Sunday, November 22, 2020

“His Love Endures Forever” [Matt's Messages]

“His Love Endures Forever”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
November 22, 2020 :: Psalm 136

It’s obvious.

I think one look at Psalm 136 and it’s rather obvious why I picked it for the Sunday before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Psalm 136 begins with the words, “Give thanks” at the start of each of the first 3 verses[!] and then ends with the same, “Give thanks.”

“Give thanks.”
“Give thanks.”
“Give thanks.”
“Give thanks.”

That repetition tells us what this psalm is all about and tells us what we should do with it, namely “Give thanks to the LORD.”

That’s not, however, the greatest repetition in this song!

Just one look at this psalm, and you can see what’s really different about it. This is the only psalm that does this in the whole Bible.

Psalm 136 repeats one key phrase at the end of every single line. 26 times. 26 verses, 26 times, it says the exact same thing! The exact same refrain.

And that exact same refrain tells us the reason WHY we should give thanks to the LORD.

It’s because “His love endures forever.”

“His love endures forever.”

26 times. The song writer put those words in there 26 times in a row. Even breaking up sentences with it.  There must be a good reason for that.

Don’t let your eyes (or your ears !) just bounce over that repetition. Don’t get bored with it. It’s in God’s Word for a reason. It’s in this one short psalm 26 times for a reason!

The Hebrews called this psalm “the Great Hallel,” the Great Psalm of Praise.

And it seems clear that it was sung in worship antiphonally which means call and response. Call and response.

The leader, probably a priest, would say the first part of every line and then the congregation or perhaps a special group of singers would respond back with “His loves endures forever” or in Hebrew, “ki leolam hasdo.”

Sometimes I hear people complaining about modern worship songs with all their repetition. Often calling it “7-11 worship.” 7 words repeated 11 times. Well, there is a biblical basis for repetition OF GOOD LYRICS! Here we have 3 good words in Hebrew repeated 26 times in just one worship song.

What’s really important are what words we are saying again and again and again.

Because these are words to shape us. These are words that we need to get down deep into our souls.


“For His love endures forever.”

So, as we go through this psalm, we’re going to have to repeat that phrase over and over again or we’re doing the psalm wrong.

And I’ll need you to participate with me, or we’re doing the psalm wrong!


Before we read verse 1, let’s think some more about this repeated phrase: "His love endures forever."

You might be surprised to find out how many different ways that phrase can be translated. It’s mainly because of the wonderful word “hesed” embedded in it.

That word is wonderful and also difficult to capture in English.

It’s more than just love. It’s loyal love. It’s steadfast love.

The King James used “mercy,” because it has a gracious element to it, as well. This  is the thing that King David said in Psalm 23 that follows him all of the days of his life.

Listen to how various versions translate this phrase for us:

King James: “For his mercy endureth forever.”

New American Standard: “For his lovingkindness is everlasting.”

English Standard Version: “For His steadfast love endures forever.”

New Living Translation and Christian Standard Bible: “His faithful love endures forever.”

Another one (Alec Motyer’s personal translation): “Because forever is his committed love.”

And another (Derek Kidner's): “His love has no end.”

Do you get the sense of it? Do you see and hear how wonderful this is?

Our God has a love that lasts. Our God keeps His promises faithfully. Our God is unchanging in His commitments to show gracious steadfast love to His people. (It takes a lot more words in English than it did in Hebrew.)

Our God’s gracious loyal love is unending! Isn’t that good news?!  Don’t we all need to hear that?

No wonder the song repeats it! And repeats it again.

I mean, how do you convey, how to do you communicate the concept of forever, of everlasting? That’s a mind-bending word, isn’t it? Infinite?

How do you get the idea of “forever” across and into someone’s psyche? Well, what better way than repetition?

"His love endures forever." 26 times so that we might begin to get the point.

Psalm 136, verse 1.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever.”
 
Psalm 136 calls upon all of us to give thanks to the LORD, to Yahweh, the God of the Bible.

I love the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States because it’s just not that commercialized. I know that there are football games with commercials and Black Friday deals that play a part in many of our celebrations.

But the idea, even in the name of the holiday, is just simply saying, “Thank you.”

And we, as followers of Jesus Christ, know Whom we are thanking!

Not everybody knows who to thank at Thanksgiving. It’s not just Mom for roasting a turkey. (Though you should certainly thank her if she does!)

Thanksgiving, for us, is thanking God.

Because He (v.1) He is good and because "His love endures forever.”

Psalm 136 calls upon us to give thanks to God for both WHO He is and WHAT He has done.

For both His character and His actions in history, today, and for all eternity.

Verses 2 and 3 emphasize His supremacy. V.2

“Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever.”

God is supreme over every being in the universe.
He is exalted on high. 
No one is in His class.
No one is even near!

And what’s amazing is that His ultimate transcendence does not keep Him far away from us; instead it enables Him to show His unending love for us!

"His love endures forever."

Now, starting in verse 4, we begin to see another thing that this psalm does so well.
The psalm starts to tell history.

It’s still a song, and it’s a song with all of that repetition, so you don’t miss the point.

But the psalmist begins to march through his Bible, the Torah, and demonstrate how the LORD’s love has been seen to endure forever.

He doesn’t just say it; he shows it, in poetic form.

And the song proceeds in canonical order. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and really into the first part of Joshua.

Just like we as a church have been studying the Big Story of the Bible since 2003, this song sings the Big Story of the Bible to show the faithful love of God.

It’s like the Old Testament version of “Count Your Many Blessings,” but it does it in historical order, starting in Genesis with creation. V.4

Give thanks...

“to him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens, His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters, His love endures forever.
who made the great lights–His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day, His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night; His love endures forever.

Do you see how that comes right out of Genesis?

This song calls upon us to thank the LORD for making everything.

It’s amazing that He can, and even more amazing that He did.

When was the last time you thanked God for making the world that you live in?

This song emphasizes that God make everything, and with great skill.

In verse 5, it says, “by his understanding” he made the heavens and the earth.

That means with great wisdom, insight, and skill.

And that’s the reason why we can have science, by the way. The only reason why science is so effective is because God set up with the world with so much skillfulness and because His faithful love endures forever.What we call “scientific laws” are rules for the world that God built into it in the first place.

Anybody thankful for science this year? I’m thankful to the scientists who are working so hard on medicines and vaccines for COVID-19. If any are eventually effective, that’s because of what this psalmist is singing about in verse 5.

And how about you guys going out in the woods next weekend after that elusive whitetail? Don’t forget to stop and look up at the sun, and the moon, and the stars and say to the Lord, “Thank you!”

#1. THANK YOU FOR MAKING US.

Sing it out now: "His love endures forever."

Do you see how those two things go together?

It isn’t just wonder and worship that God made the world. It’s wonder and worship and gratefulness that God made the world and placed us in it. The book of Genesis doesn’t just say that God made the world, but that He made us, too, and placed us in the world.

But He didn’t stop there. He didn’t just place us in the world He made and then leave us alone. After we sinned, He came to redeem and rescue us.

In verses 10 through 15, the song moves from Genesis to Exodus. From creation to salvation. V.10

Give thanks...

