real faith, in the real world

For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

Psalm 22

I love the psalms because you find in them not some finger snapping easy answers. They’re real and true to life. Yes, this is fulfilled in Christ, but still it spoke in some true way of the experience of the psalmist and to our experience as well. We won’t find the faith and help God wants to give us apart from going through real life, not ducking the hard questions, and not trying to escape. Instead we must look to God in faith. And these words of the psalms along with the rest of Scripture can help us immensely. In and through Jesus.

God will judge

For the director of music. For pipes. A psalm of David.

Listen to my words, Lord,
consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.
For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, Lord, detest.
But I, by your great love,
can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
toward your holy temple.

Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies—
make your way straight before me.
Not a word from their mouth can be trusted;
their heart is filled with malice.
Their throat is an open grave;
with their tongues they tell lies.
Declare them guilty, O God!
Let their intrigues be their downfall.
Banish them for their many sins,
for they have rebelled against you.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

Psalm 5

God will judge. And praise God for that. Too often we turn up our nose at the idea of God’s judgment when in reality it’s needed against the evil of this world. Yes, God loves people and hates sin, but in this psalm it says that God hates certain evildoers. Some might say that’s poetic, and just David’s thoughts before God. But it seems to me there’s truth in that thought. Where is the fear of God nowadays? Seems like God is not much more than a big sugar daddy or spoiling grandfather to many, and we’re all his lap children, if God is in the equation at all. And we can do as we please.

This psalm is just an example of the treasure we have in the book of Psalms. It is good for us to go through the psalms on a regular basis and let it soak in. And keep reading all of Scripture along with it, in prayer. Yes, God will judge, and we can be thankful for that. As we live in the grace and salvation given to us in and through Jesus.

the blessing of the biblical accounts: David

God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

Acts 13:22b

The biblical account of David (1 Samuel 16-2 Kings 2; 1 Chronicles 11-29) like the gospel accounts is theological in the story it tells. It doesn’t diminish David’s failures or hide his blemishes. This is in large part why the Bible is so believable. David is a man after God’s own heart, but not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

This encourages us, because this too is where we live in Jesus. We are forgiven for sure, through Jesus and his death for us, but we’re not without fault. We still have our sins, and our lives can be messy at times. Of course we’re always in need of God’s grace, not only for forgiveness, but to live in the new life God has for us in Jesus.

But back to David. We can learn much from his account, which of course is what is intended in one way or another through all the Bible. Things that will both resonate with us and can help us. His is a story worth reading through, reflecting on and studying. Remarkably many of the psalms are in David’s name.

God did not put him on the shelf because of the great sin he committed, but David is on the shelf so to speak for all to see and learn from. That we might see the good we can emulate, and the bad we’re to avoid. Along with the grace that is ours. In and through the son of David, Jesus.

 

the fake world of pop theology in denying the reality of mental illness

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 88

Another Christian, this time a pastor (we could say another pastor) has committed suicide. He was well aware of the danger, probably entered to a significant extent into the depths of others, and didn’t get out himself when he sank into his own depths of darkness. Once I led a team devotions at a Christian ministry where I work, going over this psalm. I asked if anyone there thought this psalm is meant for us today, and no one raised their hand. Based on what I gather, most would say “no,” though maybe it would be more like “I don’t know.” I think I remember at least one head shaking no.

I am glad to be part of a ministry that takes mental illness seriously. It’s not swept under the rug or attributed to the demonic or considered a sign that someone lacks faith. It is an honest illness which humans struggle with. Maybe the psalmist would have been diagnosed with mental illness such as a bipolar disorder. I think such a psalm and other Scripture similar to that can be helpful for such people to realize they’re not alone. That others struggle too with darkness.

I wonder if maybe I suffer with a mild case of something such. I don’t know. I have struggled not feeling good internally for years, decades, and that might be related to head trauma. So it’s easy for me to identify with Psalm 88.

There is within the Christian tradition, “the dark night of the soul,” hardly acknowledge in the evangelical Christian circles I’m a part of. I don’t at all for a moment think a person, yes a Christian has to be clinically depressed or mentally ill to experience such. There are all kinds of reasons in this world why we can get down. Of course there’s what’s considered normal depression, maybe over not meeting a goal, or losing a friend, even a marriage. Just maybe it would be helpful to consider mental health problems as also being like temporary sicknesses such as physically catching a cold or the flu, so that one might have a bout with melancholy over an extended period of time. Of course no one can possibly be the same after an unexpected death of a loved one.

The Bible reflects real life with all its complexities. For those who take Scripture at its word, spiritual warfare can be accompanied by a spiritual darkness. A time and space where God seems to be absent. And where hope seems all but gone, replaced by fear, or more like a gnawing shock in which little seems real.

At any rate, I take Scripture seriously in part because I find it takes life seriously. People of faith question God and struggle in their experience. The psalms are repeatedly helpful, this psalm a prime example.

