Psalm 73: A Guide to Prayer for an American

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Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (Psalm 73:1-3)
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalml 73:23-26)

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Quicksand Depression

Vincent Van Gogh (1890)
Vincent Van Gogh (1890)

 

“Mire”, “Quicksand”, and “Slough”, “Prison”, “Trap”  are just a few of the well known tropes used to describe the experience of depression. This literary depiction of depression is most likely derivative from the imagery in Psalm 40:2;

“He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.”

John Bunyan, in “The Pilgrim’s Progress” depicts it this way;

‘This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place; and this is the reason of the badness of this ground” (1)

A powerful imagination is a terrible foe to someone suffering depression.  William Cowper (author of the hymn “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” ) described one of his many bouts with depression along the same lines of Bunyan’s “Slough” :

“Conviction of sin took place, especially of that just committed; the meanness of it, as well as its atrocity, were exhibited to me in colours so inconceivably strong that I despised myself, with a contempt not to be imagined or expressed … This sense of it secured me from the repetition of a crime which I could not now reflect on without abhorrence … A sense of God’s wrath, and a deep despair of escaping it, instantly succeeded” (2)

When depression comes, the desire to fight it is quite natural. Who would want to sink into the darkness and the gloom of themselves? However, the more depression is fought, the lower the descent. Work up enough energy to change to change the circumstances, and it will just backfire.

The speaker in Lamentations 3 certainly experienced it:

He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
    he has made my chains heavy;
though I call and cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
    he has made my paths crooked.” (v. 7-9) 

 

Seeing Backwards

"There is nothing new under the sun" (Ec 1:9)
“There is nothing new under the sun” (Ec 1:9)

If you’re like me, you want to get ahead in life. You want to succeed. If you do not succeed, you at least want to be recognized. You want to be known. You want to be loved.

So for as long as you can remember, you’ve pursued these things because you’ve found them to be valuable. If you associate yourself with valuable things, then people will find you valuable. If people find you valuable, then you will be recognized, you will be known, you will be loved. When you possess these things, you will live happily ever after (or so you thought.)

You’ve had your hand in the treasure box before. You’ve held valuable things.

a. You do the things that people love, and so you are the thing that people love. It’s a great life.

b. You have a significant other (you’re in a dating relationship, you’re engaged, or perhaps you hit the jackpot and got married.)

c. Your grades in school are/were outstanding.

d. You play a crucial role as an employee of your dream job.

e. You are financially comfortable (even after you buy all the things that cause people to love you more.)

You’ve probably achieved one of these things. Maybe you’ve achieved a combination of these things. If you’re really lovable, you’ve done all of them. All of these things make you happy, because having all of these things make you valuable. (Again, so you thought)

Au contraire mon frère

Thinking on those terms will lead to failure and despair.

If I believe that my worth equals the sum total of my possessions, then what am I to believe when they are taken away?

Here is how the thinking goes:

a. No one seems to be interested in the same things that I’m interested in. Socially, I can’t seem to get my foot in the door. Everyone keeps shutting me out. The more I try, the more I get burned! What’s the point? What’s wrong with me? I’m worthless!

b. I’m the only one in my friend group who doesn’t have a significant other. Everyone else in my circle of friends is  either dating, engaged or married, but I keep blowing it. What’s wrong with me? I’m worthless!

c. I’m a failure when it comes to school. I can never get the grades that I want. Look at my peers, they aren’t struggling at all. They make it look like a piece of cake. Some of them are talking about all of their awards. Here I am working my heart out, and I have nothing to show for it. What is wrong with me? I’m worthless!

d. My life is falling apart. I can’t get the dream job. My plan B didn’t even come through. Now what? I’m of no use to society. I have nothing to contribute to anyone. What is wrong with me? I’m worthless!

e. I don’t have the cash. I can’t do the things that I want to do because the lack of money prevents me! I can’t even provide my own basic needs!  How am I supposed to pay for food, drink, clothing, or shelter?

Do we strictly find our identity in our possessions? Answer that question by monitoring how you handle loss, failure, and disappointment.

When your dreams are shattered, and you find yourself running about tearfully, trying to salvage whats left of the pieces, you’ll find out what it is you value.

