusting in the Wings” (Psalm 61) that I preached for Trinity Chapel on Tuesday, April 18, 2017.

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Praying Well

praying handsToday in our Adult Sunday School* we were discussing prayer and my mind was taken to how we as the Church might pray well. We seem to have a penchant for and pride in our “free” prayers as Evangelicals (and particularly as Pentecostals). However, it seems such “free” prayers may more often than not tend toward unguided babbling, self-centeredness, or even childishness over genuinely praying well in accordance with the will of God. (This is by no means to denigrate “free” prayers which form a significant part of my own prayer life).

Three ways in which we might be delivered from such tendencies and pray God’s will better would be to (1) pray with the Church, (2) pray with the Scriptures, and (3) pray with the Spirit.

We can pray with the Church by joining our prayers to those of the Church which goes before us (for example, by following the prayers of The Book of Common Prayer, praying with the prayers of saints of old, etc). We can also join our prayers to those of the wider body of Christ in the world today.

We can pray with the Scriptures by praying the Psalms (properly called the “prayerbook of the Bible”). It has been said that while most Scripture speaks to us, the Psalms speak for us. We can pray the prayers of David, Daniel (Dan.9), and Nehemiah (Neh.9). We can pray with the prophets of old, we can pray with the apostles. We can pray with John the Revelator, and we can pray with our Lord Jesus (John 17; or our Lord’s Prayer Matt.6:9-13/Luke 11:2-4).

Finally, we can pray with the Spirit even when we do not have the words to pray. We can pray with inexpressible groanings and know God hears His Spirit’s intercessions (and that of His Son’s) on our behalf being in and through and for us (Rom.8:26-27).

Such helps to our prayers are given that we might know we pray according to God’s will…and when we do, we know we are heard. And we are being shaped more and more after the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord.

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* Originally blogged at bluechippastors.org on February 10, 2013.

Psalm 1: A Devotional for the Wise

psalm1TzviHaLeviBerger
by Tzvi HaLevi Berger (b.1924, Transylvania)

“That kind of person is like a tree that is planted near a stream of water.
It always bears its fruit at the right time.
Its leaves don’t dry up.” (Psalm 1:3 NIrV)

 The wise are the “happy” and “blessed” (Psalm 1:1). They find themselves consumed by the things which please the LORD. They hang on His every word. His stories fill their dreams. His commands are their delight.

These happy saints sing His songs. They pray His prayers. They are washed by the waters of His cleansing and they eat His bread and drink from His cup. And they live. And they give life.

They find themselves planted by a stream of water where their roots find continuous sustenance. Their very life is maintained by this happy home where that life never fails to flow in, through and from them.

These happy trees are not blown away by the winds. They are not dried up when the rains cease. They do not withhold their fruit, because their fruit never stops growing. They have found the very source of life itself in their being planted in the garden of the LORD. Their leaves bring healing to the nations of the world who echoes their ceaseless praises to the Lord and Giver of Life. And the fruit of their lives is the fruit of that never ceasing river.

Such trees never cease to produce all that is good and right and enduring. And these righteous ones are that tree of life promised to the overcomers who are faithful to the LORD in all things and their reward shall never be taken from them. And they will flourish in His garden forever.

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To be published by myself in Grow Deeper: A Devotional by Trinity Bible College (2015).

Prayers and Psalms (for Ash Wednesday)

ImageMay the Lord hear our cries! May the Lord grant redemption to the ends of the earth! May every tongue, tribe, people, and nation praise the Lord! He has forgiven us and we are forgiven! He calls to life…and we live! He is coming again and He is preparing His Bride! Prepare your people to enter into the rest which alone is found in your enduring mercy and grace! Love us with your everlasting love!

O Lord, who hast mercy upon all,
take away from me my sins,
and mercifully kindle in me
the fire of thy Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone,
and give me a heart of flesh,
a heart to love and adore Thee,
a heart to delight in Thee,
to follow and enjoy Thee, for Christ’s sake, Amen
St. Ambrose of Milan (AD 339-397)

PSALM 103 (NLT)

Let all that I am praise the LORD; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!
The LORD gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly.
He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel.
The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.
He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.
The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.
Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
The wind blows, and we are gone — as though we had never been here.
But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments!
The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything.
 Praise the LORD, you angels, you mighty ones who carry out his plans,listening for each of his commands.

