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Monthly Archives: April 2020

It’s Going To Be Okay

This is a slightly different post.  Many of us are beginning to feel the effects of cabin fever and those effects aren’t very pleasant.  I want to encourage you.  Pure and simple.  I’d like to do that by giving you a list to consider.  I imagine a few of you are skeptical at this juncture.  A few of you might be falling asleep (just joking). Seriously, though–read the list.  Then read it again.  Then think on the ramifications of it.  I want you all to know how much I love and miss you.  Especially those of you whom I’ve not seen in some time.  Please stay safe, and keep the faith.  Everything is going to be okay.

Here’s your list.  It’s only a partial one at that.  

Middlesex Presbyterian was founded in 1799, when… 

John Adams lived in The White House. 

We were here for the War of 1812. 

We served communion during the Civil War. 

We called to God when President Lincoln was assassinated. 

We looked to heaven as World War I raged. 

We asked for mercy when the Spanish Flu laid waste to the world. 

We remained standing when the market crashed in 1929. 

We survived the Great Depression. 

We ministered as World War II enflamed the earth.

We kept the faith during the Korean War.

We mourned when President Kennedy was assassinated. 

We prayed during the Vietnam War.

We cheered when President Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” 

We were astounded when that wall– The Berlin Wall–fell to the ground.

We felt amazement when the Soviet Union imploded.

We wept at the savagery we witnessed on 9/11. 

We looked for heavenly wisdom as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. 

We relied on God when the financial world erupted in 2008. 

We wept as we saw our country’s culture and history degraded. 

And now, in our seclusion, we wait upon God to deliver us from evil.

He will. He has promised us His divine protection. 

And that is why I can assure you that… It’s Going To Be Okay.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

What Time Is It?

The Book of Ecclesiastes is part of the Wisdom tradition in the Old Testament.  Judeo-Christian tradition has ascribed this writing to the renowned King Solomon.  It bears the clear strokes of the king’s quill.  On one hand, Solomon is the ideal display of wisdom, and on the other hand he is the ultimate example of foolishness.

Solomon’s career as king started with trial and triumph.  He then had an extended period of well-earned fame, and received untold blessing for the hand of the Lord.  But later in life he blew those blessings away as if they were nothing more than ashes in a hearth.  The Book of Proverbs is best seen as Solomon’s writing at the earlier stages in his kingdom.  Brimming with hope, dispensing sage advice, and offering wise counsel–counsel on practical matters.  If a card carrying atheist employed the larger framework of Solomon’s proverbs that person would avoid many pitfalls in the area of substance abuse, romance, and finance.

Ecclesiastes is a different item on the menu.  Ecclesiastes has a distinctly negative tone to it.  Solomon wrote this book after his halcyon days.  On these pages you can hear an older man’s regret, an older man’s sorrow, and an older man’s resignation; the dread realization that his moment has simply passed.  Ecclesiastes deals with the brutal realities of “life under the sun”, that is, what occurs in this life and in this world.  If you’re looking for a fresh breeze of hope, then Ecclesiastes is not really the place to begin your journey.

There’s a famous passage in Ecclesiastes that the folk-rock group The Byrds loosely paraphrased and employed as part of a famous 1960’s anthem–“Turn, Turn, Turn.”  The first time I read Ecclesiastes I recall hearing the song in my mind repeatedly.  If you’ve never read Ecclesiastes, but you know the song, then you’ll recognize the verses from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8…

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

 

Read over Solomon’s words and you’ll receive great wisdom.  Change is a constant in the universe.  God alone does not change; He is immutable–He is pure existence.  We cannot make the same claim, can we?  Change is a state of existence that demands our attention.  If we do not pay it heed then the change will occur, without our consent, and we’ll look back, as Solomon did, with a bellyful of lamentations.

Some of my old classmates from high school were discussing recently on Facebook how fast the 40 years has elapsed since we graduated.  The first of the famed Millenials were just being born as we spread our youthful wings and began to attempt our ascent in the adult world.  I imagine those early Millenials are currently pondering how they could possibly be as old as they are, and are horrified at how those of us born from 1946-1964 (yep The Boomers) have ravaged and savaged the world.

Where are you at in life?  Are you young, old, or somewhere in the middle?  Are you hopeful of the future, or wincing at the recollection of what might have been?  Are you filled with joy, or weighed down by sorrow?  Have recent events brought fear into your home?  Eventually, most of us will experience all of these emotions.  The wisest action in dealing with the trials of life is to heed the words of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus gives us the only genuine antidote to the pain of this world.  That antidote is Christ Himself.  He offers us hope where none exists, and He promises to lighten our load.  Hear the Master speak, and do as He says.  You will not regret that course of action.