“to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt His love endures forever.
and brought Israel out from among them His love endures forever.
with a mighty hand and outstretched arm; His love endures forever.
to him who divided the Red Sea asunder His love endures forever.
and brought Israel through the midst of it, His love endures forever.
but swept Pharaoh and His army into the Red Sea; His love endures forever.

This song is not about some generic vague notion of God. This song is about a particular God who saved a particular people for His glory.

In the book of Exodus, the Lord rescued His people, Israel, from Egypt. And they loved to sing about His deliverance.

For you and me, it wasn’t Egypt that had us trapped in bondage. It was sin and Satan. And the LORD rescued us through Jesus’s death on the Cross and resurrection on the third day. So that today we can say:

#2. THANK YOU FOR SAVING US.

Altogether?  "His love endures forever."

Unless, of course, you can’t sing that because it hasn't happened for you yet. The Israelites could sing Psalm 136 because they had been saved from Pharaoh by the Lord’s mighty hand and outstretched arm.

Have you been saved from your sin by the Lord Jesus? He is stretching out His arm to you today. He invites you to put your faith and trust in Him and what He did on the Cross on your behalf.  He came back to life to give you life and life forever.

Forever! Remember, that’s how long His love lasts.

In verse 15, the song moves from Exodus and Leviticus through Numbers and Deuteronomy and even into Joshua. The Lord doesn’t just save us and then leave us. He goes with us, and He guides us. V.16.

Give thanks...

“...to him who led His people through the desert, His love endures forever.
who struck down great kings, His love endures forever.
and killed mighty kings–His love endures forever.
Sihon king of the Amorites His love endures forever.
and Og king of Bashan–His love endures forever.
and gave their land as an inheritance, His love endures forever.
an inheritance to His servant Israel; His love endures forever.

The LORD was faithful to Israel in the wilderness.

This psalm sings about the Lord’s guidance, and protection, and promise-keeping.

Read Numbers chapter 21 to find out about these bad guys, Sihon and Og. 

They just sound like bad guys, don’t they? They attacked Israel even though Israel was coming in peace. And the Lord rescued His people again and again. And then when they got into the Promised Land, they got the land that was promised.

Now, I think that these verses are the most like what I feel right now in November of 2020. It kind of feels like the desert, like the wilderness.

2020 is on the attack like Sihon and Og. But the same Lord that got His people through the wilderness and into the Promised Land is the same Lord that we are singing about today.

He guides and protects and provides so that we can say:

#3. THANK YOU FOR SUSTAINING US.

Thank You for making us.
Thank You for saving us.

But thank You also for not leaving us there.

Thank You for sustaining us no matter what comes.

And everybody said? "His love endures forever."
 
The psalm ends with escalating praise for how faithful and gracious the Lord is. Verse 23.

Give thanks...

“to the One who remembered us in our low estate His love endures forever.
and freed us from our enemies, His love endures forever.
and who gives food to every creature. His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.”  [Number 26!]

Do you hear how the psalm changes from “them” to “us?” Verse 23 moves from the history to the present day of the psalmist.

It wasn’t just what God had done for Israel in the past. But what God was doing that very day for God’s people. And also what we can expect for ever and ever and ever.

He made us.
He saved us.
He sustains us.

And for all who belong to Jesus, we can expect that for all eternity.

"His love endures forever.”

So give thanks!


***

Fortifying Truth - Fall 2020

01. Majestic and Mindful - Psalm 8
02. All Our Days - Psalm 90
03. "The LORD on High Is Mighty!" - Psalm 93
04. "The LORD Is My Shepherd" - Psalm 23
05. "Praise the LORD, O My Soul!" - Psalm 103
06. "The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" - Psalm 133
07. "A Dying Thirst for the Living God" - Psalm 42
08. "Our Fortress" - Psalm 46
09. Unrestless - Psalm 131
10. "Sun and Shield" - Psalm 84
11. "With Songs of Joy" - Psalm 126

Sunday, November 15, 2020

“With Songs Of Joy” [Matt's Messages]

“With Songs Of Joy”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
November 15, 2020 :: Psalm 126

Has this year gotten you down?

For most of us, probably all of us, 2020 has been a hard year in so many ways. We probably all have stories of great blessings that have come to us in the last eleven and a half months for which we are grateful, but I know that we also all have stories of loss of things taken from us in the last eleven and a half months that we have all felt most deeply.

As your pastor, I am very grateful for the good gifts the Lord has poured out on us, especially during crazy period of pandemic. I count my blessings every day! But I also look around, and I see that things are not as they used to be, and it feels like we have to do three times the work for the one third of the results. And there is kind of a “desert” feeling to life and ministry right now.

Has this year gotten you down?

Well, if so, I have a psalm for you. 

It’s Psalm 126, one of the psalms of ascent, those beautiful worship songs that the Israelite pilgrims sang together as they marched upward to Zion to worship at the holy feasts days of Israel.

And it’s a song that looks in two directions at once.

It’s a song that looks back in thanksgiving (which is perfect for November of 2020), and it’s a song that looks forward in hope (which is much needed in November of 2020).

And it’s a song that emphasizes JOY which we really need to emphasize in November of 2020. 


Isn’t this psalm wonderful?!

Did you hear the title of this message as I read it?

In this short psalm, the psalmist uses this one phrase again and again, “With Songs of Joy.”

“With Songs of Joy.”

The English Standard Version has an even stronger translation. It says, “With Shouts of joy!” “With shouts of joy!” “With shouts of joy!”
The idea is unbridled exclamations of gladness.

Kind of like some of you when your team does something tremendous on the field or on the court or on the track.

Like if a Penn State defender picked off an interception in the endzone and then runs it all the way back for a surprise touchdown. What would you do if you saw that?

Woohoo! 

It’s an awesome feeling that must be made verbal!

Shouts of Joy!

Yes! Yes!

Hallelujah!
Hallelujah!

“With songs of joy.” I know that doesn’t even capture it.

It’s a feeling so good it must be verbalized.

But we don’t always feel that way, do we?

No, often we do not, and the psalms are perfectly placed by God in our Bibles to give us language for the times when we feel that way and the times when we want to feel that way again.

That’s what Psalm 126 does.

Psalm 126 is actually a song about songs of joy for when you do not feel like singing songs of joy but want to feel like singing songs of joy again.

Let me show you what I mean.

Psalm 126 falls neatly into two parts, verses 1 through 3 which I think look backwards in thanksgiving and verses 4 through 6 which look forward in hope.

And both parts talk about “with songs of joy” so I have a point of application for each part.

#1. THANK GOD FOR SONGS OF JOY IN THE PAST.

Look again at verse 1.

“When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

Now, we don’t know what particular situation the psalmist is referring to in verse 1, but we do know that it was a really good thing.

The old 1984 NIV translates it, “when the LORD brought back the captives to Zion.” So it could be describing a return from exile. Maybe even THE return from the Babylonian exile.

But the updated 2011 NIV, translates the words in verse 1 the same way both of them translate the words in verse 4, “when the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion.” And that’s how the ESV and CSB translate it as well. The Hebrew is something more literally like “when the LORD turned with the turning of Zion.”

The point is that there was this massive reversal of the situation for good.

It doesn’t mean “fortunes” as in luck. It means the situation, the state of affairs, the position.

