He judges, and we rejoice. Psalm 9-11 – RBT Notes, 5th July

God either judges sin and sinners, or He doesn’t. We need to decide which is true. The thought of God’s judgment, if it is real, should terrify us. Yes, we believe as Christians that we have already been saved from it by Jesus, but believing that God will one day unleash the fury of His holy wrath against sin should cause us to stop, and to tremble. And the doctrine of the wrath of God is not something we can ignore, however we feel about it. The Psalms have a lot to say about God’s judgement, and a lot to make us examine our beliefs about it, too.

David believes that God judges, and it is the anchor for his sanity in the hard times of Psalms 9-11. In many places here we see David exulting in God’s justice, for example, 9.7-12, 10.16-18 and 11.7. Elsewhere we see him urging God to rise up in judgement, as in 9.19-20, and 10.12-15. He knows that if God is not a just and judging God, then the world has no hope, as in 11.1-3. Ps. 10 could be talking about the worst dictators, exploiters, killers, thieves, or even you and me, laid bare before the justice of God. No one who is wicked can stand before God’s judgement. That is a simple, biblical fact. Righteousness shall reign.

And yet, there are still those who profess to be Christians who deny these truths. Let’s face some questions, then:

grace1If God does not judge sin, then why the cross of Christ? Without judgement, the cross is a mockery of God’s goodness: why would He allow His dear Son to die? Without judgement, the cross is a travesty of God’s justice: why does Jesus say He is dying to deal with sin, if God is not really concerned with sin? So if God does not judge, then Jesus misunderstood why He went to the cross (for example, at Mk. 10.45). Noone had told Him that God is not just. But if God is not just, then there is no morality anywhere in the universe. No human laws can ever give a moral framework to reality; the most they can do is to try and score some lines in the shifting sands of a random universe. And that is a terrifying and deeply depressing place to be in.

So people want a God who doesn’t punish sin? You can believe in one, but the price you pay is that your life has no purpose, and nor does anything in this world. It’s bleak, but it’s logical, and true. Praise God, though, that He does judge, because He is perfectly just. “He is righteous, He loves justice; upright men – those made upright through forgiveness and the righteousness of Christ – will see His face” (Ps. 11.7).

 

Laying down rights, raised up for honour. Psalms 7-8 – RBT Notes, 4th July

Have you ever noticed, that there can be a link between suffering and self-righteousness?  What I mean is this: none of us likes to suffer, and all of us find ourselves thinking at some point in our suffering, ‘I don’t deserve this’. And we might be right. Suffering might be little more than random as far as we can tell, with no link to how we’ve been living. The cyclist ran over your foot, even though you were standing on the pavement; the illness came, although you had been striving to keep fit and healthy; you were criticised, totally unfairly. Such is life. But such is our self-righteousness that we may feel that it’s all terribly unfair, because we deserve far better treatment. Worse than that, we might conclude that God has it in for us, because suffering has come to us.

In the life of a mature believer plenty will go wrong. Look at David’s life. And learn from him, that he doesn’t just dismiss suffering as God being unfair, or people just being nasty without any reason. He knows that the sovereign and holy God is in charge of all events, and is totally trustworthy, the only One to go to when life is hard (Ps. 7.1-2, 10-11). Notice also that he pauses to ask a question in the face of conflict: could this be my fault, in some measure (vv.3-5)? That is spiritual maturity. He identifies the enemies, but he isn’t so quick to point the finger at them. He needs to look at himself, first. When you’re righteous through grace, you start trying to dismantle your natural self-righteousness. Don’t you? If God is our Shield (v.10), why are we so foolish as to defend ourselves endlessly, or why do we take up the weapons of complaining thoughts and words against God Himself when suffering comes?

big-green-palm-leaves-wp-tangledwingWe need to remember who God is, and who we are. Psalm 8 is the most breath-taking celebration of the doctrine of humanity. Its truth is needed more and more in our secular world where people deny God, and try to reinvent and import value into themselves. We live in a world of noisy and competing rights and values. Ps. 8 is a call to discover the God who alone places lasting value on people, and in whose love we are genuinely secure.

