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Psalm 119, the Reformation Anniversary, and Apologetics

November 3, 2017 5 comments

Psalm 119 Thoughts

As I near the end of the Psalm 119 series, here is an interesting point brought out regarding verse 162:  I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.

Here we consider the treasure, the plunder – and the idea also involves the delight and joy of the victory itself, the victory which brought the ‘great spoil.’  Old Testament Israel could certainly relate to and remember the many great deliverances in battle, brought about by their God.  From my own recent reading in Ezekiel, here I also relate this to any victory in battle and the spoil or plunder, not limited to Israel’s warfare; Nebuchadnezzar had worked hard to conquer Tyre, but with no reward – therefore God gave Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar’s army, for their payment (Ezekiel 29:18-20).

Psalm 119 and the other psalms so often express this truth so well – how wonderful God’s word is, our love for God’s word — with many analogies and metaphors.  The same truths have their New Testament “equivalents” such as 2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 2:2 (the comparison to milk) and Ephesians 6:17 (which also uses the imagery of war and battle).

This psalm also especially shows us the law of God, that which we love (reference also the New Testament, Romans 7:12, 16, and 22), which reveals God’s attributes to us.

The Reformation Anniversary

The last few weeks have brought many interesting “Reformation theme” articles, free and discount sale offers, and conferences.  One item of interest here:  Reformed Resources is providing its large collection (over 3000 lessons) of MP3 download lessons, all free (normally $1 per download), until November 15 – with the coupon code ‘celebrate’.  Among the interesting collections here, are ‘The Bible Study Hour’ with lessons on many of the Psalms and other Bible books, and a series on ‘The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century’.  I’ve already ordered many of these, for future listening.

Many churches have hosted weekend conferences on “the Five Solas” or other variations, bringing to attention key ideas from the Protestant Reformation.  Desiring God’s brief biography podcast “Here We Stand” gives a few minutes each day to some well known or perhaps lesser known person who played a part in the 16th century Reformation.

The Reformation and Apologetics

A conference I have found especially interesting is Reformed Forum’s 2017 Theology Conference, relating the Reformation to Reformed / Presuppositional Apologetics, a six part series available here.  I’m still listening to these messages on my podcast player, and find these very helpful, to build on my recent reading of Van Til’s A Defense of the Faith.  The speakers reference Van Til, but especially point out that presuppositional apologetics existed long before Van Til, in the teaching of John Calvin and others during the Reformation.  Especially of note, one of the speakers references and responds to the errors and inconsistencies in the well-known book Classical Apologetics (which advocates “classic” as in Thomas Aquinas, evidentialist apologetics, though authored by Reformed theologians who are inconsistent and ought to know better).

Random Thoughts: Michael Card, and Studying the Psalms

October 18, 2017 1 comment

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been listening a lot to Christian music artist Michael Card, years after my first acquaintance with his songs in the early 1990s.  The September 2006 Tabletalk issue (recently read from back-copies) included an article by Michael Card, and he has published book commentaries in addition to many songs.  Through youtube I have discovered many “new” songs (to me), from later years, including these songs now among my favorites:  Poem of your life, The Book, To the Overcomers, Starkindler, Morning Has Broken (Card’s recording in a Celtic music style, on the same album with Starkindler), The Promise, and The Edge.

Along with reading a Psalms commentary (“Be” series, Psalms 1-89), I am enjoying this sermon series done in 2016 (from Fred Pugh at Grace Covenant Church), which looks at Psalm 119 in some detail.  The 22 lessons include an introduction plus separate lessons on each of the 21 stanzas.  Particular themes and “key” verses stick out within each stanza, as with these:

  • verse 18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things from Your law”
  • verse 25, “My soul cleaves to the dust” … verse 31, “I cling to Your testimonies” – how we are so drawn to the world and the things of this world, and the need to look up and above this world
  • verse 57, “The Lord is my portion”

Psalm 119 includes many themes addressed throughout the Psalms, such as trusting in God, delighting in God, and proper response to affliction.  Pugh often references previous commentaries including quotes from Charles Spurgeon, and mention of Martyn Lloyd Jones’ “Spiritual Depression” (see this previous post).

Michael Card’s song “The Edge” also relates to the topic of Lloyd Jones’ work, with a verse that describes one type of depression – the Elijah experience:

I’ve found that as I’ve traveled
through the inscape of my land,
That mountaintops make valleys in-between.
And when that nameless sadness
Like a cloud comes over me
I look back on all the brightness I have seen.

Both the Psalm 119 study (this lesson, on verses 65-72; “before I was afflicted, I went astray”) and a Spurgeon sermon from my recent reading, reinforce another common theme: affliction and its role in the believer’s life, and as contrasted with the effect of affliction on unbelievers.  Spurgeon’s sermon #774 (now 150 years ago, October of 1867) well states that:

It is generally thought that our trials and troubles purge us: I am not sure of that; they certainly are lost upon some. Our Lord tells us what it is that prunes us. It is the word that prunes the Christian; it is the truth that purges him; the Scripture made living and powerful by the Holy Spirit, which effectually cleanses the Christian. “What then does affliction do?” you ask. Well, if I may say so, affliction is the handle of the knife; affliction is the grindstone that sharpens up the word; affliction is the dresser which removes our soft garments, and lays bare the diseased flesh, so that the surgeon’s lancet may get at it; affliction makes us ready to feel the word, but the true pruner is the word in the hand of the Great Husbandman. … you think more upon the word than you did before. In the next place, you see more the applicability of that word to yourself. In the third place, the Holy Spirit makes you feel more, the force of the word than you did before. Ask that affliction may be sanctified, Beloved, but always remember there is no more tendency in affliction in itself to sanctify us than there is in prosperity; in fact, the natural tendency of affliction is to make us rebel against God, which is quite opposite to sanctification. It is the word coming to us while in affliction that purges us.

