The Three Commandments
Christ in the psalms
Following on from yesterday's post here's a more practical outworking of the messianic implications of the psalms. Let's take a simple psalm, say Psalm 1. We could argue a lot about structure etc, but let's for the sake of this post, assume that it is, as the oldies used to say, describing the two ways to live: the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. How does that relate to what I posted yesterday.
I guess a sermon that had not really thought this through would apply the psalm something like this: "Make sure you are the righteous one. The wicked man will perish. Make sure you live." [I've heard it preached like this several times.]
This, though, is problematical on several levels.
- First, who is righteous? The psalms are going to unpack that idea a little. There is no one righteous, not even one.
- How do Christians receive the prosperity pictured in Psalm 1?
The second question is partly answered by understanding the psalm in its Old Covenant context, for sure. But both are answered more adequately by saying that this is a song sung by the anointed King. He is the perfect righteous man and he enjoys the prosperity that perfect fulfillment of the Old Covenant brings. As such it is a song we sing as those who are in Christ, the perfect man. There is no sense in which this is something we can sing about ourselves apart from Christ. That may not change the way you preach the psalm a whole lot – I guess you'd still want to outline the two ways. But, I submit, it will change the way you conclude and focus on Christ, the perfect man – and the benefits we enjoy being joined to him.
Understanding the psalms
The psalms are, without doubt, a treasure trove for the believer. But how do we preach them as Christian literature? My colleague, Christopher Ash, has some helpful pointers when he teaches this genre at Cornhill. Each of the psalms relates to the anointed King, the Messiah, he says, in one of the following ways:
- Songs about the anointed King: these are the messianic and kingship psalms which ultimately find their meaning in Christ. He is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
- Songs sung by the anointed King: these are the psalms which are ultimately about the anointed King: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
- Songs sung by us in the anointed King: these are the psalms which we can only sing because we are in Christ, and therefore part of his holy kingdom of priests. Apart from Christ we cannot sing the righteous man's songs.
To which I might cheekily add a fourth category:
- Songs sung about the anointed King's city: some of the psalms have as their focus the city of Jerusalem. If the psalms ultimately point us to Christ, we are greatly helped in understanding these psalms for their ultimate fulfilment must be in the joy and delight of the heavenly Jerusalem, Christ's own bride.
I'm preaching on coveting (or rather on not coveting) at Chessington Evangelical Church this Sunday. The secret to keeping the commandment is Christian contentment and I am always much moved by two very helpful books – my favourite Christian book, perhaps The rare jewel of Christian contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs and a more modern retelling and reworking The secret of contentment by William Barcley. But here is something else I love – a quote from Thomas Brooks' Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices:
His presence will make up the absence of all other comforts.
His absence will darken and embitter all other comforts.
Christ is all and in all, to truly gracious souls.
We have all things in Christ.
Christ is all things to a Christian.
If we are sick, Jesus is a physician.
If we thirst, Jesus is a fountain.
If our sins trouble us, Jesus is our righteousness.
If we stand in need of help, Jesus is mighty to save.
If we fear death, Jesus is life.
If we are in darkness, Jesus is light.
If we are weak, Jesus is strength.
If we are in poverty, Jesus is plenty.
If we desire heaven, Jesus is the way.
The soul cannot say, ‘this I would have, and that I would have.’ But having Jesus, he has all he needs—eminently, perfectly, eternally.
EMA Rap: Tim Keller, nice fella
In the words of session chairman, Vaughan Roberts, "I can confidently say that was the first time we've had rapping at the EMA." Brilliant, just brilliant.
Summer Wives Conference
Another day away at Hothorpe. One more day a year here and I would have to enter the place as a second residence on the census form! Each day, though, is precious and valuable serving ministers, preachers and….this week…..ministers wives. This might, at first glance, not appear to be at the core of what the Proclamation Trust is about. But nothing could be further from the truth. For we realise that a husband and wife are a unit – and wives, indeed, bear many of the pains and burdens of ministry. So these conferences are valuable, more than valuable – essential for the cause of preaching in the UK.
Today we've had a session with Julia Marsden on parables (can't report on that as men were banned!). Now, it's Piers Bickersteth on the book of Haggai. Piers is a trustee of PT and an experienced preacher. His wife, Carolyn, is part of the conference leadership team. Here's a few notes on Haggai 1.
God at the margins v1-11
For the people of God (!), God was at the margins. The expenditure on houses exposed their hypocrisy. Self was number one. Firmly and Surely. This may be a familiar experience, especially with the drudgery of the life we sometimes have. The refrain is one we near to hear, "Give careful thoughts to your ways." For us that means challenging our priorities – our paths, or God's paths in the choices and lifestyles we choose? Haggai could tell what these people's priorities were because of the state of the temple and the state of their houses.
Is Jesus at the margins? We speak of him as Lord and King but what does that look like in busy lives? This is a significant matter for if we withdraw from him, hewill withdraw from us. If we don't honour him, he will not honour us. This is clear in verses 9-11. Who can argue with the Lord's rebuke?
