Psalm 130 – You Take My Depth Away

How long can you hold your breath underwater?

Most people in good health can hold their breath for approximately two minutes. That’s why every time a character in a movie or television show goes underwater, I start a stopwatch.

Often they are submerged for a ridiculously long time, performing their oxygen-depleting heroic acts.

Some celebrities are the real deal underwater:

Extraction Director Sam Hargrave claims Chris Hemsworth held his breath underwater for nearly 3 minutes.

In filming the extended underwater sequence of Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, Tom Cruise consistently held his breath for between 5 & 6 minutes.

Both of them are going to be put to shame by a girl.

When we return to Pandora in the sequel to Avatar, a large portion of the story will be told underwater. Rather than rely solely on CGI and special effects to simulate the underwater realm, director James Cameron filmed scenes underwater with the actors. Kate Winslet eventually got to the point where she was holding her breath for a full seven minutes.

Now that I’ve got you Googling for the world’s records:

Set in 2012, the men’s record is 22 minutes and 22 seconds.

The women’s record is a little over 18½ minutes.

If I’ve inspired you to go for your personal best, wait until your swimming pool water is at its coldest. Breath-holding records are attempted in cold water because you can hold your breath up to twice as long underwater as you can on land. If the water is cold, your body slows its heart rate and metabolism in order to conserve oxygen and energy.

Something else that I cannot recommend since it sounds fairly dangerous. The Guinness Book of World Records allows contestants to hyperventilate for up to 30 minutes with pure oxygen before they submerge for their record attempt. It helps the body expel carbon dioxide. Technically, it’s called “oxygen-assisted static apnea.”

In Psalm 130, the psalmist said, “Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD.” “The depths” are an illustration. In this psalm the “depths” illustrates the spiritual state that the psalmist was in.

He reveals his spiritual state in verses three and eight. He mentions both his and the nations “iniquities.” He, and Israel, were drowning in their iniquities. He, and Israel, were backslidden.

Being backslidden is like drowning in the depths. You keep sinking further and further, holding your breath, but with no hope of air.

No hope, that is, until you cry out to the LORD. Immediately you find you can again breathe.

How is it possible? That cry-out apprehends a glorious truth: God has forgiven your sin.

Maybe no one here is a nonbeliever, although I doubt it.
Maybe no believer here is backslidden, although I doubt it.

No matter: All of us can marvel at, be grateful for, and be humbled by, God’s forgiveness of our past, present, and future sins.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Dwell Upon God’s Forgiveness Of Your Sins, and #2 Revel In God’s Forgiveness Of Your Sins.

#1 – Dwell Upon God’s Forgiveness Of Your Sins (v1-6)

I start with a disclaimer: “Breathing” is being used as an illustration that we can all relate to. This has nothing to do with physical breathing techniques. I’m not going to have us all, with our eyes closed, breathe out our sin, then breathe in God’s forgiveness.

The Jewish pilgrims sang psalms 120 through 134 on their journey to annual feasts in Jerusalem.

This one would remind them of God’s immediate, full forgiveness whenever they turned to Him. They had backslidden many times in their storied history, but always God would hear their cry from the depths and they’d be restored.

William MacDonald, author of the very good Believer’s Bible Commentary, gives this quick lesson on God’s forgiveness:

There is forgiveness for the guilty sinner and there is forgiveness for the sinning saint:

The first is judicial forgiveness, that is, forgiveness from God, the Judge. It is obtained by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It covers the penalty of all sins – past, present and future. It is possible because of the finished work of Jesus Christ at Calvary; in His death He paid the penalty for all our sins and God can freely forgive us because all His righteous claims have been met by our Substitute.
The second is parental forgiveness – the forgiveness of God, our Father. It is obtained by confessing our sins to Him. It results in a restoration of fellowship with God and with His family. It, too, is purchased for us by the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross.

Maybe you are not in Christ. You are here today to confront the fact that your sins need forgiveness through Jesus.

If you are a believer, “If [you] walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (First John 1:7-9).

God’s forgiveness is always just a cry away.

Psa 130:1  A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD;

I can think of one prominent Bible character who cried out to God in the ocean, from the “depths.” Yep, it’s Jonah.

Jonah always reminds me of a story. When Geno was in kindergarten, his teacher was telling her students about different kinds of animals.

“Whales are the largest” she said, “but they can’t swallow people, because their throats are too small.”

Geno objected, saying, “But in the Bible, it says that Jonah was swallowed by a whale.”

“That’s not a true story,” his teacher replied.

“Well, when I go to Heaven”, he said, “I’ll ask Jonah.”

“And what if Jonah didn’t go to Heaven?”

“Then you can ask him.”

God gave him his assignment and Jonah promptly did a 180. Eventually swallowed by the great fish, he said,

Jon 2:2  … “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice.
Jon 2:3  For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.
Jon 2:4  Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
Jon 2:5  The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head.
Jon 2:6  I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God.
Jon 2:7 When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple.

From the very real “depths,” as well as the depths of sin, Jonah cried out expecting parental forgiveness. So did the psalmist:

Psa 130:2  Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive To the voice of my supplications.

If he prayed while backslidden, his prayers were off-topic. There was a saving relationship with the LORD, but there was no fellowship.

Not until his prayers were “the voice of [his] supplications,” and God would be especially “attentive,” as any father would be with a prodigal son or daughter who returned.

King David described this in Psalm 32, saying, “When I kept silent, my bones grew old Through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer….I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” And You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (v3-5).

Psa 130:3  If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?

You probably make lists. To do lists… Grocery lists… Check lists… Who doesn’t like a good top-ten list?

For some time now, bucket lists have been a common pop-culture reference.

The psalmist supposed that the LORD lists our “iniquities.” I’m not sure how the records in Heaven are kept, but the truth is we are all born dead in trespasses and sin. We are already ‘marked,’ as it were, from the womb.

There doesn’t need to be a long list of the sins we’ve committed. All have sinned and fall short; there is no one who can stand before God.

Sin is the universal problem of the human race. So, whatever happened to sin? People call good evil, and evil good.

I came across this quote. The author is talking about the United States.

For nearly two centuries the mainstream Protestant Churches and the Roman Catholic Church taught that man was guilty of sin and needed to repent. In the second quarter of the 20th century, liberal Protestantism began putting less emphasis on sin and the negatives of the Christian Faith and concentrating on the positives. In the 1950s, Norman Vincent Peale, famed minister of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, concentrated on the power of positive thinking, which became the title of his bestselling blockbuster.

Peale asserted that by concentrating on the positive things of life one could overcome the many fears of failure and develop the self-confidence needed to capitalize on his/her true God given talents and achieve success. He was criticized by many theologians and medical doctors of preaching false hope, but he was enormously popular. He was followed by Robert Schuller, founder of the Chrystal Cathedral in Orange County, California.

Gradually, mainline Protestantism has concentrated on the positive aspects of the Christian Faith. It has been the evangelical churches that have continued to stress the sinfulness of the human race and the need for repentance.

One theologian commented, “Beware preachers and teachers who swap out terms like “sin” and “wickedness” and “depravity,” for “brokenness” and “pain” and “trauma.”

The psalmist asked, “Who can stand?” Only a perfect man, without sin. That “man” was and is Jesus Christ. He alone was God come in human flesh. Since sin’s punishment is death, He could die in our place, as our Substitute. When a person believes on Jesus, that person is in Christ.

Basically, God sees you the way He sees His Son. He sees you finished, perfected, by Jesus, Who promised that the work He begins in you at the moment of your being saved will be completed.

You cannot “stand” before God in your iniquities. But Jesus can, and if you are in Him – so do you.

Psa 130:4  But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared.

Unless there is another God-man Who led a perfect life and fulfilled more than 350 Old Testament prophecies to the letter, there is “forgiveness” only in Jesus.

“That You may be feared” is the renewed joy of parental forgiveness. We are forgiven and can therefore walk with God, enjoying fellowship with Him, receiving grace and mercy from our Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, by means of God the Holy Spirit indwelling us.

Do you feel like you are in the depths? Not from a trial, but from backsliding à la Jonah or David? Are you at that point where you need a breath but there is no air? Cry out.

I’m suggesting you “dwell” upon God’s forgiveness:

First of all – Have you appropriated His forgiveness by receiving Jesus as your Savior?
Second of all – If you have appropriated His forgiveness, do you apprehend it? Meaning, do you grasp the wonder of it so that you fear God in a daily walk with Him that involves your whole mind, will, and strength, holding no sin in reserve?

#2 – Revel In God’s Forgiveness Of Your Sins (v5-8)

Waiting. It’s mostly unpleasant. We hate to wait. I grew impatient waiting for the web page about waiting to load that I’m going to quote from.

You will spend around two years of your life waiting in line. That figure probably needs to be adjusted to accommodate COVID19. You can spend two years waiting at Smart&Final.

Americans hate waiting at the DMV most of all.

Think LA traffic is bad? In 2010, in Beijing, there was a 12-day traffic jam over a 62-mile stretch.

It took people on average three days to make the journey.

Not all waiting is unpleasant. We will wait in line, even camp out, for an event or product that we desire. The psalmist wrote about waiting on the LORD:

Psa 130:5  I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, And in His word I do hope.

He wasn’t waiting to be forgiven. He wasn’t waiting to feel forgiven. Nor was he waiting to be worthy of it. Forgiveness has always been instantaneous for a believer.

I would cite The Parable of the Prodigal Son. Immediately upon return to Father, you are forgiven.

The psalmist was waiting to see how God was going to work in his life in the aftermath of his sinning. He spent his waiting getting into the Word of God.
There he would have renewed “hope,” which to a believer means certainty. God would not – He could not – refuse forgiveness to a repentant believer.

Psa 130:6  My soul waits for the Lord More than those who watch for the morning – Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.

Don’t read this as if the watchman couldn’t wait for his shift to end. Think of it in a Cat Stevens way: Morning has broken like the first morning.

Delivered out of the depths, it was a new day, and the possibilities were many.

King David had been in the depths, but cried out to the LORD.

After his sin with Bathsheba, God told David the child they conceived would die. The king nevertheless fasted and prayed, waiting on the LORD to see the outcome.

100% confident in God’s parental forgiveness, David actively waited on the LORD to heal his child. When the child died, David went about his life joyfully.

The context of this psalm is forgiveness from your iniquities. We’re not talking about a trial you might find yourself in; or an injury or an illness that afflicts you. If that’s your situation, we’re not suggesting you are in the depths of sin, needing to repent. Don’t burden yourself unnecessarily.

Psa 130:7  O Israel, hope in the LORD; For with the LORD there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption.
Psa 130:8  And He shall redeem Israel From all his iniquities.

Living in a fallen world, we are used to natural resources becoming depleted. Regardless your environmental politics, as an example I cite the fact that in 100 years, the world’s rain forests will be gone. I guess that generation will learn if we need them or not.

The LORD’s resources can never be depleted. He has just as much “mercy” for you as always. It is full, and free.

In the ‘80s, Mama Celeste advertised her pizza-for-one, saying, “Abbondanza!” The LORD’s provision for you is “Abbondanza!”

“Redemption,” and “redeem” dominate the closing words. Our minds immediately go to the transaction by which a person is purchased out of slavery. We think in terms of initial salvation.

Israel – here portrayed as a single person – had long been redeemed out of slavery in Egypt. The psalmist was using “redeem” in a different sense.

Redeem is also used in non-theological language in the phrase “to redeem a situation.” In our psalm, the idea is that the LORD will redeem the wreckage and the ruin that an Israelite, or Israel, might make in his backsliding.

Sin has consequences. David’s son died. How did the LORD redeem it?

For one thing, in the aftermath, a forgiven David would write Psalms 32 & 51. These have been a comfort to who knows how many prodigal sons and daughters.
For another thing, in the aftermath, a forgiven David would say to his servants, “But now he is dead… Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (Second Samuel 12:23). Those words have been a comfort to who knows how many grieving parents.

Are you going to write the next best-selling Christian book, or establish a world-wide ministry?
Probably not. It doesn’t make the LORD’s redemption less important. You rise from the wreckage to serve Him.

It almost sounds as if we are soft on sin. No; we’re generous in grace. We’re ecstatic that God does not mark our iniquities.

Some take it too far. There is a teaching that since your present and future sins are already forgiven, it insults the Cross to confess sin and ask forgiveness.

Let me ask you this: Would that fly in your earthly family? Can your kids disobey and disrespect you without repentance simply because you love them?

We should never think teaching on grace leads to a license to sin. But when we do sin, one thing is true:

Where sin abounds, God’s grace is Abbondanza!

Call Of The Child (Psalm 141)

The National Emergency Number Association estimates that 240 million calls are made to 911 each year. They suggest a few ‘best practices’ whenever calling 911:

Make the call in “any serious situation where a law enforcement officer, fire fighter or emergency medical help is needed right away. If you are unsure of whether your situation is an emergency, go ahead and call 911.”
If you call 911 by mistake, do not hang up the phone. Stay on the line until you can tell a dispatcher there’s no emergency.
Do your best to stay calm and answer all questions.
Know the location of your emergency
Teach your kids how to call 911.

These ‘best practices’ are common sense, but that doesn’t stop some folks from making some spectacularly ridiculous calls.

Dispatchers have reported the following real calls they’ve received:

That the neighbor’s sprinkler was on and it was getting their lawn wet.

Wanting to know why traffic is so bad.

To report a laundromat washing machine that didn’t have enough water.

That a hotel parking space was too small.

And, finally, to report a huge fire that had just broken out on top of a hill and was spreading rapidly…it was the sun rising.

In Psalm 141 David makes an emergency call to his Savior. We’re not sure what was going on but we can see that he feared for his very life. In fact, looking at the situation it seems he felt like he was as good as dead. But, before the final blow fell, he cried out to God and with what breath he had left he said, “Lord, save me…from becoming unspiritual.” Surrounded by enemies who had laid traps for him, David’s first concern was his own heart and relationship with God. He wanted to be rescued but he wanted first to be sure his life was in harmony with the Lord. A life that pleased Him and honored Him. Even in this grave danger, David knew that, in the end, all would be right thanks to God’s holy power and that changed the way he thought about and reacted to suffering, difficulty, crisis. It made for an unusual 911 call, but far from being ridiculous, we can see it as wonderful and instructive.

We are living in a time of local, national and global crisis. There are serious troubles of all sorts that are pressing in on many sides. We see multitudes of people gathering for prayer at our capitols and city centers. Many of us feel anxious and distressed. In a time like that, how might we pray? How should we think as Christians who are lovingly held in the hands of the Savior?

Psalm 141 shows a way. One not very intuitive to the human mind and not always easy to apply, but profitable to us for life and Godliness. A way that draws us nearer to God in love and trust.

It begins above verse 1:

Psalm 141:1 – A psalm of David. 1 Lord, I call on you; hurry to help me. Listen to my voice when I call on you.

David just told the Maker of heaven and earth to “hurry up.” In polite society there aren’t many situations where you can say that to someone. If you say that to your waiter, you might get an unwanted addition to your meal. Do it in your car and you might find yourself in a road rage incident. In fact, Russell Crowe’s latest movie is about how he’s at a stop light, someone honks at him when the light turns green and he spends the rest of the movie terrorizing them.

There are times, of course, when “hurry up” is not only acceptable, but necessary. We’ve already talked about calling 911. But think of a small child trying to cross the monkey bars, getting a few rungs in and they realize they’re not going to make it. They don’t have the strength in themselves to hang on or go forward, what do they do? They call out for dad to hurry and save them.