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.  Matthew 11:28-30.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

A Text Cannot Mean What It Never Meant

Continuing with our study of biblical interpretation, let us think of the Psalms.  The Psalms are clearly a primary example of Wisdom Literature.  They are a cornerstone of the genre.  There are also a variety of psalm types.  So, upon reflection, we have at least five interpretative tasks when we read any psalm.  

1.  We need to interpret any psalm as example of wisdom literature—its primary purpose in this regard is to instill in the believer practical wisdom that he or she can then apply to concrete situations in everyday life.  

2. We need to determine what type of psalm we are reading.  If we read an historical psalm about national, ancient Israel as some type of symbolic foreshadowing of the crucifixion experience of Jesus Christ we will come to the wrong conclusion.

3.  We need to be conscious of, and remove, our personal “interpretive sunglasses”.  By that I mean we may not begin by asking the question “What does this mean to me?”  The psalms weren’t written for you, nor for me; they were written in specific situations.  We must first seek to discover, as best as we can, the intent of the author.  What was he trying to convey to the original hearers?

4.  Once we have learned what the author’s intent was, then the question of “What does this mean to me?” fades into obscurity.  Why is that?  Because what the original point of the psalm was is still the point for you and me!

5. Then, and only then, may we proceed to practical application.  Too many contemporary Christians begin with personal application.  This is an improper reading strategy.  Application follows meaning, not vice versa.  Memorize this saying— A Text Cannot Mean What It Never Meant.  Yes, it’s a tongue twister.

One of the chief literary types we find in the Psalter are called Lament Psalms.  In our modern day parlance these would be referred to as “complaints”.  Psalm 13 is a good example:

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?                                                                             How long will You hide Your face from me?                                                                                     How long shall I take counsel in my soul,                                                                                    Having sorrow in my heart daily?                                                                                                     How long will my enemy be exalted over me?                                                                          Consider and hear me, O Lord my God;                                                                                           Enlighten my eyes,                                                                                                                                   Lest I sleep the sleep of death;                                                                                                             Lest my enemy say,                                                                                                                                   “I have prevailed against him”;                                                                                                         Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.                                                                      But I have trusted in Your mercy;                                                                                                        My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.                                                                                               I will sing to the Lord,                                                                                                                  Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

Without going into an elaborate discussion of the psalm’s background let’s see what we can gain just by paying attention to the words of the psalm.

What can we learn from the epigram?  The epigram is the brief inscription that in our English bibles is offset at the beginning of the psalm.  In the original Hebrew these epigrams are considered part of the psalm.  So we must start there.

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.

If the epigram informs us that David wrote the psalm to someone called Chief Musician  then we can reasonably say that the psalm was originally to be sung.  Why else would it be addressed to a musician?  So, if it was meant to be sung in the Hebrew, but you don’t know Hebrew, does that mean the psalm has no application for you?  Of course not, the psalm is meant to be used in worship.  So we may use this in worshipping God.

Here’s the first section of the psalm:

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?                                                                             How long will You hide Your face from me?                                                                                     How long shall I take counsel in my soul,                                                                                    Having sorrow in my heart daily?                                                                                                     How long will my enemy be exalted over me?    

We can readily understand that David wrote this when he was feeling deserted by God, that he was alone, that his circumstances were against  him.  We can also determine that complaining to God is not necessarily a sin.  It might be in a specific circumstance, but it is not always.  So David wrote the psalm as a hymn to be set to music for corporate worship.  This means that David wanted people to understand that these desperate feelings should be expressed to God as a form of worship.  Did you ever think that complaining to God could be (in the proper frame of mind) an acceptable aspect of worship?  It is.  Psalm 13 alone proves that.

Here’s the second section:

Enlighten my eyes,                                                                                                                                   Lest I sleep the sleep of death;                                                                                                             Lest my enemy say,                                                                                                                                   “I have prevailed against him”;                                                                                                         Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.    

Here we have specific requests.  The first is that he be enlightened.  He’s asking God for wisdom, and he wants us to ask God for wisdom.  He also doesn’t want his enemies to have the chance of gloating.  He’s asking for victory–but indirectly.  The essential request is for wisdom.  So that must be our essential request.

We come to the third section:

But I have trusted in Your mercy;                                                                                                        My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.                                                                                               I will sing to the Lord,                                                                                                                  Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

This is a resolution passage.  First we have the past tense– But I have trusted in Your mercy– so this psalm is encouraging us to trust God in the midst of harsh situations.  Second, we come to two uses of the future tense–My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.                                                                                               I will sing to the Lord– here David is resolving to act in a certain way, he’s resolved in his heart to praise the Lord despite his situation.  We do not do enough of this in our day.  And we need to move in this direction.  Third, David gives us the reason for his trust and praise– Because He has dealt bountifully with me– this might seem like a contradiction to the first section but it is not.

