Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Psalms (page 1 of 3)

You’re Not the First Person to Ask

Faith Doubt QuestionsWe’ve All Got Questions

We all have questions we’d like answers to. But sometimes the questions we have of God can be the scariest to ask: we want to be reverential, not blasphemous. What if the question offends God?

More than that, deep-down we can be kind of afraid that there is no answer. What would that mean for our faith?

For some, the persistent presence of questions unasked has been a catalyst to their rejecting or abandoning of the Christian faith all together. That need not be so. In fact, the people in the Bible — those God uses to write his very word! — often asked the toughest questions of all.

Have you read them?

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The ‘Get Up and Go!’ Factor in Faith

So, today is beautiful. It’s warm, sunny, not oppressively hot… and perhaps best of all, it’s Friday. How awesome is that? I should be happy, right?

That’s what struck me today around lunch time as I was walking to the school to pick up one of my daughters: I should be very happy. But as I thought about the disposition of my heart I found something quite different: I was sad. I wasn’t depressed or angry, and I wasn’t ready to weep or break down. There was just a kind of low-grade sad, disappointed mindset that was colouring all my thoughts and interactions.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I began to question myself in the fashion of Psalm 42-43:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 43.5)

What’s cool about this question is that it is actually drawing out the reasons for sadness, while at the same time challenging those reasons for sadness with timeless truth: God reigns, he saves, and I will praise him into the future. So in light of the truth that was (I’ve praised him before), the truth that is (he is still my salvation and my God), and the truth that will be (I will praise him again), are my reasons for sadness still justified?

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The Tenses of Faith

The Tenses of Psalm 63

Present Tense

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Past Tense

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and your glory.

Present Tense

Because your steadfast love is better than life…

Future Tense

… my lips will praise you.

So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you (when I remember you in the future!) upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
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Just Try to Not Worship

The Foolish Mine Owner

You know those moments when truth really sinks into your heart? Isn’t it beautiful?

This morning I was reading from the Psalms and I was struck by something I already knew: God is a precious treasure! He is worthy of worship! For us to ‘have’ him as our God is an incalculable blessing!

In fact, the many attributes of God make him more than a treasure — perhaps more like a treasure mine. There is so much blessing to be had, so many riches to be uncovered, so much wealth to be enjoyed!

And yet, so often I’m like a fool of a mine owner. I’m content to know that I have a mine and that there are riches to be had, but I so rarely do any actual mining that my day-to-day experience is far more poverty-stricken than it needs to be. What a fool I am!

Mining for Treasure in the Psalms

The Psalmists, however, were not fools. They were diligent to recount to themselves and to the people of God all the riches of his glory.

They studied who God had revealed himself to be in his word, in his providence, and in their daily experience. They explored all the furthest caverns they could find. They unearthed new treasures from old tunnels. They extracted precious diamonds and gazed from all different angles so as to enjoy the beauty in its fullest.

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Not Every Psalm is Psalm 119

Psalm 119 is epic. It is theologically profound, it is highly structured, it tells me new and wonderful things that I need to know. It gloriously reflects splendour of both the word of God and the God of the word. And it is long — it spans six pages of my Bible.

Surely Psalm 119 should inform our worship. We should seek to be theologically profound and we should not shy away from length of song or beautiful poetry. We should not be afraid of teaching God’s people to sing worship songs that glory in him because of their length.

But not every Psalm is Psalm 119.

Just two psalms prior we find something very different. Here is Psalm 117 (ESV):

Praise the LORD, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.

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Joy Invites Others In

Chasing Fish

Maybe it’s just because I’m a very simple man, but I find it astounding how much there is to be learned just from watching children. Just today I overheard my four year old rejoicing with her mother that she had completed her writing assignment for her ‘reading lesson.’ Stacey was excited with her, but that wasn’t enough. I heard the overjoyed little voice: ‘Can I go show Daddy?’ She received approval from her mother and came bounding up the stairs to my office.