We are created for praise (vv.1-2). Not the praise which is forced and artificial, but the praise which comes naturally and joyfully from our hearts, even from the hearts and lips of children. A good God sets us in a good world, to enjoy Him. Do that, and you are praising. It’s your purpose.

We are created for glory (vv.3-5). Everyone you set your eyes on today has been created a little lower than the angels, and stamped with the image of God. The beauty of a coastline, a mountain or a sunset does not begin to compare with the beauty of a life made by God and crowned with His glory and honour. Our value is not found in this world, nor can we find lasting satisfaction in a world apart from our Creator.  We are hungry for glory, and only the glory of God that we are made for will satisfy us.

We are created for service (vv.6-8). Our world sees power as leading to exploitation. Our God gives power in order to lead us to service. These verses remind us that our place in the world is not to seek self-promotion, endless leisure, or the exploitation of the world, its resources and its people, but to make it a beautiful, ordered place, reflecting the splendour of its Creator, and bringing Him delight.

 

A beautiful picture of humanity, and yet one which is only realised in the True Man Himself, Jesus Christ. Hebrews 2.5-9 is our commentary on this Psalm. Jesus’ glory and honour on earth were His sinlessness, and His crowning glory and honour in death was to lay down His life to save sinners in obedience to His Father’s will. And where is true glory and honour for us, in a world of pain and the ugliness of sin? Right there, in Jesus; through faith in Him God lifts us up, honours us, crowns us, and prepares us for everlasting glory. “Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!” (vv.1, 9). And it is.

 

A Disciplined Humility. Psalms 5-6 – RBT Notes, 3rd July

humility

 

New days bring old problems. God renews us through the gift of sleep, but doesn’t take our difficulties away at sunrise. Best of all, though, He is the same God, wise, merciful and utterly reliable. The standout phrase in Psalms 5-6 is Ps.5.8: “Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness because of my enemies, make straight Your way before me.” The enemies and obstacles to faith are legion, but as long as we are seeking God’s guidance, our way will be straight in the end.

Just ask David. He prays, and he expects God to help him (v.3). This is not because David is a petulant king, a wealthy man who expects people to jump when he gives orders. No, it’s quite the opposite: David has disciplined himself to rely totally on the mercy of God. He knows that God is the only King, but a King so good and merciful that He loves to be relied upon, just as He loves to serve His people. He is committed to the destruction of all that oppose His holy will (vv.4-6, 9-10), and is fixed on building a kingdom of righteousness.

These truths are the background to the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray with reverence, simplicity, directness, and a confidence that God really will meet all of our needs. He also teaches us to pray with a heart and eye focused on God’s Kingdom. The world has never before nor since heard a prayer which is so free of religious jargon and hedging, yet is so focused on God’s goodness and on our own real everyday and eternal needs. Why not pray it today, and marvel again at the God this prayer brings you to? He is David’s God, and through Jesus He is yours.

Psalm 5 ends with joyful confidence (v.11-12), the resting-place of humble faith. And yet the life of faith has so many ups and downs. Psalms 6 sees David in the depths once more. In his wretchedness he fears that he has offended God (v.1). The Psalm is full of misery, tears, and enemies (vv.2, 6, 7). Again, that’s life, isn’t it? Noone could accuse David of being alarmist, or unrealistic about faith. His Psalm probes us, and makes us ask if we’re honest with God about how tough life and faith can be. Do we really bring our hurts to God, or do we either pretend that they’re not so bad, or desperately try to solve our problems apart from His grace? Either way will bring unhappiness, and cause us to miss out on the experience of God’s deliverance.

At the end of the Psalm David hasn’t yet experienced that deliverance. He has, though, found a conviction that God will deliver him (vv.8-10). And until He works, that is the most precious experience we can have, a solid, Spirit-given confidence that the Lord Who stands by our side will go ahead of us to meet our enemies. Trust Him, and try Him, as He is always good.

