Thursday, September 17, 2020

Small Group Discussion Guide for "Confronting Christianity" by Rebecca McLaughlin

Recently, several of our small groups from church read together Confronting Christianity:12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion by Rebecca McLaughlin to great enjoyment and profit. McLaughlin's refreshing approach to Christian apologetics seems to me to be exactly what is needed in our day. She doesn't shrink from the hard questions but instead shows how each one is also actually an opportunity for Christianity to shine.

I looked around for a discussion guide but couldn't find one, so I created our own. Feel free to use what follows as the basis for your own group's conversation around this incredibly helpful book. 

[A free PDF version is also available for download here.]

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Small Group Discussion Questions 

Confronting Christianity: 
12 Hard Questions for the 
World’s Largest Religion


Discussion Guide Prepared by Matthew C. Mitchell

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 1: Aren’t We Better Off Without Religion?

1. What signs in our culture would indicate that many people are asking the question, “Aren’t We Better Off Without Religion?” What evidence might they cite for the answer, “Yes?”

2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What argument would you make?

3. What is Rebecca McLaughlin’s answer to the title question? How does she arrive at it? What did you find surprising about her approach?

4. Re-read the Scripture passages McLaughlin references in the second half of the chapter (Acts 20:35, 1 Tim 6:10, Colossians 3:22-24, Philippians 4:12-13, 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Hebrews 12:1-2, Luke 11:4). What did each one contribute to her argument?

5. What questions did this chapter raise that you would like to think about more and discuss?


Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 2: Doesn’t Christianity Crush Diversity?

1. Why might detractors of Christianity ask the title question of chapter 2? Why might Christianity be assumed to be a “Western religion?” What sort of bad things have been done in history that would feed the narrative that Christianity crushes diversity?

2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What argument would you make?

3. What is Rebecca McLaughlin’s answer to the title question? How does she arrive at it? What did you find surprising, helpful, and/or difficult about her approach?

4. What does the Bible say about diversity? Review passages that McLaughlin references including Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 2:5-11, Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28, James 2:8-9, Acts 8:26-40, and Revelation 7:9-10. 

5. What are the benefits of diversity? What are the weaknesses or limitations of diversity? How can we be more biblical in our approaches to diversity? How can we show skeptics the beauty of biblical diversity? What questions does the chapter raise for you that you’d like to explore further?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 3: How Can You Say There’s Only One True Faith?

1. Why do people feel the title question of chapter 3?

2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What argument would you make?

3. To answer the big question of chapter 3, McLaughlin retells the old story about the blind men describing the elephant. She says it corrects our arrogance and encourages humility but also creates at least seven problems. What are they and what points did she make about each one? What did you find surprising, helpful, and/or difficult about her approach?

4. Why do you think there isn’t as much Scripture quoted in chapter 3 as the previous two chapters. What did the author draw from Mark 2:1-12, John 11:25-26, and Matthew 28:18-20.

5. Do you feel ready to answer this question next time it comes up? What questions does the chapter raise for you that you’d like to explore further?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 4: Doesn’t Religion Hinder Morality?

1. The title question of chapter 4 seems counterintuitive to many of us who have been shaped by  Christianity. Why are people genuinely asking it today?
2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What argument would you make?

3. What is McLaughlin’s argument to answer the question in the negative? What do you make of her points? What did you find surprising, helpful, and/or difficult about her approach?

4. McLaughlin does not quote Scripture in chapter 4. What Scripture do you think relates to subject at hand?

5. Do you feel ready now to address this question with skeptics? If not, what else do you feel you need to be ready?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 5: Doesn’t Religion Cause Violence?

1. What did Bertrand Russell believe about the “dragon of religion?” What are some of the “famous and forgotten instances of religiously motivated violence” McLaughlin reviews that would give rise to the title question for chapter 5?

2. Before reading chapter 5, how would you answer its daunting question? What argument(s) would you make? In what ways is this chapter similar to the previous one?

3. How does McLaughlin approach the question herself? How does she understand, analyze, and evaluate the Crusades, Buddhism, Communism, and then Hitler, Nazism, and the Holocaust? What does each part of the chapter contribute to the whole? How do thinkers such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King figure into the story? Why does she discuss democracy in this chapter? What did you find surprising, helpful, and/or difficult about her arguments?