“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25)


Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the LORD, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.'” (Jeremiah 45:5)

“Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecc 2:10-11)

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1)

Detangling Hermeneutics

With all of the controversy surrounding Gungor and his statements on the flood story, it should be helpful to step back and look at how the Inerrancy of Scripture and Hermeneutics interact with one another.

Many who disagree with a historical reading of Genesis (characterizing those who read it in such a way as “literalists”), often confuse the exegetical reasons for reading it that way, with a statement of inerrancy.

In other words, when exegetical arguments are given that suggest that Creation was a historical event, that Adam was the first man, or that the flood actually happened, they cannot distinguish these interpretations from a commitment to inerrancy.

I think Moises Silva provides a helpful distinction;

“Now I happen to believe that the essential historicity of Genesis 1-3 is a fundamental article of Christian orthodoxy. It would surely require hermeneutical prestidigitation to argue that the original writer intended those chapters as any less historical than the later patriarchal narratives (and could the original audience have discovered any such distinction between the early and later chapters of the book?). For that reason and others, such as Paul’s argumentation in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, I would want to argue very strongly that the proper interpretation of the Genesis material is one that does justice to its historical claim.

And yet I would want to argue just as strongly that such an interpretation is independent of my commitment to inerrancy. These are two distinct questions. Of course, once we have established exegetically that the first chapters of Genesis teach historical facts, then our belief in infallibility requires us to accept those chapters as factual. But infallibility, apart from exegesis, does not by itself determine historicity. Otherwise we would be obligated to accept as historical Nathan’s story in 2 Samuel 12:1-4 or even the parable of the trees in Judges 9:7-15.

(Old Princeton, Westminster, and Inerrancy” in Inerrancy and Hermeneutic, p. 75)

To be sure, inerrancy is something that scripture teaches about itself, however as Dr. Silva pointed out, the “quality” or “character” of the text doesn’t immediately bring forth the content. By the same token, in rejecting an erroneous reading of the text, one cannot appeal directly to scripture’s infallibility without demonstrating how the reading is erroneous on exegetical terms.

In short, if one can exegetically demonstrate that Scripture is teaching a historical flood, then one who really holds to the profitability and sufficiency of scripture as God’s Word must find some other reason than purported ambiguity to disagree

Gungorian Mythology (cont.)

Gungor said:

 

Do I believe that God literally drowned every living creature 5,000 years ago in a global flood except the ones who were living in a big boat? No, I don’t.

 

Peter said:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. In their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep…..if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly….then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.

(2 Peter 2:1,3,5,9)

Gungor says:

And you can still love God and love people and read those early Genesis stories as myth with some important things to teach us. Not all of you will be ready to do that, and that’s perfectly ok

Peter says:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty….knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

(2 Peter 1:16,20-21)

It could be said that when Peter uses the word “myth”, he is probably referring to the events that took place in the NT. However it should be noted that immediately following these statements in v.20-21, he refers to a series of events recorded in the OT. He compares God’s “judgement ordeals” in the ancient world to that of the Last day, in which Christ will judge the world for all to see.

Gungorian Mythology

Gungor says:

 Do I believe God exists? Yes.
Do I believe Jesus is the Son of God? Yes.
Do I believe that Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness? Yes
Do I believe that God literally drowned every living creature 5,000 years ago in a global flood except the ones who were living in a big boat? No I don’t

Jesus says:

 

For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matt 24:37-39)

 

Surely Goodness Will Follow Me

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Psalm 23:6)

Seems simple enough to believe, especially when our eyes see easy times. When I eat food, and I’m filled it is very easy to say. When I’m around my friends, and we laugh and have a good time it’s very easy to say. When I study enough for a test, and score a high grade. When I submit a paper, and the comments from my professor are encouraging. When I see a beautiful girl, and her speech is gentle, and her adorning is that of her inner person  surely then goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

But what about when things fall apart?

What about when I’m hungry, and I cannot satisfy it, is this not goodness and mercy from the LORD?

What about when my friends depart? Or anger (whether it belongs to me or them) tears us apart. So that my only companions are darkness and depression; Is that not goodness and mercy from the LORD?