Father, forgive us as we forgive others. Grant us mercy this day to live in a manner pleasing to the glory of your Name. We fall in your presence as those who must give the labor of our hands to your praise. Cleanse our hands that they might be clean. We are those who must surely declare your praise. Give us pure hearts that we might know the joy of your presence.  Keep us in the time of our temptation that we may cling to you. Wash us and we will be clean. Pour out your Spirit and we will live. Let your Son’s judgment be our own and receive us into your glory as well-pleasing sons and daughters. To you alone be all praise, glory, and honor, forever and ever. Amen.

What If All Is Not Well With My Soul?

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I was thinking tonight…what if all isn’t “well with my soul”? This hymn which has meant so much to so many just doesn’t seem to do full justice to the need for self-expression in grief. It can at times function more to repress genuine feelings of grief, anger, and despair. It can at times serve only to attempt to ignore the pain of sorrow. Is there still a place in our hymnody for raw expressions of pain and sorrow as the ancient Israelites held to in their psalms? Can we sing songs of despair or anger over injustice? I love this hymn, but wonder if we have too quickly dashed from the valley of the shadow of death into a pleasant meadow of our own self-making? Am I less than Christian if at any time all is not well?

Praying the Imprecatory Psalms

ImageI have found it disturbing (to say the least) that some folks in the U.S. believe that the imprecatory psalms offer a prayer for our current president (from Psalm 109:8).  This is nothing if not disgusting abuse of the Scriptures to promote hate-mongering. However, I’m not so simple as to think the Church should not appropriate the imprecatory psalms into our prayer life, but to recognize that between the Church and the Psalms…is Christ–crucified, died, buried, raised on the third day, and coming again to judge the living and the dead.

So I thought I’d include a brief discussion of Bruce Waltke’s and Derek Kidner’s approach to these troubling psalms:

Bruce Waltke believes that while imprecatory psalms are “theologically sound…these petitions for retribution are inappropriate for the church because, among other reasons, judgment will occur in the eschaton (Rev. 20:11-15; cf. Isa. 61:1-2 with Matt. 13:30; 25:46; Luke 4:18-20; John 15:15; 2 Cor. 6:2; 2 Thess. 1:5-9); sin and sinner are now more distinctly differentiated (cf. Eph. 6:11-18), allowing the saint both to hate sin and to love the sinner; and the saint’s struggle is against spiritual powers of darkness, where he conquers by turning the other cheek and by praying for the forgiveness of enemies (Matt. 5:39-42, 43-48; 6:14; Luke 6:28, 35; Acts 7:60).” [“Psalms: Theology of” (pp.1100-1115), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), IV:1106-1107]

Derek Kidner (Psalms 1-72 [TOTC 15; Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1975]) writes, “To get fully in tune with the psalmists on this issue we should have to suspend our consciousness of having a gospel to impart (which affects our attitude to fellow-sinners) and our assurance of a final righting of wrongs (which affects our attitude to present anomalies).” He believes we cannot properly hear the answer given to injustice in such psalms “until we have felt the force of their questions” (40). Further, he perceives that there is a sense of rhetoric at play wherein “horror may be piled on horror more to express the speaker’s sense of outrage than to spell out the penalties he literally intends” (41-42). He likens such extreme language to hyperbole for the sake of deep emotional expression that could simply not be expressed otherwise than it is. Finally, he argues that such language is intended “to touch and kindle us rather than simply address us” (42). Where we might think to criticize the psalmist (from some “reasonable” perspective), we are drawn into the “desperation which produced” the cry of imprecation (42). His understanding of a Christian appropriation suggests that rather than judgment being removed (though dealt finally by the cross of Christ) is actually drawn nearer and taken from the hands of the wronged individual and placed into the nail-scarred hands of Christ as Lord (43-45). His reply to the Christian wanting a straightforward appropriation is a “No” because the cross stands between us and these psalms (46-47).

We can hear the cries of victims of injustice and abuse and offer the healing of Christ, but we cannot truly pray such judgment upon individuals least of all those in authority over us (1 Tim.2:1-3).  We can (and must) offer prayers of imprecation concerning the ultimate justice of God that all might be set to rights.  (See also my older post “Blessed be the One Who Grabs Babylon’s Babies and Smashes Them on a Rock”)

So what are your thoughts on praying these psalms?