Category Archives: Bible – OT – Psalms

Reading on preaching

Here’s my online ‘reading’ on preaching this month, as posted to my church Web site in the Preaching Resources section. These resources were posted on 26 October 2010:

A solidly married couple

Alec Motyer has a delightful comment on Psalm 125:3 that I read this morning:

What, then, is the ‘evil’ to which we can be tempted to put our hands (verse 3)? For we have all experienced the ‘Why should I put up with this any longer?’ moment, and that’s the danger point. When patient enduance runs out, sinfulness comes running in; impatience and making golden calves have for a long time been a solidly married couple.\1/

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References

1. Alec Motyer, Journey: Psalms for Pilgrim People (Nottingham: IVP, 2009): 65

Expositors’ Conference

I’ve just returned from the Expositors’ Conference in Edinburgh, and the mp3s are available online for free to any one who is interested. The sessions were conducted by Steve Lawson, Peter Grainger, Craig Dyer, Iain Murray, and Ian Shaw. It was tough going, but well worth it, with a variety of speakers and subjects covered. I found all the sessions profitable, though I found Peter Grainger’s sessions on Jeremiah and Steve Lawson’s evening ministry on Psalms 1 + 19 + 119 (curious numbering pattern, useful for remembering the key psalms on the Word of God).

Now that the summer’s all but over, I hope to resume blogging a little more regularly. I have a few things gathered up from my online inactivity that I plan to post, time permitting.

Trustful worship for puzzled believers

At the end of his discussion of the God of the psalms, Geoffrey Grogan mentions those psalms where the psalmists come to God with their deeply troubling problems. It is noteworthy that they come to God with them, and that their troubles do not cause them to lose their faith.  “To be puzzled and to give up belief are not the same thing,”\1/ he says. I really found his conclusion heart-warming and helpful:

Christians too may be puzzled by the ways of God, but he has given us such affirmations of his holiness, grace and wisdom in the cross and resurrection of Jesus that faith is constantly renewed as it contemplates these wonderful facts in a spirit of trustful worship. \2/

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Geoffrey Grogan. Prayer, Praise and Prophecy: A Theology of the Psalms. Fearn, Ross-shire: Mentor (Christian Focus), 2001. \1/ p. 75, \2/ p. 76.

Blunted metaphor

Geoffrey Grogan gives Psalm 23 as an example of metaphor in the Psalter. “In asserting that the Lord is his shepherd,” he says, “the psalmist uses a figure familiar to his readers and which therefore conveys more, and does so more vividly, than any abstract statement about God.” (p. 58) *

But for the modern, western, urban reader, I suspect the metaphor has lost a lot of its force. We have romanticised the shepherd, and we have elevated the status of sheep as animals to an unnatural position in the created order. Our Shepherd has become little more than a provider who gives us sheep what we want. Yet, the Shepherd is the dominant figure, not the sheep. He owns the sheep for which he cares. He calls the shots, not us. So he provides graciously what we need, not necessarily what we want. We need to bear in mind that the Shepherd was also a metaphor for the King.

There’s more to the metaphor than we might at first suspect.

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* Geoffrey Grogan. Prayer, Praise and Prophecy: A Theology of the Psalms. Fearn, Ross-shire: Mentor (Christian Focus), 2001.

Good reasons to sing Psalms, and good Psalms to sing

Tonight I came across Joe Tyrpak’s article “Why Should We Sing the Psalms?” at Church Works Media. He’s subtitled it his Psalm-Writing Testimony, and relates how he came to write modern English Psalm paraphrases. So far he’s posted one composition, Psalm 1, which I rather liked. Joe’s approach is to write with a well-known tune in mind, which makes his paraphrases “plug and play”. He’s also concerned to include the whole psalm, rather than a bit, which is how many modern worship songs approach psalms. I’m certainly looking forward to more like the first one.

Believing praise (Psalm 106:12)

Christians are a singing people because they are a believing people:

Then they believed his word;
They sang his praise (Psalm 106:12)

A professional singer may be able to sing oratorios with technical perfection without believing a word that is sung. But such singing is not praise. Praise can only be produced by believers.

That is not to decry effort on the part of believers to sing well, tunefully, accurately, and according to the music. John Wesley’s advice to those who would week to sing his hymns is surely appropriate. How can we praise God “according to his excellent greatness” (Ps 150:2) if we do not seek to do it with excellence ourselves? Sloppy praise is a contradiction in terms.

But true praise is never a performance, nor simply emotion and feelings. It is an expression of belief, not feeling. It therefore must have content, expressed coherently and with meaning. Christians do not chant meaningless mantras interminably; they sing Almighty God’s praises.

