Psalm 10: Break the Arm of the Evildoer

The Psalmist begins with an accusation:

Why, O LORD, do you stand afar off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Psalm 10:1

These are strong words, but I’ve been there. Have you ever felt as if God has hidden Himself in the moment of your trouble? Have you ever felt as if God was absent from your life right when you needed Him the most?

I have. And it’s surprising to me how little you hear this kind of thing in our churches, yet such expressions are found at every turn in the Scriptures. This is one of the reasons I continue to believe — the honest and raw testimony of the holy Scriptures.

It should also be noted that this in no way makes the accusation true. I take in these words in much the same way I read the wisdom of Job’s friends: expressing a degree of truth, but also colored by erroneous understandings. It’s not that God was actually hiding Himself in times of trouble; it’s just that the Psalmist feels this in the present moment of his writing.

The Psalmist then turns his attention to the wicked. For this reason, some have suggested that Psalm 9 and 10 should be read as a single unit. According to Psalm 10, the wicked believes there is no God; or if there is a God, it is possible to hide certain behaviors from His sight. The wicked curses and deceives. He exploits the poor and preys upon the helpless. And the Psalmist has had it up to HERE.

After considering all of this, the Psalmist returns to the Lord.

Arise, O LORD, O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted.

Psalm 10:12

He implores God to act on behalf of the afflicted and the oppressed. If there is a connection back to Psalm 9, it seems fair to summarize this statement thusly: “We know that you sit enthroned forever (Psalm 9:7) but when will you get up? Will the cause of the afflicted cause you to rise?”

Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer, call his wickedness to account till you find none.

Psalm 10:15

After turning to the LORD once again, the Psalmist has a unique request: break the arm of the evildoer. This may sound like vengeance, but in the context of the Psalm, it is a plea for justice. “For the needy shall not always be forgotten,” (Psalm 9:18).

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Psalm 9: A Stronghold for the Oppressed

But the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice, and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness.

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Psalm 9:7-10

These days are marked by a renewed interest in issues of social justice. Of course, “social justice” means different things to different people. In our day, the phrase has been increasingly identified with what most would call “progressive” political ideology. As with most things political, this shift is lauded by some and loathed by others. More than any other time I can remember, the issues of race, gender, class and identity are at the forefront of our consciousness and our conversations. Personally, I am deeply sympathetic toward issues of social justice, at least as they align with the biblical vision of justice and righteousness. At the same time, I am more aware than ever that forces in our culture have co-opted the language of “justice” and exploited its meaning for political purposes.

Generally speaking, it seems to me that all of this prompts us toward one of two responses. On the one hand, some will feel greatly compelled to be swept up in the tide of “wokeness” and become simply a more modern (progressive) culture warrior. This is the view of celebrity Twitter and, consequently, our youngest generations who feel extreme pressure to conform to the left-leaning consensus view. This, in turn, prompts the second response, an alternative to the masses that objects to the very phrase “social justice” because of its progressive connotation today.

The Scriptures extol God as a righteous judge — an idea that has direct bearing on the biblical understanding of justice. Biblical justice is rooted in God’s good and holy character. These are the grounds for His just rule. This essential piece is often lacking in modern social justice movements. Moral knowledge cannot be claimed outside of the revelation of the Righteous Judge.

It should be a comfort to modern readers to hear the Psalmist declare that the Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed. Rather than seeking comfort in political expressions of justice or rejecting justice as altogether insignificant, we should rightly understand justice as intrinsic to God’s righteous character. The Psalmist points to the establishment of God’s throne as being “for justice, and he judges the world with righteousness.” True justice can never be achieved apart from the righteousness of God.

We would do well to heed these words.

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Jason Isbell @ Oak Mountain Amphitheater

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A Theological Interpretation of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”

In 1987, U2 released their critically-acclaimed album, The Joshua Tree. The second single from the record, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” went on to become one of the band’s biggest hits, ranking on numerous “best rock songs of all time” lists in the decades since it’s release.

What follows is a theological assessment of the song’s lyrics:

I have climbed the highest mountains

I have run through the fields

Only to be with you

Only to be with you

I have run, I have crawled

I have scaled these city walls

These city walls

Only to be with you

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

Bono’s world-weariness bleeds through from the song’s opening lines. The song adopts the perspective of one who has seen much, from great heights (climbing highest mountains) to regrettable lows (crawling). And yet, there remains a certain dissatisfaction, a deep desire to pursue meaning. This is assumed in the title — that there IS, in fact, something to be looked for, some great purpose for us to discover. Perhaps this helps explain the song’s enduring popularity: it is an ode to universal human restlessness and the quest for meaning, albeit backed by gospel choir and shimmering guitar.

I have kissed honey lips

Felt the healing in her fingertips

It burned like fire

This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels

I have held the hand of a devil

It was warm in the night

I was cold as a stone

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

These verses imply the pursuit of varied things — human love, physical healing, religious experience, even giving in to temptation — with the same end result. These have left the narrator feeling cold, empty, devoid of true life. In this regard, Bono channels the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, the famous Jewish text that comes as close as anything to biblical existentialism. The Preacher who declares the message of Ecclesiastes systematically lists his many attempts to find “the good life” — through power, through sex, through wealth, through wisdom. In the end, his assessment is similar to Bono’s: these all leave us wanting a bit more.

I believe in the Kingdom Come

When all the colors will bleed into one

Bleed into one

But yes, I’m still running

You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains

Carried the cross of my shame

Of my shame

You know I believe it

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

Bono confesses the great Christian hope: a Kingdom yet to come when all is blended together in perfect union. To leave no doubt as to the distinctly Christian nature of this hope, he adds the line about carrying the cross of shame. And yet, he continues, there is still a sense of incompletion in the present, a yawning awareness that even though history ends in glory for those who believe, our present days are often marked by numbing ordinariness. But the song ends on a buoyant note, for even though Bono remains actively searching, he does so as one fully convicted with hope.