If you’re a Christian, remember that God is your Father. Full of love and compassion for you. He is mindful of the struggles you’re facing. His eyes are on you. And He’s ready to hear your calls for help. Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you and will sustain you. He is a God who hears.

David’s words raise an important question: Does God listen to the prayers of unbelievers? The answer isn’t quite as simple as “yes” or “no.” Obviously, God is omnipotent and omnipresent. Nothing is hidden from him. Our thoughts are known from afar, the Psalmist says. Everything is laid bare before His eyes. And it’s clear He will hear anyone who calls out to Him for salvation. We also see examples like Cornelius in the Bible. His prayers were heard before he was born again.

However, there are also some significant warnings to those who are not His children. In Psalm 34 we’re told God turns His face against those who do evil. Proverbs 21 says those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need.

In Isaiah we read:

Isaiah 59:2 – It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.

If you’re an unbeliever, you are in a much more dangerous and precarious situation than David, who was close to assassination! You need to call out to God for mercy and forgiveness, turning from your sin so that you can be saved and brought into God’s family.

Psalm 141:2 – 2 May my prayer be set before you as incense, the raising of my hands as the evening offering.

So here we have David, in desperate need, we’ll learn in verse 8 he’s afraid for his life. He takes a moment to call out to God and here’s his request: God help me…to worship and pray. David was tremendously busy in life. He was king, he was a poet. He was an instrument builder. He was a warrior. He did administration, he planned worship services. But here we catch a glimpse into why he was a man “after God’s own heart.” He kept his spiritual life at the forefront of his mind. It was at the top of his concerns list. Now, he had quite a list. Aside from regular family concerns and interpersonal things going on like all of us, he’s got to keep the Philistines in mind. And the Ammonites. He’s trying to figure out how he can build the world’s greatest Temple in Jerusalem. He’s putting together a catalog of worship songs for an entire nation to sing. But, in this emergency call, he doesn’t simply want things from God, his desire is to have a heart and life a life that pleases God.

To David, worship mattered. Prayer mattered. They were dominant elements of his life. The prayers he offered were as meaningful as the prescribed incense that was burned in the Tabernacle. And the raising of his hands in surrender and worship as significant as the sacrifice of a lamb on the altar. That’s not just David’s way of thinking about things, but God’s as well. In Revelation 5:8 we read that, in heaven there are “gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.” Jesus said in John 4 that God is looking for people who will worship Him in spirit and in truth.

We also note here that David felt that he had a personal responsibility to God no matter what the circumstances of his life were. Whether in smooth sailing or shipwrecked, you and I are called to live in the presence of God, worshiping Him, not just in some theoretical, abstract way, but actually worshiping, actually praying. Actually pouring out our hearts and lives in praise to Him.

Psalm 141:3 – 3 Lord, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips.

David’s first request is: God help me worship. His second is: God, help me control my tongue. He felt the tongue needed to be leashed and guarded. The Bible speaks a lot to us about the tongue. It’s the most powerful muscle in your body. It can save a life or set the world on fire. God directs us about what kinds of words we use and the motivation behind them. Why does it matter so much?

For one thing, Proverbs explains that “life and death are in the power of the tongue.” But also, as Christians we are appointed as ambassadors for Jesus Christ. You represent Him. You carry out actions for Him. You connect to others as His body here on the earth. Imagine there being an ambassador, sent out in wartime to negotiate peace, but he’s drunk as a skunk. Do you really want him talking? Boris Yeltzsin was famous for inebriation. At one point during the Clinton Administration he called our president, drunk, and asked Bill to set up a secret meeting on a submarine.

Our lips need guarding. Our physical lips as well as our digital ones. You may have a truth to share but if it is done without love, you might as well be a clanging cymbal. It’s valueless, even detrimental to the cause of Christ to be lashing people with your words and not speaking in love, compassion and the kind of mercy that God shows sinners like us.

Psalm 141:4 – 4 Do not let my heart turn to any evil thing or perform wicked acts with evildoers. Do not let me feast on their delicacies.

David started thinking about the acts of worship, then his words, now he delves deeper into himself and takes a look at his very heart. He understood that it is from the heart that words are formed, actions taken, desires unleashed.

He also understood that just because you’re being offered something sumptuous and desirable doesn’t mean it isn’t being offered by an enemy. Sin may be pleasurable for a time, an easy road to take, but it brings forth death. Death in the heart and death in the life.

Psalm 141:5 – 5 Let the righteous one strike me—it is an act of faithful love; let him rebuke me— it is oil for my head; let me not refuse it. Even now my prayer is against the evil acts of the wicked.

Discipline and rebuke are not fun things. They’re no fun to give and no fun to receive. But David, having God’s perspective on things, saw them as an act of loving, medicinal correction.

God does not want His people to feel ashamed and condemned when they make a mistake, but He does want to correct us and fortify us and prepare us as He continues to conform us into the image of His Son. Think of it this way: If you want to be a boxer you’re going to do a lot of training and preparing, but at some point you’re going to have to get in the ring and spar. And in that process, poor form and bad habits can be corrected by you getting punched. When that happens, your sparring partner isn’t trying to hurt you, he’s trying to help you – to teach you how to keep your hands up. To teach you to prepare for the real blows that will be coming from the champ someday.

Don’t get me wrong, God doesn’t ever abuse us or slap us around. But David here says, “Getting rebuked is like getting hit in the face.” But with a Godly mindset he was able to see how beneficial and necessary it was. And David was a man who experienced some real rebukes.

Here is a New Testament command for Christians:

Galatians 6:1 – Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.

It’s not easy to rebuke fellow Christians. It wouldn’t have been easy to rebuke David. But thank God for those who did. Because it was those moments of correction that brought him back from the brink of disaster.

David would rather have discipline than deterioration in his spiritual life. “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living.”

Psalm 141:6 – 6 When their rulers will be thrown off the sides of a cliff, the people will listen to my words, for they are pleasing.

Scholars point out that the Hebrew in this section of the Psalm is very challenging. There’s not much consensus about how exactly verses 6 and 7 should be rendered. But we can see that David was able to look beyond his present trouble and remember what is coming in the future. One day, good will totally triumph over evil. We can be of good cheer right now because Jesus Christ has overcome the world, He has conquered sin and death, but still those enemies fight against us. But there is a day coming when all will be made right and those who rejected God will be repaid for their choices.

In your Bible you may see a note that the words can read this way: “Their judges [will] fall into the hands of the Rock.” That Rock is Christ. He invites anyone who is willing to anchor themselves to Him and be saved from the coming destruction. But all others will be crushed in judgment.

This ultimate fate of the wicked is just and is good, but we shouldn’t be excited that they will suffer such a fate. The Bible says that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

This comes back to guarding our tongues. It’s easy and popular for us to speak about our hatred of certain leaders or prominent people because of their wickedness and their refusal to do what is right. It’s true, judgment is coming. But that should propel us to evangelize, not gloat. Gore Vidal, the famous author once wrote, “The four most beautiful words in our common language [are]: ‘I told you so.’” That’s never to be our feeling. As Christians, the 4 most beautiful words we can say are: Jesus can save you. Whether that ‘you’ is a friend, an enemy, a prince or a pauper.

Think of the little servant girl in 2 Kings 5, stolen from her home in Israel. Trafficked into slavery into the house of the commander of the Aramean army. His name was Naaman. He was a chief enemy of God’s people. And he was a leper. That little girl had such grace and compassion that she told him a secret that would change his life forever: My God can heal you of your leprosy. The text says the girl thought, “I wish my master would go see the prophet.” That’s grace. That’s the love of Christ.

Psalm 141:7 – 7 As when one plows and breaks up the soil, turning up rocks, so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of Sheol.

Some translators believe this is a quote from the conquered unbelievers in the end. Others take it as David’s emotional feeling at the time. There’s a devotional thought for us either way.

If you’re not a Christian, this Psalm reveals that there is a day of reckoning coming. It’s described in the Bible many ways, but one of them is of God reaping the earth. If you will not accept Christ as the substitute for your sin then you will be loaded like a cluster of grapes into the winepress of God’s wrath and you will die in your sins and suffer the eternal penalty for them. You will be devoured by the grave and no one can save you except Jesus Christ. But He’s ready to save you. He died to save you. And if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved.

But what if it was David feeling this way in verse 7? David was no stranger to suffering, danger and hard times. This image of rocks and bones and the grave remind us of some important truths that concern God’s children. First, no matter what happens, death has no claim on you. You may suffer, you may die, but you will be made alive again. Because Jesus rose we will rise.

Second, you may feel in life as if you’re a rock in the dirt. As if you’re living out that scene in The Great Pumpkin where Charlie Brown goes to house after house and instead of candy all he gets are rocks in his pillowcase. But you are not a worthless rock in the dirt. You are a precious child of God. You are planted like a tree, which grows and brings forth fruit. You are of great, eternal value in the eyes of the Creator and He will not waste your life.

Psalm 141:8 – 8 But my eyes look to you, Lord, my Lord. I seek refuge in you; do not let me die.

In all circumstances, not least in times of fear and hurt, we must look to the Lord. Notice, David doesn’t just speak abstractly or generically. He calls Him my Lord. Is He your Lord? What does it mean to make Him yours? It means you have made Him your refuge. God is not just some sort of cosmic underwriter that approves your insurance plan or funds a heavenly mortgage. He is the loving Master. If someone is your Master that means you live in His presence. Your life is wrapped up in His. This Master, we’re told in the Psalms, surrounds us with a shield of love. He gives shelter in His household. Not only shelter, but His refuge is a place of joy. Of help. Of growth and refreshment.

David said he would “seek refuge in [God].” What a promise, given to all, that if we seek Him we will find Him.

David here gets to the brass tacks of his requests: God, don’t let me die. That was a real concern for David at many points of his life. I’d remind us that spiritual death is just as concerning as physical death. Jesus wrote to His beloved children in Sardis and said “you have a reputation for being alive—but you’re dead.”

There are many things that should concern us right now, but staying spiritually vibrant, in our first love, should always be one of them.

Psalm 141:9-10 – 9 Protect me from the trap they have set for me, and from the snares of evildoers. 10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely.

There are all sorts of snares laid out for God’s people. Snares of temptation, of oppression, of bitterness, of deception. They may be menacing, but we don’t need to be afraid. Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians 3 that we need not be outwitted by our Enemy, the Devil, because we can clearly study what he does. How? By paying attention to the Scriptures. We are protected from snares by letting the mind of Christ be in us, giving us the proper perspective on life. We are protected from snares by being led by the Holy Spirit. By having this proper perspective and submission to the Lord, we will avoid snares like getting mad at God when we suffer. Or the snare of calling good evil and evil good.

Instead, like David, we can move through life in confident trust that the Lord is not only with us, but is doing a great work in our lives “while I pass by safely.”

That closing image begs the question: Where are you headed? David was struggling, but he could continue day by day in the knowledge that he was not alone, he was not abandoned. He was moving through life with a God who cared for him. Even in a time of personal emergency he was able to keep his focus and his thoughts on His Lord and how he could live a life worthy of the God who had redeemed him.

Where are you headed? If you’re not a Christian, the Bible explains you are headed toward a Christless eternity in hell. You don’t have to end up there. God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance, but that’s a choice you’re going to have to make yourself. No one can make it for you.

Are you a child of God here today? You know where you’re headed. The road before you may take you through many mountain ranges, storms and dark valleys, but God is faithful and He is with you. As you pass by, don’t take any byways of bitterness or lovelessness or laxness. Go with God, His way, keeping pace with His leading, in the joyful refuge of your relationship with Him.

Psalm 129 – The Back Beat Boys

Pam & I saw Jaws when it was released in June of 1975. That was an era in which you watched movies in theaters, one time.

Fifteen years later, Jaws was the first movie on DVD we ever bought.

Perfect – we thought – for Family Movie Night with our kids, who were around 12 & 9.

Obviously our memories about its content were a little fuzzy. I remember one of us telling them, “You’ll love it. It’s not that violent. Only one or two people die.”

One of them is Ben Gardner. When Hooper finds Ben Gardener’s abandoned boat, and looks in the gash in its hull, he finds Ben. He finds his head, that is, floating by, in an unexpected jump scene.

For the record: It’s five people who die brutal, bloody deaths. It averages one horrific death every 26 minutes. Not to mention the suspense.

(Fans argue over whether or not Pipit the dog was eaten. If so, his death is mercifully off-screen).

Our kids insist that the horrific images of shark kills are forever etched in their minds. It’s become a standing joke in our family.

If you’ve ever heard one of us say something like, “Only one or two people die,” it’s sarcasm, and that’s what we are referring to.

You know where else you find horrific images? In the Bible:

Judges 19:29 When he entered his house he took a knife, laid hold of his concubine, and divided her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel.

Second Kings 6:28-29 Then the king said to her, “What is troubling you?” And she answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ So we boiled my son, and ate him. And I said to her on the next day, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him’; but she has hidden her son.”

One of the most horrific of all the biblical images summarizes the historic affliction of the nation of Israel by the devil:

Rev 12:1  Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.
Rev 12:2  Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.
Rev 12:3  And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.
Rev 12:4  His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.
Rev 12:5  She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.
Rev 12:6  Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

These “signs” are identified for us in the Bible:

The woman is the nation of Israel.
The dragon is Satan.
The Child is Jesus.

It graphically depicts centuries of Satanic opposition against Israel to prevent the birth of their Savior. Despite which, Jesus was born, and is in Heaven, victorious over Satan and his “third of the stars of Heaven” army of fallen angels.

Psalm 129 invited the Jews on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to look back upon their storied history of affliction. To recall the many horrors the nation had endured.

It was a look of victory, as they joined voices and sang, “Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth; Yet they have not prevailed against me.”

The worst is yet to come upon Israel in the future Great Tribulation. Once again they will sing, “Yet they have not prevailed against me.”

Afflictions are something the Lord’s church has, and will, experience until He removes us from the earth. That’s our point of contact with this psalm; that’s how it will apply to us. We want to sing, everyday, “Yet they have not prevailed against us.”

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 In Your Afflictions You Can Praise, and #2 Against Your Afflicters You You Will Prevail.

#1 – In Your Afflictions You Can Praise (v1-4)

An article posted by Business Insider was titled, The coronavirus pandemic is fueling anti-Semitism around the world, and the US is no exception.

“The global crisis has breathed new life into centuries-old rhetoric that blames Jews for the spread of disease and economic downturns.

“An example of that bubbled up in the United States as recently as Saturday. In an echo of Nazi propaganda, protesters at an Ohio rally held signs depicting a rat donning a Star of David and yarmulke that read “the real plague.”

CNN posted this not-fake-news article, Coronavirus lockdowns are fueling an ‘explosion’ of anti-Semitism online.

It’s Satanic. Zola Levitt wrote, “For thousands of years Satan has demonstrated an intense and insatiable drive to completely eliminate the Jewish people.” He offers this explanation:

For 4000 years the Jewish people have faced relentless persecution, opposition, and attempts to annihilate and destroy them; and in the future, the struggle against Israel continues. If it concerned any other people, this campaign would seem totally irrational and insane. However, with Israel, a rational but very Satanic strategy sustains this animosity.

For Satan, the destruction of Israel is a matter of self-preservation. Ultimately, the survival of Israel results in the eternal perdition of Satan. When Israel repents and nationally invites the Lord Jesus Christ to be its own Redeemer – Messiah, that generation of Israel will be saved, and Satan’s plan to destroy the Jews will be finally defeated. Jesus Christ will return to the Earth, destroy the satanic antiChrist and his armies at Armageddon, establish His Kingdom over Israel and the world for 1000 years, and then cast the still rebellious Satan into the Lake of Fire forever and ever.