4. In chapter 5, McLaughlin references Matthew 5:39, Luke 22:50-51, Matthew 5:44, Luke 23:34, Luke 4:18, Acts 4:32-35, Matthew 25:41-45, and 1 John 1:8. What do these Scriptures say that applies directly to the discussion at hand?

5. McLaughlin ends this chapter by considering the violence of the Cross of Christ. What truth does Jesus’s dreadful crucifixion and victorious resurrection speak to the title question? Are you ready to talk about it with others?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 6: How Can You Take the Bible Literally?

1. Has anyone ever asked you, “How can you take the Bible literally?” Why do you think they wondered? A big part of the question is the definition of “literal.” What do you think it means?
2. Before reading this chapter, how would you (or did you) answer the title question? What arguments would you advance?

3. How does McLaughlin answer the title question? How does figurative language figure in? What do you think about her thoughts on (a) contradictions, (b) non-canonical “gospels,” and (c) the trustworthiness of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? What did you find surprising, helpful, and/or difficult about her approach?

4. Because it’s about how to interpret the Bible, this chapter references many passages of Scripture. Which ones were the most interesting to you? Why? What Scriptures would you direct someone to for understanding how literally (or not literally) to take the Bible?

5. Now if someone asks you, “How can you take the Bible literally?” what are you planning to say?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 7: Hasn’t Science Disproved Christianity?

1. What are some reasons science and Christianity are perceived as enemies?

2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What tack would you take with a questioner?

3. How does McLaughlin go about answering the title question? What did you find surprising, helpful, interesting, and/or difficult about her approach? What is science good for? For what is science inadequate? What is the true history of Christianity and science? What do you think is the future of that relationship? 

4. Aside from Genesis 3:19 (pg. 120), chapter 7 does not have any Scripture quoted in it. What Scripture do you think relates to subject at hand? 

5. Do you feel ready now to address this question with skeptics? If not, what else do you feel you need to be prepared?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 8: Doesn’t Christianity Denigrate Women?
1. Unlike with many of her others, McLaughlin does not start this chapter by directly raising the title question or helping readers to feel the weight of it. Instead, she begins with an illustration from Harry Potter. Why do you think she made that authorial choice? What might her starting point teach us about apologetics?

2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What approach would you take with a skeptical conversation partner?

3. McLaughlin’s approach begins with an overview of gender in the Scriptures, following the overarching storyline of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Israel, Christ, Church, New Creation (pgs. 132-145). At each step she highlights God’s often counter-intuitive messages about women. She then turns to social science data and interacts with our current cultural context (pgs. 146-149). The chapter culminates with some relevant thoughts on abortion (pgs. 149-152). What did you learn from her exploration of these topics?

4. This chapter is replete with Scripture. What did you receive from reading passages such as Isaiah 49:15, Genesis 2:18-24, Genesis 3:16, Isaiah 54:5, Luke 7:36-50, Luke 10:38-42, Ephesians 5:22-31,  Revelation 19:7-9, Revelation 21:1-2? What other Scripture might you include as particularly relevant to the conversation?

5. What is your “readiness quotient” for talking about this with a skeptical friend? How can we bring more light than heat to this important discussion? McLaughlin’s biological and biographical profile makes her a unique conversation partner and gives her certain advantages. What advantages does your unique God-given background provide you for having productive conversations with unbelieving friends?
      
 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 9: Isn’t Christianity Homophobic?
1. McLaughlin says that “this chapter may be the most controversial yet” (pg. 154). Why is that? In what ways have you felt the burden of the title question in your lifetime and in engagement with your particular cultural context? Before reading this chapter, how would you have answered its central question?

2. As with the previous chapter on gender, McLaughlin’s biographical profile makes her a unique conversation partner and gives her certain advantages in talking with hostile skeptics on this issue. How can we leverage people’s testimonies as we engage in these important conversations?

3. McLaughlin takes the discussion in directions that may have been unexpected. What did she argue that was surprising or provocative to you? What was the most helpful?

4. This chapter engaged with the Scriptures you might predict (ex. Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Matthew 19:3-12, 1 Timothy 1:9-16, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Romans 1:26-27) but also many Scriptures that you might not have picked out (ex. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 12:12, 12:26, 1 Thessalonians 2:7, John 15:13, Matthew 22:30). How do both of these sets of Scripture, properly situated in their contexts, contribute to our understanding of the main question? What other Scripture passages might you include in as particularly relevant to the conversation?