When God brought the amazing turnaround, “we were like men who dreamed.”

I love that. It seemed to good to be true. We were “deliriously happy” (cf. Kidner).

We just woke up and our dreams had come true!

That’s how good it was.

When this turnaround happened to these Israelites, they thought they must have been dreaming. And it made them so incredibly happy. V.2

“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.”

It doesn’t just say, “They laughed.” Or “They sang.”

“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.”

Shouts of joy.

We were so incredibly happy we had to make some noise about it.

Have you ever been so happy, you just had to make noise? I’ll bet you have.

And these people were so joyful the world had to take notice. Look at V.2 again.

“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’”

Others, outsiders, the world, had to admit that God had been good to them. It was undeniable. 

And the psalmist says. V.3

Yes! “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

We are so glad because we are so blessed.

You see how the psalmist looks backwards?

We’re going to see in just the next verse that this is not how things are right now.

Things are not happy for the nation of Israel when the psalmist writes this.

But he remembers!

He remembers how good God has been to them, and he gives thanks.

I love how we don’t know exactly what story this psalm was about in Israel’s history because it makes it easy to translate it right into our lives today.

What great things has God done for you that you can remember and thank Him for?

November is a great month to count your many blessings.

And we all have millions and billions of them. Many of which we don’t even know.

We don’t know a fraction of the good gifts the Lord is giving us, even this very second.

For the followers of Christ, the greatest thing we have been given is our salvation.

Don’t just think about physical blessings and material turnarounds.

Think about the reversal of fortune, the change in your circumstances that God effected when He rescued you from the dominion of darkness and brought you into the kingdom of the Son he loves (Col 1:12)!

Think about how you felt when you got saved. And the songs of joy.

“Victory in Jesus my Savior forever!”

And so many other ways that God has blessed you and me.

Think about them. 
Count them.
Remember them.
And thank God for them!

And sing about them with songs of joy: “To God be the glory great things He has done.”  

Verse 3 again: “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

Except, so often we are not.

So often we look around and we see the things that are bad and feel the things that hurt. And we long for things to change back to how they were before.

That’s the story for many of us of 2020.

And it was the story for this psalmist.

We don’t know exactly what the problem was for Israel when the psalmist wrote Psalm 126, but we know that he longed for things to be the way they used to be. V.4

“Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.”

He’s saying, “Do it again.”

Have you ever thrown a little child into the air and caught them?

It’s so much fun. Because they just get this big eyed look on their face and they giggle.

And then your arms get tired, and you put them down, and what happens?

They raise up their arms, and said, “Again, Daddy! Do it again!”

That’s what the psalmist is saying to the LORD in verse 4.

“Do it again!”

“You did it before. I know you can do it once more.”

“Do it again! Turn things around again.”

“Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.”

The Negev is an arid wilderness in the Southern part of Israel. It’s very dry and hard and desert-like. But maybe once a year, maybe at Springtime, it will get a hard rain and spring to life.

Just out of nowhere.

“Do it again!”

“Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.”

“Turn this “parched life” (cf. Leslie Allen) into a garden. Bring your life-giving grace into our situation. You can do it. Suddenly rush in with your rain and restore us to blessing. Please!”

#2. TRUST GOD FOR SONGS OF JOY IN THE FUTURE.

And that begins with asking.

“Lord, do it again. Bring the great turnaround.”

And that could be something physical or more importantly something spiritual.

“Bring me personal revival, Lord.” Or as a church, “Revive us again.”

It’s because the psalmist is thankful for the songs of joy in the past that he can ask and expect songs of joy in the future.

And he does expect it.  Look at how confident he is. V.5.

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will [most certainly] return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”

Big bundles of harvested grain.

The psalmist doesn’t just ask, he expects God to act.

He doesn’t just assume that all of God’s blessings are back there in the past.

He knows with a heart of faith that the best is yet to come.

He’s certain, he’s trusting, because that’s how his God is and that’s how his God works.

The metaphor in verses 5 and 6 is an agrarian metaphor, a figure of speech from the world of agriculture and farming.

First you sow, then later you reap.

What’s interesting here is that the psalmist is 100% sure that the reaping will come.

In the world of agriculture, that’s not always guaranteed.

But the song-writer trusts God and expects God to provide for the Israelites songs of joy.

Just as sure as God brings the seasons, springtime and harvest.

There will be a reaping of songs of joy.

But there will also be tears.

Did you see that in verses 5 and 6? The sorrow?

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”

Tears first, songs of joy later.

This is not just happy, happy, happy here.

There will be tears. But do it anyway.

The point of verses 5 and 6 is that because you expect God to work, to answer your prayers, you keep on going. You keep on sowing, and you hold on for the harvest.

Don’t stop. Keep going. Even through the tears.

My wife has told me that a good number of our family dinners have been seasoned by her tears. They drop off of her face into the soup. 

Heather doesn’t feel like making dinner. She’s sad about whatever. But she keeps on going. She keeps putting one foot in front of the other. She keeps making the soup. She keeps on sowing. And she expects a big harvest.

That’s what I try to do as a pastor. I try to keep on sowing. Going back out there with seed and planting it, seed and planting it. Even with tears.

With some people, I have been trying to sow seeds with them for a long time, and the good results have not come yet.

But still I weep and I sow.

I weep and I sow.

And I trust God for the song of joy to come.

Little tiny seeds turn into great big sheaves.

Big honking bundles of blessings.

Trust God for those future songs of joy and keep on sowing until they come.

I was talking to Wally last week about how we need to be faithful in our evangelism as a church. He was saying, and I agree, that we need to boldly keep telling people about Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the Cross and at the Empty Tomb.

We have the greatest news in all the world. And they may not want to hear it at first.

We may cry over people as we take the seed of the gospel and sow it in the field of the world.

Sinking that investment in what often feels like a losing proposition.

But we know that God did it before [Here we are!] and we know that He can do it again.

So we ask Him. “Restore us again!”

And it’s not just evangelism; this sowing in tears is being obedient in whatever the Lord is calling us to do.

To go out there, obeying, investing, giving, sowing even through tears, and believe that the best is yet to come.

It might feel a little bit like death.

When our Lord Jesus went out sowing with his tears, He sowed Himself. Jesus Himself was the seed going into the ground, but He came back up with a new glorious body, and we are His sheaves!

It’s worth it, friends.

Trust God for the songs of joy in your future in 2020 and beyond.

Keep going, even through the tears.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that every prayer of our hearts will be answered in the way we want it. God has not promised that. He has not promised that every seed will yield the harvest that we hope for.

But He has promised good for His children. He has promised a bountiful harvest for those who trust Him and keep on sowing their seeds of faith and obedience.

This is true:

“He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”

***

[Astute readers may remember several parts of this message first appeared in the Mother’s Day message from 2017.]


***

Fortifying Truth - Fall 2020

01. Majestic and Mindful - Psalm 8
02. All Our Days - Psalm 90
03. "The LORD on High Is Mighty!" - Psalm 93
04. "The LORD Is My Shepherd" - Psalm 23
05. "Praise the LORD, O My Soul!" - Psalm 103
06. "The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" - Psalm 133
07. "A Dying Thirst for the Living God" - Psalm 42
08. "Our Fortress" - Psalm 46
09. Unrestless - Psalm 131
10.  "Sun and Shield" - Psalm 84

Sunday, November 08, 2020

“Sun and Shield” [Matt's Messages]

“Sun and Shield”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
November 8, 2020 :: Psalm 84

I picked Psalm 84 for this Sunday because of the way it talks about God in verse 11.

