Today I preached on Psalm 22 and the “Dark Side of Grace”. Psalm 22 reminds us that there is a dark side of grace and that there are three aspects to this dark place that are worth meditating on: 1) The Dark Side of Grace is a Place of Shame, 2) The Dark Side of Grace is a Place of Suffering, 3) The Dark Side of Grace is a Place of Rejection.
This last Sunday we took a break from our series on Mark to turn our hearts to the forty sixty Psalm. This has been a time of great loss for our church as we recently lost one of our dear friends in the faith and so I felt that it would be good for us to take a Sunday and focus our attention on the fact that God is our Refuge in the midst of adversity.
Psalm 39:11 says, "When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him…"
Sin is largely about our affections. It’s about what we desire and what we’re willing to sacrifice for what we desire. At the same time redemption is about affections. It’s about God changing our affections from our insane love for ourselves to that which is supremely lovely and valuable, Jesus Christ.
Now, this changing of affections is not easy, it is not without discipline and it is not without pain. That’s why the Psalmist says, "When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him." A large part of redemption is the process of God consuming the things which used to hold our affections and replacing those desires with an even greater affection for Jesus Christ.
Every Wednesday night I get the special privilege of gathering together with a group of believers from the church and praying together. We usually begin with a short devotional and then launch into a time of prayer for our church, our community, our nation, etc.
Recently we read through Psalm 139 and were moved by the tenderness that David uses in referring to God’s continual presence even in the midst of suffering.
David writes, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my pat and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways…Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?…If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night.’ even the darkness is not dark to you.”
One of the things that I love about the psalms is how realistic they are. David spends much of the chapter using this kind of intimate language for the presence of God. Having written all of this, you would think that David would be a man without a care and without anxiety and yet in verse 23 he writes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and see my anxious thoughts.” It’s comforting to me to know that even the author of Psalm 23 and Psalm 139 struggled with anxiety from time to time.
The lesson that I take away from verse 23 is that the cure to anxiety is found in intimacy with the Lord. That isn’t to say that we won’t ever experience anxiety or have cares in this world, but the secret to finding shalom (peace) is where we go in the midst of those cares. So with that in mind, our small group took our prayers to the throne of grace and we found peace.
The other day I was pondering the question of what it means to “bless God.” In some ways it sounds rather inappropriate, because God is so great and I am so small that I can’t see how I could ever really bless him. As I was thinking, I even began to wonder if the Bible actually calls us to bless God which lead me to Psalm 134.
Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD,
who stand by night in the house of the LORD!
Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the LORD
May the LORD bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth!
Psalm 134 is the second shortest Psalm in the Bible and in it we are commanded to bless God twice and once told that God will bless us. What’s interesting is that the same Hebrew word is used for us blessing God and for God blessing us. Which begs the question, how can I give anything to God that would be considered a blessing? Especially when it says just a few verses later that God is going to give me something that is a blessing.
Some translations have gone so far as to actually change the word at he beginning of the psalm to “praise”, while keeping the last use of the word as “bless”. When I started to look through some commentaries to see if I could get some help I came across this quote from James Montgomery Boice, which I found to be very insightful:
What will happen if you do take God seriously and worship [bless] him reverently, as he needs to be worshiped? The “Maker of heaven and earth” will “bless you from Zion” (v. 3).
This last blessing is not merely something tacked on, like a thoughtless benediction at the end of a morning service. In the Hebrew text the word “praise,” as in “Praise the Lord” in verses 1 and 2, is the same word as “bless” in verse 3. So the thought is that if we bless God in our worship, as we must, then God will also bless us abundantly in our daily lives. This is the only ultimate goal of any Christian: to bless God and to be blessed by him – to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
The point is that we bless God in the sense that we actually do Him good when we praise Him, which is the idea behind blessing “to do good to someone”. In other words, it matters to God that we worship him because it does Him good. Not that God is lacking in any way but He actually desires heartfelt worship and is pleased when His children worship Him. In turn, God blesses us and does good to us as we worship because in worshiping God we are doing what we were naturally created to do and thus we find fullness of joy and blessing as we worship.
If you’ve anything like me, you’ve probably experienced argument amnesia before. This is what happens when you get into an argument (often times with your spouse) and after a few minutes, you can’t even remember what you’re fighting about. It almost doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, you somehow continually find yourself back in the same place. In short, you’re stuck in a rut.