5. This is clearly not just a controversial subject but also a complicated one. Are you prepared to talk about this with someone who asks you the title question? Why or why not? What do you still need to think out for yourself? How can we help each other be ready to discuss this with others?
    
 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 10: Doesn’t Christianity Condone Slavery?
1. Why is this chapter in this book? Why does the issue of slavery call for a chapter-length discussion in a book about hard questions facing the Christian faith today? Before reading this chapter, how would you have answered the title question?

2. How did McLaughlin answer the question? What nuances does she bring to the discussion? What part(s) of the question did she treat as simple, and what did she treat as complex? What ironies did she surface? We have often seen her steer a topic in unexpected directions. Did she surprise you? How so?

3. The Bible has a lot to say about slavery in both the Old and New Testaments. How did Scripture inform McLaughlin’s answer to the title question? What was the most helpful and/or challenging thing you learned from surveying the biblical data? Are there additional Scripture passages you think should be included in the discussion?

4. What is the role of history in McLaughlin’s answer? Are there any missing important historical considerations that need added into the conversation?

5. Could you give an “elevator speech” (a concise speech deliverable in a short time on the essence of a matter) answer to this question now that you’ve read the chapter? Why or why not?
    
 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 11: How Could a Loving God Allow So Much Suffering?
1. The need for this chapter is obvious to all but the most blindly optimistic. McLaughlin calls it, “the question that haunts us all at one time or another” and points out that, “For many, this question torpedoes the Christian faith.” What has been your own story of wrestling with the relationship between Christianity and the existence of suffering? Before reading this chapter, how would you have answered the title question?

2. Yet, again, McLaughlin turns the discussion in potentially unexpected directions. Without discounting the awfulness of suffering or offering facile solutions, she agrees with her friend whose son was brain damaged in a sports accident, “People often think that the reality of suffering is an embarrassment to the Christian faith. But I think suffering is the greatest apologetic for Christianity there is.” How does McLaughlin get to this surprising conclusion? Through what stops along the path does she progress to reach that destination? 

3. McLaughlin emphasizes the difference between Christianity’s ideas on this subject and the comparative ideas of other world religions (esp. Buddhism) and other world views (esp. atheism). How do these comparisons help us to evaluate answers to the question at hand?

4. Woven throughout this chapter is the story of the raising of Lazarus in John chapter 11. How does this story contribute to our understanding of the relation between Christianity and suffering (and even death)? What other Scripture might inform our answers to the main question?

5. What might you say now to a skeptical friend when they confront you with this question? Would your approach be different if they were currently going through a painful experience than if they were just asking it in the abstract? Why or why not?  

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 12: How Could a Loving God Send People to Hell?
1. Why is it that “We twenty-first century Westerners hate judgment” (pg. 209)? If we hate the very idea of judgment, we will find the reality of hell, “the most difficult thing Christians are called to believe” (pg. 210). What thoughts and feelings does the title question raise within you? Before reading this chapter, how would you have answered its central question? Why does McLaughlin believe this is the “hardest question in the this book” (pg. 210)?

2. By this point in our reading of Confronting Christianity, we have probably come to expect the unexpected. How does McLaughlin go about answering the key question of this chapter? How does she make her case that judgment could be good and even great? How does she interact with science, reason, philosophy, and current events to reach counterintuitive conclusions? What are the most compelling and thought-provoking  ideas she shares in this chapter? What leaves you still scratching your head?

3. What is the role of Scripture in this chapter? McLaughlin weaves into this chapter the story of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus’ feelings about the “cup” of God’s wrath (Luke 22:42-44, and see footnote 16 on page 216), God’s name as revealed to Hagar (Genesis 16:13), and the paradoxical combination of the Lamb who has wrath (Revelation 6:16-17). What does each Scripture employed contribute to the picture of God that McLaughlin is painting for us? What other Scripture might you want to bring into the discussion?

4. In this final chapter, McLaughlin pulls various threads together from throughout the rest of the book. How does this chapter serve to unify and cap the argument of Confronting Christianity? What questions did this chapter raise that you would like to think about more and discuss?