Psalm 88 ends on a realistic note. Because God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want. We don’t always find the help we want. But we hold on in faith regardless, this psalm an expression of that. Something we should thank God for, helping us not only live through such times, but do so knowing that the Lord is somehow with us (Psalm 23:4).  The end of Psalm 88 is an end, but not the end. In and through Jesus.

making prayer a lifelong habit

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

If there’s one thing that should characterize us as Christians, it should be love. But as far as what we do goes: prayer. Of course we want to do all things in love. But prayer should mark us, mark our journey.

But it’s too easy, in fact more like ingrained in us to be rather prayerless. We pray less, not more, if at all. Prayer as a simple matter of fact is simply talking to God. Hopefully in genuine, sincere praise to God. I admit I’ve been too often poor on both counts.

I think it helps to be in scripture as a general habit throughout much of our day. Make it simple. Don’t think you have to sit and read scripture for hours, and then pray for an hour or more. No, just a bit here and there, with prayers along the way. Trying to be open to hearing God, asking God questions, speaking to God about what one is up against, and hopefully especially on behalf of others who need our love and prayers.

If we think our prayers have to be a certain way, maybe ornate and even long like some of the religious leaders in Jesus’s day used to do to impress others, than we’re thankfully mistaken. Just look at the Psalms. “Help!” is a good prayer. We use our language. If it happens to sound like scripture, fine. And again, remember the Psalms. They often get pretty raw. And as we seek to pray what we believe God wills from scripture, all the better. But our prayers need to come from our hearts. So that we pray what we’re really thinking and feeling to God. As we do that, God will meet us and help us.

I sometimes think disparaging thoughts about myself. Many counsel against repeating such thoughts, but I think it’s quite okay to do so as long as we seek to live in God’s presence always. God can help us revise such, although some of what we think that way might well be grounded in truth. So that like the tax collector, we might be more justified in God’s eyes than those who think they somehow have it all together, and actually look down on others.

So let’s pray. Short prayers along the way. For our needs, and for the needs of others. For God’s will to be done, so that God might be glorified in all things in and through Jesus.

a psalm taking a stand against evil

Of David. A psalm.

I will sing of your love and justice;
to you, Lord, I will sing praise.
I will be careful to lead a blameless life—
when will you come to me?

I will conduct the affairs of my house
with a blameless heart.
I will not look with approval
on anything that is vile.

I hate what faithless people do;
I will have no part in it.
The perverse of heart shall be far from me;
I will have nothing to do with what is evil.

Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret,
I will put to silence;
whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart,
I will not tolerate.

My eyes will be on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me;
the one whose walk is blameless
will minister to me.

No one who practices deceit
will dwell in my house;
no one who speaks falsely
will stand in my presence.

Every morning I will put to silence
all the wicked in the land;
I will cut off every evildoer
from the city of the Lord.

Psalm 101

All of scripture is for our edification, even if we may not know what to do with all of it. Psalm 101 is a good case in point. David speaks in terms that are quite kosher in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, but when compared with Jesus’s teaching, we may have questions. Yes, Jesus did get after the religious leaders of his day, and he was rather unsparing, to say the least. They were the ones who judged others, being steeped in what amounted to systemic evil, a system of religion that seemed to encourage superficiality, which lends itself to missing the heart of God’s will: justice, mercy, love, and faithfulness.

David’s words remind us, I think, of how we’re not to merely tolerate others in the sense of looking past what is wrong. At the same time, as Jesus teaches us, we’re to love our enemies and pray for them. We’re also to honor those in authority, as the New Testament teaches, the emperor, which was then Nero. So we’re to honor them, even when they may be dishonorable themselves. We leave vengeance for wrongdoing in God’s hands. And we’re to pray for them.

We need all of scripture. I think David’s words here are not just something we should pin to him, thinking, well that was a different era and has little or no application for us today. We surely do need to read all of scripture through the lens of Christ and his coming. But to write it off as irrelevant would be a mistake. What exactly to do with each line, with each thought, how we’re to interpret that, is problematical. We don’t simply carry over David’s thoughts and actions for us, even if we might pray his words looking to God for God’s answers.

Jesus welcomed all, and would appeal to all. But sin is not swept under the rug. We do no one any favor to do that. We must first look at our own sin, and we grieve and pray over what we see as the sin of others.

So we need to read all of scripture, and pray. The psalms are rich for forming us. And we read them as followers of Jesus. Looking to God to help us, as we prayerfully read and ponder them, in and through Jesus.

when not knowing what to do

Answer me quickly, Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
for I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

Psalm 143:7-10

Sometimes we can be at nearly a total loss, not knowing what to do. Left to our own devices, we might pull out all the stops, at least trying certain things. As we are older, experienced through the hard knocks of life, we will likely be more reticent, at least less likely to trust in ourselves.

This is an opportunity to do what we should be doing all along: seek God. This seems especially relevant, and even urgent, when we feel lost, not knowing what to do or where to turn in the midst of trouble.

One thing for sure: we won’t run short of trouble in this life because of the problems that come our way. Life is uneven at best, and tragic at worst. And presents its challenges along the way. Certainly true of the psalmist, whose life was in danger. We can feel threatened in some ways. Which is why we go to God for protection, and everything else we need. Looking not just for safety, but answers. Part of God’s will being that we would ourselves be in the way in which God blesses, and through which God blesses others. In and through Jesus.