The whole psalm is a beautiful song of longing for the presence of God in genuine worship, but verse 11 is just glorious!

If you don’t have it memorized already, you should start today. It says, “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.”

Isn’t that wonderful?!!

A sun and a shield. That’s the double image that pops out to me.

The Lord is a sun and a shield.

Is there anything more glorious and life-giving in our world than the sun?

In this world, the sun is our greatest source of light and life. It illuminates everything. So it’s an image of guidance and truth and beauty. And it provides energy and warmth to us.

We are headed into that dreaded season here in North America when the sun is not out very much. Praise the Lord for the sun we’ve experienced this last week! But as winter approaches, it’s going to get dark faster and longer. And that will just make the sun even more precious!

“A sun and shield.” There you have an image of protection. Of safety and security.

The windshield in your car. Have you ever had a rock fly up and take a dent out of your windshield while you’re driving? And what do you think when that happens?

“I’m so glad that wasn’t my head it hit! I’m so glad I have a shield.”

Safety, security, protection.

A sun and a shield. That’s what this song says the LORD is.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

That’s the second to last verse. But I wanted you to know where it’s all going as we dive into verse 1. It’s all headed to that glorious word picture to describe our God! A “Sun and Shield.”


Let’s look together at verse 1. Psalm 84, verse 1.

“For the director of music. According to gittith. [Just like Psalm 8 we saw earlier this Fall. A musical term.] Of the Sons of Korah [those guys again, that intergenerational family of worship leaders, the Sons of Korah!]. A psalm. 

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!

My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” 

Psalm 84 has a lot in common with Psalm 42 that we looked at about a month ago.

They are both beautiful songs of the Sons of Korah that express a deep longing for the presence of the living God.

Psalm 42 is more sad and almost gloomy. The psalmist there is downcast and seems to be in prison and unable to make it to the temple.

Psalm 84 is less gloomy and more glorious. My guess is that this psalmist can get to the temple, at least some times. It might even be written by the same psalmist at a different point in his life. He was at least part of the same family, and he felt the same way about the temple.

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” 

This guy intensely loved the temple in Jerusalem. 

That word “lovely” in verse 1 could translated “beloved.”

How beloved is the Lord’s dwelling place!  

Now, of course, we know (and he knew!) that the Lord is everywhere (omnipresent), not just in Jerusalem. Not just at the temple.

But, back then, the Lord had put His name on Jerusalem, and the temple was the earthly symbol of His presence. It was, back then, His home. His earthly headquarters.

So this psalmist longed, not just for a building, but to be near the Lord Himself in a special way. Especially worshipping with others.

He was irresistibly drawn to be in God’s presence.

That’s what he’s singing about.

And he is even jealous of little birds that got to be in the temple when he wasn’t!  Look at verse 3.

“Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young–a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.”

I think he’s envious! Because the temple courts are open, birds can fly in and live there. And he wishes he was one of them! In the temple, 24/7. 

V.4 “Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Selah”

Just think about that!

I think here he might be talking about the priests who have apartments in the greater temple complex. They basically live on site.

How blessed they are to be right there!

Or there every day because they pretty much live at work.

And they can be ever praising God. Just think about that! Ever praising God.

So, when I read Psalm 84, I have to translate it into our New Covenant context. We don’t have a temple in Jerusalem any more. So this psalm is not about (for us!) going to the temple. That’s Old Covenant. We have to process it through our New Covenant reality.

And when I read Psalm 84, it raises spiritual questions for me about my heart.

So I want to share those questions with you as we work at applying this psalm to our lives today in 2020. Because I want to sing Psalm 84 with my life. I want this to be the song of my life.

I want to be, spiritually speaking, where this psalmist is. Don’t you?

Here’s the first application question for us today:

#1. DO I YEARN TO BE NEAR THE LORD?

Do I long to be close to Him?

This guy is almost falling over, he feels it so much. Look at verse 2 again, “My soul years, even faints,  for the courts of the LORD; my heart (insides) and my flesh (outsides) cry out for the living God.”

Do you feel that in your heart?

I don’t mean do you feel close to the Lord? That feeling comes and goes. I’m talking about what your heart wants. Does your heart, does your soul yearn to be near the Lord?

To worship Him. To know Him better. To walk with Him. To dwell with Him. To be with Him. To be (verse 4), “ever praising Him.”

That starts with daily personal worship. Because we are temples, now, right. The Spirit of God lives in each of us believers.

But it’s more than that. The temple now is not a building but it a church. The New Testament says that the people of God are being built up into a temple together.

So when we gather, we are the temple.

When this church comes together, we are the temple.

Doesn’t matter if we are inside or outside (or even on Zoom), we as a church are the temple, the beautiful place where His glory dwells.

Do you yearn to worship with God’s people?

I worry about people who feel ambivalent about church. They can just take it or leave it.

Now, there are good reasons to stay away from church gatherings for a time including staying safe from COVID-19 and keeping others safe from COVID-19.

But gathered worship should be a hard thing to give up.

It should always be what your heart wants.

Where your heart points. Like a compass pointing north.

Your heart should be pointing at church.

Your heart should long to be worshiping God with the people of God.

That’s where blessing is!

In verse 5, the psalmist turns from the priests to the pilgrims and says that they know where blessing is. Verse 5.

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. [literally, “highways are on their hearts.” As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.”

These people yearn to be near to God.

They set their hearts on the highways that lead to the temple in Zion.

And they gain strength as they go.

Now, we don’t know what the Valley of Baca is. It seems to be a play on words, not a geographical location. It’s either the Valley of Weeping or the Valley of Balsam, so an arid dry location. Either way, it’s tough sledding to go through there, but the picture is that as these faithful pilgrims pass through the valley, the Lord blesses them with life-giving water, with rain, with flourishing. And they get stronger for it.

You might think that the more wearily trudge on and on trying to make it to Zion, the harder it will get, but these folks find that they get strength upon strength until they reach the Lord’s home.

They’re marching to Zion.
Beautiful beautiful Zion.
They’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.

And that’s where blessing is! “Blessed are those who strength is in you.”

That’s fortifying truth!

Do you yearn to be near to the Lord?

Do you yearn for heaven?

Because that’s the ultimate experience of nearness to God!

That’s the ultimate Zion!

Heaven is the ultimate temple.

Our church gatherings are a just a foretaste of the nearness of God that is coming one day.

Do you long for heaven?

I hope you’ve set your heart on that pilgrimage.

Because if you do, you’ll gain strength as you go.

Here’s the second question of application:

#2. DO I ASK THE LORD FOR HIS FAVOR?

I have never noticed verse 8 until studying it this week.

In verse 8, the psalmist all of a sudden tosses up a prayer request for his king. Look at verse 8.

“Hear my prayer, O LORD God Almighty; listen to me, O God of Jacob. Selah

Look upon our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one.”

I think he’s praying for his king, which was probably a son of King of David, a Davidic king.