That made me think. Why did she want to come show me? What did she stand to gain by showing me her lines of k’s, f’s, h’s, and m’s repeated over and over? She came to me because she was full of joy and wanted me share in it and to rejoice with her. There is something intuitive about joy that even a four year old understands: joy is never more wonderful than when shared. There’s something overflowing about true joy that compels us to invite others to join with us in our joy.

Which again made me think. Why am I so slow to evangelize? Why does it seem so forced? Why does corporate worship sometimes seem like a chore? Biblically speaking, I think it’s because I am not consistently finding my fullest joy in my God. If I was, my natural impulse would be to speak of it and to invite others to join in my joy.

Isn’t this what we see in Psalm 34?

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!

Do you see it? He calls on others to join in his joy! Then he testifies to how he found his joy:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

There it is! I sought the Lord, I cried to him, and he has heard me, answered me, protected me, kept me! He is good! And then again is a call to participate:

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!

And then the pattern repeats through the Psalm. What David is getting at there is the principle my four year old daughter showed me this morning. When we find true delight for our souls in something, we impulsively call on others to join in our joy.

So if I’m finding that evangelism seems a burden and worship seems a chore, perhaps I don’t need to think first about technique. Perhaps my first question should be, ‘Am I delighting in God? Is my joy really in him?’ Then I need to read the word, preach the gospel to my own heart, remind myself of how he has heard this poor man when I have cried to him.

If I am faithful to find my joy in him, I will speak to others, because joy invites others in. And do you know what? That kind of authentic overflow might just be the most effective technique out there for stirring the hearts of others.

Singing a Hymn with Jesus

The Last Supper

Mark 14.26 has always struck me as a bit of a funny verse. I’ve always wondered just why Mark felt it was necessary to insert this little detail into the narrative of Jesus’s last night. After they finish eating the Passover meal, where Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, we hear this: “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

Why do we need to know that, I wondered.

As it turns out, this was part of the Passover meal as celebrated according to the Mishnah. The Hallel Psalms (Psalms 115-118) were sung at various points in the evening, especially toward the end, with the drinking of the fourth cup (there are four total). And it all wraps up around midnight.

So this detail is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which that it specifies the chronology of events as passing from evening (14.17) to midnight (here), to cock-crow (14.72), to morning (15.1), just exactly as Jesus had predicted the previous day in the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13.35). This is unfolding exactly as Jesus has predicted the ‘coming’ of the Son of Man would.

But beyond that, my (hopefully sanctified) imagination got working. The disciples got to sing a hymn with Jesus. What would that be like? How cool would it be to sing with my Lord? And then I got to thinking about what they would have actually been singing; so I went back and read those Hallel Psalms.

Psalm 118 is significant, of course, because it’s the Psalm that the people are reciting when Jesus approaches Jerusalem in Mark 11. Psalm 117 is glorious, but short, so probably not what they would have been singing (or at least not all that they would have sung). Psalm 115 would probably have been sung earlier, leading to them likely (this is definitely speculation) singing Psalm 116 as Jesus prepares to go out to Gethsemane.

Can I challenge you with something? At some point today, read Psalm 116 as Jesus would have sung it that night. Imagine what was going on in our Lord’s heart as he prepared for Gethsemane and Golgotha. Imagine how these words took on meaning like never before:

I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

I believed, even when I spoke, “I am greatly afflicted”;
I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars.”

What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 116, ESV)

And now, think about us. How amazing is it that we can sing about God hearing our pleas for mercy because Christ went to Golgotha? How precious is it that he inclines his ear to us because he did not incline his ear to his Son in Gethsemane? How wonderful that the snares of death which encompassed Christ have been defeated so that I will never feel the pangs of Sheol! I can call on the name of the Lord and ask him to deliver me, and know for certain that he will because he first delivered Jesus, the firstborn from the dead.

Now I actually can sing Psalm 116 with my Lord in an even truer sense than the disciples did on that fateful night. What they sung, unaware, I sing with retrospective faith, believing that Jesus has forever filled up the meaning of this Psalm, and will always sing it with me.

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