The foundation of the Christian life is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  You can do this even during rough times.  In fact, the rough times are when we most need to do this.  Read this psalm slowly two or three times and see if you can’t find some additional details.  We’ve done the basic broad strokes.  Then ask God how you can apply its truth to your life.

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

The Essence of Wisdom

There are distinct types of literature within the Bible.  We must distinguish these literary types from each other in order to properly understand them.  Think of what you read.  If you’re in the waiting room of a doctor’s office you might casually browse a magazine that interests you; if there are none available that particularly interest you, then you’ll likely scan the pages of the next best thing on the table.  But if you’re reading the instruction manual of a power tool or appliance–a device that could cause bodily harm if used improperly– then you had better not casually browse the material.  You pay careful attention, you reread, you evaluate.  The difference in the reading material requires separate reading strategies.

There is a section of the Old Testament that we call the “Wisdom Literature”.  The Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon (or Canticles), and Job are categorized under this heading.  This is not to say that the entirety of the Bible is incapable of bestowing wisdom to us.  It is.  The Bible is the very word of God, and therefore, we can learn from every page.  However, the designation of these writings as Wisdom Literature gives us a clue as to their specific purpose.  That purpose, at its most basic level, is to give us commonsensical advice on how to live a godly life in this wicked world.  So, when we investigate these writings we must bear that in mind.

There are parts of certain Psalms that are clearly historical in nature, dealing either with some part of the life of ancient Israel or with the life of David.  Some parts of certain psalms are prophetic in nature, and most deal directly with the advent of Jesus Christ and aspects of his priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices.  But the essential purpose of the Psalter is to teach us how to worship God.  The Psalter was the Old Testament hymnal of ancient Israel.  By the way none of the Psalms are cute choruses; they are meaty liturgical poems.  They teach us about God and our relationship with him.  And by understanding that relationship we gain and understanding of how we must relate to God.  The position our relationship demands is humility.

Another example of the necessity of a reading strategy.  The Proverbs aren’t prophecies.  Prophecies always come to pass–even though they are often misinterpreted.  Proverbs 22.6 states–

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

This is a general principle but is not an ironclad prophetic statement.  Everyone fails as a parent in one way or another, but many Christian parents have been harangued, and laden with guilt over this passage.  But if we interpret it according to its literary type, then no unneeded weight needs to fall on our shoulders.

In the next few blogs I’ll be discussing this important topic.  In the meantime, let me give you some quick homework.  Pick any Old Testament genealogy from 1 Chronicles or 2 Chronicles and read it.  Then try and figure our what the purpose of that genealogy is.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

The Lord’s Supper

Tonight is Maundy Thursday.  Some Christian traditions call it Holy Thursday, while others reference it as Passion Thursday.  However we refer to it, we mean the same thing.  This is the night that the Western church–irrespective of denomination–commemorates the betrayal of Our Lord at the hands of Judas Iscariot, and we remember that tonight is the night that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.  But tonight none of us met together.

I’ve heard of some churches and denominations observing some type of “virtual communion”.  This is not only irregular but a clear violation of the 2nd Commandment.  The 1st Commandment tells us who to worship —the One True God; the 2nd Commandment instructs us how to worship Him.

We Reformed and Presbyterian folk call this the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW).  Put simply, this is the doctrine that states that God is in charge of commanding us how we may worship Him.  We are not at liberty to innovate the manner in which we worship God, nor are we allowed to implement any aspect of worship that is not either explicitly stated in God’s Word, or can be reasonably inferred from it.

The Lord’s Supper is a holy sacrament.  It is one of only two New Testament sacraments, the other being Baptism.  Tonight was the first Maundy Thursday in 18 years that I didn’t have the privilege and honor of officiating the Lord’s Supper.  That was a bitter pill to swallow.

May God Almighty, lift His hand and deliver us from this virus, this plague on humanity, so that we may reunite and worship Him publicly as the people of God.  Until then we must pray and we must study.  And we must feel the pain in our hearts that can only remedied by the fellowship of the saints.

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Thoughts On Holy Week

As we move into Holy Week I think it would be beneficial if we took advantage of the opportunity that The Almighty has given to us.  Opportunity?  Yes, we have an excellent set of circumstances to quiet our hearts, our minds, and our bodies before Him.  Psalm 46.10 tells us to… Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!  In doing so we can recall with greater appreciation the Passion of Our Lord.

That classic verse is essentially a commandment.  I left my normal Bible reading plan on April 2, and decided to read the entire corpus of scripture in twenty-nine days–or at least make a game effort at it.  And in yet another rereading of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) it hit me afresh just how deep a level of stubborn and stiff-necked behavior God’s people can achieve without much effort.  Continually we witness the Israelites complaining and whining and rebelling against God.  He delivered them from over four hundred years of slavery in Egypt, and yet it was not enough for them.  Believe it or not they actually moaned about how much better they had it in Egypt.