5. Do you feel more prepared to engage with skeptics on these crucial questions? Why or why not?


Sunday, September 13, 2020

“The LORD On High Is Mighty” [Matt's Messages]

“The LORD On High Is Mighty”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
September 13, 2020 :: Psalm 93

On Tuesday night at our Elders’ meeting, we studied Psalm 93 together as an Elders Team, and I was just so encouraged that I came home saying, “I’ve got to preach on that this Sunday!”

I want to read to you all of Psalm 93 straight through, and as I read it, I want you to really hear and feel the poetry.

The Psalms are songs, poetic worship songs, songs with a message about God.

And this one, Psalm 93, is very short and very beautiful and very powerful.

And it achieves its short, beautiful, powerfulness mainly by concise repetition.

In just a few short verses, Psalm 93 repeats itself again and again.
In just a few short verses, Psalm 93 repeats itself again and again.

And it repeats itself to emphasize.
It repeats itself to emphasize.
It repeats itself to emphasize its glorious message.

[You see what I did there? I thought so.]

The psalmist [we don’t know which one it was, the song writer] wants to emphasize the fortifying truth that the LORD (capital L-O-R-D, Yahweh, the Creator and Covenant God of Israel, the LORD) Who reigns on high is mighty.

He says it verse 4: “The LORD on High Is Mighty”

Psalm 93 is a kingship psalm. 

It’s a song about how the LORD is the king of everything.

There are a number of kingship psalms, and a bunch of them are right here in the fourth book of the psalter, from Psalm 93 through Psalm 100.

The Hebrews loved to sing about the royal magnificence of their God.

We sometimes don’t understand or immediately feel these songs because we don’t have a monarchy here in the U.S. We aren’t used to kings and royalty. So sometimes we have to meditate a little while on the images to really receive them.

And yet we do all understand magnificence and have a instinctive sense of greatness and glory. We all long for (even when we don’t realize it, we all long for) transcendence and majesty.

Psalm 93 is like Psalm 8 and Psalm 90 that we’ve studied the last 2 weeks in that it is full of Big God Theology.  

But there is one noticeable difference. In Psalm 8 and Psalm 90, we got a picture of a Big God and little old us.



But here’s what’s different in Psalm 93:

We aren’t in Psalm 93.

Psalm 93 isn’t about you and me at all. It’s just about God Himself.

The only place we have in it is singing it ourselves.

Psalm 93 is about the LORD Himself, and that’s a great thing.

Because He is the greatest thing, the greatest being.



Did you hear the repetition?

Majesty, majesty.
Established, established.
Lifted up, lifted up, lifted up.
Mightier, Mightier, Mighty.

This is a great worship song with a truly great message!

“The LORD on high is mighty.”

I think the psalm divides nicely into 3 parts. The first part is verses 1 and 2 which we might summarize by saying:

#1. THE LORD’S ROYAL REIGN IS UNSHAKABLE.

The psalmist says it so much better (v.1): “The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength.” 

Yahweh, the Creator and Covenant God, is the king over everything.

He reigns. He is sovereign. He rules.

And as the sovereign ruler, He is utterly majestic. 

The song says that He is robed in majesty. That’s a metaphor to gesture at His glory. He is dressed for the part. He is the King over all, and it shows.

And on his sword belt is His own strength. God doesn’t need another weapon. God’s own strength is all the weapon He needs.

The LORD reigns. The LORD is king, and no one else is. The LORD is king over all, and that is good news.

That means that there is a ruler at the helm of this world.

And this praise song names Him; Psalm 93 says that the King of the World is Yahweh.

Yahweh reigns. 

And so how firm is that reign? How established is Yahweh’s throne?

It is unshakable.

Yahweh made the world, and is not going anywhere. V.1 again.

“The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.”

That’s not talking about geo-centrism, that the Earth does not move on its axis or around the sun. It means that the world God made is stable. It is measured and regulated and reliable. It is firm and secure.

There are stable laws that govern the world because it was made by this Lawgiver.

The only way that this world will go somewhere is if the Lord says that it should go somewhere.

In other words, the world is not out of God’s control.

The world is established because the Lord’s throne is established. V.2

“Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.”

Sounds like Psalm 90, doesn’t it?

God is eternal. And His throne is eternal.

God is the eternal ruler of all.

God has always been the king. Always.

And this means that the Lord’s royal rule is unshakable.

Isn’t that good news?

This throne will not budge.