But what does this say for us? There's no temple lying in ruins. It makes us ask ourselves – what is our commitment to Christ and his people. Surely that is the touchstone? Christ's attitude was to give himself to us (Philippians 2.6-11).
God's word at work v12
How did the people respond? Verse 12 is one of the most unusual verses in the whole Bible. It's unusual because it's rare – all too often we find the people of God doing the opposite. The standard response to hearing the word of God is often disobedience. How do you react to criticism and rebuke? Often people react to very gentle and loving correction in the strongest possible way – with defensiveness and self-justification. How different to the people of Haggai's time! No excuses. No storming off. They heard the truth and responded to it. As those with responsibilities we need to allow God to work on our hearts which often, because of circumstances, have high self-protecting walls. But we must humble ourselves before the one who understands and knows the very intimate thoughts of our hearts.
God at the centre (v13-15)
By verse 13 God is no longer at the margins, but at the centre. There has been a word of grace – a word of restoration and forgiveness. These words must have been sweet to their ears.
Some questions to reflect on
- Why do we push God to the margins and in what ways?
- What areas of our life do we say to God "not yet?"
- How do the words of God "I am with you" help us?
Booking is now open for next year's wives conferences – the Spring conference (for those who have been in ministry 7+ years) runs from 5-8 March 2012 and the Summer conference (booking open soon) runs from 10-13 July 2012.
Free Kindle ESV
Readers of this blog will know that here at PT we’re about expository preaching. As well as doing what Martin Luther said and ‘beating our heads against the text until it yields’, expository preachers need to have both a strong biblical theology and a clear systematic theology. My hunch is that here in the UK at least, we’re stronger on the former than the latter.
Perhaps part of the problem is that there still hasn’t been a show-stopping systematic theology since Louis Berkhof published his in 1932. In terms of good recent ones, the two main ones have been by Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology) and Robert Reymond (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith). If these were Bible translations, Grudem’s is like the NIV (very accessible but not altogether accurate), and Reymond’s is like the ESV (much safer and more consistently reformed, but less accessible).
Help may well have arrived in the shape of Michael Horton’s new systematic theology just released from Zondervan – The Christian Faith, a Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. I am hoping to read it properly over the summer, but dipping in it seems both very reliable and highly readable. Two things have caught my attention so far. The first is that union with Christ – a strangely neglected Biblical theme – plays a prominent part in Horton’s scheme. And second that Horton has a great section on how Scripture is a covenant document.
I’ll let you know more fully how good this new systematic theology is once I have read it properly. But early indications are that it looks like it might be the Berkhof of the 21stCentury….
Carl Trueman’s Republocrat
I've just spent an enjoyable day reading Carl Trueman's Republocrat (it's not a long book). I didn't bother with it when it first came out because I thought it would be focused on the US political scene. But after a friend read it (and recommended that I read it too) and also after reading Guy Davies' review, I thought I would give it a try. In fact, although it does have a lot to say about the US scene, Carl also relates his observations to UK politics and politics/church life in general – stuff I found very stimulating and useful. Moreover, you don't need to agree with his conclusions to find that the book, as Michael Horton says in his commendation, "will delight, frustrate and encourage healthy discussions that we have needed to have for a long time."
Others have reviewed the book better than I could, but two observations struck me forcibly. The first is that the politics of the left has changed. It used to be interested in protecting the interests of those unable to speak up for themselves – the poor, the marginalised, the unemployed, the unhealthy and so on. But somewhere along the line, the oppressed changed. "Oppression was psychologised " (p10).
For someone like me, here lies the heart of the problem of the New Left; once the concerns of the Left shifted from material, empirical issues – hunger, thirst, nakedness, poverty, disease – to pyschological categories, the door was open to everyone to become a victim and for anyone with a lobby group to make his or her issue the Big One for this generation…..this is why media outrage that greets a perceived racist or homophobic comment often far outstrips that which greets scenes of poverty and famine…
The second, almost by-the-way, observation is to do with church membership. Again, the boy Carl is noticeably perceptive:
There are those, of course, who argue that church membership is not mentioned in Scripture and therefore unbiblical. This is not the place to address this objection; suffice it here to say that church membership is the practical expression of clear principles of commitment to one another and respect for an established leadership, which are both stated in the Bible. The real problem, I suspect, with many who argue that church membership is unbiblical is not that their consciences are wounded by the notion, but rather that they want to avoid commitment. They want to treat the church as they treat, say, a supermarket or a cinema; they go along and take what they need without the troublesome issues created by a personal commitment.
The book has much more to it than these two (almsot incidental) insights, of course. I loved reading it and found it very stimulating and warmly commend it.
Carl is coming to our November autumn ministers conference for which booking is now open.
EMA 2011 – David Foster Wallace quote
I've also had a few emails asking for the David Foster Wallace quote. Wallace was an avowed atheist who committed suicide in 2008. Keller says this is a useful quote in evangelism. It is taken from a Wall Street Journal article – you can read the whole article here.
Because there's something else that's true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.