Notwithstanding all her afflictions, Psalm 129 was a call to praise, knowing they will prevail.

Psa 129:1  A Song of Ascents. “Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth,” Let Israel now say,
Psa 129:2  “Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth; Yet they have not prevailed against me.

The worship leader began the song, inviting all those gathered to respond. As one instrument; as one voice; they directed their praise to the LORD.

They weren’t simply putting a positive spin on their afflictions. They understood that in a fallen world, behind which rages a cosmic spiritual war, the people of God were going to be the high-value targets.

We must understand that, too. The world hated Jesus; it will hate His followers. In the world we will have tribulation, Jesus acknowledged. Not just the normal troubles everyone encounters in a fallen world. We will be targeted because we follow the Lord.

Behind this 10th of the 15 “Songs of Ascent” is God’s providence. No matter the afflicters or the afflictions, God provided for Israel’s continuation. From Genesis to the Revelation, He is behind the scenes, working.

In remarkable episodes, He injects Himself into Israel’s history without violating anyone’s free will.

When was Israel “young?” In Egypt, where God would deliver millions of them from slavery and establish them as His nation. Their backs were indeed viciously whipped.

Egypt… Assyria… Babylon… Persia… Greece… Rome… The Nazi’s. All of these afflicted the Jews. They remain. Thus they could and can sing, “Yet they have not prevailed against me.”

God will prevail against your enemies. If it doesn’t seem that way now, it will in your future. We are a future-oriented people. Our look is heavenward. We are looking toward the finish line.

Every year there’s a report or two about a jogger getting attacked by a cougar along their route. The animal comes out of nowhere, going for the throat.

1 Peter 5:8  Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

Psa 129:3  The plowers plowed on my back; They made their furrows long.”

Psalm 129 will draw its comparisons from farming to get its point across. Here the psalmist compares their being whipped by cruel taskmasters to plowing a field. It was as if their backs were the field being plowed, deeply, painfully, horribly. It’s meant to be a horrific image. It’s rated R for gore.

People tend to look upon this kind of affliction as a reason to abandon their belief in God. To heap blame upon Him for what seems to be inaction.

The psalmist had a much different analysis:

Psa 129:4  The LORD is righteous; He has cut in pieces the cords of the wicked.

“The LORD is righteous” is a shout-out that, whatever you think about afflictions, yours or others, God is not to blame. He is righteous. He “cut[s] in pieces the cords of the wicked.”

I know that I refer to them often, but Daniel’s three friends – Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego – embody this worldview. When threatened with death-by-furnace, they answered, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).

That is what is means to “prevail” thanks to God’s righteousness. It is seeing the world realistically as it is described by the Bible. We are going to be afflicted for our relationship with Jesus. Our afflicter, ultimately, is a twisted fallen angel who is depicted as a beast wanting to eat a newborn baby.

Our other enemies are sin and death. Jesus conquered them all on the Cross. No matter what, we can sing, “Yet they have not prevailed against me.”

If you are in Christ, you prevail against afflictions. Might as well do so with praise.

#2 – Against Your Afflicters, You Will Prevail (v5-8)

Epic fails caught on video can be awfully entertaining. It’s hard to believe people can be that stupid.

We can’t help but think that to “prevail” means we will be kept safe in the fiery furnace, hanging out with Jesus, released from it without even having the smell of smoke on our clothes. Or that the lions won’t tear us apart. Or that we will be sprung from prison.

If a believer is burned-up, or torn apart, or left to rot in prison… Well those seem like epic fails, not prevails.

We tend to ignore the passage in Hebrews chapter eleven that says, “Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented… They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (v36-38).

God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Of Himself the LORD said, “For I am the LORD, I do not change…” (Malachi 3:6).

At the same time, there are different dispensations when the LORD is dealing differently with His people. We like to quickly illustrate it by asking, “Why didn’t you bring a lamb to sacrifice?” It’s because we are not under the Law, but under grace. We are not Israel; we are the church, and we are in what can be called the Church Age.

(I want to add that, in every dispensation or age, salvation is the same: not by any works, but by faith).

When Jesus was on the earth, for the three-and-one-half years of His ministry, we are told that His miracles, healings, and exorcisms, “which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

While it is true that miracles, healings, and exorcisms most certainly occur in the Church Age, you must admit they are infrequent. It isn’t because the church is failing. It is because the Church Age is characterized by displays of God’s power in our weakness.

If you don’t want to fully embrace that truth, you must at least acknowledge that the folks in Hebrews chapter eleven we referenced as being afflicted are every bit as spiritual as those earlier in the chapter who enjoyed miraculous escapades and escapes.

Now and later, we prevail over our afflicters – the devil and his angels, and the nonbelievers who do his will whether they know it or not.

Back to our pilgrims in Jerusalem…

Psa 129:5  Let all those who hate Zion Be put to shame and turned back.

Two things jump out at us:

Israel expected to be hated.
Israel expected to be assaulted by those who would need to be turned back.

Psa 129:6  Let them be as the grass on the housetops, Which withers before it grows up,

If you have an older shake roof, it’s not unusual for grasses and weeds to grow on it. In Israel the roofs were flat and they would get this same kind of growth. Those seeds can’t root deeply, so they wither in the hot sun.

I listed earlier some of the nations that afflicted Israel. Historically, they sprung up quickly, but have not survived as world powers.

Psa 129:7  With which the reaper does not fill his hand, Nor he who binds sheaves, his arms.

Continuing with the comparison, this is a statement of confidence that Israel will take root and be brought in as a harvest to the LORD.

In Zechariah 12:10 we read, “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.

The apostle Paul said of Israel’s future, “And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “THE DELIVERER WILL COME OUT OF ZION, AND HE WILL TURN AWAY UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB; FOR THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS” (Romans 11:26-27).

Modern Israel is nothing less than a miracle. It is the fulfillment of many prophecies. Israel must be in the Promised Land in order for Jesus to return and for them to recognize and receive Him as Messiah.

Psa 129:8  Neither let those who pass by them say, “The blessing of the LORD be upon you; We bless you in the name of the LORD!”

Harvesting in their fields, the Jews would work alongside the fields of their neighbors.

They would exchange greetings like, “The blessing of the Lord be upon you.” That greeting might be answered by, “We bless you in the Name of the LORD.”

We need to have a stronger greeting-game. I’m just as guilty at asking. “How are you?” as I rush by you, not really wanting to spend that kind of time. “How are you?” is more like the first line in a counseling session.

Remembering that we are reading a song of praise, perhaps the big finish here is that one-half of the worshippers sing, “The blessing of the Lord be upon you.” Then the other half sings, “We bless you in the Name of the LORD.”

Maybe they went back-and-forth several times, getting louder each time. I’m dwelling on this for a moment to remind us that the psalm started with a recollection of their awful afflictions. The Jews could recall sufferings as the context for extolling God’s righteousness.

In this Church Age, if you are in Christ, you have two options:

Option #1 – You will die, leaving your corruptible physical body behind to await its resurrection. You – your spirit – will be conscious and alive in the presence of Jesus, in Heaven. We are assured that to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord.

Option #2 – You will be alive when Jesus returns to resurrect the dead from the Church Age. You will not experience death, but instead be immediately transformed and in your incorruptible, immortal, eternal body.

I’d say that is “prevailing” over your afflicters.

Your future is the context within which you prevail today no matter your afflicters and the afflictions they heap upon you.

Their future is why you must have compassion upon them, making a difference:

Rev 20:11  Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.
Rev 20:12  And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.
Rev 20:13  The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.
Rev 20:14  Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
Rev 20:15  And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

I’m A Man, Yes I Am, And I Can’t Help But Fear You So (Psalm 128)

Here you are in church when you could be LARPing.

It’s an acronym for Live Action Role Play.

Mark your calendars and get your costumes. The next Renaissance of Kings Faire is October 2nd & 3rd, 2021.

I haven’t been to Hanford’s Annual Christmas parade for some time. Does the StarTrek COSPLAY group still march with their shuttlecraft?

I found an archived Hanford Sentinel article from February 2019 about Comic-Con COSPLAYers gathering at the Kings Fairgrounds. They pictured a pretty convincing Boba Fett.

COMIC-CON International San Diego annually draws over 100,000 fans. They were forced to COVID-Cancel this year.

We’re going to talk a little about roles today – our roles in the household of God, and in our own houses.

Psalm 128 celebrates the biblical family – man, woman, children.
It wasn’t written to correct any failing on Israel’s part, but to celebrate family as an earthly blessing from the LORD.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 You Want To Lead As A Fearful Father, and #2 You Want To Follow As A Fearful Family.

#1 – You Want To Lead As A Fearful Father (v1-2)

This psalm was addressed to men. Yes, it opens saying, “Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD.” But it goes on to address men about “your wife,” and about “your children.” The psalmist doesn’t address women and children directly.

Men, women, and children have different roles to fulfill, both in the household of God and in their own houses.

Psalm 128 celebrates God’s design for the family. To the extent that it does, we can apply it to ourselves. It wasn’t written to us; but since it assumes the larger context of the biblical family, we can learn from it.

Psa 128:1  A Song of Ascents. Blessed is every one who fears the LORD, Who walks in His ways.

This is the ninth of the fifteen “Song(s) of Ascent” sung by pilgrims on their trips to the annual feasts in Jerusalem. Men of a certain age were required to attend. From the information given to us, it would seem that whole families traveled. The notable episode where 12yr old Jesus got left behind in Jerusalem describes His family pilgrimaging with other families.

Though required in God’s Law, these annual pilgrimages were not intended to be a burden. They were to be a blessing. God wanted to draw His people together to bless them.

Our gathering together ought to be a blessing to you – not a place to heap burdens upon you. Jesus wants to show you your blessings, what He has done for you.

The “fear of the LORD” can be described in many different ways. One way, and the way I am going to emphasize, is that you believe God always has simultaneously in His mind your good and His glory. You thus “fear the LORD” by willingly obeying Him. No matter your will, you prefer and choose God’s will. You implicitly trust God’s will over your own; you submit your ways to His way – even if it requires sacrifice. It is the only way to insure your good and His glory.

Before we go on with an example, let me say this. As we reference marriage and family today, think about where you are now, not everything that has happened in your past. For example, if you have been divorced, but are now remarried, we are talking about your current marriage.
If you are not married, we are talking about what is going on in your life today.

If you insist on looking back, look back to the Cross, where your sins are forgiven.

Back to our text. Maybe, right now, you are contemplating divorce. Do you at least have any biblical grounds?

• Have you been abandoned by your spouse?
• Has your spouse committed adultery?
(I’ve learned over the years to add this important footnote. Physical abuse is sin, and you don’t ever submit to it. Tell someone; call the police).

Without biblical grounds for divorce, and sometimes even with biblical grounds, God says you are to stay married. He would only say that if it were for your good, and for His glory. Blessed is the man (or woman) who fears the Lord and does what He says.

You’re to “walk in His ways.” You discover “His ways” by reading your Bible.

Everything you need to live a godly life is covered in the Bible. Add to that, you are given God the Holy Spirit to indwell you, making it more than possible for you to “walk in His ways.”

Psa 128:2  When you eat the labor of your hands, You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.

Israel was an agricultural nation. It was the land flowing with milk and honey. Other occupations depended upon ag. They quite literally “[ate] the labor of [their] hands.”

The phrase speaks to providing for one’s family.

We are light years away from saying that this means women can’t ever work outside the home. In fact, I’m not going to suggest any particulars of your home life. We are painting a picturesque biblical home in broad strokes. We are talking about roles, not the rules.

The psalmist was putting a joyous responsibility upon the man to see to it that his family prospers. It speaks to hard, honest labor. To a diligent work ethic.

Happiness and contentment are byproducts of assuming your roles. Ultimately, walking in God’s ways results in a peaceful existence that is to be envied.

More than ever people are walking in their own ways when it comes to marriage and family. In June 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark civil rights case of Obergefell v. Hodges that the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples, with all the accompanying rights and responsibilities, is guaranteed by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Our reaction, first and foremost, ought to be this:

“Judgment must begin at the house of God” (First Peter 4:17). How are we doing at walking in God’s ways with regard to marriage?

Biblical marriage is one biological male, and one biological female, in a monogamous heterosexual union that is to last as long as they both shall live.

At the same time we rightfully decry same sex marriage, divorce is too prevalent among believers. Is it really less sinful?

At the same time we rightfully decry homosexuality, fornication and adultery are too prevalent among believers. Is it really less sinful?

You can’t “fear God” and pursue unbiblical divorce. You can’t “fear God” and commit sexual sin

Guys: Psalm 128 mentions you first, and is written to you. You’re to lead. Get into God’s Word and understand His ways. Know that you are empowered by the Holy Spirit to walk in His ways. Fear Him by following Him.

#2 – You Want To Follow As A Fearful Family (v3-6)

The Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. There is only one God. Three coexistent, co-eternal, co-equal Persons who are one God.

With regard to the plan to redeem sinful men, there is a division of roles in the Trinity:

God the Father is said to have sent Jesus. Jesus willingly submitted Himself to God the Father in His role as the Savior of the world.
Jesus is said to be the giver of God the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit subordinates Himself to Jesus, pointing men to Him for salvation.

It should come as no shock, therefore, that there is a division of roles in God’s household, and in your house.
In fact, as we each fulfill our roles, it reveals the sweet co-operation of the Trinity in salvation. It mirrors the nature of God.

Psa 128:3  Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine In the very heart of your house, Your children like olive plants All around your table.

There is an obvious hierarchy in this home. Every one in the blessed family has their God-assigned role to play.

Roles, and especially the role(s) of women, is super controversial. There is a lot of disagreement among Christians. Theologians have come up with big words to describe at least two of the differing positions on the biblical roles of men and women in the church. Those words are Complementarian and Egalitarian.

Complementarianism is the viewpoint that God restricts women from serving in church leadership roles and instead calls women to serve in equally important, but complementary, roles.

Egalitarianism is the viewpoint that there are no biblical gender-based restrictions on ministry in the church.

The team over at summarize it, saying,

On the one side are the egalitarians who believe there are no gender distinctions and that since we are all one in Christ, women and men are interchangeable when it comes to functional roles in leadership and in the household.

The complementarian view believes in the essential equality of men and women as persons as human beings created in God’s image, but complementarians hold to gender distinctions when it comes to functional roles in society, the church, and the home.

We are complementarians. It seems straightforward:

The original married couple was complementarian. Adam was created first. Eve was tasked with the role of “help-meet” for Adam.

After our first parents sinned, the LORD was clear that Eve was to subordinate her desire to rule and instead assume a submissive role.

The apostle Paul applied the hierarchy of the first family to the church, to the household of God, when he said to Pastor Timothy, “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man… For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (First Timothy 2:12-13).

A division in roles does not equate to a difference in quality, importance, or value. Men and women are equally valued in God’s sight and plan. Women are not inferior to men. Rather, God assigns different roles to men and women in the church and in the home because that is how He designed houses and His household on earth to function.

Egalitarians have their arguments, for sure. We find them unbiblical and, worse, dictated by cultural pressure to conform, or to seem progressive.

Israel was certainly complementarian. Psalm 128 assumes there are genders and gender roles in the Biblical home. The change from an agricultural society to our modern society doesn’t overrule God’s original design for marriage and family.