What about when I fail? Whether it be a grade, a class, a duty, a friend; Is that not goodness and mercy from the LORD

What if I am rejected by a spouse? What if an engagement is called off? What if the significant other of your dreams has no desire to begin or continue a relationship with you, because whether for good reason not, if there be any reason at all? Is God not showering me with His mercy and blessings?

Is it that God has forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1) Is God too far off to deliver me from the turmoil that has befallen me, so that I may find rest? ( Psalm 22:2)

But God says He is good, and merciful, He said that’s His name;

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” ( Exodus 34:6-7)

Am I to conclude that the LORD’s goodness and mercy has brought me into this wasteland?

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew, Luke 4:1)

Am I to conclude that that the LORD’s goodness has brought me this trouble?

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3)

Goodness and mercy is the way out of the prison of thinking I am self-sufficient, and able to do God’s work in my own strength, without any conflict or difficulty.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)

Goodness and mercy gives in spite of my faults, to repair my brokenness, and the things that I’ve broken in my brokenness.

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6)

“must believe and not doubt” means that I must know Who it is I’m asking, and what it is I’m asking for. I must begin by asking for  wisdom in how to ask.

Doubt does not know what to ask for, because doubt does not seek to be informed. Doubt seeks a quick fix

“the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1:6-8)

Doubt lacks stability because doubt’s hope is spread in too many loves. When one stock crashes, it jumps to another god hoping for delivery. Of course the  person who thinks that way will never have a prayer answered,  they wouldn’t stick around long enough to see it answered. It’s not the prayer in question, but the nature of being double-minded.

But the LORD has taught the Christian how prayers are answered;

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7)

Goodness and mercy following me is not conditional to circumstances that I perceive to be good, but goodness and mercy follow me to teach me what goodness and mercy  are. Goodness and mercy surround me, but the problem is my nature (which determines my perception). This is where wisdom comes in.

“Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation”

The wisdom from above teaches me to see humble circumstances as something to take pride and rejoice in as given by . The Wisdom from above teaches me to see my “richness” and “fame” as a time to take pride in the fact that I am very small, and that I’m not as important as I would like to think. All of my achievements, absent the LORD, will be brought to nothing. It’s time to rethink why it is I do the things that I do.

“—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.” (James 1:11)

All of it is vanity.  My disappointment in those things were the result of God’s wisdom

The LORD’s mercy will not leave me in disappointment. The Love of God will never put me to shame. God will never say to me “I told you so!”

The LORD’s goodness and mercy will lead me into a good place to rest, beyond the earthy gains, even through the valley of the shadow of death.

 

You are not your own! You’ve been bought with a price!

The LORD knows whom are His (John 10:14) , more so than we know ourselves. (Psalm 139:1,Romans 8:6,27)  He knows the number of  hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7, Matt. 10:30). Believer, He knows our suffering, and sympathizes with it, because we are united into His body, and participate in those sufferings together (Heb 4:15, Philippians 3:10-11, 2 Cor. 1:5; Romans 6:5, Romans 8:17,36; 1 Pet 4:13)

Does this not include our longings, our desires, our cravings? Whether good or evil? (Matt 9:4) Do we commit the Corinthian error of thinking that God does not care about our sexuality? (1 Cor 6:15-16) The LORD cares for this, because He uniquely crafted it for husband and wife, as a means of holiness and happiness , being manifested in the joyful giving of one another. (Hebrews 13:4, Prov 5:18-19).

Our crucified Savior has recreated us, He has realigned us to something that the best of this world can barely foreshadow.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17)
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Sex within the confines of the marriage of a man and a woman is something  enjoyed in the temporary, but it something that God has attached with eternal implications. For what is temporary gives way to what is eternal. What we see through the mirror dimly (in this age), we will see clearly in the next (1 Cor 13:12)

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.” (Eph 5:31-33)

We must therefore flee immorality, and especially sexual immorality. We desecrate God’s temple when we commit those acts (1 Cor 6:19) . We sin against our own body (1 Cor 6:18).  Paul tells us that sexual sins are uniquely heinous, and asks a rhetorical question to highlight this;

Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! ” (1 Cor 6:15)

he adds;