We have a hard time conceiving of eternity because we live in time. But if you can wrap your mind around a God who is eternal, wrap your mind around a throne that is just as eternal.

A throne that has always been and always will be.

A throne that will not budge.

I think we need to hear this message. This throne will not budge.

Never.

Sometimes it seems like our world is falling apart and flying apart.

9/11
COVID
Forest Fires
Wars
Racism
Rioting

None of those things will budge this throne.
Joel said at our elders’ meeting on Tuesday that the world will end some day but none of these things will end the world. Only God will end the world.

The world is not out of God’s control. Amen?

Now, I’m beginning to pick up from my social media and from some yard-signs that there is apparently an election of some kind coming up? Has anybody else noticed this that we are in an election year? 

(It seems like it’s always an election year these days.)

And it is important to educate yourself about the various candidates and their platforms and if a candidate or a platform earns your vote, to be a good citizen and in our great democratic system cast your vote for the candidates and the platforms you think would be the best for our country.

But, however, the position of King of the Universe is not up for vote this year or any year!

Whoever might end up being the President of the United States, Yahweh is King. 

The LORD reigns.

And nothing will stop Him. This throne will not budge.

That doesn’t mean that evil will not try.

The rule of God is contested.

I know that this talk about God’s sovereignty raises questions about bad things happening.

If God is sovereign over, all why are there bad things?

And that’s a real question that the Bible gives great and nuanced and complex and sometimes surprising answers for. We’ll hit it a number of times in the Psalms this Fall.

Because clearly bad things happen.

They truly exist.

And Psalm 93 doesn’t pretend that they don’t.

It’s no secret. Psalm 93 isn’t hiding anything just like Psalm 90 didn’t hide anything last week.

The bad things are here, unleashed in the world.

But the message of Psalm 93 is that those bad things will never win.

And it’s not even close. 

The LORD’s royal reign is unshakable.

Because (Part #2):

#2. THE LORD’S ROYAL MIGHT IS UNSURPASSABLE.

Listen again to verse 3. Listen to the repetition. 

“The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.”

It sounds like the seashore doesn’t it?

The crashing, crashing relentless fury of the waves pounding the shore.

How did the Hebrews feel about the seas?

Are there any stories in the Bible about happy trips of the ancient Hebrew mariners?

No. They were not a seafaring people.

Think about Jonah. He went to sea, and look what happened to him. He was just about buried at sea.

The seas often (if not always) represented chaos and evil symbolically to Israel.

These seas with their growing growing thundering roar represent turmoil and tumult and trouble.

Anybody having a hard year?

2020! Turns out nobody had 2020 vision.

And it feels like we’re getting pounded by the chaos.

“The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.”

But!

This throne don’t budge. V.4

“Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea–the LORD on high is mighty.”

Bob said on Tuesday night that when he was in the US Navy, he was on a ship in the North Sea that was going up and down and up and down, and water coming over the front of the ship. I can’t imagine how scary that would be!

Have you ever felt like that is happening in your life?

“Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea–the LORD on high is mighty.”

His royal might is unsurpassable.

Do you need to hear that today? I know I do.

Keith pointed out on Tuesday that this God on this throne is our Father.

If you belong to Jesus Christ, if you have put your faith in God the Son and what He did for you on the Cross, then this God on this throne is your Father! So no matter if the seas lift up their voices on you, your God is mightier than the thunders of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea.

The LORD on high is mighty.

So much so that when the LORD on high makes a rule, or sets a standard, or gives a directive, that statute stands firm, as well.

It’s not just the world that stands firm, it’s God’s Word that stands firm, too. V.5

“Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days, O LORD.”

Part #3 of Psalm 93:

#3. THE LORD’S ROYAL HOLINESS IS UNENDING.

“Your statutes stand firm.” Your Law is not wishy-washy.

The Scripture is not broken or even breakable.

Cody pointed out on Tuesday night that if God’s throne is so established, then His word is completely trustworthy.

His word does not budge. And therefore, we should not fudge. (Cody didn’t say that part. I did.)

If the LORD is on high like this, exalted above everything, then what He says should carry the ultimate weight with us.

And we should live a holy life.

Because that’s the only thing that’s appropriate around this God.

“Holiness adorns your house (the temple and heaven) for endless days, O LORD.”