Psa 128:3  Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine In the very heart of your house, Your children like olive plants All around your table.

Don’t read this as “barefoot and pregnant.” To an Old Testament wife, these words were tremendously encouraging.

It says that the wife is “the very heart of your house.” Allow me to attempt an analogy. If you are smart, you are heart-healthy in your diet and exercise. You take good care of your heart. Apply that kind of smart to taking care of your wife.

I want to again emphasize that I am not going to tell you how to run your house. It isn’t in the mechanics. It’s in co-operation with Jesus. The key to success is simply to be like Jesus in His incarnation. Though He was Lord of all, He became the servant of all.

Everything you need in order to fulfill your role as a man, or a woman, or a child, is illustrated by Jesus washing His disciples feet the Passover prior to His willing death on the Cross.

We don’t practice foot washing as an ordinance in the church, as some groups do. We should practice spiritual foot washing. It should be our individual practice to be the servant.

Is the man the leader? Yes – but that needs to be qualified. The greatest of all, in God’s economy, is the servant of all. Our “lead servant,” Jesus, didn’t come to be served, but to serve.

The man of the house is more a discipler than a delegator.

Wives and kids: The Bible verses and passages that speak about your roles are not hard to find. Neither are they hard to understand – especially if you come to them fearing the Lord in the way we are describing today.

Mark Twain is credited with saying, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

You can walk in His ways by yielding yourself to the Holy Spirit. He subordinated Himself to Jesus, and you should subordinate yourself to Him. He empowers you; He enables you.

Psa 128:4  Behold, thus shall the man be blessed Who fears the LORD.

“Fear the LORD.” Believe – because it’s true – “that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Submit to God’s will, believing He is working.

Psa 128:5  The LORD bless you out of Zion, And may you see the good of Jerusalem All the days of your life.

Their blessings came “out of Zion” in the sense that they were the result of God’s presence in the Temple. For a long time, it was His dwelling place – His house – upon the earth.

It was therefore important that Jerusalem know peace and prosperity. All the Jews had to do was love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Sadly, Israel often committed spiritual adultery by worshipping the gods of the pagans around them. Then, for their own good and for His glory, God would allow His people to be defeated, and Jerusalem to be overrun.

Psa 128:6  Yes, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!

Grand kids are pretty cool. It’s all chocolate and silly string fights. Discipline? Not on my watch.

This ending probably looks farther forward than grand kids. God promised His people an earthly kingdom ruled over by the Son of David. We call it the Millennium on account of its description as lasting one thousand years in Revelation chapter twenty.

There are descriptions of it throughout the Old Testament. Isaiah, for one, said,

Isa 2:2  Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the LORD’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it.
Isa 2:3  Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Isa 2:4  He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore.

It’s great that historic peace treaties are being signed in the Middle East. Peace is a good thing.

We also know that modern Israel’s peace will not last. At some point, a treaty will be broken, and the Jews in Jerusalem will be forced to flee for their very survival.

When LARPing, or COSPLAYing, you wear costumes. So do you as a believer in Jesus Christ:

When by His prevenient grace God frees your will to receive Jesus as your Savior, He takes off your filthy garments and dresses you in His robe of righteousness.
You are described as wearing the whole armor of God in your spiritual battles.

The outfit I want to highlight today is the one the apostle Paul described to the Ephesians:

Eph 4:24  and that you put on [like a garment] the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
Eph 4:25  Therefore, putting away lying, “LET EACH ONE OF YOU SPEAK TRUTH WITH HIS NEIGHBOR,” for we are members of one another.
Eph 4:26  “BE ANGRY, AND DO NOT SIN”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath,
Eph 4:27  nor give place to the devil.
Eph 4:28  Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.
Eph 4:29  Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.
Eph 4:30  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Eph 4:31  Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.
Eph 4:32  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Bread (Psalm 127)

Three bird species, two frogs, a shark, and one of the world’s largest freshwater fish were among those declared extinct in 2019.

The last known female Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle died in China a year ago April during an artificial insemination procedure, making the species effectively extinct.

You may as well cancel your trip to Oahu. The last Achatinella apexfulva died in captivity on New Year’s Day. His name was Lonesome George. This was his obituary:

George, a Hawaiian tree snail – also a 14-year-old local celebrity and the last known snail of his kind – will no longer be able to entertain school children, or eat tree fungus. He died on New Year’s Day, according to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). George the snail, named after the Pinta Island tortoise Lonesome George, never lived in a forest, being born in captivity and growing up in a lab. As it happens, George was a hermaphrodite, but it seems that two snails are required to produce offspring.

The other species lost in 2019 included Boulenger’s Speckled Skink, the Corquin Robber Frog, and the Victorian Grasslands Earless Dragon.

In 2013, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, told a conference in Shropshire that more must done to attract young people into the Church. He warned that the Church of England was, “One generation away from extinction.”

I’ve heard that line many times over the years; it isn’t original to Lord Carey. I couldn’t find an original attribution.

Is it true? It’s only true if we leave God out of the picture. Or maybe it would be better to say that it’s ultimately not true because the Lord is the One building His church, and He promised it would not fail.

The quote is intended to spur slumbering, apathetic, Christians to action. The best way to do that, however, isn’t to guilt us, but to glorify God.

Psalm 127 does just that, in its opening words. “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain.”

Believers are “builders” and “watchmen,” for sure. We have a big part to play. It is a cooperative effort. But we remain dependent upon the Lord, and trust Him to complete His work both in us and through us.

I’ll organize my comments around two rather simple questions: #1 Is Your Labor For The Lord More Exertion Than Enabling?, and #2 Is Your Life In The Lord More Earthly Than Eternal?

#1 – Is Your Labor For The Lord More Exertion Than Enabling? (v1-2)

To paraphrase Celine Dion, “The church will go on.”

One verse will suffice as proof. Writing to the church in Ephesus, the apostle Paul declared that Jesus will “present [the church] to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (5:27).

Here is some math to encourage you. Let’s say you lead one person to Christ every year, and he or she does the same, and so on.

After one year, there are only 2 disciples.
At the end of the second year, 4.
Third year, there are 8 followers of Jesus.
Fourth year, 16.

By year 33, you will have more than 8.5 billion Christians. There would be 34 billion Christians as the 10 year mark.

We’ve read the last chapters of the book. The church will be resurrected or raptured to Heaven, then returning from Heaven to the earth with Jesus in His Second Coming. We then reign on the earth with Him for one thousand years. After that we live-on for eternity with “no more tears.”

Psa 127:1  A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain.

Every week I remind us that psalms 120-134 were gathered together in a playlist to be sung by travelers on their pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem for one of the annual Jewish feasts.

It’s super important to keep that in mind for Psalm 127. Here’s why. When we see the word “house,” and then hear talk of children in verses three through five, we immediately begin to read this psalm as a stand-alone psalm that exalts individual home life. Sort of a marriage and family study. We forget its context as a Song of Ascent.

While it will have application to our homes in a limited way, it is not about your house. It is about God’s ‘house,’ the Temple, and it is about the “house of Israel.”

“Solomon” is credited as the author. His dad, King David, wanted to build the Temple. God said to David, “You are not the one to build me a house to dwell in” (First Chronicles 7:4). Instead, God promised to build David a “house” – a spiritual house (Second Samuel 7:11).

I submit that this is the first, main context of Psalm 127.

The backstory is a great example of what is meant by “building in vain.” David’s desire to build a house for God was good. When he shared his plans to build a house for God, Nathan the prophet immediately encouraged David. To quote Debby Boone, “It can’t be wrong When it feels so right.”

God intervened, spoke to Nathan, and sent him back to the king to stop him from building. God’s plan was for Solomon to build the house.

THAT must have been hard:

For one thing, building for God – wasn’t that a good thing?
For another thing: How hard must it have been to confront a king like David – so close to God’s heart – with a halt work order?
For a third thing: David could be a little crabby at times.

Often in the Book of Acts, the Lord sent His servant away from a successful ministry. Or He hindered a missionary from going where he desired, opening a door somewhere else.

It is so important – especially when the desire seems good – to hear from the Lord. Too many things get greenlighted that do not have God’s blessing.

From the Temple, the psalm moves out to the wall surrounding Jerusalem. Perhaps the pilgrims would recall how that the wall lay in ruins for so long until God raised up Nehemiah. Then, contrary to everything we believe about contractors, Nehemiah brought the wall in (1)Under budget, and (2)In a record time of only 52 days.

It was the LORD. He did it. He did it through Nehemiah and the returnees throwing themselves into the work; but it was understood by Israel and her enemies that God enabled them. Humans did what was humanly impossible, and God got the glory.

The wall was necessary for protection. The watchmen were critical for warning. But no city was safe unless the LORD was in the hearts of the people. Israel’s history is full of examples of impenetrable defenses being penetrated; and of improbable victories.

Psa 127:2  It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so He gives His beloved sleep.

Solomon was not encouraging laziness. Keeping with the same theme as verse one, he was saying that it is futile to labor without the Lord’s leading and enabling. The “bread of sorrows” was a poetic way of describing someone working their fingers to the bone. We should “rise up early, and sit up late,” serving the Lord. But without His leading, then His enabling, we’re working our fingers to the bone for nothing.

Thinking again of Nehemiah and the wall-builders. They certainly were not lazy:

Neh 4:15  And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work.
Neh 4:16  So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah.
Neh 4:17  Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon.
Neh 4:18  Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me.
Neh 4:19  Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall.
Neh 4:20  Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”
Neh 4:21  So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared.
Neh 4:22  At the same time I also said to the people, “Let each man and his servant stay at night in Jerusalem, that they may be our guard by night and a working party by day.”
Neh 4:23  So neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing.

They worked hard is an understatement. But it was with the Lord, in His will.
“He gives His beloved sleep.” Your labor in the Lord should be spiritually restful. It shouldn’t be anxious, worrisome, or depressing. There will be plenty of discouragements, but even these are to be cast upon the Lord. After all, you are His “beloved.”

Everything we are saying can be summed-up by this quote from A.W. Tozer:

If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95% of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95% of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.

That is obviously the worst-case scenario. We would do well, however, to always check our desires to see if the labor is from the Lord, and therefore enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

I have to conclude that a lot of what today is labeled as “spiritual burnout” is the direct result of our exertion rather than His enabling. It’s something you ought to explore in conversation with Jesus.

#2 – Is Your Life In The Lord More Earthly Than Eternal? (v3-5)

In 2019, there was an average of 1.93 children under 18 per family in the United States. This is a decrease from 2.33 children under 18 per family in 1960.

Two-parent households in the US are declining, and the number of families with no children are increasing.

Should we be having more children? Isn’t that what the rest of this psalm exhorts us to?

There may be application in these verses to the modern tendency to have fewer children. But it is not a command; and, in context, we are looking at the house of Israel – not our homes.

Psa 127:3  Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Seems straightforward enough. If you want to be blessed, have lots of kids.

Solomon’s intent is not a command, but a promised gift from God. He promised Abraham when He told him, “and I will make you a great nation” (Genesis 12:2), and “you will be the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:9). Later the Lord promises the children of Israel in the wilderness that “He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb” (Deuteronomy 7:13).

These are not commands from God for them to reproduce, but God’s sovereign promise to reward His people, to multiply them for His purpose, their security, and inheritance.

We tend to read everything in God’s Word as a command. We want so desperately to be able to quantify our relationship with Jesus. We make checklists to be sure we are on-track spiritually. We chastise ourselves, or others, for missing one day of devotions.


To read Psalm 127:3 as a command misses the blessing. He was telling the house of Israel, the twelve tribes, what He was going to do for them – not telling them what they must do for Him.

Never in the Old Testament does anyone need to be exhorted to have more kids. Quite the opposite. It was always a shame to remain barren. It was considered a shame precisely because God had promised to bless them with kids. Thus a Jew would not have understood this as a command, but as a reward.

Under the Law, God promised to bless the godly with children (Deuteronomy 28:4). He has given no such promise to Christians. We would say that having 1.9 kids or 2.3 kids is up to you.

BUT consider this: Is your numerical goal godly? Are your reasons for your decision earthly, selfish? Or are they eternal?

If someone were to ask you, “Why did you have X-number of kids?, would your answer be based on earthly priorities, or on eternal promises?

Psa 127:4  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth.
Psa 127:5  Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.

Unusual wording – to us, that is, but not to a Jew. “In the gate” is where an ancient Israeli city did business. It’s where you would go with your complaint, or to settle an issue, or to transfer title, etc., etc. Think of it as the City Council, or the Board of Supervisors.

There is a passage in the Book of Ruth (4:1-12) that describes in some detail a meeting in the gates during which Boaz redeems Ruth to marry her.

The “enemies” referred to here are “in the gates.” They not foreign armies, but fellow citizens.

The picture being drawn here is of the elderly having children to defend them against those who would take advantage of them. It is a warning against elder abuse.

Elder abuse was a big problem in ancient Israel, along with taking advantage of widows, orphans, and the poor. If you had kids to care for you, you’d be protected. They were to take care of you as warriors in a battle. Their “weapons” were the words they “[spoke] with their enemies in the gate.”

FYI – Approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse. Estimates range as high as 5 million elders who are abused each year. One study estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities. In almost 60% of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member. Two thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses.

Concluding his comments on Psalm 127, William MacDonald writes,

This psalm is a tremendous unfolding of the word of the Lord through Zechariah, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (4:6). There is such a danger that we depend on the power of the dollar or on human ingenuity. But the Lord’s will is not accomplished in that way. It is by His Spirit that we build for eternity. It is not what we do for God through our own resources, but what He does through us by His mighty power. All we can produce is wood, hay, stubble. He can use us to produce gold, silver, precious stones. When we act in our own strength, we are spinning our wheels. When we bring God into everything, our lives become truly efficient. Carnal weapons produce carnal results. Spiritual weapons produce spiritual results.

The apostle Paul captured this same thought when he wrote to the churches in the region of Galatia. He wrote, “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (3:3).

How do you know if your priorities are eternal? Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, saying, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (First Corinthians 1:25).

One gauge to identify whether your priorities are earthly or eternal is to review your life in Christ thus far, looking for decisions that were absolutely foolish from an earthly perspective, but in fact revealed God’s wisdom.

Finances can sometimes reveal Christ-led foolishness. There are a few Christian ministries that teach you about godly use of your resources. That’s great – as long as you understand that there needs to be wiggle room for God to lead you foolishly so that you can reveal His wisdom.

We had a couple in our fellowship, married, who were both Navy doctors. When their time in the service was over, they went immediately into missionary medicine. I remember them being told by believers to first establish a practice, earn money, so they’d be able to have it in the bank. Wait ten years.

They followed God’s leading, and it seemed foolishness even to believers.

I’ve known lots of believers over the years who put-off doing certain spiritual things for a future time that never came.

Anytime you hear the story of the Rich Young Ruler, whom Jesus told to divest Himself of his worldly possessions, you’re told it was a suggestion unique to him. You’re told it doesn’t apply universally.

But could it apply to you? That’s the question to ask.

There used to be a Christian bumper sticker that showed believers going against the flow of the world. With spiritual priorities, that’s bound to be the case. So gauge yourself.

COVID19 is going to be held responsible for 20% of the churches in America closing their doors; to become extinct. Churches are losing court cases regarding our constitutional right to meet. Huge fines are being levied against churches who meet indoors.

There is in-fighting among believers about whether churches should follow exactly government mandates or not.