Here again, as happens so often, the various materials I read or listen to often overlap in content, addressing similar scriptural themes.  Yet that is how real learning occurs: repeated exposure to the same biblical truths, presented in different ways, whether recent audio sermons, printed sermons or books.

Dan Phillips Sermon Series: Thinking Biblically

May 8, 2012 2 comments

Pyromaniacs blogger Dan Phillips is now also the pastor at Copperfield Bible Church in Houston, and I’ve had a chance to listen to some of his preaching, including his introductory message to a new series, “Thinking Biblically”: understanding the Bible and systematizing theology.

The audio encryption rate is only 16 bits, thus the voice loses a little quality and sounds a bit metallic, but the words and message are clear enough.  After reading his online material for a few years, and his two recently published books, I agree with a friend who noted that his voice doesn’t quite sound like what I expected, and his preaching lacks the sarcastic humor seen online. (No doubt the sarcasm comes from the context of dealing with sometimes difficult people online, a different setting than a local Sunday morning sermon.)  I have noted some style similarity, though, as in his use of the word “evidently” both in audio and writing.

His speaking style is easy to follow, casual like his writings.  The content is a good example of what all preachers who claim to uphold “sola Scriptura” should preach: actually looking in detail at what the Bible says and what it means.  The first message, an introduction to the series, considers three basic questions, and answers them — with scriptural support, in a message that covered a lot of ground in a survey-style approach.

  1. Is it possible to define the faith?  (reference 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Hebrews 1:1-2)
  2. Is it desirable?  Should we put together what the Bible says? (reference Psalm 19, Psalm 119:1)
  3. Is it Necessary? (Matthew 28:18, John 8:31-32)

On this last point Dan noted the meaning of the word disciple:  a pupil, a student.  The Great Commission in Matthew 28 is not what people often think, that this means to go out and evangelize and save everyone.  The wording instead is “make disciples”: enroll students in the school of Christ. A good analogy here, regarding the error of just preaching the basic salvation message and “get everyone saved,” would be if a church were to decide to promote and focus on marriage, and to do so by having a bunch of wedding ceremonies.  “The wedding is only the beginning.”

Throughout the listening, I could not help but notice the very obvious contrast between Dan Phillips and the poor preaching seen recently at a certain local church:  actually doing what you say you believe, by actually teaching the content of the word of God and explaining why it’s important to study.  It’s all too easy to just skim the surface superficially, and make a whole sermon filled with general statements about how important and how valuable God’s word is, and how we uphold “sola scriptura,” and recount the story of Martin Luther upholding the faith, etc.  Such a message only becomes hypocrisy, though, when the one preaching it rejects the truth of Genesis 1 and errs at numerous other specific points of scripture, with a superficial and loose interpretive approach of “what it really means.”  Unfortunately, it fools a lot of people who only listen to those great words rather than the detail.  Yet how much more satisfying is this positive, Bible teaching message, of actually delving into the word of God and noting what the Bible says about itself and about everything else, and to our biblical worldview.

Psalm 119: The Psalm of the Word

June 13, 2011 Leave a comment

In my genre-based Bible reading plan, I often come back around to Psalm 119 — every 85 days now, and the latest round came this last week.  For many using the Horner Bible Reading plan, this psalm is often cited as a very daunting one:  the plan involves reading a psalm a day, and the day for psalm 119 means a very large amount of reading compared to any other psalm.

Psalm 119 does require more reading that day, either in sequence with the other chapters, or separately during the day.  But this “psalm of the word” is a great treasure I’ve come to appreciate all the more through regular readings — the psalm that extols the importance of God’s word, the importance of actually reading and studying the things in God’s word.

A recent devotional from ICR.org’s “Days of Praise” provided interesting thoughts concerning Psalm 119, noting these key verses that mention “the whole  heart”:

  1. “Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart” (v. 2).
  2. “With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments” (v. 10).
  3. “Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (v. 34).
  4. “I entreated thy favor with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word” (v. 58).
  5. “The proud have forged a lie against me: but I will keep thy precepts with my whole heart” (v. 69).
  6. “I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord: I will keep thy statutes” (v. 145).

From my recent reading of it, a few more important themes:  following God’s precepts, and facing persecution from the godless, yet trusting in God for deliverance.  The verses about the wicked remind me of similar thoughts from the Proverbs: those who mock and are insolent, in contrast to those who patiently wait upon God.

We are to keep God’s testimonies, law, precepts, and statutes — and praise Him who has given us His eternal Word to us!  That means truly reading it — not just superficial glancing through a few parts here and there, but diligent regular study, pondering it and probing the depths of the riches, even unto greater appreciation for this Psalm which discusses that very attitude of heart.