Here, the king is referred to as a shield, one who protects the nation. And he’s called the Lord’s “anointed one” or messiah.

Remember when David was anointed by Samuel?

The psalmist prays for his king. He asks the Lord to look upon the king with favor.

Because he knows that as the king goes, so goes the nation.

So, this is a prayer for favor.

Have you prayed for favor? For God’s grace and mercy and blessing?

He is not saying that this king deserves it. He’s just saying that he needs it and if he’s blessed so will his people be.

Do I ask the Lord for favor?

And not just for kings, but also for presidents.

I have begun to pray for the next president of the United States which from all appearances will be former vice-president Joe Biden.

As I have prayed the last four years for President Donald Trump, I will pray for Mr. Biden. I will not pray that all of his policies get enacted. I don’t think they are all good. And I did not pray for all of Mr. Trump’s policies to be enacted. I didn’t think they were all good.

But I did pray for favor on him, and I will pray for favor on a new president, as well. Because I will pray for favor on our nation. 

Not because we deserve it, because we certainly don’t. But because we need it, and our God is a gracious God.

But that’s just America. Which is a very small thing in the grand scheme of things. We are just a footnote in the big story.

The bigger story is how God showed His favor to His Anointed One with a capital A. Favor to His Messiah with a capital M. The Lord Jesus Christ. He was dead and buried, and the Lord raised Him back to life!

And if God would show that kind of favor to Jesus, then I can also ask Him for much smaller prayer requests of the things that concern me today.

Now. We are getting that glorious verse 11. “Sun and Shield.” But first, verse 10.

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”

You see how the psalmist hasn’t quit?

He still longs to be in the Lord’s presence.
He still yearns to be at the temple.

There is nothing better!

He would rather be standing on the threshold of the temple, with no shelter, maybe getting rained on, a lowly doorkeeper than live in luxury with the wicked.

Than live in the penthouse with the godless.

There is no place he’s rather be than near to God!

Is there a place you’d rather be than near to God?

Again, this is not just about “going to church.” But I think there’s an application there.

Would you rather do just about anything than spend time worshipping God with the people of God?

Or are you willing to sit in your car, sit under a tent, wear a mask or a face-shield, give up your warm bed on a Sunday morning, gather your family around the dining room table, do whatever it takes to get near to God?

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere...”

And what about heaven? Better is a thousand years in God’s presence than just one anywhere else.

This guy knows where it’s at. This guy knows where the blessing is.

This guy knows how good he has it. Do we?

That’s our last application question:

#3. DO I KNOW HOW BLESSED I AM?

Why does he think the temple is so great?

It’s because of the One who lives there! V.11

“I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.”

A sun and a shield!

Light and life and safety and security.

Guidance and protection.

Joy and delight.

“Favor and honor.”

“No good thing.”

I almost titled this sermon, “No Good Thing.” But that sounds negative.

It says, “...no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.”

We get everything!

This is November. Thanksgiving is coming.

What are you thankful for? It came from God.

Whatever you’re thankful for, it came from God.

And He will make sure that you get every good thing as you walk with Him.

By the way, “Blameless” doesn’t mean perfect. It just means real. It means genuine. It means that you are on the path of wisdom and righteous and faith and obedience. You aren’t on the other path. You’ve repent of your sins and chosen the path that leads to life.

You are trusting in the LORD.

And that’s the path of blessing.

V.12 “O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.”

Happy is the one.

Forever happy and blessed.

Do we know just how good we have it?

Do we know how blessed we are?

If you have the Lord, you have a sun and shield!

Forever and ever. You have a sun and a shield.

At the very end of the Bible, in Revelation 21, the Apostle John recounts his vision of the End, and he says, “I did not see a temple in the [heavenly] city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.”

That’s how blessed we are and how blessed we will be.

Forever and ever.

The Lord is our sun and our shield.

***

Fortifying Truth - Fall 2020

01. Majestic and Mindful - Psalm 8
02. All Our Days - Psalm 90
03. "The LORD on High Is Mighty!" - Psalm 93
04. "The LORD Is My Shepherd" - Psalm 23
05. "Praise the LORD, O My Soul!" - Psalm 103
06. "The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" - Psalm 133
07. "A Dying Thirst for the Living God" - Psalm 42
08. "Our Fortress" - Psalm 46
09. Unrestless - Psalm 84

Sunday, November 01, 2020

“Unrestless” [Matt's Messages]

“Unrestless”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
November 1, 2020 :: Psalm 131

I am singularly unqualified to preach Psalm 131.

I did not pick Psalm 131 for this weekend because I live it out so well. So often this Psalm does NOT describe me or my heart.

I picked out Psalm 131 because I need it so desperately. I need Psalm 131. 

And I want Psalm 131. I want this song to be the song of heart.

Psalm 131 is a very short psalm, just 3 verses, attributed to King David and included in the Songs of Ascent, that hit album of Hebrew songs that the Israelites sang as they marched up to Jerusalem for the great feasts.

And I love that Psalm 131 is by King David because when I read about his life in 1 and 2 Samuel and I hear his heart in many of his other songs throughout the Psalter, I realize that Psalm 131 was not David’s perpetual experience, either.

David was not describing his constant experience, but a place that he had gotten to, a posture, a composure, a peace that he had learned. And that he had to constantly return to.

Psalm 131 is a song about a heart that is unrestless.

I know, that’s not a word. I made it up!

If you Google “unrestlesss,” you won’t find a definition in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary.

I made it up for this occasion because I wanted a fresh word that was the opposite of restless.

The opposite of frantic. The opposite of fussy. The opposite of fretful. 

So I picked, “unrestless.”

One of my mentors, the late David Powlison, said that Psalm 131 describes a person who is “quiet on the inside.”

Doesn’t that sound good? “Quiet on the inside.”

David Powlison wrote, “Amazingly, this man isn’t noisy on the inside. He isn’t busy-busy-busy. Not obsessed. Not on edge. The to-do list and pressures to achieve don’t consume him. Ambition doesn’t churn inside. Failure and despair don’t haunt him. Anxiety isn’t spinning him into free fall. He isn’t preoccupied with thinking up the next things he wants to say. Regrets don’t corrode his inner experience. Irritation and dissatisfaction don’t devour him. He’s not stumbling through the mine field of blind longings and fears” (“‘Peace, be still:’ Learning Psalm 131 by Heart,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 18, No. 3, Spring 2000, pg. 2).

“Quiet on the inside.”

Doesn’t that sound good? And that’s just a list of what he isn’t!

He is unrestless.

Let me read Psalm 131 to you, and you can hear it for yourself. Psalm 131.


The most poignant image in this song is in verse 2 when David likens himself to a “weaned child with its mother.”

He says it twice for emphasis. “Like a weaned child, like a weaned child.”

In this setting a “weaned child” is a toddler who is no longer nursing and so is content now with his mother.

Have you ever seen a fussy baby that is hungry? What do they do?

They root around. They flail around. And they wail.

They wail and they flail!

A baby can’t peacefully say, “I’m hungry, Mother. When is dinner?”

Especially if they are really hungry. Then they really cut loose.

They don’t know what’s going on. They just know they feel this terrible pain in their tummy, and they don’t know how it will ever be fixed!