The church will go on. Then we’ll go up! Jesus’ coming to resurrect the dead in Christ, then catch-away living believers, is imminent.

Meanwhile, we are essential because we have the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation.

All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; none of us is righteous enough to deserve Heaven.
What we deserve for sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The Gospel is a universal call to every heart to believe God and be saved by grace and not by works.

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

The Best Tears Of Our Lives (Psalm 126)

Who can keep up with all the lifehacks posted on the WorldWideWeb?

Does your hotel room smell bad? Tape a dryer sheet over the AC unit and turn it on.
Want to know if a battery is good or bad? Drop it on a table from about six inches. If it gives one small bounce and fall right over, it’s good. If it bounces around more than that, it is either dead or on its way out.
Tired of scraping ice off of your windshield? The night before freezing temperatures, rub a half of a potato over your car’s windshield.
Doritos make great kindling.

Be careful. Believe it or not, some things you read on the Internet are not true. That goes for this lifehack fail:

If you need to charge your phone but there are no plugs around, soak an onion in some Gatorade and your phone will charge once you plug it into the onion. (Because everyone carries Gatorade and onions).

Some hacks are obviously fakes:

Are the batteries dead in your smoke alarm? Set out a JiffyPop Popcorn. When you hear the kernels popping, Get out!!

Worse than fails and fakes are lifehacks that can potentially be fatal:

No pan to cook a grilled cheese sandwich? Tip your toaster onto its side and ‘grill’ the sandwich in it. Just make sure you have your fire extinguisher ready when you set everything on fire.

Back to helpful lifehacks, here is one for you to have a greener thumb: Soak seeds in water before planting. Especially larger seeds, or those that are naturally wrinkled. Soaking speeds the germination.

Presoaking seeds is an ancient hack. It is hinted at in Psalm 126. In verse five we read, “Those who sow in tears…” The psalmist is appealing to the familiar practice of sowing seeds and reaping the harvest as a metaphor. Sowing seeds “in tears” must correspond to a farming practice. It only makes sense if the farmers regularly presoaked their seeds. Just as a farmer presoaks seeds, so the believer ‘presoaks’ his or her spiritual sowing for the Lord.
The psalmist goes on to explain that the liquid for spiritual presoaking is “tears” from “weeping.”

Don’t be discouraged though. “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.”

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Presoaking Your Walk With The Lord In Tears Intensifies Your Hope, and #2 Presoaking Your Walk With The Lord In Tears Increases His Harvest.

#1 – Presoaking Your Walk With The Lord In Tears Intensifies Your Hope (v1-3)

Psalm 126 commemorates the joy of Israel being released from their captivity to return to the Promised Land.

This is one of the fifteen travel psalms pilgrims sang on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the annual feasts. If any psalms elicited an emotional response, it was these.

Do any particular songs move you? I’ll bet your answer is, “Yes.” National anthems… Military anthems… Maybe your school’s Alma Mater, if you’re feeling nostalgic.

Secular songs, too, can elicit emotion. Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff, And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.

A dragon lives forever
but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant’s rings
make way for other toys
One gray night it happened
Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff, that mighty dragon,
he ceased his fearless roar

Made in the image of God, we are emotional creatures. Christians sometimes struggle with integrating emotion into their spiritual lives. One pastor put it this way:

[Our emotions can] occupy two ends of a spectrum:

One danger is emotionalism, in which we allow our feelings to interpret our circumstances and form our thoughts about God. This is putting feelings before faith.
The other danger is a kind of stoicism, where faith is rooted in theology but void of affection. This tendency removes feelings from faith altogether. While it is true that our emotions should not lead our theology, it is vital to our faith that theology lead to a deep experience of our triune God.

Doesn’t it stand to reason that songs of praise ought to genuinely move you? It’s a good self-exam to ask if songs to the Lord move you. If not, ask “Why not?”

Psa 126:1  A Song of Ascents. When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream.

“The captivity of Zion” the psalmist had in mind was most likely their years in Babylon. It was a doozy. In a series of three sieges, King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and, of course, Solomon’s Temple. Jews were taken to Babylon, held captive.

Their captivity ended just as God prophesied it would:

Jeremiah had previously predicted their captivity in Babylon would end after 70 years (Jeremiah 29:10).
One hundred years before he was born, the prophet Isaiah called King Cyrus of Persia by name, and predicted he would issue a decree to allow Israel return and rebuild (Isaiah 44&45).

Bible prophecy. Wow.

“We were like those who dream.” Their release from captivity, followed by the decree of Cyrus permitting their return, was like a dream come true. We’d say they were “living the dream.”

For those in-Christ, Jesus has set us free from the power of sin, Satan, and death. We’re promised that He will take us home. Unlike the Jews who returned to ruins, we’re going the the New Jerusalem, where Jesus is building our forever mansions.

Psa 126:2  Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

Somewhere in church history, someone thought it was more ‘spiritual’ to be quiet and reserved; to speak in hushed tones in church; to wear your Sunday best; to establish tedious rituals.

I’ll admit, sometimes evangelicals can cross a line and be downright disrespectful in church. Where is that line? All I can say is that we need to be led by the Holy Spirit. We can be too formal; we can be too casual.

Maybe this will help. Jesus calls us His “friends” (John 15:15). He is our friend, and He “presents” us to God the Father. It suggests a familial, healthy respect. Not overly formal or casual, but appropriate.

When Jesus cried from the Cross, “It is finished,” simultaneously the veil in the Temple separating the Holy of Holies from the outer chamber was torn from top to bottom. It signified that believers have immediate access to God. It signified the end of ritual approach to God.

Think, too, about the Lord’s Supper. The original one, the one before Jesus was crucified.

Was it at all ritualistic? Not a bit. So why do churches try so hard to turn it into a ritual?

Sure, it replaced Passover. But the celebration of the original Passover also had very little (if any) ritual. Most of our ideas about Passover and the Lord’s Supper are traditions we have added.

The psalmist mentions “laughter.” He did not mean some crazy outpouring of holy laughter that was uncontrollable. But he certainly did mean laughing.

Don’t we try to get infants to laugh? We do it because their laughter is precious, and contagious. So is the laughter of God’s children on the earth.

“Then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” No one can discount the historic facts:

Greater, more powerful, empires subjected Israel. She survived them, and thrives.
Nations have tried to completely exterminate Jews. They survived.

God made unconditional promises to Israel, and despite their disobedience and disbelief, He preserved them, and will save them in the end. “All Israel” who survive the future Great Tribulation will be saved.

Psa 126:3  The LORD has done great things for us, And we are glad.

The psalmist makes it personal. In verse two, he spoke of “them.” Here he said “us.” It’s OK to make the Bible personal:

“God so loved the world” becomes, “God so loved Gene.”
“[God] is longsuffering toward [insert name of nonbeliever], not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (Second Peter 3:9).

Try it for yourself.

“And we are glad.” I have a tough time understanding the exact meaning of “glad.” It’s antonyms are sad, unhappy, and upset.

Bottom line: If I consider that my captivity to sin, Satan, and death is over, and that I’m going to Heaven in death or alive, I have no good reason to remain sad, unhappy, or upset.

It doesn’t mean we suppress our feelings. It means we process them through the lens of spiritual truth.

The apostle Paul suggested something like this to the church in Thessalonica. Believers were dying; The fellowship was crying. Paul told them to not “sorrow as others who have no hope” (4:13). Process sorrow through the lens of hope and you bring forth a sanctified sorrow.

We haven’t talked directly about presoaking thus far. The metaphor won’t be introduced until verses four and five.

We can extrapolate from what we’ve discussed that the presoaking we’ll read about intensifies your hope.

The hope we are talking about is the certainty of the return of Jesus in the clouds to resurrect the dead in Christ, and to snatch away living believers.

Do you feel strongly about that? Is that the hope that determines how you are “living the dream” as you wait?

#2 – Presoaking Your Walk With The Lord In Tears Increases His Harvest (v4-5)

Human beings are the only biological creatures on earth to shed emotional tears. Tears of emotion are chemically different than those caused by physical forces (e.g., wind, fumes, and allergies).

One scholar observed, “The Bible has no fewer than 510 references to crying and uses at least 11 words in New Testament Greek to describe crying.”

The New Testament highlights three times that Jesus wept during His brief three-and-one-half year ministry. He cried a lot more as “the Man of sorrows,” but these three are recorded:

He wept at the tomb of His friend, Lazarus, before calling him back from the dead (John 11).
He wept over Jerusalem on account of the judgment that was coming upon it for the Jewish leaders having rejected Him (Luke 13).
He shed tears when He prayed hours before His death by crucifixion (Hebrews 5:7).

You’ve most likely read a devotional by F.B. Meyer. If not, look for titles he has written. F.B. Meyer explains sowing in tears in this typically illuminating sentence: “It is well when Christian workers [soak] their lessons and addresses with their prayers and tears. It is not enough to sow; we may do that lavishly and constantly, but we must add passion, emotion, tender pity, strong cryings and tears.”

Tears are not just from pain; they can be from pity. Compassion can produce tears. Keep in mind we are talking about a gamut of emotions.

Jesus put it this way to the first century church in Ephesus: “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4).

The church in Ephesus was doing a lot of sowing. But it lacked genuine emotion.

Let’s say you have morning devotions. Have they become mechanical? On a human level, think back to when you first fell in love, and were dating. Didn’t you think only of your beloved, and tremble when together?

A Christian’s entire time on earth is a betrothal.

The honeymoon doesn’t start till after we die, or are raptured. If we are acting as if “the honeymoon is over,” Jesus went on to say, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works” (v5).

Psa 126:4  Bring back our captivity, O LORD, As the streams in the South.

“Streams in the South” is also an illustration borrowed from farming. Certain crops in the South depended upon the overflowing of rivers in order to irrigate. No overflow, no crop.

The psalmist, representing all of Israel, was asking God to bless the land with abundance as He had done before the captivity.

The returning Jews found harsh conditions. It was typical for the invading armies to sow the fields with rocks to make planting difficult. The land had not been worked for 70 years. Imagine coming home to your yard after a 70 year absence – and no power tools.

Psa 126:5  Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy.

The first generation of returnees were sowing after the tears shed during their captivity. Some of them undoubtedly wept as they were sowing, tears of joy at their once again working their own inherited land.

This verse is a promise of God’s faithfulness. Yes, they had cried an ocean of tears in Babylon. But now they were reaping joy. It was like the farmer presoaking seeds before sowing to reap a greater harvest.

I wonder how many ‘got’ the illustration while sowing, before it was recorded in this psalm? God wants to ‘speak’ to you, to show you things, in ordinary, everyday activities and situations.

Psa 126:6  He who continually goes forth weeping, Bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, Bringing his sheaves with him.

This makes the spiritual application. As F.B. Meyer said, “we must add passion, emotion, tender pity, strong cryings and tears” to our sowing for the Lord. The work deserves nothing less than our full heart, mind, and strength. The result will be a harvest – a spiritual harvest.

Maybe you are prone to thinking, “I see no abundant spiritual harvest through my impassioned service for Jesus.” In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus addressed the question of yield. He said of believers, “But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred” (Mark 4:20).

Thirtyfold results don’t make you a loser. Some fields prove more difficult.

I sometimes think those with the smaller yield will have the greater reward for the difficulties endured. You will have the appropriate “sheaves” when you stand before Jesus to be rewarded.

No talk about tears would be complete without referring to Psalm 56:8, where we read, “Put my tears into your bottle.”

The tears of God’s children are so precious that He preserves and treasures them as a costly liquid.

Emotional tears are composed of water, salts, antibodies, and antibacterial enzymes. They also contain concentrations of stress hormones.

Allow me a bit of speculation. Could it be that God distills all the tears of your life into a single bottle that has the chemical composition of the tears you cried? Each of our formulas would be unique – either a little, or a lot, different.

Maybe it will be a fragrance, made from tears. Eternity by Jesus Christ; Jadore by Jesus Christ; Eau de Gene; Yves Saint Gene.

I don’t know. If it is a fragrance, something the apostle Paul pointed out to the Corinthian believers is encouraging:

2Cor 2:14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.
2Co 2:15  For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.
2Co 2:16  To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.

You function as a diffuser. Think of your tears as Heaven Scent-ed.

Infuse your walk with the Lord with “passion, emotion, tender pity, strong cryings and tears.” Then diffuse.

Psalm 125 – Round, Round, God Surrounds, He Gets Around, Yeah, God’s Around, Round, Round, Round

Wakanda is protected by an impressive force field.

In 2018’s Infinity War, the enemy Drop Ships crashed into the force field and were immediately repelled and destroyed.

The force field is a critical technology in fictional tales. It is an energy barrier. While it can be used for containment or confinement, it’s usual function is to protect a person, area, or object from attacks or intrusions.

I can only guess how many times Captain Kirk said, “Raise shields.” It’s always followed by successive reports on the remaining percentage of shield-strength, until finally Kirk is informed, “The shields can’t take another hit.”

The invading alien armada from Independence Day had energy shields so potent they could shrug off nuclear weapons without a scratch. Spoiler alert: Humanity ultimately won by uploading a computer virus to the mothership that disabled the shields, then nuking the mothership before they could correct the problem.

Violet Parr, daughter of Bob & Helen, has the power to generate her own force fields, and often does so as one of the Incredibles.

Back in 2012, Boeing received a patent for a kind of force field. No report on their progress.

Psalm 125:2 says, “as the mountains surround Jerusalem…” At 2510 feet in elevation, Mount Zion is the mountain on which Jerusalem is built. Surrounding it are several other taller peaks, e.g., the Mount of Olives.

The psalmist uses this natural shield of the city from enemies as a metaphor for God’s supernatural shield of His chosen, saying, “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, So the LORD surrounds His people.”

As far back as The Book of Job, which is believed to be the oldest book in the Bible, we see God surrounds His people. Satan prefaced his assault upon Job by complaining to the LORD, “Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side?” (1:10).

The LORD is Shield, Hedge, Fortress, Hiding Place, Keeper, Refuge, Rock, Shade, Shelter, and Stronghold. They all communicate, each in their own way, His surrounding believers.

We want to rejoice in God’s surrounding as we work through this psalm. We also need to talk about those times the shields seem at 50%, or down completely, and we feel as though we can’t take another hit.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 God Will Preserve You In His Forever Surround, and #2 God Will Prove Himself To You In His Forever Surround.

#1 – God Will Preserve You In His Forever Surround (v1-2)

We always need to be cautious when applying things to ourselves that God promised Israel. We are not Israel; Israel was never the church.
For one thing, the New Testament reveals several “mysteries” about the church. A “mystery” in the Bible is something that was previously unknown until made known in the New Testament. A few of the mysteries revealed about the church are:

The church is one body (Ephesians 3:1-12).
The church is an organism (Colossians 1:26-27).
The church is the bride of Jesus (Ephesians 5:32).
The rapture of the church (First Corinthians 15:51-52).

That’s all to say, “How can Israel be the church if the church was a mystery not revealed until the New Testament?”

We’ll be careful, but since God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, we can examine His treatment of Israel and expect His treatment of us to be similar based on His nature and on His character.

The New Testament may not use the same metaphors to describe God surrounding.
But the spirit of verses one and two most definitely apply to us as being secure in Jesus.

The New Testament may not ever say that Jesus is a “hedge,” but it’s applicable, and I’d say it’s appropriate language for us to employ.

Psa 125:1  A Song of Ascents. Those who trust in the LORD Are like Mount Zion, Which cannot be moved, but abides forever.