That phrase, “endless days” in Hebrew is the very same words that end Psalm 23 which I’m planning to preach next Sunday, Lord-willing. “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the [holy] house of the LORD ‘for endless days.’”

So if we want to live in that house, we need to be holy, too.

So this psalm gets scary if you are not holy.

That’s why we need to be in Jesus.

That’s why we need what Jesus did for us on the Cross.

Paying for our sins and giving us His righteous holiness.

And why we need to make that holiness ours more and more each day.

Because without holiness noone will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

Because the LORD is holy forever and ever.

He has always been eternal, always been mighty, and always been holy, holy, holy.

So, what is the application of this psalm to our lives today in 2020?

Because, remember, we’re not in this Psalm. This Psalm is not about us. It’s about God.

So what is the application for us?

I have just one word.

If the LORD is king like this (and He is), then we should:

BOW.

We should bow:

We should bow before this King in reverent worship and awe.

We should sing this song with our lives.

“The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength.”

Bow!

And we should bow before this King in faithful obedience and submission.

We should find out what God’s Word says and do it.

Repent wherever needed and be holy. Do not fudge.

Bow!

And we should bow before this King in resting trust and expectant hope.

Because His throne won’t budge. It cannot be moved. 

He has always been king, is king, and always will be king.

And He is our Father.

Mightier than any relentless roaring wave of chaos that might threaten to take us under.

It turns out that the LORD is not just our Father.

The LORD is also Jesus.

This King is Jesus.

And remember what Jesus did to the waves of the sea?

“The LORD on High is Mighty!”


***

Fortifying Truth - Fall 2020

Sunday, September 06, 2020

“All Our Days” [Matt's Messages]

“All Our Days”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
September 6, 2020 :: Psalm 90

The superscription of Psalm 90 tells us that it was written by “Moses, the man of God.” Psalm 90 is the only psalm that we know that Moses wrote, and it’s a richly profound psalm.

In some ways, it’s like last week’s psalm by King David, Psalm 8, because it juxtaposes God’s greatness and our not-so-greatness. 

Psalm 90 gives us more of that much needed (God/Us) perspective. But Moses, the man of God, takes his psalm in some different directions than David did in Psalm 8.

At first, I looked at Psalm 90 for this Sunday because it was Labor Day weekend, and I love to pray the prayer of verse 17 over our church family every Labor Day weekend. The Psalm ends, “Establish the work of our hands for us–yes, establish the work of our hands.”

But how Moses gets to that prayer request might surprise you. I was surprised again as I studied it this week, because it’s almost the last thing you might expect to ask for at the end of this particular psalm. The poetic logic is wild!

I was also surprised at how appropriate Psalm 90 would be for us as we consider the anniversary this week of the deadly terrorist attacks of September 11th.

Moses is reflecting on human frailty and mortality.

I looked back through my notes, and realized that I had preached on Psalm 90 once before. It was actually September 2, 2001. Just over a week before 9/11. I didn’t know what was going to come. Nearly 3,000 Americans died in one day.

And of course, now we are living in the era of COVID-19, a world-wide pandemic that also reminds us of our frailty and mortality.

26.7 million reported cases world-wide and more than 876,000 deaths attributed to this new virus in less than a year. [John Hopkins University, accessed 9/5/20]

And, of course, Psalm 90 is always appropriate, no matter what era you are living in.

Because it’s been true ever since Moses wrote it. The human mortality rate is 100%.

Moses knew about frailty and mortality.

Remember Moses led the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt and through the wilderness of Sinai to the very brink of the Promised Land.

But they did not enter the Promised Land with Moses because of their unbelieving disobedience and hardness of heart. Instead, God disciplined them in His wrath and that entire generation died over a 40 year period. 

Scholars estimate conservatively (using the most conservative numbers) that Moses must have seen at least 41 adult deaths per day among the wandering people of Israel for each of those 40 years.

That’s a lot of funerals.

And some time in the middle of those depressing days, Moses sat down and wrote out this prayer song, Psalm 90.

Psalm 90 gives us the straight stuff. The way things really are. How to think about these days we are living in, and how to pray during these days we are living in.

Do you want some new ways to pray? The second half of this psalm has some wonderfully fresh things to pray to the God it tells us about in the first half of the Psalm.

How do you pray when you realize how brief and hard and painful life truly is? Psalm 90 gives us some great direction.