But a weaned child with their mother has learned. They know the drill. They know how this works. They know that Mom will take care of them. They know that they can trust their mother, and so in this picture they are tranquil. They are peaceful. They are not wigged out every time it’s dinner time!

That’s the picture here. The weaned child is no longer restless. They are unrestless.

They are at peace.

And King David says, “That’s me. That peaceful child is a picture of my heart, of my soul within me.”

I don’t know about you, but I want a piece of that.

That’s the peace that “transcends all understanding” that we’ve been reciting in our memory verse these last few months.

As I said, this is not my natural experience. I am by temperament, a “self-tightening nut.”

I heard somebody say that you can buy a “self-tightening nut” at the hardware store, and I think that means that instead of loosening when it gets jostled, this kind of nut just gets tighter and tighter.

Well, Heather and I think that’s a great label for my natural temperament.

We both call me, “a self-tightening nut.”

Fretting, fussing, frantic, worrying, needy, noisy on the inside.

I confess that I am often restless.

If you didn’t know that about me, I’m glad. That might mean that I’m making progress, or it could just mean that I hide it well, or that you’re not paying attention.

But the people who know me, know me.

And they know that I need Psalm 131.

How about you? Are you noisy on the inside?

I think that the pandemic has brought it out of me in new ways.

For example, I want to do things the right way. I want to do the right thing and to be seen to do the right thing. And that’s a good desire, and a good value to have, especially when leading a church through a polarizing pandemic.

But it can became overwhelming and obsessive for me to do things the right way and for everyone to see that I’m doing things the right way. And before you know it, I’m all twisted up inside, the self-tightening nut.

How about you? Are you restless or unrestless?

Are you quiet or noisy on the inside?

I love how Psalm 131 doesn’t just describe the result; it also beautifully describes the process of getting there. 

I want to walk through it in three major steps of application for ourselves.

#1. HUMBLE MYSELF.

To be unrestless, I need to humble myself like David did. Verse 1.

“My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty;”

We don’t tend to use that word “haughty,” but it means arrogant.

David proclaims that his heart is not lifted up, and he doesn’t look down his nose at others. He is not proud.

He is humble.

Is it surprising to you that he starts here? 

I don’t think we understand how much our inner restlessness comes from our own pride and arrogance.

Anxiety is often tied to pride.

We believe that we deserve something and so we strive for it with all of our insides so that our insides get turned inside out.

But David knew, in his moments of faithful sanity, that the road to tranquility comes through humility.

“My heart is not proud, O Yahweh, my eyes are not haughty.”

And then he says it in a different way.

“I do not concern [or occupy] myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”

Now, David was not saying that he never did great or wonderful things. This is King David talking! Giant-slaying, kingdom-building, David! But he is saying that he has stopped trying to play God.

I think the things too great or wonderful for him are the things that belong to God alone.

Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God...” And David is saying that when he’s at his best, he doesn’t worry about what he can’t understand.

I want that to be true of me.

So often I would like God to explain more of the plan to me, and especially my part in the plan.

“A few more details here, Lord! Is it going to be this or this? I really want to know. I feel like I need to know!” Do you feel like that sometimes?

David had learned to live with unanswered questions. It doesn’t mean he stopped asking them, but he stopped demanding the answers on his terms. 

In other words, David stopped trying to play God. David realized that the position of God was already filled.

So he would just let God be God.

That’s humbling yourself.

Can you see how freeing that would be?

#2. QUIET MY HEART.

To be unrestless, I need to quiet my heart like David did. V.2

“But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.”

Notice that this is not passivity. David has something very active to do. He has to actively still and quiet his heart! 

It’s not just something that washes over him automatically.

Even though it is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit, David himself has role to fulfill to experience this peace.

In fact, in the Hebrew there is an almost an oath here.

"I solemnly swear that I have done this. I have stilled and quieted my soul."

It’s a different Hebrew word but it’s a similar idea to Psalm 46:10 that we heard last week, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

"Shhhh. Stop it. Quiet. Cut it out. Be still."

We’re learning a lot this Fall about talking to our souls, not just listening to them, right?



“Be still.”

This is not some eastern fluttery meditation practice.

This is based on knowing God in fortifying truth and humbling yourself before Him.

But it is telling your soul to pipe down.

On Friday, I found out that I had made a major miscalculation about something that is important to me. And I have made this major miscalculation for the last couple of years, and I realized that adjusting myself to the way it really is will be a painful undertaking.

The details are not important, what is important is how I handle it. 

I have not handled it very well, I confess: Brooding, worrying, obsessing, arguing, complaining.

My wife and my Dad have had to endure all of that for the last couple of days.

Tighten, tighten, tighten.

But yesterday, out on a walk, thinking about how I desperately need this song in my heart, I began to experience some peace. And I started, not just listening to my heart, but talking back to my heart.

“Shhh. Be still. Be quiet. God’s got this. Rest and trust in Him.”

I’m not there yet. I’ll have to sing this to myself a lot more.

But I know that the Lord can be trusted. Jesus came back from the dead to guarantee it! Jesus died for our sins and then came back to life. If He can take care of our sin problem and our death problem[!], then there is no problem that He cannot take care of!

So I say to my soul, “What do you have to worry about?”

“Hey, hey, hey, let’s get quiet on the inside.”

And put your hope in the Lord.

#3. HOPE IN THE LORD.

To be unrestless, I need to put my hope in the LORD just like David did.

And just like he told the rest of Israel to do. Verse 3.

“O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.”

Don’t put your hope in yourself or in anything else.

In your bank account.
In the government.
In your party’s candidate for office.
In your family.
In your health.
In your gifts or abilities.

Don’t place your hope in those things; they will all disappoint you at some point.

“O Israel, put your hope in the LORD [Yahweh] both now and forevermore.”

He will never disappoint.

Fix your eyes on Him.

I’m so thankful that King David wrote this song, and I’m even more thankful that King Jesus sang this song perfectly with His life.

He humbled Himself. He had a perfectly stilled and quiet soul. Even when His soul was so troubled within Him, He was its master. And He perfectly put His hope in the Lord.

So that even when I fail to and flail around and wail like a frantic fussy baby inside, He has me safe in His arms.

So I can lean back and rest, and I can humble myself once again. And say, “Ok. Right. Right. You are God. You’ve got this. I don’t have to have it all figured out or every box checked in the right place.”

I can trust in You. I can be like a weaned child with its mother.

I can be unrestless.

“O Lanse Free Church, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.”


***

Fortifying Truth - Fall 2020

01. Majestic and Mindful - Psalm 8
02. All Our Days - Psalm 90
03. "The LORD on High Is Mighty!" - Psalm 93
04. "The LORD Is My Shepherd" - Psalm 23
05. "Praise the LORD, O My Soul!" - Psalm 103
06. "The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" - Psalm 133
07. "A Dying Thirst for the Living God" - Psalm 42
08. "Our Fortress" - Psalm 46

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Learn HOW to Counsel Married Couples and Troubled Families from Bob Kellemen

I wish I had these two books two decades ago. I'm glad I have them now.

When first became a pastor, I quickly learned how much I didn't know about counseling, especially couples in conflict. I remember many heavy hours of agonizing over what to say and do in those situations and wishing there were better practical resources available to me.