Bad Days and Safe Nights. Psalms 3-4 – RBT Notes, 2nd July

Have you ever been raised up by a wonderful set of events, only then to crash from your great height? Ever felt the bruises of failure, or, worse than that, carried the scars of betrayal? Many believers think that because they trust in God they will be protected from life’s traumas. The whole Bible, almost every Psalm, and especially Psalm 3, tell us that this just isn’t the case.

The words at the start of the Psalm tell us that this is a Psalm written by David, and written in the agonies of being hunted down by his own son Absalom (you can read about this in 2 Samuel 15-19). David has already beaten many foes, and risen above them through God’s delivering power; but now everything is upside down in his life (vv.1-2). Maybe you’ve known something like that, too. All he can do is remind himself that God doesn’t change, though life events do so quickly. He counsels himself to remember that God is still glorious, and always full of grace (vv.3-4). We must never make the mistake of thinking that, just because we can’t understand or control life, God must be powerless, or at fault.

So what do you do when life is horrible? As we’ve seen, you remember God for who He is; then you humble yourself to believe that in Jesus Christ you are very deeply loved and safe. Then you rest in the certainty of that love, a love which will outlast the strength of your enemies, and is more than able to deliver you from them (vv.5-6). After that, you exercise that faith through prayer. God is glorified when we come to Him in our weakness with desperate prayers for rescue (v.7). And as we start trusting and praying like that, our hearts are stirred as we know we really do worship an amazing God, and we start to look out from our troubles, and wish that grace upon others, too (v.8).

Psalm 4 is written for ongoing struggles. Distress (v.1), shame (v.2) and anger (v.4) are the battles we all face. But through Jesus we also face the grace of relief (v.1), glory (v.2), a prayer-hearing God (v.3), a joy-giving God (v.7), and the safety which He alone can bring (v.8).

imageIn the Psalms we see Jesus. We see the Man of Sorrows, who was betrayed by a close friend, mocked by enemies, and compelled to cry to God before violent men. His way of faith was a way of discouragement and danger, as ours may well be at times. And through the Psalms we discover Jesus for ourselves. Jesus isn’t there to keep us from falling, but to ensure that, wherever we land, we will discover His grace in new and meaningful ways.

These two Psalms mention going to bed for sleep three times. We are at our most vulnerable when we sleep. But in Christ we are even there so secure. He loves us, He will protect us and will wake us from sleep. Trust Him through all your days as well as your nights, and believe that the Day is approaching, when pain, worry, enemies and darkness will be banished forever.

 

 

Living for the King. Psalms 1-2 – RBT Notes, 1st July

Psalm 1 asks us what we’re living for, and then Psalm 2 asks us if we’re living for the King. How we answer these searching questions determines our eternity.

What do you have to do to discover true and lasting happiness? You have to fix yourself on the Bible, heart and soul. You have to be disciplined and principled, walking away from life’s destructions, and life’s sinful pleasures, and go to Scripture, night and day (Ps.1.1-2). Snack on the Word, and you’ll never grow strong in it. Eat this book, and you will taste the joys of the Living God Who speaks.

imageThis is a challenge which is far, far more than just a lifestyle option. It will determine whether you find roots in life and flourish, or whether you’ll be rootless and wretched (vv.3-6). God promises you one of only two futures (v.6). Promise Him, dependant upon His grace, that you will embrace the right one.

And embrace the right king, too. The world can oppose, plot against and hate the Living God, but He is still just that, the Living God (Ps.2.1-2). And more than that, He finds our denial of His Lordship really quite pathetic, especially in the light of His Reigning Son (vv.4-5). Just notice that here, right at the start of this Book, is a clear reference to the work of Jesus and His Lordship, one the New Testament makes much of. The meaning is clear, that Jesus is God’s appointed Ruler. We may appoint ourselves as the ruler of our little kingdoms, but that is the most dangerous decision we could make. Reject the King, and you will be rejected by Him. Resistance is futile, and will be smashed (v.9).

Embrace Jesus, and discover the joy of forgiveness and new life which Jesus alone brings in His glorious grace. Then get on His way, the way set out in Scripture, and in these Psalms. It is narrow, and often hard, but here is where there is life, and love, and joy – because here is where we meet Jesus.