The word “Zion” means something like fortification, or has the idea of being raised up as a monument. It is mentioned in the Bible over 150 times. It is synonymous with the city of God, with the place that God says He loves, with Jerusalem (Psalm 87:2-3).

It was David’s intent during his reign to build a Temple on this property. I wonder if they put up a sign? “Future home of God on earth.”

Solomon, David’s son, would lay the foundation and build the Temple for the LORD.

The Bible sometimes calls Mount Zion, Mount Moriah. It was the site where Abraham was asked to offer his son, Isaac, on an altar as a sacrifice. The episode makes no sense until you realize that it was on that same spot that God the Father would offer His Son, Jesus, as the sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Jerusalem, by the way, has no strategic military value. An advancing army has to go out of its way to go there. Everything that has happened there throughout history is spiritual.

Psa 125:2  As the mountains surround Jerusalem, So the LORD surrounds His people From this time forth and forever.

Technically, biblically, Mount Zion and the other peaks will not abide “forever.”

The apostle Peter tells us that, in the future, “The heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up… all these things will be dissolved” (Second Peter 3:10-11).

To quote Tazerface, “It’s metaphorical!” Standing in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion, the history and the prophecies involving the nation of Israel shouted to His gathered people of His surrounding them with wonderful, miraculous things that had transpired there, and that will again in the future. A sense of the LORD’s preservation of the nation was communicated by the mighty mountains metaphor.

Jesus promised us forever preservation when He said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28).

Listen to that one phrase at a time:

“I give them eternal life.” God’s salvation is entirely a gift. It cannot ever be earned or deserved. It cannot be achieved – only received.
“Eternal life” doesn’t simply mean we will live forever. Everyone lives forever – but their quality of life isn’t eternal life with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Nonbelievers will live forever in conscious torment in the Lake of Fire.
“They shall never perish” means once you’ve received eternal life, you cannot be lost to “perish” eternally like nonbelievers.
“Neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” No one, either natural or supernatural, can alter your position in the Lord’s hand.
“My hand.” It is a nail-printed hand. The Cross upon which He died, and Jesus’ subsequent bodily resurrection three days later, render all the promises of God True and Amen.

Jesus followed-up His promise by insisting, in the very next verse, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (v29).

Before you let your mind wander to coined, catch-phrases like “eternal security,” or “once saved, always saved,” simply read again those nineteen words Jesus spoke. You’ll conclude that Jesus preserves you. He began the work in you, and He will finish it.

#2 – God Will Prove Himself To You In His Forever Surround (v3-5)

The force field protecting Wakanda repelled the immense herd of Outriders, but the continuous pressure by the aliens allowed a few to pierce through. Once the Avengers understood they were at risk of being flanked, Black Panther ordered a section of the shield to be opened to direct their attack upon the gathered heroes.

Does Jesus open sections of His shield to expose us to attack? It sure seems that way.

Reading the opening chapters of Job, it sure seems the LORD uprooted the protective hedge, to allow Satan to rush in.
Let’s ask two preliminary questions:

Is God’s hedge about His children a promise of protection from material loss?
Is God’s hedge about His children a promise of protection from physical illness?

Nope, it’s not. Especially in the church age. We are promised trouble – and lots of it.

In The Book of Romans, in chapter eight, Paul says that God is “for us,” and that nothing can separate us from His love. Then he rattles off an incredible list of troubles that come against us.

Likewise in Hebrews chapter eleven we read of awful things that befell believers,and still do.

The life of the apostle Paul was filled with immense suffering.

Here at Calvary, we talk about trouble all the time:

For one, trouble is a major topic in the Bible. We talk about it because it comes up a lot in verse-by-verse teaching.
For two, even though we know to expect trouble, it still seems to surprise us when it comes.
For three, I believe the problem of pain and suffering is the #1 reason nonbelievers reject God. It’s for sure the #1 reason they give.

Here’s the thing: When we are assaulted, it isn’t because Jesus opened Northwest Section 17 of the force field. His promised spiritual shielding remains in place.

We need to stop thinking that Jesus quits surrounding us.

Psa 125:3  For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest On the land allotted to the righteous, Lest the righteous reach out their hands to iniquity.

When they are “under the scepter,” i.e., under the authority, of wicked oppressors, God preserved them.

Isn’t that the history of the nation of Israel in the proverbial nutshell? Egypt… Assyria… Babylon… Persia… Greece… Rome… Israel was “under the scepter” of all of them, but she survived.

After the destruction of the Temple in 70AD, Israel was no longer a nation. But even though dispersed all over the earth, and targeted for extermination, they survived to become a nation again in modern times.

Israel will survive a future extermination attempt by the Beast of the Revelation – the man best known as The Antichrist.

And they won’t just survive physically, making it to the end. The apostle Paul tells us all Israel will receive Jesus and be saved.

“And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “THE DELIVERER WILL COME OUT OF ZION, AND HE WILL TURN AWAY UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB“ (Romans 11:26).

Psa 125:3  For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest On the land allotted to the righteous, Lest the righteous reach out their hands to iniquity.

The “righteous” were those Jews within the nation of Israel who believed God, and to whom the LORD thereby declared “righteous.” They could absolutely trust that the LORD would keep them by overruling the wicked.

Concerning the final words of verse three, Joseph Benson writes:

[God intervenes] lest through human infirmity, and the great weight or long continuance of their troubles, [the righteous] should be driven to impatience, or to despair, or to use indirect and sinful courses to relieve themselves.
We learn from this that God considers the frail frame of his people, and proportions their trials to their strength, by the care of his providence, as well as their strength to their trials, by the power of his grace.

The New Testament counterpart is to say, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (First Corinthians 10:13).

Add to that this great promise in the Book of Jude: “[Jesus] is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (v24).

Psa 125:4  Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, And to those who are upright in their hearts.
Psa 125:5  As for such as turn aside to their crooked ways, The LORD shall lead them away With the workers of iniquity. Peace be upon Israel!

Keep the nation of Israel in mind. Not all Jews were saved. You weren’t saved by birth; or by obeying the Law; or by offering sacrifices; or by pilgrimage to Jerusalem. As I mentioned a moment ago, you were saved by believing God. He credited it as righteousness.

Regarding the “good” in verse four:

They were “good” by virtue of God declaring them righteous.
Their uprightness in heart was not the basis of their salvation, but rather the result of it.

The reason that Israel was often “under the scepter of wickedness” was because the nonbelieving Jews of verse five “turned aside to their crooked ways.”

God therefore “[led] them away” by giving the nation over to the wicked nations whose morality and practices they were emulating; and whose god’s they were worshipping.

The righteous suffered greatly “under the scepter.” They were thrown into fiery furnaces; they were thrown into lion’s dens; they were thrown into cisterns and left to drown in muck and mud. How is that a hedge? How does that preserve?

Remember: The hedge is not protection from or against material affliction.

I did a quick Strong’s Concordance search of the words “surround,” “surrounds,” and “surrounded.” Here are the results in the NKJV:

Psa 5:12  For You, O LORD, will bless the righteous; With favor You will surround him as with a shield.

Psalms 32:7  You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.

Psalms 32:10  Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; But he who trusts in the LORD, mercy shall surround him.

Psalms 142:7  Bring my soul out of prison, That I may praise Your name; The righteous shall surround me, For You shall deal bountifully with me.”

Psalms 89:8  O LORD God of hosts, Who is mighty like You, O LORD? Your faithfulness also surrounds You.

God’s surround promises you all the spiritual enablement you need in the midst of trouble.

Do you need a to know God’s “favor?” Do you need “a song of deliverance?” Do you need “mercy?” Do you need the fellowship of other believers?
If so, you can count on the LORD’s “faithfulness” by providing them.

As an Incredible, Violet could extend her force field to preserve others. It’s somewhat common in SyFy for those with a force field to extend it.

“Faithfulness” surrounds the LORD and is therefore extended to surround you.

I don’t think this list exhausts the spiritual resources Jesus has to extend to you.

Grace would certainly be another shield, as would love. We sing a chorus, “Your holiness surrounds me.”

I say on the basis of God’s love for you that anything pure and spiritual you need to surround you is extended.

There’s more: It is in those times when your only shielding is spiritual that God proves to you His love, or His grace, or His mercy. You can’t experience them unless you need them.

While watching the Drop Ships explode, Bucky said, “I love this place.”

When you are shielded, but in some trouble, you are enabled to say, “I’m loved in this place.”

Nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

Psalm 124 – I AM Is On My Side…Yes He Is

Suppose Abraham Lincoln had been a vampire hunter…

It’s the premise of a novel made into the 2012 movie appropriately titled, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Instead of Honest Abe, we’d call him Horrific Abe… Or Abe the Axe… Abraham VanHelsing…

It is an example of a genre in literature and film called Alternate History, or AH. It consists of stories in which one or more historical events occur differently. These stories usually ask What if? at crucial points in history that present outcomes other than those in the historical record.

Three of the most popular AH categories are:

Suppose the South had won the Civil War.
Suppose the Axis powers had won World War II.
Suppose JFK had not been assassinated.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen have written a novel, 1945, in which the US defeated Japan but not Germany in World War II, resulting in a Cold War with Germany rather than the Soviet Union.

Most long-running TV shows feature an AH episode. You fans of Star Trek will remember the Next Generation episode in which Picard was not stabbed in the heart as a cadet.

The change led to him becoming an unimpressive crew member rather than one of the great captains of the Enterprise.

Hulu has optioned the rights to Curtis Sittenfeld’s Alternative History book “Rodham,” which takes place in a world in which Hillary Rodham never married Bill Clinton.

It’s a Wonderful Life is AH – Suppose George Bailey had never been born.

Psalm 124 is definitely not Alternate History; but it does ask us to “suppose.”

In the opening verses, we read, “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side,” Let Israel now say – “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side…”

Another translation, the NIrV, puts it this way: “Suppose the LORD had not been on our side.

Suppose the LORD had not been on our side when our enemies attacked us.

Suppose he had not been on our side when their anger blazed out against us.”

Israel’s national history is full with events in which they would have been eradicated but for the LORD being “on [their] side.”

While they were subjects of the Persian empire, wicked Haman proposed a day upon which all the Jews would be murdered. The Book of Esther records the miraculous “on our side” of the LORD to protect and preserve His chosen ones. Esther, a Jew, had become Queen at just the right moment in history to be used to save the Jews.

Jesus “on our side” is something we, too, enjoy, along with the protection and preservation it affords.

Jesus sweetly promises believers, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
The apostle Paul wonderfully exclaimed, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

We’ll explore this as we work through the verses.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Jesus Is On Your Side In Your Troubles, and #2 Jesus Is On Your Side To Triumph Over Your Troubles.

#1 – Jesus Is On Your Side In Your Troubles (v1-2)

What was your elementary field trip anthem, sung on every bus ride? Mine was 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.

Psalms 120-134, the Songs of Ascent, were sung by the pilgrims ascending the hill to Jerusalem on their way to the Temple to celebrate the annual feasts.

Psa 124:1  A Song of Ascents. Of David. “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side,” Let Israel now say –

This psalm is responsive. The song leader begins it, soliciting a response.

Have you ever tried to elicit a response from an audience, only to have them remain silent? That didn’t happen in Israel when it was time to sing Psalm 124.

When we worship by singing in a service, the worship team is soliciting a response. Most of you respond by singing. If you don’t sing, I’m not going to rebuke you. For all I or anyone else knows, you’re praying; or you’re reflecting on the words; or you’re reading your Bible.

I’d only ask this: If someone were to ask you, “What was your response to the worship of the Lord in song?,” what would you answer?

Worshipping in song seems to be an important activity in Heaven. That makes it important now.

Psa 124:2  “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side…”

Wouldn’t it be more biblical to say that we are on the LORD’s side? When Joshua was contemplating the attack on Jericho, “a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped…” (Joshua 5:13-14).

We definitely want to have Joshua’s humility and be on the Lord’s side. Simultaneously, the Lord wants us to understand that He is, indeed, on our side.

Jesus is on your side in your troubles. Isn’t that a basic, elementary principle?

Doesn’t every believer already know that? Enough milk of God’s Word; serve up the meat.

A theologian I follow on twitter said, “Pastors and teachers, when it comes to the basics of Christian faith and Christian living, if we don’t continually ‘state the obvious,’ one day it will no longer be obvious.”

It does seem that we regularly forget this elementary principle in our daily walk with the Lord.

The very first church service I attended after being born-again was a Sunday morning at (then) Calvary Chapel of Riverside. The guest speaker was Pastor Romaine from CC Costa Mesa. I remember this one quote: “So you’re a Christian? Then where do you get off losing your joy over a dead battery!”

It may not sound all that deep and profound, but it was to me. It was the first time I understood that God’s Omnipresence meant more than that He was everywhere. It meant He was always with me, by my side, on my side. It is practical theology.

God is Omnipotent… Omniscient… and Omnipresent. He wants me to know it, but He also wants me to experience it firsthand.

He wanted His people, Israel, to experience His Omni-ness. So, for example, in the Esther-episode, the LORD could have intervened another way, not involving Esther or Mordecai. The way that the LORD did intervene expresses Him so much more than a raw power event. And, for their part, Esther and Mordecai experience God up close and personal.

Think of Esther. A beautiful Jewish girl, she volunteered to be a candidate to become the Queen of Persia. To be chosen, she and Mordecai knew she would have sex with the King. Now that’s wrong; it wasn’t God’s plan to pimp her out.

God used her bad decision to bring Esther to a more spiritual decision. Once the decree was issued to kill Jews, Esther was in the perfect position to save them. Would she?

She did… And now we marvel at the Omni’s of God as He intervened for His people.

Esther and Mordecai tell us that we are going to be right in the thick of things; on the front lines. Your ‘Persia’ may be your home… Or your employment. It might be your church. It’s wherever you live, so to speak. You must have skin in the game in order to experience and express the Living God.

#2 – Jesus Is On Your Side To Triumph Over Your Troubles (v3-8)

David, who scholars credit with writing this psalm, suggested an Alternate History. He asked the Israelites to look back upon their national history and “suppose” God had not been on their side.

Psa 124:2  “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, When men rose up against us,
Psa 124:3  Then they would have swallowed us alive, When their wrath was kindled against us;

David will employ several metaphors in these remaining verses to describe the severity of various situations that Israel had faced in her national past. Looking back, if God had not been on their side, the nation would not exist.

“When men rose up against us” could apply to any number of troubles. At one point in their history, Jerusalem was surrounded by an Assyrian army that “rose up against [them]” and “would have swallowed [them] alive.” But “when their wrath was kindled against” Israel, God sent a single angel into their encampment. That angel killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. One & done.

I can almost hear the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem in their over-night encampments, or in homes that offered them hospitality, regaling one another with these stories. “What about that time the LORD was on Gideon’s side? Or that time He was on Elijah’s side, and fire came out of Heaven?”

Flip through the Old Testament with an eye for “on our side” stories, and you’ll find plenty.

Psa 124:4  Then the waters would have overwhelmed us, The stream would have gone over our soul;
Psa 124:5  Then the swollen waters Would have gone over our soul.”

We’ve seen footage of the devastation from floods and tsunamis. Many times in her history it seemed as though the Jews would be overwhelmed by a spiritual tsunami.

Moses and several million Jews had their backs against the impassable Red Sea. The mighty Egyptian army was on their heels, and had them trapped. It would be the end of the nation before it ever really began.

You know the story. God was on their side.