Back then, in the providence of God, I found my way to the biblical counseling movement as a rich repository of wisdom on how the Bible speaks to the problems of everyday life. I have eaten up every helpful thing I could find from that sector, eventually doing my doctorate in this field at Westminster Theological Seminary under the faculty of CCEF.

What's often missing in any system or approach is the down-to-earth, practical nuts-and-bolts training of what to actually say and do. 

My friend Bob Kellemen, a leader in the biblical counseling movement, has tried to fill that gap with a set of books that he calls "equipping guides" and "'work-books,' or 'working-books,' or 'workout-books.'” They are very practical (while not at all stilted) and aim to give training to readers in the nitty-gritty reality of counseling couples and families.

I am slowly working through them right now myself, and lightbulbs are going on for me left and right. "Oh, that's a good idea." "I can see myself doing that next time." "That would have helped me with so-and-so."

The only thing better would be to sit with Bob and watch him do this and then have Bob sit with you watching you do it, too, with his feedback. But most of us won't have that opportunity. As a next-best-thing, this is pretty good. Recommended.

Bob has given me permission to include this short essay on why he wrote these manuals and how they are designed.


****

Why I Wrote 
Gospel-Centered Marriage Counseling and Gospel-Centered Family Counseling

In September 2020, Baker Books released my new two-book series on equipping biblical counselors for marriage counseling and for family counseling:



Marriage Counseling and Family Counseling Are Hard! 

As an equipper of pastors and counselors, I hear all the time how intimidating marriage and family counseling are. Recently, an experienced pastor shared with me: 
“Marriage counseling? I’m clueless. I feel like I’m standing in traffic on an expressway with cars going both ways, half of them the wrong way, most of them swerving out of control. I have no idea how to move from my good theology of marriage, to actually helping the troubled couple sitting in front of me. 
Family counseling? Don’t even get me started on that. By the time family members get to me, they’re so angry that they aren’t listening to each other. And half the time, they don’t even want to listen to me!” 
Here Are Your Step-by-Step Training Manuals 

The contemporary Christian world churns out books—great books—on marriage and the family. Theory of marriage and family? Tons of books. Books for couples? Scores of books. Books on the family and parenting? Boatloads. 

However, even in our biblical counseling world, we have few books focused on the procedures—the “how-to”—of counseling hurting couples and families. 

As pastors, counselors, and lay leaders, we desperately need help in relating our theology to marital messes and family chaos. We need training manuals on the nuts-and-bolts of the procedures and processes of helping the couple or family sitting in front of us.

Gospel-Centered Marriage Counseling and Gospel-Centered Family Counseling step into this void. This two-book how-to training manual provides practical, user-friendly equipping for folks like us—pastors, counselors, lay leaders, educators, and students.

Not Your Father’s or Mother’s Counseling Books

These two books walk you as a reader through a step-by-step training manual for developing your skills and competences in marriage and family counseling. In fact, “reader” is the wrong word. “Participant” is better.   

Gospel-Centered Marriage Counseling and Gospel-Centered Family Counseling are work-books, or “working-books,” or “workout-books.” 

Thus the subtitle: An Equipping Guide for Pastors and Counselors. Chapter-by-chapter, skill-by-skill, as a participant you’ll use the questions, exercises, role play directions, sample dialogues, and much more to develop your competency and increase your confidence as a biblical marriage and family counselor. 

I Wrote These Books for You

I’m picturing you—a pastor—who perhaps had one class on counseling, and possibly zero classes on a gospel-centered, how-to approach to marriage and family counseling. 

I’m picturing you—a trained biblical counselor—who likely had one class on marriage and family counseling theory/theology. But you probably had no lab class specifically on training you how to provide effective biblical marriage and family counseling. 

I’m picturing you—a “lay person” (not a vocational pastor, a non-professional counselor)—who loves people and marriages. But you feel overwhelmed when trying to help a brokenhearted couple or a distressed family.

I’m picturing you—educators—who teach pastors and counselors in a Christian college or seminary setting. When you search the evangelical publishing landscape, you can find hundreds of books about marriage and the family. Yet, even with your level of academic awareness, you’re likely at a loss to identify Christian books that equip your students with a biblical, practical, step-by-step process for learning how to help struggling marriages and families. 

Gospel-Centered Equipping in Marriage and Family Counseling

In the secular publishing landscape, we can find many books focused on hands-on training in marital and family therapy. But we’re not interested in a worldly way to help Christian marriages and families. 

There’s a central reason I included the phrase Gospel-Centered in the title of each book. This is not a secular marital therapy manual. In writing these books, I’ve examined Scripture asking myself: 
“What would a model of biblical marriage and family counseling look like that was built solely upon Christ’s gospel of grace?” 
What motivated me to write Gospel-Centered Marriage Counseling and Gospel-Centered Family Counseling? My motivation to write is the same as your motivation to read these books. 

We each want to glorify God by growing as biblical marriage and family counselors who apply Christ’s gospel of grace to help hurting and hurtful spouses, parents, and children to become Christlike and Christ-honoring spouses, parents, and children.



Sunday, October 25, 2020

"Our Fortress" [Matt's Messages]

“Our Fortress”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
October 25, 2020 :: Psalm 46

Our sermon series this Fall is entitled “Fortifying Truth” because we’re studying the Book of Psalms together to receive eternal truth from these godly songs to strengthen us to survive and even thrive through tumultuous times.

And today’s psalm, Psalm 46, is about the fortifying truth of “Our Fortress.”

This psalm uses the powerful imagery of an impregnable fortress, the safest place to run to in a conflict, to describe our God.

Psalm 46 is a beautiful song with a glorious refrain, and it’s no wonder that it inspired Martin Luther to write the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.

Because that’s exactly what He is.

Listen to verse 1.

“For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Psalm 46 is another track in the album by the Sons of Korah that worship leading family in ancient Israel, just like we saw last time in Psalms 42 and 43.

This song is also for the director of music, probably set for public worship, and is according to “alamoth,” which is apparently an musical notation that we’re not sure exactly what it means. It might mean for the young ladies. So this one might have been written by the Sons of Korah for the Daughters of Korah, a "girl band" to sing. Perhaps it was the ladies’ job to sing the refrain of verse 7 and verse 11 when the worshippers got there. We don’t know. We do know it’s a song.

And the song says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”


I could preach a whole message just on that lyric from this song:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Don’t you just love that word “refuge?”

It’s a different word than the word for “fortress” in verse 7 and verse 11, but it’s related.

A refuge is a safe place to run to. It’s castle or a fort or a tower that when you are threatened, you can retreat to.

A refuge is a place to run and be safe.

Where do you run when you’re in trouble?

When kids are playing a game of tag, there is always a place that is “base,” right? And if you run to that place, nobody can touch you. You’re safe.

Where do you run when to feel safe?

One of my mentors in ministry used to say that many many of the psalms are about addictions, because we run to our addictions as a refuge.

The psalms of refuge address our addictions. They point out to us where we run when we feel challenged, stressed, and unsafe.

What is your typical refuge?

For many years, I have retreated into food. Gluttony has been a major temptation for me especially in times of stress and strain. We call it “Comfort Food” for a reason!

What is your typical refuge when things get hard?

People turn to alcohol, or drugs, or work, or games, or relationships.