Such an awesome task demands that we consider carefully and creatively how we may express the inexpressible. To resort to meaningless mumbo jumbo is not an option—it is not worthy of the one whose glory we seek to express in our praises. What kind of a response is it to mumble meaninglessly when he has spoken clearly and meaningfully?

And yet believing praise will not be dispassionate and devoid of emotion or feeling. Psalm 106 takes the Exodus as its focal point for meditation. Who could say the song of Moses and the people of Israel in Ex 15 was devoid of emotion or feeling?

Praise involves a delicate balance and blend of excellence in word and music, and heartfelt expression of godly emotion and feeling. No wonder the psalmists prays that the word of his mount and the meditation of his heart may be acceptable in God’s sight (Ps 19:14).

Life – warts and all

In this evening’s service, our visiting preacher spoke from Psalm 32. He confessed to having been recently “converted” to the Psalms. It got me to thinking why I, and so many other Christians, find the Psalms so helpful. I’m convinced that it has a great deal to do with the fact that they show us life as it is — warts and all. In the Psalms we see the disappointments, trials and troublesome times — the times that the world often tries to gloss over or edit out.

But the Psalms show us not just the warts of life, for life is more than warts. The Psalms are framed from the standpoint of faith, and set against the backdrop of eternal reality. As our preacher this evening reminded us, they are best understood in the light of the New Testament, where they are so often quoted by the Lord Jesus and his apostles.

The Psalms are prayers we can all pray at some time in our lives, and praises that we can all sing. Not every trouble is solved, but there is a resolution to every problem. The psalmists may be left in trouble, but they are never left without hope. All our hope on God is founded, just as we place our faith in him. Life may be difficult, but it is not hopeless (unless we live it without God).

The Psalms also are examples of how godly men pray, examples that help us pray and praise as we ought. Even if the psalmists’ trouble or situation is not ours we can certainly learn from these godly men at prayer and praise. The Psalms give us models for our own prayer and praise.

So let’s pray as they did. Life has its warts, but Christian believers can pray in the midst of the warts. The psalmists show us how.

Covering sin (Psalm 32)

Psalm 32 begins, as 119, with a double-barrelled blessing. Part of that blessing is the blessing of covered sin (32:1) which is only possible if we do not cover up our sin ourselves (32:5). it is only possible when we confess our sin (32:5).

The irony of not confessing sin, that is trying to cover it up and hoping it won’t be notices, is that it is ever before me, and before God. No matter how hard I may try to bury it in my own mind, it is like a cork. However many times I try to sink it, it floats! “My sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3).

The sin of Achan (Jos 7) illustrates the folly of trying to cover our sin. However well Achan hid his sinful deed from other people, God himself saw it. How true it is: “whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Pr 28:13)

Confessed sin is covered sin. And not only is it covered, but it is taken away “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). When God covers sin he removes all trace of it. That is the essence of forgiveness — taking away. These two ideas are also linked in Ps 85:2. God has done this by his Son, as John the Baptizer declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1:29) Indeed, it was the very reason Christ came, “You know, he appeared to take away sins.” (1Jn 3:5)

Stereoscopic vision (Psalm 119:6,15)

Looking at two things at the same time can be difficult, but it’s what the psalmist recommends. It’s what a good sports team player does. He keeps an eye on the ball, and also on the opposition players, so he can be in place for a pass, or take advantage of gaps in the opposition’s defence.

So in this psalm we are commended to keep our eyes on God’s commandments (6) and his ways (15). It’s probably more a matter of emphasis than distinction. God’s commands are his instructions to us, about what we should or shouldn’t do, about how we should live our lives. God’s ways are how God lives his life. So God himself both tells us what to do, and shows us how to do it.

Through the Old Testament we hear God’s commands, given in the Law, and reiterated, preached and explained by prophets and in writings. The history of the OT shows God at work in ways great and small as we read narratives with its divinely inspired comments to point out God’s ways lest we miss them.

Through the OT and the NT we see the twin track of instruction and example. We hear God speak and we see him act. But we also see God’s laws in action in the lives of his people—in failure and success. Instruction by example is also an important part of God’s teaching strategy.

But in the NT we see God’s ways in action even more clearly, for we see Jesus living according to all God’s commandments. Meditating on God’s precepts has an added dimension for New Covenant believers, for we have the living example of the Lord Jesus on which to draw. Even the strange ceremonial law comes to life when we see in it a faint glimmer of the life of Jesus.

No wonder the psalmist delighted in God’s instruction—taught from the Book, and shown by the Author.