Are we any better?  Hardly.  God has been very patient with His people in the West.  While our fellow Christians suffer, bleed, and die for the Name of Christ in multiple arenas, we engage in an array of trivial pursuits.  When was the last time you had a serious discussion with a fellow Christian about the suffering and privation of other Christians–when the pastor wasn’t around?  I once had someone ask me why we had “all these strangers” on our prayer list.  My answer was that they weren’t strangers to the person who asked that we pray for them.  For decades Christians in America have been coasting.  We’ve been lax in attending Sunday worship, and in Europe church attendance is more of an oddity than the norm.  And, suddenly, God has removed that privilege from us.  Yes, you can listen to sermons–and watch worship services on video.  But it is not the same.

I think one thing God is doing is giving us more of what we’ve been asking for with our actions–time away from the people of God, and time in front of a screen.  When the Israelites complained about their food supply, He gave the them so much food from the sky it overwhelmed them.

This is the time of year when we especially meditate on the sufferings of Jesus in the last week of His earthly life.  Do so with care.  Take your time.  Your soul will thank you for the time spent in so doing.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Busy, Busy, Busy

To say that we’re living in, and through, strange times is to put it mildly.  I was talking to some young people this week, and attempted to gauge their reactions and thoughts on what is occurring.  By “young people” I mean teenagers and early 20’s.  Now, this demographic, although not every individual, is historically known for being simultaneously idealistic, cynical, and confused, which is a terrible trio of viewpoints.  But when I spoke to them I received none of those reactions.  What I sensed was anger.  One of them said, “The whole world is stupid.”  At that point I wasn’t about to give him a lesson in English diction or phraseology.  In hindsight, I believe that the anger was mostly likely caused by wounds that the adult world had inflicted upon his youthful idealism.

It’s vital that we address how this crisis is affecting young people and children.  Yes, they have grown up with many, many conveniences such as cell phones, and streaming music.  But more than a few adults I know–including myself– are a tad frazzled by all of the dazzling electronics at our disposal.  And even though young adults, and many children, are very proficient in the technological use of this gadgetry, they aren’t extremely facile at understanding what a 24/7 world is doing to them.

God gave us the Sabbath.  God instituted the Sabbath a very long time ago.  How long ago?  In the Garden, at the advent of time.  If our first parents needed rest, and they had yet to experience sin and its devastating effects, then how much more do you think we need that day of rest?  And human beings are so muddled in their thinking at times that later in biblical history He actually commanded the day of rest.  Generally, parents institute rules because they know that children need boundaries; the youngsters are inexperienced and need to be protected from themselves.  As the Internet insinuated its way into the fabric of our lives we’ve become increasingly busy.  This is detrimental.  Let me state this plainly:  human beings aren’t wired for this type of life.  The Sabbath institution is the proof of this assertion.

I will not seek to travel into the eternal counsel of the Triune God.  Been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt.  The tee-shirt read, “Did you enjoy that monumental waste of time?”  We are finite; God is infinite.  He knows everything; we lose our car keys–excuse me–the keys are now “fobs”.  No one knows specifically what God is doing in this pandemic.  However, there are certain fundamental truths that we may declare regarding God’s activity in any and all situations.  1) He is molding Christians into the likeness of his Son, 2) He is trying to get us to pay attention.  We’ve put Him on hold in the Church for decades.

The Church (the capital “C” means all denominations) is busier than ever.  Building projects, programs, more buildings, and still more programs.  Jesus is Big Business.  We have metrics that determine “success” not realizing that faithfulness is all we are to attempt.  We’ve adopted a business model for the Church, and that is appalling.  And, yet, despite all of our frenzied activity, we still see our beloved country descending into the sewer of cultural decadence.  Do you see the disconnect?  God isn’t impressed by our projects and our programs, and the reality is this–He’s not blessing the results.  Christians are more biblically illiterate than at any time in our Republic’s history.  Using that King James Bible to teach English grammar was a fantastic idea!  Our children have their lives scheduled months in advance; we’ve stolen their childhoods and replaced them with programatic routines.

What exactly is the purpose to all of this.  Most parents think these activities will benefit their children.  I agree that some scheduled, supervised activities are beneficial.  Children do not play that much anymore.  When was the last time you saw schoolboys playing sandlot baseball–without uniforms and coaches.  That is how they learn to work together, deal with differences, moderate themselves, and observe social mores.

God is most certainly telling the human race to slow down.  Are we listening?

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2020 in Uncategorized