What is your typical refuge?

Psalm 46 presents as glorious and satisfying alternative: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

I love that “ever-present” help. He is not here one second and gone the next. He is not in an unreachable fortress. 

He is always here. And in Him, we are always safe.

So before we go any further, let me give you the first of 3 points of application:

#1. RUN TO HIM.

Psalm 46 tell us the fortifying truth of our fortress, He is always safe, and always strengthening, and always near, so run to Him.

For some of you, that will mean, first off, repentance.

You have to turn from the direction you have been running and start running to the Lord.

Whatever false thing you’ve been finding refuge in will not save you and will n ot satisfy. Only the Lord will. 

Run to Him.

My battle with gluttony is not over and won’t be until I’m with the Lord, but in the last year or so, I have made major strides to stop running to food as my refuge. I have been able to lose more than 50 pounds in part because I’m getting better at running to the Lord.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

And here’s what happens when you know the Lord in this way:

You don’t have to be scared! V.2

“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah”

Which probably means, “Stop there, and just think about that!”

What is the most stable object you can think of?

Well, we often think of the earth itself. And certainly a mountain.

Mount Hermon, right? The last two messages in the Psalms have talked about this great big mountain range.

But what if the earth gave way? An earthquake.

And what if the mountain on the horizon fell into the sea?

Remember, the sea represents chaos to the Hebrew mind. We saw that in Psalm 42 and Psalm 93 especially.

What if the most stable thing in the world fell into the most unstable thing in the world?

What if the creation got uncreated?

What if the bottom fell out on your world?

He’s talking about what feels like the end of the world.

I don’t know about you, but a few times this last year I felt like we are now living in a dystopian novel set on the brink of the end of the world. And while I don’t know that is what is happening, I do know that this psalm prepares me for those times when it seems like MY world is ending. When all hell breaking loose.

When I feel the most vulnerable and under attack. What do I sing then?

I sing Psalm 46 when it feels like the world is ending.

And I sing, “We will not fear.”

That’s application point number two.

Run to Him, and...

#2. DO NOT FEAR.

Is your personal world going through upheaval?

It doesn’t have to be COVID-19.

It could be this election-cycle that we’re in. It’s got you afraid that “the other side” whatever that side is for you, is going to win and ruin everything.

Or it could be a diagnosis you recently received.

Or a conflict you’re having with your spouse or your parent or your child or you sibling or your neighbor or your boss.

There are a lot of things out there to make you scared.

I know that I get scared on a regular basis. I’m really good at it! (What a terrible thing to be good at.)

I often feel vulnerable, because I am vulnerable.

But God is not!

God is invulnerable. 

And He is our fortress.

Run to Him, and Do Not Fear.

In verse 4, the song changes from crazy chaos to joyful peace. Verse 4.

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.”

Instead of the crashing sea, here is a picture of a refreshing river which would nourish a city so that it flourishes. And if a city was under siege, it would help it to hold out for a long time.

The psalm seems to be talking about Zion, about the city of Jerusalem which was not just the literal capital of Israel but symbolically stood for the earthly headquarters of heaven.

We saw this a few weeks ago in Psalm 133.

Zion is where the temple was which was, symbolically, the spiritual “location” of the Lord.

“The holy place where the Most High [God] dwells.”

So what river is Psalm 46 singing about it?

Do you know what river runs through Jerusalem?

It’s a trick question. There is no literal river in Jerusalem; so this must be a figure of speech. [Though see Revelation 22:1 for some awesome future fulfillment of this image!]

I think the river stands for God Himself, or for God’s blessing and God’s grace.

Because God lives among His people, they are fed by a river of His grace.

Listen to verse 4 again. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.”

Verse 5. “God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.”

For the Israelites, that was a promise that Jerusalem would not fall as long as God was living among them.

There are lots of stories in the Old Testament that illustrate this. One of the best is in 2 Kings 19. Take some time this afternoon to read 2 Kings 19 and see when this literally happened.

The city was under siege, and there didn’t seem to be any hope, but God was with His people in the city, and everything changed at daybreak!

Now, of course, the Israelites often became presumptuous, and assumed that just because they had the temple, that they were undefeatable. The book of Jeremiah addresses that foolishness.

The point was not the temple of God, but the God of the temple.

The point was not the city of God, but the God of the city.

The point was that (v.5) God was within her.

He is our fortress.

Even when all hell breaks loose. Verse 6

“Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. [Refrain] The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah”

Just stop and think about that!

The psalm talks about tumult and uproar.

War is happening all around, and kingdoms are falling. Same word for “fall” as the mountains in verse 2. But all it takes is for God to raise His voice, and everything changes. The voice that spoke creation into being can stop all of its wars with a word.

“He lifts his voice, the earth melts.”  The trouble is over.

Martin Luther wrote, “One little word will fell [the devil.]”

This is why we do not have to fear.

Yes, we have to take caution and be wary. We have enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

But we don’t just have enemies. We have our fortress. 

V.7 which gets repeated again in verse 11. I think God wants us to get this.

“The LORD Almighty [Yahweh of hosts, the LORD of armies, “LORD Sabaoth His name/ from age to age the same”] is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

The Apostle Paul said, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Do not fear.

In verse 8, the Sons of Korah invite us to look into the future and the see the world as it one day will be. This song becomes eschatological and prophetic. Verse 8.

“Come and see the works of the LORD [Yahweh], the desolations he has brought on the earth. [Remember, when He speaks, the earth melts.] He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.”

Do you see it?

Yes, it’s kind of an apocalyptic vision of the future. Where the tanks are burning and the fighter jets are sticking out of the ground.

But it means that there is no more war. There is nothing but universal peace.

And it’s because of the certain triumph of Yahweh over every one of His enemies.

For Israel, that was the nations around them that wanted them dead and gone.

For us, it’s the world, the flesh, and the devil finally defeated in every way.

This is a picture of total salvation for God’s people.

The total destruction of our enemies so that we have total peace.

This is where the Book of Revelation is going with the victory of the Lamb.

This song reminds us that God will win.

Martin Luther wrote, the Lord “must win the battle,” and “His kingdom is forever!”

The Sons of Korah wrote, “He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth...”

And then God Himself speaks.

God has been silent in this psalm as it sings about Him.

Now God sings in this song, and He has a message for us. V.10

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

This is how it’s going to be!

This is where everything is headed, no matter how hard it is right now.

The LORD will win. He will be vindicated. He will be exalted.

And there is no doubt about it.

You can know that. You can bank on it.

And, therefore...you can be still.

That’s our third and last point of application today.

#3. BE STILL.

Run to Him.
Do Not Fear.
And Be Still.

Now, I always thought that this was a nice sweet thing to be still.

But I think, at least at first, like the Lord is saying, “Cut it out.” “Quiet down.” I’ve heard this translated as, “Cease striving.” It’s more like, “Stop fighting!” “Shhh.” 

Like when Jesus spoke to wind and the waves, “Peace. Be still.”

It’s comforting when you finally get there, but it’s a bit of a rebuke.

“Be still.”

Rest your heart on the fact that the Lord will be exalted.

No. Matter. What.

And what is our response to that word from the Lord? We sing verse 11 back to Him and to ourselves.

“The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah”

Just think about that.