Month: January 2018

A Journey Through the Psalms – The Language of Our Faith

For the next several months at New Life, we’re teaching and praying through many of the iconic Psalms that have shaped the language of our faith.  Take some time to read this brief introduction and explanation of why the Psalms are so important for us today. 

Why do we love the Psalms so? One could drop into the Psalter almost at random to illustrate the point I would like to make, but consider for a moment one of our most beloved, Psalm 63:

You, God, are my God,

earnestly I seek you;

I thirst for you,

my whole being longs for you,

in a dry and parched land

where there is no water… (v.1)

It is hard to read such words and retain any semblance of objectivity. More or less immediately, a transition begins to occur in how we are engaging the text. We move from being detached observers to finding ourselves caught up, involved, even implicated in the poetry. The words on the page mysteriously and perhaps even without our noticing it become ours.

On my bed I remember you;

I think of you through the watches of the night.

Because you are my help,

I sing in the shadow of your wings.

I cling to you;

your right hand upholds me… (vv. 6-8).

Before we know it, we find ourselves claiming the words of the Psalmist as our own words, as devastatingly accurate statements on the condition of our own souls, as cries emerging from the depths of our own lives. We are the thirsty ones. We are the ones who long for God as in a dry and weary land. We are the ones who remember God on our beds, whose hearts search for him during the long watches of dark and desolate nights. We are the ones clinging to him with all our might, finding therein our lives mysteriously upheld by his righteous right hand.

And so we sit, early in the morning or late at night or during a break in our busy day, with the text of Scripture on our laps, walking the pattern of spiritual devotion that the Psalmist many centuries earlier laid out for us by taking these ancient-yet-living words on our lips. In so doing, deep reservoirs of emotion open up in us. Tears fall. Joy surges. Hope returns. And even more: When our time of devotion is concluded we discover that the words of the Psalmist are, entirely on their own (so it seems), burrowing into our souls, creating new patterns of thought and feeling and action. Before long, the deep music of our days and weeks and months and years goes something like: You God, are my God, earnestly I seek you…

This is the power of the Psalter. It is one of the important reasons it is part of our canon. It speaks to us where we are but refuses to leave us where we are. The Psalms, we may say, convert us precisely by involving us—messy, complex, altogether unfinished, and full of contradictions—in the great cogent sweep of God’s redemptive work. It does this by putting words on our lips and inviting us to make them ours. John Goldingay notes that “the Bible assumes that we do not know instinctively how to talk with God but rather need some help with knowing how to do so.”

The Psalms are instruction. It’s no wonder that many have theorized that the five books of the Psalter are intended to correspond symbolically to the five books of the Pentateuch. When we come to the Psalms, we are entering the school of prayer. Martin Luther commented that the Psalms were given to us in order to help us “adapt and adjust our minds and feelings so that they are in accord with the sense of the Psalms,” which for Luther were a picture into the will of God for his people.

We are not born into this world instinctively knowing what is available to us in covenant relationship with God. But the Psalms can teach us; they “make it possible to say things that are otherwise unsayable…they have the capacity to free us to talk about things we cannot talk about anywhere else.”

The Book of Psalms dignifies our lives by converting our imaginations to a God-enriched, covenant-shaped world, fraught with challenge and yet shot through everywhere with energetic hope. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me…?” finds its completion in “They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” (Psalm 22). The ebb and flow of desolation and exultation, of lament and praise, is the texture of the Psalms, even as it is the texture of our very lives. When we pray the Psalms, we find the music of our little peaks and valleys caught up in the great fugue of God’s historical, redemptive work.

 

Special thanks to Andrew Arndt, Glenn Packiam and Jason Jackson, and our New Life teaching team for helping write this introduction to the Psalms.

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Three Levels of Generosity

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 

Acts 4:32

I believe most Christ followers want to be givers, not just consumers. Most want to be free from the love of money and to be seen as generous with their time, their abilities and their monies. All of us instinctively know that money is a terrible god, promising us something it cannot deliver. We also see the immense needs all around us and we want to help. We really do.

Giving our money is a lot like losing weight. We have to make daily choices and be patient with the process. We have to set attainable and measurable goals with our lifestyle and spending, knowing that one day we can win the race if we will just be faithful.

There are three levels of generosity, each requiring a different level of faith and discipline.

1. Tippers

These people give the leftovers of their money. This level requires little faith and is motivated primarily by guilt or duty. They are typically inconsistent, giving only when prompted by a Pastor at a church, or by an appeal on social media. If they have money, they will give a portion, but the amount never stretches them out of their comfort zone and always makes “sense”. They love the idea of giving, but are often ill-prepared to give.

2. Tithers

These people have set aside the first 10% of their income to give to the local church. This is a huge step up from the first level, because some faith now enters the equation. These people believe that God can do more with the remaining 90% if they are willing give the first. Tithers typically give consistently and seldom have to be prompted or “motivated” to give.  These are people who have disciplined themselves to live with less money than they make. They have made some sacrifices to get to this place of generosity, which shows a great deal of maturity.

3. Extravagant Givers

While still tithing, they give even more to ministries, single parents, missionaries, and struggling neighbors. These people are super budget conscious, intentionally living below their means and setting aside money now, knowing they will have lots of chances to give later. They are attracted to bold vision and are never offended at being asked to give because they see it as a privilege and as worship.

They carry the same faith as the widow seen by Jesus in the temple giving everything. They completely believe that God owns it all and they are just stewards. They are prayerful and wise about their giving, but will not hesitate to give large percentages if God directs. This group prefers anonymity and will ask a lot of really good questions because they need details. They take their time getting to know ministry leaders and only give when they see high levels of accountability and integrity.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. – The Troublesome Prophet

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” 

Marting Luther King, Jr. 

No one likes being wrong, and we especially despise the prophets who have the audacity to show us our fallacies, misconceptions and outright errors. Growing up in the Deep South in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I was wrong about a lot of important things. We all needed a troublesome prophet to rattle our sensitivities, to upset our worldview. My generation had such a prophet.

I was a baby when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on the second floor balcony of a motel room in Memphis. He was there to protest unfair treatment of black sanitation workers. He came as a prophet and died a martyr that afternoon, killed by someone that hated his message of fairness and equality.

Our sacred Scriptures are full of prophets who confronted evil with good news. Most were not treated well. Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos, and Ezekiel all found scorn before renown.  Jesus was certainly troubling to the Jewish and Roman power establishment with his message of serving and worship. He was crucified.

We should all be grateful for Martin Luther King, Jr., for disturbing us.  He rattled our cages and caused us to argue, to rethink and to reimagine race relations. He caused us to evaluate our policies, to rewrite our laws, but more importantly, he caused us to look at the dark places of our hearts, places that would have never been exposed, except someone shine the light.

He marched through our streets, was held in our jails, and spoke in our capital, always elevating the conversation above our conventional wisdom, helping us see a better country that would only be realized if we would confront our fears and suspicions about people who looked different than us.  He transcended us because he was a prophet to us. Prophets see something different and are not fearful about pointing out unseen truths to a blinded people.

Today, we’re mired in tribalism, divided by politics, ideology, theology and geography. We’ve made remarkable progress in so many spaces only to discover that we still have miles to go in so many others. We can either grow weary in our well doing or we can redouble our efforts and plow forward. The wilderness of our culture still needs guides and pioneers.

All of us can be prophetic voices, even in a world complicated by the tangle of opinions. Each conversation, social media post, and every prayer should be saturated with the bold proclamation that Christ is King and every person created bears His image. Let us not be silent until justice comes to the oppressed and those on the margins are known, embraced and helped.

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