 For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” (1 Cor 6:17) and then makes the distinction “outside the body vs. against the body”; “the immoral man sins against his own body.” (v.18) 

There is something very significant about our sexuality, that displays God’s handiwork. When it is enjoyed in the confines of marriage, it testifies to the mystery of Christ being United to His Bride when He finally appears again. (Rev 19:7, Isa 54:5, 2 Corinthians 11:2)

It is in this context  that we can understand why  God sees any other expression as detestable (Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:27; Lev 20:13; Exo 22:19, Lev 18:23)

There is forgiveness in the LORD, sexual sins (along with others) was something that the Corinthians practiced, yet Paul says to them “ Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:11),”

We who are in Christ  have been given everything we need for godliness, and God will not hold anything back from us. We all need wisdom, let us pray for it. We all need the love and mercy of Christ to constrain us to the freedom that He has called us to. The Lord lovingly and gently sanctifies us by introducing trials into our lives, (Eph 1:10, James 1:3).

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you”

Putting the wisdom that originates from our evil hearts to death is calling out to God, and the wisdom of the cross of Christ. May we all cling to the gospel. To rejoice in sexual immorality is to preach another gospel.

 

Breaking Blog [Silence]

This is certainly something worth breaking blog silence over. Free June 5 and 6!

 

van-asselt-introduction-reformed-scholasticism-300x463

 

This work supplies a long-standing need in the field of early modern studies by providing a basic introduction to Reformed Scholasticism. Although technical studies abound and interest in the subject continues to rise, until the appearance of this work by Willem van Asselt and his colleagues, students of history have lacked a concise guide to help them navigate the difficult waters of Reformed Scholasticism. This book carefully defines the phenomena of scholasticism and orthodoxy, concisely surveys the era, notes the most significant thinkers together with the various trajectories of thought, and references the relevant secondary scholarship. In short, this Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism surveys the topic and provides a guide for further study in early modern Reformed thought.

 

God’s Sovereignty and Human Decision

When it comes to theological paradoxes, instead of embracing the divine mysteries and using it as an occasion for worship, we tend to overrationalize. This is the common sin of all mankind, I myself being the worst. A theological paradox that tends to bring out all sorts of debate and emotion is God’s sovereignty even over the salvation of man, and yet we also have a decision.  Even though this seems to us to be contradictory, we must understand that the LORD’s thoughts and ways are much higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9) and He exemplifies rationality (1 Cor 14:33), So our decision is seated within His ordination.

A passage that really highlights this truth is  Matthew 11:25-30;

” At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;  yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.  All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

While it seems strange to our ears that God would only reveal Himself in a saving way to some, while hiding Himself from others, Jesus finds His Father’s plan concerning these things as an occasion of worship. Here He boasts in His Father’s sovereignty over the souls of men. Notice the reversal of wisdom here, little children (lit. infants) understand and the philosophers are blind. God’s decision to save isn’t contingent upon us in and of ourselves, or in anything that we’ve done; He saves us because of who He is, and because of what He’s done.

The question that usually arises from discussion of  this doctrine is “Where then is the open offer if one is to hold such a strong view of election?” . It is interesting to note that Jesus, from the teaching of election, proceeds to an open offer.

 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

To those with a broken heart for sin, knowing that they cannot meet up to the standards of a Holy God, they are invited to Christ, who will give them rest. They are invited to stop their striving, and their laboring, and to take Christ’s yoke. He is the one working in the believer. (Eph 2:10)

The parallel account to this is Luke 10:23, where He tells His disciples  “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see,” (Luke 10:23).

This isn’t something that we all have, but the eyes to see have been given to us by the grace of God. It isn’t because we are much smarter than everyone else  to make the decision to have faith.  Rather it is because of God’s mercy that He had given us the eyes to see and the ears to hear His Word.

Consider the beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-5

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

They were not blessed because of anything they did, rather Jesus was describing what the blessings were. If you are poor in spirit, and you mourn, and you are meek, then Praise the Lord! Theses are good gifts from heaven. (James 1:17) even the faith to believe is a gift from above (Eph 2:8)

Let us take Christ’s example and praise the LORD for His sovereignty in salvation!