I’ve taken the sermon title from a little phrase that Moses repeats a couple times in Psalm 90. He talks about “All Our Days” both how hard all our days are and how good God is in them.


Look with me at Psalm 90, verse 1.

“A prayer of Moses the man of God. Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

What glorious words!

Moses opens his song with a big boast about the Lord to the Lord.

He sings it right to God, His majestic heavenly King: 

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” 

That’s a song of faith. That’s a hymnic declaration of the goodness of God all our days.

I want to summarize Psalm 90 in three steps, and here’s number one.

#1. GOD IS ETERNAL AND SAFE.

Safe. I love that word “dwelling place” there in verse 1.

It means what is sounds like. It means a home. A shelter, a refuge, a place of security, a place of protection, a place of sanctuary, a place you can lay down your head and you feel safe.

At least you should be able to.

This is my dwelling place. This is where I come back to and when I’m away, the place I long to be at. We had just cleared the land for it to break ground for this dwelling place when I preached Psalm 90 back in 2001. Now we’ve lived there almost 19 years.

Moses and the Israelites didn’t have permanent homes at point. They were living in tents and wandering around the desert for forty years. But Moses said that they had a home in God. And they always had.

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” 

All our days! We have been safe in You.

Notice, he doesn’t say, “You have dwelt with us throughout all generations.” That would be true, too. But he says that God has actually been their dwelling place.

If they are in Him, they are safe.
If they are in Him, nothing can separate them from the love of God.

If we live in God, there is a refuge, a place of safety, and abode of shelter from the awful ravages of the universe.

Do you see why I picked this one? Do you feel it?

I think right now, most of us feel attacked in some way.

We always have enemies–the world, the flesh, and the devil–but in this particular season right now, we are all feeling it in strong ways.

And Psalms tell us and show us and sing for us what to do and where to go when we’re feeling attacked.

We go home...if our home is God.

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” 

Can you say that for yourself?

Are you home safe in God?
Only those who are trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior and King are truly safe in God because, as we’ll see in just a minute, if you are outside of Him, then God is anything but safe to you.

God is a safe and secure dwelling place for those who belong to Jesus.


Emphasis on “eternal.”

Verse 1 is from our perspective. “All generations,” all our days.
Verse 2 is from God’s perspective. “From everlasting to everlasting.”

God is eternal. He is over time.

“Before the mountains were born [there’s an image!] or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

I’m so thankful that God is not God for just a short amount of time, aren’t you?

How terrible it would be if God were finite and timebound and mortal Himself.

He is unchanging, immortal, eternal, infinite.

What did we say today in our Worship in Unity from the New City Catechism?

“God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth.” 

That’s a God that deserves our worship, all our days!
He is eternal, but we, in this life, certainly are not. Look verse 3.

“You turn men back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust, O sons of men.’ [Or “sons of Adam.” He’s singing about Genesis 3, isn’t he? David sung last week about Genesis 1. Moses is singing about Genesis 3:17, ‘for dust you are and to dust you will return.’ When God says you go back to dust, you go back to dust. Because He’s eternal. V.4] For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.”

Do you feel small again?

It’s not bad to feel small when you’re comparing yourself to God.

God is eternal!

And that means He’s not going anywhere. You can count on Him.

But you and I are going somewhere. We are going to our graves. V.5

“You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning–6 though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered. We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.”

Wow. Do you feel that?

Here’s the second step in our study of Psalm 90.

#1. God is eternal and safe.

But conversely:

#2. OUR LIVES ARE SHORT AND BRUTAL.

“All our days.” Did you hear that in verse 9?

“All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.” It was true of Israel as the bodies fell in the wilderness, and it is true for all of us living in this day, as well.

The world is cursed by God.

Death is here, and it is coming for every one of us.

(Except for the generation alive when Jesus returns! And that might be us, but we don’t know. What we do know is that our lives are short and brutal.)

By "brutal," I don’t mean that they are all as bad as they could be.

But they all have plenty of bad in them. Look at verse 10.

“The length of our days is seventy years–or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”

Seventy or eighty feels like a lot until you’re getting up there [CALL OUT]. But they sure feel short compared to “everlasting to everlasting.” “They quickly pass.”

And what are they like?

“Trouble and sorrow”

Moses sounds like Ecclesiastes, doesn’t he? Or maybe like Job.