Another time, a Canaanite force featuring 900 heavy military chariots came to destroy Israel. It suddenly rained upon them, swelling and overflowing the Kishon River, sweeping the chariots away.

Psa 124:6  Blessed be the LORD, Who has not given us as prey to their teeth.

It’s dumb to speculate on how we want to die, but we do it anyway. I can tell you one way I do not want to die. Duuuunnnn duun… duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn dunnnn.

Psa 124:7  Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers; The snare is broken, and we have escaped.

Listening to the stories being told, someone -perhaps a child – might wonder about times in Isra’s past in which the Jews were defeated, and he’d captive. Was God on their side then?

David acknowledged that often Israel was caught, like a bird in the snare. This refers to the many episodes in Israel’s national history in which the LORD found it necessary to discipline the nation. It only came after much warning, urging repentance.

The prophet Jeremiah urged Israel to repent and to surrender to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. They abused him, and refused. Into captivity they went. But there was a promise from the LORD that they would be delivered after approximately seventy years. It seemed as though they were “ensnared,” but the “snare [was] broken” by the LORD, when the time was right, and they “escaped.

There is a long extra-biblical history of God being on Israel’s side. A Jewish website posted an article titled, 17 Miraculous Israeli Military Victories. It covers Israel’s modern history, from the late 1940’s through the present.

On January 16,1996, then President of Israel, Ezer Weizmann, gave a speech to both Houses of Parliament of Germany. He gave this speech in Hebrew to the Germans, fifty years after the Holocaust, and in it he appealed to Israel’s history. He said:

It was fate that delivered me and my contemporaries into this great era when the Jews returned to re-establish their homeland… I am no longer a wandering Jew who migrates from country to country, from exile to exile. But all Jews in every generation must regard themselves as if they had been there in previous generations, places and events. Therefore, I am still a wandering Jew but not along the far flung paths of the world. Now I migrate through the expanses of time from generation to generation down the paths of memory… I was a slave in Egypt. I received the Torah on Mount Sinai. Together with Joshua and Elijah I crossed the Jordan River. I entered Jerusalem with David and was exiled with Zedekiah. And I did not forget it by the rivers of Babylon. When the Lord returned the captives of Zion I dreamed among the builders of its ramparts. I fought the Romans and was banished from Spain.

I was bound to the stake in Mainz. I studied Torah in Yemen and lost my family in Kishinev. I was incinerated in Treblinka, rebelled in Warsaw, and emigrated to the Land of Israel, the country from where I have been exiled and where I have been born and from which I come and to which I return.

The very survival of the Jewish people through recorded time is nothing short of miraculous.

It is the ‘before-our-very-eyes’ fulfillment of Bible prophecy. The very fact that Jews exist as a nation today stands in testimony to the existence of God Who acts providentially. By any historical measure, the Jewish people should have disappeared long ago.

Over 300 years ago King Louis XIV of France asked Blaise Pascal, the great French philosopher, to give him proof of the supernatural. Pascal answered: “Why, the Jews, your Majesty – the Jews.

Psa 124:8  Our help is in the name of the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.
This is certainly a nod to the LORD’s power as Creator. It is also a reminder that Creation is going somewhere. There is a plan being implemented throughout human history. His-story is progressively unfolding. It’s a plan to offer salvation to mankind by sending a Savior through the nation of Israel to them, and through them to the whole world.

The literal history in the Bible testifies to God’s providence in forwarding the plan. The apostle Paul wrote,

Gal 4:4  But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
Gal 4:5  to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
Gal 4:6  And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”

The plan is yet unfolding. We have it in good detail in our New Testament, especially in the Revelation.

Psalm 124 is for and about Israel – not us. However, to the extent that it describes God, in a covenant relationship with believers, it is for every believer everywhere, anytime.

The New Testament is full of stories in which we see the Lord “on our side.” Geno is teaching insightfully through the Book of Acts on Wednesday nights. If you were there last week, he covered the story of Paul and Silas beaten and confined to the dungeon in Philippi.

If you weren’t there, you should listen to it on our site!

I can’t go into the depth he did, but luckily most of you are familiar with the story. The two missionaries were wrongfully arrested, beaten severely with rods, locked deep in the prison dungeon – in stocks.

As they sang, at midnight a ‘focused’ earthquake unlocked their chains, and opened wide the prison doors. Thinking all his prisoners had escaped, the jailer was about to commit suicide, as would be expected by Rome to maintain his honor. Paul urged him not to, seeing as all the prisoners inexplicably stayed in their cells. As the morning progressed, the jailer and his family heard the Gospel, and were saved.

In the morning, when the order was given for their release and banishment, Paul dropped a political nuke by informing the authorities that he and Silas might be Jews, but they were Roman citizens. What the magistrates had done to them was criminal.

When I say that Jesus is on our side, triumphing in our troubles – this is the kind of triumphing I mean.

In Philippi, Paul could have immediately appealed to his Roman citizenship.

He could have thereby avoided a terrible beating and the subsequent incarceration.

The Lord somehow communicated to Paul to remain silent. I doubt Jesus told him anything more than that. As Paul and Silas simply obeyed the Lord’s leading, the story unfolded, and the Gospel permeated the prison.

Not just the prison. Think of how that story must have spread throughout the region.

It has inspired multiplied millions throughout history. It is encouraging us today.

Paul exercised his right to be wronged for the sake of the Gospel. You will be asked to exercise that right, instead of your rights, on occasion. It probably won’t involve being beaten with rods nearly to death… But it will require trust and sacrifice.

It is precisely in times like that we can feel that Jesus is NOT “on our side.” He is – always – every bit as much as He was on the side of the believers whose stories are recorded in the Bible, and in Christian history.

I shudder to suppose my Alternate History had the Lord not saved me. If you’re a believer, you can relate.

If you’re not a believer… God has a glorious Alternate History for you:

He saves you by grace, through faith, apart from any woks you can perform.

He has good works for you to discover as you walk with Him.

Most of all, you will have a glorious entrance into Heaven, rather than be conscripted to Hell.

Have you received Jesus?

I Wanna Behold Your Hand (Psalm 123)

“Show me your hands.”

You’re almost certain to hear that shouted at a suspect in any cop show. One of the first things I learned as a Chaplain on a ride-along was to observe a person’s hands – because that is where they’ll be holding the weapon.

“Show me your hands” might be followed by, “Put your hands up,” then, “Put your hands behind your head.”

When Quint first meets Hooper in Jaws, he demands, “Gimme your hands.” Then Quint grabs Hooper’s wrists and looks at his hands and examines them. “You’ve got city boy hands, Hooper. You been countin’ money all your life.”

Can your remember the last time you used hand signals while driving your car?

The military utilizes tactical hand-signals. Most everyone understands that a bent-elbow, raised clenched fist means “Stop.” Raise that clenched fist with a straight arm overhead, head down, and it communicates something very different.

A good doctor observes your hands. There are many medical reasons your hands might shake. My hands shake. Is it from too much caffeine, or too little dopamine?

In Terminator 3, Arnold walks through a mini-mart filling a basket with junk food. When the clerk asks him if he is going to pay for it, Arnold ominously extends his hand and says, “Talk to the hand.”

Hands are prominent in Psalm 123. The psalmist doesn’t want to talk to the hand. He wants to behold it.

Psa 123:2  Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, So our eyes look to the LORD our God, Until He has mercy on us.

The psalmist wants to behold the LORD’s hand the way a faithful servant beholds the master’s hand in order to receive guidance and instruction.

We are servants of the Lord. We, too, ought to passionately desire to behold His hand.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Behold The Lord’s Hand Until He Signals His Mercy To You, and #2 Behold The Lord’s Hand Until You Show His Mercy Through You.

#1 – Behold The Lord’s Hand Until He Signals His Mercy To You (v1-2)

My shaking hands. It’s not from too much caffeine. You may not believe me, but I don’t drink all that much coffee in a day:

I have one cup, a pour-over, in the morning.

I might have a shot of espresso, or a Turkish, midmorning. A shot isn’t some crazy caffeine overload. It only contains the amount of caffeine in a regular 8oz cup of coffee.

I might have a mid-afternoon coffee, but not always.

I do love the different ways of making coffee, and the gadgets associated with it.

I shake because I have too little dopamine; and that is from Parkinson’s Disease.

Technically (and I quote), “The main pathological characteristics of Parkinson’s Disease are cell death in the brain’s basal ganglia.”

It confirms what you’ve always suspected: I’m brain dead.

My initial diagnosis was about two years ago. It’s no secret; I just didn’t want to make a huge deal of it.

It has opened up new ministry: This year at our annual Apples of Gold, they’ve asked me to demonstrate Shake&Bake cooking.

Honestly, I figured that one day it would be an appropriate illustration in a study. It fits today. And now we can have some fun with it.

Psa 123:1  A Song of Ascents. Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens.

The Songs of Ascent are Psalms 120-134. They were the travel playlist for pilgrims on their way up the hill to the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate one of the annual feasts.

In the previous psalm, the pilgrim said, “Our feet have been standing Within your gates, O Jerusalem!” (v2). Now within the city, his gaze turned even higher, to God’s dwelling in the heavens.

The psalmist looked heavenward, then, in verse two, talked about the kind of humble servant he desired to become. Seeing God, he wanted to be rededicated to serving God.

It reminds me of Isaiah. He recorded his famous vision of God:

Isa 6:1  In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.
Isa 6:2  Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
Isa 6:3  And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”

In his vision Isaiah was rededicated for service as a coal from the altar touched his lips. Isaiah uttered those famous words, “Here am I. Send me” (v8).

Your serving is an outgrowth of your ‘vision’ of Jesus. I don’t mean that you’ll be transported to Heaven, like Isaiah was. It’s how you envision His nature and character. If you are not serving the Lord; or if your service seems empty, or a burden… You’re not really looking at the Suffering Servant who substituted Himself for you, in order to save you.

Psa 123:2  Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, So our eyes look to the LORD our God, Until He has mercy on us.

The picture the psalmist refers us to is that of a servant who is so attentive to his master, or to her mistress, that they respond to subtle finger and hand signals that guests of the household may not even see. They don’t ever have to be told what to do.

If you’ve been a leader, or a supervisor… Have you had the joy of having a subordinate assistant that seemed to always know what you wanted done, and how to accomplish it?

Or are you always finding it necessary to assist your assistants?

Iron Man had Jarvis, then Friday, as his AI assistants. They could anticipate his needs. The psalmist wants to be that in tune with the LORD.

Christians tend to think of serving as if they were in an episode of Downton Abbey. Everything is expected to be absolutely perfect. They labor, they toil, to a point of exhaustion. They are constantly anxious. Inevitably, something, a drinking glass, is spotted, or spilled, to everyone’s shame.

If you ever feel as though you’re serving Jesus that way, something is wrong. You’re either putting a burden on yourself, or someone is trying to burden you.
I’ll throw out giving as an example. Churches have many techniques to burden you about your financial giving. Isn’t it better to let the Lord lead you in your giving?

As a side note: I think Christians can be afraid to let the Lord lead. I mean, what if He asks you to be extra generous, or to give in a way you’d never have dreamed of?

Jesus will lead you by His Word, reinforced by the still, small, gracious voice of the Holy Spirit Who indwells you.

There is another illustration in the Bible that captures this same idea of subtle servant signals:

Psa 32:8  I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.
Psa 32:9  Do not be like the horse or like the mule, Which have no understanding, Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle…

In this case, the horse or the mule are the servant. Some are so in tune with their rider that even the slightest turn of the head is felt by them and they respond.

Verse two ends, “So our eyes look to the LORD our God, Until He has mercy on us.”

“Mercy,” by definition, cannot be earned or deserved. Secondly, God is always merciful. Even in His righteous wrath He remembers mercy.

You may not ‘see’ the Lord’s mercy right away. In fact, you might think there is no mercy in your situation. A servant is to wait on the Lord until he or she perceives His mercy.

For example: It’s part of the fallen world that there is decay, disease, and death. At some point, you will suffer. Wait, and God will show you His mercy in it.

If nothing else, if God permits your death in a way we dislike or think premature, His mercy is shown in the fact you are absent from your decaying body and present with Jesus.

There are usually other, more subtle, mercies to discover. But you must be like the servant passionately attending to his or her master’s hand.

I want to add an important element to this idea of beholding the Lord’s hand.

When the risen Lord appeared suddenly to the disciples, He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands“ (John 20:27).

Look to THAT hand. Wait until the nail print comes into focus. Concentrate on what the Lord has done.

The hand we are beholding for guidance is nail-printed. He knows you intimately, and He loves you with everlasting love. He promised to keep you until the end. He can’t help Himself from showing you mercy – regardless your circumstances.

#2 – Behold The Lord’s Hand Until You Show His Mercy Through You (v3-4)

“Contempt” is the word repeated twice in two verses:

In verse three, the psalmist has contempt for himself, and indicates that all believers ought to hold themselves in contempt.
In verse four he points out that nonbelievers hold believers in contempt.

Psa 123:3  Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us! For we are exceedingly filled with contempt.

What does he mean by “contempt?” Definitions are useful, but they can’t always communicate the psalmist’s intent the way an illustration can.

Earlier we were in Heaven with Isaiah. Between his vision of the LORD and the coal touching his lips, he said, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts” (6:5).

That is the kind of “contempt” a believer is to have for himself, or for herself. Albert Barnes writes:

This expression evidently denotes that he was a “sinner,” and especially that he was unworthy either to join in the praise of a God so holy, or to deliver a message in His name. The vision; the profound worship of the seraphim; and the attendant majesty and glory, had deeply impressed him with a sense of the holiness of God, and of his own unfitness either to join in worship so holy, or to deliver the message of so pure a God.

Holding yourself in contempt is more than an awareness that, although justified and declared righteous, you remain a sinner. It is deeply experiencing the truth of your being a sinner, but seeing through it to God’s mercy in saving you.

C.S. Lewis said, “A Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble – because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time.”

In His mercy is the incredible encouragement to serve Him. Stop and take that in. God partners with you.

The psalmist next discusses how nonbelievers hold believers in contempt.

Psa 123:4  Our soul is exceedingly filled With the scorn of those who are at ease, With the contempt of the proud.

“Proud” and at “ease” were the psalmists words describing nonbelievers. There are, of course, many other words that could be used of them.

Here is something to remember when you are being held in contempt: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (First Corinthians 6:9-11).

Nonbelievers hold you in contempt; or they should. They think you are weak and foolish for believing in Jesus. Your habits and lifestyle might cause them to scorn. Certainly your values are vastly different from those of nonbelievers… Aren’t they?

The apostle Paul categorizes believers as “foolish,” “base,” and “despised.”

1Co 1:26  For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.
1Co 1:27  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;
1Co 1:28  and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,
1Co 1:29  that no flesh should glory in His presence.

Is that how nonbelievers see you? If not, consider this: It IS possible for a believer to NOT want to be considered these ways; to not be held in any contempt.

We can avoid it by living like, by looking like, the world.

Psalm 123 seems like an odd choice for a Psalm of Ascents. It’s really perfect for the playlist.

The pilgrim has come to the presence of God, in His holy Temple. He didn’t travel there to be entertained. He traveled there to get a vision of God. Any such vision is going to reveal you as a sinner who is to be rededicated to serve the hand of your Lord.

“Gimme your hands,” demanded Quint. If we could, in the sound studio, take away the gruffness and condescension of Quint, it would be a great quote to attribute to Jesus.

Think of Jesus, with His everlasting love for you, asking you each day, “Gimme your hands,” so that our hands could, in a sense, be His hands.