One of my favorites lines in Psalm 23 is in verse 3 where David writes, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” The Hebrew can also be translated, “He leads me in the ruts of righteousness.” As the Shepherd of Psalm 23 leads the flock from one pasture to the next, he would follow a path that many sheep had trodden before. The result of all this travel was that the path would become well worn and eventually turn into a rut in the ground that the sheep would follow as they were lead by the Good Shepherd. What makes the imagery of Psalm 23 so powerful is that these are the “ruts of righteousness.” As you follow the Good Shepherd, these are the natural paths that you take.
Just as there are “ruts of righteousness”, there are also “ruts of unrighteousness.” A “rut of unrighteousness” is a pattern of sin that is so intuitive that we periodically fall into it without even realizing where we are or how we got there. If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I can’t believe that I did that again!” when you fought with your spouse, or yelled at your children, or said something hurtful to a co-worker, then it may very well be that you’re stuck in a rut of unrighteousness.
The thing about a rut is that you have to be intentional about stepping out of it, otherwise it will lead you to the same place every time. A large part of the process of redemption is stepping out of these “ruts of unrighteousness” and following the Good Shepherd in new paths that may at first seem unnatural, but which eventually lead you to green pastures and quiet waters (Psalm 23:2) where you can find rest.
I’ve been spending some time in Psalm 23 recently and in my study I ran across the following poem by David Powlison. It’s called the “Antipsalm” because it’s written to be the exact opposite of Psalm 23. Oftentimes in Bible study it helps to see what something is not, in order for you to see what it is.
I’m on my own.
No one looks out for me or protects me.
I experience a continual sense of need. Nothing’s quite right.
I’m always restless. I’m easily frustrated and often disappointed.
It’s a jungle — I feel overwhelmed. It’s a desert — I’m thirsty.
My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck. I can’t fix myself.
I stumble down some dark paths.
Still, I insist: I want to do what I want, when I want, how I want.
But life’s confusing. Why don’t things ever really work out?
I’m haunted by emptiness and futility — shadows of death.
I fear the big hurt and final loss.
Death is waiting for me at the end of every road,
but I’d rather not think about that.
I spend my life protecting myself. Bad things can happen.
I find no lasting comfort.
I’m alone … facing everything that could hurt me.
Are my friends really friends?
Other people use me for their own ends.
I can’t really trust anyone. No one has my back.
No one is really for me — except me.
And I’m so much all about ME, sometimes it’s sickening.
I belong to no one except myself.
My cup is never quite full enough. I’m left empty.
Disappointment follows me all the days of my life.
Will I just be obliterated into nothingness?
Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void?
Sartre said, “Hell is other people.”
I have to add, “Hell is also myself.”
It’s a living death,
and then I die.
Yesterday I preached on the 133rd Psalm and the topic of unity. As with any sermon, you’re never able to say everything that is on your mind, so I’d like to take a moment and comment on one aspect of unity that I wasn’t able to mention yesterday.
Verses 2-3 of Psalm 133 contain two pictures of the blessing of unity. The first of these pictures is of the anointing of Aaron to the priesthood. Verse 2 says, “It [Unity] is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!” The pictures is of this blessing of unity beginning at the top of Aaron’s head and making its way down throughout his entire body and ending up on the fringes of his robes. The second picture is of the abundant water supply of Mt. Hermon falling upon the barren mountain of Zion. “It [Unity]is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!” As I mentioned yesterday the image is of the water of Mount Hermon, located far in the north, making its way down through the entire country and nourishing Mount Zion in Jerusalem. In both images the imagery is of the blessing of unity coming down from the top to the bottom, in fact the same Hebrew word is used in verses 2 & 3. In verse 2 it translates “running down” and in verse 3 it translates “falls.”
Both of these images point to an important spiritual truth: Unity in the church begins at the top and it flows down throughout the body. When the leadership in a church are united that unity will naturally spread throughout the whole body. When the leadership in a church is full of factions and divisions the church will be full of factions and divisions. The old saying is true, “Like Shepherd, like sheep.” There is a tremendous responsibility on the part of the pastors and elders of a church to be united. This does not mean that we always agree with one another all the time or that we simply acquiesce to the majority opinion, but it does mean that we dwell together in unity around the common foundation of the gospel. It means that we always think the best of each other, giving each other the benefit of the doubt and that even when we disagree we still walk away as brothers. Unity in the church begins at the top and it flows down throughout the body. I am tremendously privliged to serve in a church where the leadership models this Psalm 133 form of unity.