C.S. Lewis once said that if we find within ourselves a desire for which no earthly satisfaction can be found, perhaps this is evidence that we were made for another place altogether. This seems to be the running reflection of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Or, to put it differently, in the famous words of Augustine centuries ago: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

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Voyager

Jackson’s music featured as part of the pre-worship loop at our church’s Wednesday PM gathering!

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First Day of School 2021-22

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Reactionary

One of the words which best describes our current culture is “reactionary.”

A car comes up quickly beside you in the adjacent lane. Do you find yourself speeding up to keep him / her from passing you? (Be honest.) Why do we do this? We were perfectly content maintaining our speed before we noticed this hothead; why does his / her behavior prompt us to react like this?

Following federal and local recommendations, school systems reluctantly announce the decision to require students to wear masks this school year. You know what comes next. Irate parents react by taking to social media to vent their anger. Perhaps you’ve seen video or heard of the “mob” mentality breaking out in town hall and school meetings across the country over all of this.

In the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death, a movement breaks out to defund the Minneapolis police department (and others across the country). This seems like yet another example of short-sighted reactionary behavior.

I’m afraid we’re often discipled into a reflexive, reactionary behavior by our reflexive, reactionary culture. But discipleship in the way of Jesus exposes us to a God who resists reactionary behavior. The Scriptures testify to the character of the one true God:

“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…”

Exodus 34:6

The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion.

Numbers 14:18

But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.

Nehemiah 9:17

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

Psalm 86:15

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.

Psalm 103:8

Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Joel 2:13

“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

Jonah 4:2

It seems fair to say that longsuffering is a key element of God’s character, given the number of references to Him as One who is “slow to anger.” It is no surprise, then, that God would desire that His people follow His example:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…

James 1:19

May these words temper our more reactionary impulses. May we be discipled in the way of Jesus as we receive a new nature — to the point that our reactions would only and always be tempered by love.

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Psalm 8: What is Man?

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.

Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8:1-4

David insists on this unassailable truth: YHWH’s name is majestic, esteemed throughout the earth. His royal status is conferred by the glory with which he has crowned creation. This heavenly host boasts of the royal name: YHWH, the LORD!

This prompts praise from David, but also humility. “When I behold your glory in creation,” David essentially says, “I wonder why you would so greatly honor humanity.” This is the moment of looking up to a star-filled sky only to feel simultaneously overwhelmed at the enormity of the cosmos while also feeling incredibly small within it. What is man that you are mindful of him? Indeed.

One of the elders at our church is Dr. Nobie Stone. Nobie earned a doctorate in astrophysics and he worked at NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratory at Marshall Space Flight Center, serving as mission scientist for two Space Shuttle missions. More importantly, Nobie loves the Lord and His church. I’ve had the opportunity to hear Nobie pray many times over the years. Many times, he has lifted me up in prayer and I count him as an important influence in my life. Nobie has a particular phrase that he works in to almost every prayer and although I’ve never asked him about it, I have a feeling that his language has been influenced by both his NASA training but also texts like Psalm 8. In his prayers, Nobie always says something like:

We thank you, Lord, that you would even look down on this infinitesimal speck we call Earth. We thank you that even though we are so small and insignificant, you still love us anyway.

This is David’s confession as well. We are not lost amid the immensity of creation, forgotten by our Creator who has moved on to “bigger and better” projects. No, in spite of our frailties and our weaknesses, the Lord continues to look down upon us with benevolence. He has made us to bear His image, to exercise dominion (v6) because all things have been put under our feet.

Here we find the gospel truth: yes, on the cosmic scale, we are incredibly small; yet we are also treasured greatly. The Creator of the universe is mindful of YOU.

His name is majestic in all the earth.

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With Sprocket

Last week at the Trash Pandas game

July 21, 2021
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Psalm 7: Refuge

One of the great comforts in the Scriptures is the way the term “refuge” is applied to God. David cries out to God in seek of a place of safety and salvation.

O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and deliver me…

Psalm 7:1

David compares his foes to lions seeking to tear him apart. But he turns to God, seeing YHWH as a shield to save the upright in heart (v10). David is supremely confident not only in God’s ability to save, but moreover, in His willingness to deliver His people. Thus, in a moment of adversity, David pleas to God for refuge.

In The Bible for Everyone, Goldingay translates the word as “shelter.” To use another metaphor, David finds himself in a raging tempest, battered by the wind and the rain. But the Lord is safe harbor, shelter from the storm. David’s confidence in God is grounded in his awareness of God’s righteousness (a word that occurs throughout the Psalm). With the righteous God on his side, David can close with this word of praise:

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.

Psalm 7:17

The Promised Land was to be divided into territories for each of the twelve tribes — with the exception of the Levites. The Levites were given a special task as priests: to tend to the things of God. Since they had no territory of their own, 48 cities were designated throughout the land of Israel for the Levites to inhabit. Of these 48 cities, six were designated as “cities of refuge” (Numbers 35). The cities of refuge were a provision for those in Israel to seek asylum. Per the law of Moses, murder was punishable by death; however, in the case of unintentional death, one could retreat to a city of refuge to find safety.

What a picture! A city of priests; a city of refugees. A city where those who tend to the things of God are neighbors with those in need of grace. The cities of refuge were for the accused and the homeless alike. Can you imagine the conversations that must have taken place in this city — how the people would speak of the grace of God in these cities of refuge? Can you imagine the hospitality of these residents — knowing as they did that this very city was an expression of the mercy of God? And can you imagine their degree of joy in knowing that everything they experienced was pure grace?

Such is the case for those who find refuge in the Lord.

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