Believers will stand, individually, before the Reward Seat of Jesus.
It isn’t an examination of works to see if you’ve done enough to be saved. No, you are saved by grace, through faith – not of works.
The Reward Seat is an examination of your works so that the Lord can celebrate His work in and through you. These rewards will adorn you, the way a bride is adorned for the Bridegroom in a wedding.

If the Lord, at His Reward Seat, were to say to you, “Gimme your hands,” what would He see?

You don’t want Him to see city boy hands that have been counting money all your life.

Your hands should be scarred, calloused, cut, and bruised for having responded to the subtle servant signals of Jesus.

Get Rich & Die Tryin’ (Psalm 49)

The America Pygmy Shrew is an interesting little animal. Just two inches long it reaches adulthood in about 18 days, which is good because the lifespan is less than a year and a half. That time is spent in a constant search for food. You see, the pygmy shrew’s heart beats1,000 times a minute. Its metabolism is so high that it must eat three times its weight every day. That means these shrews can never sleep for more than a few minutes because an hour without food could mean death.

That kind of existence sounds futile to us. We wouldn’t choose that sort of life for ourselves. Luckily, we don’t have to devote our entire focus to finding food. Instead, we see life before us, the wheel in our hand, and we are free to choose which horizon we will press toward. But that freedom doesn’t guarantee will will arrive at the destination of a meaningful life. God has gone to great lengths to warn us that there are many paths that will end in a ruined life, a wasted life, one with as little ultimate meaning as a pygmy shrew. A worthless life. That may sound harsh, but it’s the truth. God, says this in 2 Kings 17: “They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.”

Mankind, in many places, has moved away from bowing before golden idols in the traditional pagan sense. But still there is a draw on the hearts of man to give himself over to other masters. So much human attention is devoted to gathering and managing wealth. Our culture is engrossed with money and richness and material gain. We want to know who has it. So, outlets like Forbes will tell us each year who has got the biggest pile. People talk about who should have it. So we have movements like Occupy Wall Street in 2011 or other groups railing against the “1%.” Economists research pay gaps and our leaders debate minimum wage levels. When it comes to the voters, each election cycle many people cite “economic issues” as important, extremely important or the most important consideration in choosing who they want to represent them in the halls of government.

It’s not all theoretical or political. It seems that, even before COVID, more and more people were becoming less likely to show generosity. In the year 2000, 2/3 of Americans donated to charity. In 2014 that number was down to 55%.

Our popular culture embraces the pursuit of wealth. We concern ourselves with who is the highest paid actor or the best-selling musician. And your social media feeds are full of ads promising you a method by which you can make thousands of dollars from home doing no work!.

The culture’s approach to wealth is like the pygmy shrew’s approach to food, crystallized by the title of 50 Cent’s debut album and then his first feature film: Get rich or die tryin’.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a study on giving. It’s a study on living. Living a life of real meaning and value in a world that’s absolutely fixated on all the wrong things. It’s also an encouragement to us in a time when many people are feeling a pinch in their wallet and the potential anxiety that follows when the days are looking lean. We’re reminded by God’s word that if we make our lives about material pursuits, we may lay hold of some pile of treasure in the here and now, but in the end, if our purpose is to “get rich,” then we will die trying.

Psalm 49 is a song that drives home not only the proper mindset God wants us to have, but also reveals what great value He has placed on the the human treasure He bought with the blood of His Son. We begin above verse 1, where we read:

Psalm 49:1-2 – For the choir director. A psalm of the sons of Korah. 1 Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who inhabit the world, 2 both low and high, rich and poor together.

There are some Psalms directed to Jews, some to pilgrims, some to kings. But this Psalm is for everyone everywhere. All who inhabit the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, slave or free. If you’re alive, God has sung this song to you.

This is an important point, because it would be easy for us to think, “Well, I’m already a Christian.” Or, “I’m not rich, at least not by my own definition. So what follows applies to the next person, but not to me.” But the song specifically lumps us all together and says we all need to listen in.

It’s also a great message considering current opinions. Today, there is a general idea that there are different rules for different people. On the one hand, the average man on the city street will probably say that the “rich” should be taxed at a much higher rate than the “poor.” Different rules. On the other hand, it’s evident that there are, in some ways, a different set of rules for those with great wealth in our society than for the average Joe.

But not so with the Lord. His truth does not apply to one group or the other, it applies to everyone. And, as His creatures, we are commanded to listen to what He says. God is a God of incredible patience and grace and understanding. But He has spoken. He has issued commands and instructions and decrees and guidance and it is not only our duty to hear Him, it’s our only hope.

Psalm 49:3-4 – 3 My mouth speaks wisdom; my heart’s meditation brings understanding. 4 I turn my ear to a proverb; I explain my riddle with a lyre.

The Psalmist is able to deliver this song because he listened to what the Lord had to say. Putting it to music he’s now hope we will all hear and sing along.

This is what we might call a “wisdom” Psalm, and that emphasizes the fact that God’s word is full of wisdom. It’s not just the Good Book, it’s a guide book. It’s not just a set of stories, it is the scout which looks through the past, far to the future and into your heart, showing you the roads to take, the dangers to avoid and how to lay hold of everlasting life. It meets the hardest questions of life with real, applicable answers and shows how you can be known by the most important Person of all time.

Sadly, fewer and fewer people are going to the Word of God to drink of its truth. In its 10th annual “State of the Bible” survey, the American Bible Society found that fewer than 1 in 10 people “use the Bible daily.” CEO Robert Briggs said, “Despite nearly every individual in the U.S. having access to the Bible, engagement has decreased. That’s been a consistent trend over the past few years, and the trend has accelerated since January 2020 throughout the pandemic.” (Emphasis added)

That’s not meant to burden you. It’s an appeal. Here is help. Here is guidance. Here is perspective. Here is truth in the midst of the world’s chaos. It’s ready to be found as we sit and listen.

Psalm 49:5 – 5 Why should I fear in times of trouble? The iniquity of my foes surrounds me.

The singer is in on a secret and he wants us to be a part of it. The times were tough. The people in power were nipping at his heels. But he’s not worried. He’s calm and sure of what is true.

Remind yourself that there is nothing too difficult for our God to accomplish. This God defeats all enemies. This God can bring revival to Nineveh. This God can bring Nebuchadnezzar to repentance or stop the sun in the sky if He needs to. No day is too dark for Him to break through with His light. No trouble in your life is too much for Him to address.

Psalm 49:6-9 – 6 They trust in their wealth and boast of their abundant riches. 7 Yet these cannot redeem a person or pay his ransom to God—8 since the price of redeeming him is too costly, one should forever stop trying—9 so that he may live forever and not see the Pit.

Verse 8 is a parenthesis, so you read verse 7 right into verse 9. The difference on display in this Psalm is between those who trust in God for their lives and wellbeing and those who trust in their wealth. It’s not just people who worship money, but we’re also talking about those who hang their lives on material things. “My paycheck will protect me.” But, for human beings, there’s more going on than just the monthly bills that come in the mail. There is a life after this one and, standing before God, mankind owes an unpayable fine. Here on earth, a person might have enough assets to be comfortable and secure and meet all their needs. But at the end of life we owe a ransom debt to God. And there is no amount of money that can clear that debt. The price is too high.

In 2017, Leonardo DaVinci’s Salvator Mundi sold at auction for $450 million. But the most expensive item ever to be sold was a yacht called the History Supreme. It was made with 220,000 pounds of 24 carat gold. One of the walls in the master bedroom was made with meteoric stone. And it contains a sculpture made from an actual T-Rex bone. It sold for $4.8 billion.

Pick any human life. Pick even the most wasted life imaginable, from the worst place in the worst time. And the Lord says, “It’s worth so much more than that.” But, not only is our value that high in His eyes, our debt is that high as well. They say that Jeff Bezos’ wealth grows by over $2,000 a second. But before God he is a pauper, powerless to pay for his sin.

We can’t buy our way out of death. God can’t be bribed or paid off. We can’t work our way out of death either. We need someone to rescue us by paying the ransom. And we need it now, because death is waiting to claim every single person. It’s estimated that every minute 120 people die. And the Bible explains that after death comes judgment.

So, before we continue, the question is: Are you ready to die? Remember, with all these thoughts on his mind, the Psalmist said, “I’m not afraid.” How can that be? It’s because his ransom had been paid. He knew the Redeemer. Do you? If you think you will stand before your Creator because you were a good person or because you worked hard in this life, listen to what’s being said here. All the effort of your life isn’t even worth half a cent on a trillion dollar invoice.

There’s a comical moment in the film Catch Me If You Can. Young Frank Abagnale has been forging checks and is being chased by the FBI. Frank’s mom is questioned by the agents and she, not understanding the gravity of the situation, grabs her check book and says, “I’ve been working part time at the church. Tell me how much he owes and I’ll pay you back.” The response? “$1.3 million.”

Whatever direction we’re sailing in life, all of us are on a crash course with with death. The Psalmist drives the point home:

Psalm 49:10-13 – 10 For one can see that the wise die; the foolish and stupid also pass away. Then they leave their wealth to others. 11 Their graves are their permanent homes, their dwellings from generation to generation, though they have named estates after themselves. 12 But despite his assets, mankind will not last; he is like the animals that perish. 13 This is the way of those who are arrogant, and of their followers, who approve of their words.

Evolutionists suggest that we’re animals, just like all the others. In a cosmic sense, we’re not special, they say, just more evolved. That’s not what verse 12 means. It simply means that we, like all the animals, are mortal. In fact, by highlighting this similarity, the truth that we are much more than just another animal is affirmed. A human life of is of infinitely more value than the life of an animal because we were made in the image of God. The birds and the fish and the monkeys were not.

Now, when we started this song, we were promised wisdom and answers. We were being serenaded by someone who was living without fear or worry. But since then we’ve gotten a non-stop reminder that we’ll all be dead soon. Not exactly the kind of DJ you’d book for your wedding.

But if the message is, “Everyone dies. There’s nothing you can do to avoid it,” then what’s to stop us from giving up and saying, “Well then who cares? Might as well eat, drink and be merry.”

The reveal comes in the next set of verses, where we find that, while everyone will die, there is one way for a person to pass through death into life. Every other way, every other plan, leads to death holding you hostage forever. But there is a way out, a way through, where death becomes a tunnel rather than a tomb.

Psalm 49:14-15 – 14 Like sheep they are headed for Sheol; Death will shepherd them. The upright will rule over them in the morning, and their form will waste away in Sheol, far from their lofty abode. 15 But God will redeem me from the power of Sheol, for he will take me.

These days people use the term “sheep” to deride their opponents. The truth is, the Bible has used this description for thousands of years, not in a derogatory way, but to show us our state. We are sheep. Helpless and in need of a shepherd. But, here’s what’s amazing about the way God has designed things: As sheep, we get to voluntarily side with one of two flocks, under one of two shepherds. There’s the grim and cruel shepherd of death. He devours his sheep without mercy.

There’s one other option: God’s redemption. Of course, the most famous Psalm, Psalm 23 begins with those 5 wonderful words: The Lord is my Shepherd. When we are in His flock, we are saved from the power of death and He promises to walk with us through life, showing us tender care every day, and then to take us to Himself at the end of this life, where we will live forever with Him in glory.

Sheep, in the Bible’s imagery, are free range animals. They’re not in the tight pens we think of in today. We have freedom to go this way or that in life, seeking one pasture or another. In our natural state, we’re told that we are all sheep who have gone astray. We’ve each turned to our own way, leaving God’s path to follow our own. In Psalm 119, the writer recognizes this and says:

Psalm 119:176 – 176 I have wandered away like a lost sheep; come and find me

That’s exactly what God has done. He searches in all times, in all places, for His lost sheep. Pleading with them to surrender and become a part of His flock. God, through His Son Jesus Christ, did all that was necessary to pay the fine, to clear the debt, to redeem and rescue us from death. And “if you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

When a person stops trusting in wealth or their own efforts and instead gives their life to Jesus Christ, death is no longer a danger. It is a door through which we enter eternity with our Good Shepherd. The dark of death needs not frighten us, because salvation comes like the dawn.

The consequences of this choice could not be more clear or severe:

1 Samuel 2:9 – 9 He will protect his faithful ones, but the wicked will disappear in darkness.

Job 20:25b-26 – The terrors of death are upon them. 26 Their treasures will be thrown into deepest darkness. A wildfire will devour their goods, consuming all they have left.

There is no other savior than Jesus Christ. God says in Hosea 13: “You must acknowledge no God but Me, for there is no other Savior.”

Psalm 49:16-20 – 16 Do not be afraid when a person gets rich, when the wealth of his house increases. 17 For when he dies, he will take nothing at all; his wealth will not follow him down. 18 Though he blesses himself during his lifetime—and you are acclaimed when you do well for yourself—19 he will go to the generation of his ancestors; they will never see the light. 20 Mankind, with his assets but without understanding, is like the animals that perish.

The song turns to give us some comfort and guidance when it comes to the way we think about life. While there are powerful people out there who are using their wealth for evil, we are not to be afraid of them. Rather we should pity them and pray for them. We know the end of their story.

How might this give us some day-to-day application? Here’s one: If you scroll through social media, you won’t go long before there’s some inflamed post about how Bill Gates is trying to kill us all. You know what? Maybe he is! But we don’t have to be afraid of him or anyone else. We are being shepherded by the King of all heaven and earth.“In God I have put my trust, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

As the Psalm ends, it repeats what was already said in verse 12. But this time there’s a small change: “Mankind with his assets but without understanding, is like the animals that perish.”

This is important. Because the problem is not having assets. The issue is not the content of your bank account but the condition of your heart. What are you trusting in? Where is your hope?

It’s easy for us to think, “Well, I’m a Christian, I’m not rich, so I’m good.” But, remember how this song began: It’s for everyone, everywhere, whether they’re rich or poor. That means that there’s a message here we all need to pay attention to. And, while everything is relative, even a person living on minimum wage in the United States is richer than 94% of the world’s population.

So, because of that and because of what has been revealed, because we know we are only alive on this side of eternity for a very short amount of time, as redeemed people we are to go and redeem the time that we do have. That means walking in God’s wisdom and making the most of every opportunity. Not to just make a buck, but to be about the Lord’s business, proclaiming His message. It means learning to understand what the Lord wants you to do in your community and your area of influence. It means to live a life full of the Holy Spirit. In doing these things, we not only avoid the futility of a life spent pursuing wealth, but we actually lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven – great rewards that will be waiting for us.

Now, perhaps we think to ourselves, “I agree with God. He’s my Shepherd. I’ll honor Him. But can’t I also point the prow of my life to building a fortune?” This Psalm and so many other passages would caution you, in as strong language as possible.

Listen: God is not against people having assets, in some cases even very great assets. If you’re wealthy, thank God for it and use what you have for His glory. Imitate the generosity of your lavishly generous God. But we know that the love of money is a deadly trap. And, in the end, we can serve only one Master.

In 2 Kings, we have this description:

2 Kings 17:33 – 33 They feared the Lord, but they also worshiped their own gods according to the practice of the nations

The result was and always is disaster. Because: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.”

All of us, rich or poor, are commanded by God to keep a proper perspective. To keep our eyes on the leading of our Shepherd, especially when we’re worried about the condition of our pasture. We have no reason to fear, because look at what the Lord has done for us. Look at what He paid to make us His own. We can trust Him. We must trust Him, so that we can enjoy a life of real wealth, a life that lasts, a life on course for eternal peace, reward and glory.