This is really honest. Moses is really honest here. Really raw and honest.

Life is hard.

There is no getting around that.

We don’t like it, but it’s the way it is.

Life is really hard.

And then you die.

And it’s like this, because of our sin. The world is broken because we broke it.

And the world is not the way it’s supposed to be because we are not the way we are supposed to be. Look at verse 8 again.

“You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.”

I love the “light of [his] presence,” but it doesn’t love my sin. And none of it is hidden from him. Look at verse 11.

“Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.”

God is mad at sin, and that is why there is death in the world.

Sin was why the Israelites were dropping like flies.

And sin is why anybody dies in the first place.

And why life is so brutally hard.

A lot of people in our church family are hurting right now. You know who you are, and you know what you’re going through. And this Psalm says that your suffering is real. This is not the way things ought to be, but it is the way things are. Life is hard and then you die.

It’s okay to hate it. It’s okay to be honest and raw about how brutal it is. There are lots of Psalms that teach us how to lament and grieve the way the world is. All our days. Trouble and sorrow. Because of sin in the world.

Which makes the last move that Moses takes in Psalm 90 such a surprise!

Because Moses puts the frailty and brutality and mortality of all our days TOGETHER with the eternality and safety and goodness of God, and spins out these beautiful prayer requests!

I would have never come up with this.

1. God is eternal and safe.
2. Our lives are short and brutal.

Therefore:

#3. WE ASK FOR WISDOM AND GRACE.

All our days.

Moses looks at the eternality of God and the mortality of man, and says (v.12):

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

What a great prayer request!

Help us to count our days, Lord, so that all of our days really count for You.

If you have a smartphone in your pocket, I invite you to pull it out and do a Google search right now.

Put this into your phone, “How many days since _______?” And then say your birthday. Mine is May 4, 1973.


I don’t know what yours says. But I do know that if you ask Google how many days you have left, it won’t be able to tell you. But Psalm 90 says that it will pass quickly.

And so you better make it count.

That’s what a “heart of wisdom” means. It means a heart that knows the right way to live. The right way to make the most of the days you have left, however many they are.

We pray for wisdom. And we pray for grace.

Because it’s totally amazing where Moses goes next. Verse 13.

“Relent, O LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants.”

Moses asks for grace. For mercy. For compassion when they don’t deserve it.

Moses asks God to undo what He has been doing, to relent and give them a reprieve and relief.

How can he ask that of God?

Well, Moses knows what God is like. He knows that God is gracious. He knows that God is his dwelling place, his safety, his refuge, his home.

I think Moses actually expects God to answer many of these prayers with a “Yes!”

Look at what he asks in verse 14!

“Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”

There it is! “All our days!”

My wife, Heather, prays verse 14 over me just about every night.

We pray together last thing before sleep every night, and this is her go-to-verse when she prays for me.

“Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”

Do we deserve that? No, we do not!

But we know Who God is! And we know what He has done in Jesus at the Cross and the Empty Tomb!

We know about His unfailing love. In Hebrew that’s “hesed.” Steadfast love. Loyal love. Unfailing love.

Which is so satisfying that we can sing about it and rejoice all our days.

All of our brutal, painful, death-filled days!

And Moses doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t just ask for joy and gladness, he asks for double joy and gladness. V.15

“Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.”

We deserve all of the affliction and the trouble, but God you don’t have to just give us that. You can grace us with double joy and double gladness!

He knows what God’s like!

He knows that what God is up to.

And we know it even more. We know that “our light and momentary troubles [as heavy and long as they may seem!] are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor 4:17).

Jesus’ resurrection takes the sting out of the curse and even out of death.

So that our short and brutal lives–for those who are in Christ–issue into everlasting and blessed life with God in eternity. So Moses prays that we would see God do it. Verse 16.

“May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children.”

Show up, Lord! Do it! Do it! We don't deserve it, but do it anyway for your glory! And can you see how crazy it is that he prays verse 17?

“May the favor [the beautiful grace] of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us–yes, establish the work of our hands.”

Use us in all of our days, all of our short and brutal days, to do something eternal and blessed!

Make our days count, Lord. Make our days count for the kingdom, for eternity.

Yes, Eternal God, help us to count all our days, and by your grace, to make all our days count for eternity.

“...yes, establish the work of our hands.”

Amen.