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Praise and Identity: Majesty of God and Glory of Mortals
Psalm 8, 11, 150
What to Do With Your Fear
Text: Psalm 56:3
Series: Certain Truths for Uncertain Times
In the good, old days when people were asked about the things that most caused them to be afraid, they’d respond with a list of phobias that had to do with their surroundings – things like fear of insects or fear of enclosed spaces or fear of flying or speaking in public. But check out the lists that are being compiled today and you’ll hear about fears that are more deep-rooted and existential – things like the fear of running out of money, or the fear of being criticized by others, or the fear of dying alone from an incurable disease.
Do you see the difference in those two lists of fears? The first list has to do with fears you can see – an insect, a small room, a plane, a large audience. But the second list is marked by more unseen enemies – like the market or public opinion or a coronavirus. I’m not minimizing the former phobias; I’m only underscoring the more profound character of the latter ones, and how both are equally debilitating.
Fear is an emotion that none of us wants to experience, for when we do it always calls into question our confidence about our future. And yet because there is no one on the planet that is able to avoid fear entirely, when it does come our way, we want to know how best to handle it and what to do with it.
So, how do you handle your fears? Do you try to deny them, as many do, by pretending they do not exist? Do you try to drown them or at least dull them by engaging in some activity that will take your mind off them? Or do you trust your fears to God, which is the only way to defeat them regardless of the number of times your fears rise up to do you in?
In the passage that’s before us this morning, the 56th Psalm, we are reminded of how in every fearful moment of life, we have a choice. We can either give in to our fears or we can give into our faith. But we cannot do both at the same time, for either faith will chase out our fear or our fear will chase out our faith.
Like so many of the psalms, this 56th Psalm is attributed to David, but not during the time in David’s life when he was king of Israel. The backstory to this psalm is when David was a commander in Saul’s army and the object of the people’s adulation because of how he had been able to win victory upon victory in his military campaigns against Israel’s most feared enemies. The people had even come up with a congratulatory refrain, which had gotten under King Saul’s skin and left him fearfully raw: “Saul has slain his thousands,” the people would say. “And David his tens of thousands.” You can imagine how Saul, not the most stable of kings to begin with, had become so wearied by David’s popularity with the people that he conspired with his counselors to do him in.
Thus David found it necessary to flee Saul’s wrath, but in an effort to do so had gone from the proverbial frying pan to the fire. In this case, David had fled to the land of the Philistines, which you’ll remember is the place from which the giant Goliath had come. Not enough time had passed for the Philistines to have forgotten what David did to their mighty warrior so that the king of the Philistines, a man named Achish who had gotten wind of David’s popularity, did not think it wise to let David run free in his land. These are the dynamics behind the notation that is at the beginning of Psalm 56, which tells us how David had composed this psalm “when the Philistines had seized him in Gath.” You can read the entire story in 1 Samuel 21, though the operative verse in the story is the 12th verse, which reads: “and (David) was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath.”
If David, that courageous young shepherd who had killed the lion and the bear and even the Philistine giant Goliath could be afraid, then what chance does any of us have to
Psalms and the Reign of God
Psalm 2, Psalm 95-96
You Have Value
Text: Matthew 6:26
Series: “Certain Truths for Uncertain Times”
How much is a human body worth? Well, the answer to that question depends on whom you’re asking. For example, a group of economists at Stanford estimated the value of a human body by reducing it into basic elements and came up with the figure of $129,000, while a group of scientists at a firm called DataGenetics took the approach of analyzing the basic minerals that make up our bodies and came up with a paltry sum of $160. On the black market, parceling out your organs might get you somewhere in the vicinity of $45 million (though I wouldn’t recommend it). And if you were to look at a life insurance calculator, such as the one I came across at lifehappens.org, a person earning $100,000 a year with 30 years to retirement has an estimated value of $4 million. I did a calculation on my life, and I’m not nearly worth that much, for numerous reasons, primarily my age.
Be that as it may, the point is that valuations of a person’s life are all over the map, depending on one’s intent (am I going to insure my life or sell my organs off?), one’s age (am I young or old?), and one’s point of view (are we talking basic minerals or life-saving parts?). But none of these calculations takes into consideration one’s religious life, without which a person is left having to estimate his worth on the basis of biology alone, which as you can figure out is a pretty flimsy way to approach the matter. The only thing worse is what most people choose to do, which is to estimate it on the basis of what one does or how one looks or what car one drives or where one lives. I think you see the point: without a healthy religious life one locates his or her value in a zero-sum sort of way.
It reminds me of the story of the church that found itself having to fight city hall over a rezoning decision that had been made by their local zoning commission. The group had rezoned the land around their church from agricultural to industrial, hoping of course to benefit economically from the decision. When members from the church went to the next meeting of the commission to seek an appeal, one of the members of commission explained the group’s decision this way: “We didn’t think it would matter all that much. Nobody goes to that church anyway.” To which one of the members stood up to respond on behalf of the church, and gesturing to the other members who had come to the meeting with her, asked, “So how many nobodies does it take to make a somebody?”
That’s the real question, isn’t it? And the good news is that in God’s eyes, it only takes one. From God’s perspective, each one of us matters. To God’s way of thinking, every single one of His human creation has immeasurable value, so much so that God is ever watching over us and ever watching out for us in order to make sure that our every need is met.
So, promised Jesus in His most famous teaching, the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is, of course, a compilation of teachings Jesus gave on the kingdom of heaven, the rule and reign of God, which one day will become the dominant reality on earth. It’s clearly not so now, but when God’s people order their lives around its principles instead of the principles by which the world lives, God’s kingdom draws near a little bit more each and every day.
One of the ways believers do that is by trusting God with our essential needs, simply because we are convinced that our lives are secure in God’s hands because He values us most highly.
In this passage that’s before us this morning, Jesus is encouraging His disciples to embrace this very approach to everyday life. Instructing them not to give in to undue anxiety, He tells them, “Look at the birds of the air (pay close attention to them; scrutinize them; lock in on them; don’t just give them
God's Great Delight
Text: Zephaniah 3:17
Series: “Certain Truth for Uncertain Times”
September 13, 2020
Some years ago, two psychologists, Peter Benson and Bernard Spilka, studied descriptions and definitions of God as given by believers and, most importantly, how those definitions related to their self-esteem. What they found was that even though the over 100 people they studied had similar religious upbringing and training, their concepts of God differed remarkably. The researchers found that that people with high self-esteem – in other words, those who liked and trusted themselves – had loving, accepting images of God. But those with low self-esteem – those who harbored guilt and pessimism – had punitive, rejecting images of God (Joan Borysenko, Guilt Is the Teacher, Warner Books, 1990).
What the study showed was that our image of God in many ways forms our own sense of well-being, which is why it is so important that we see God for who the Bible reveals Him to be – a loving, merciful, and benevolent Deity. And it also reminds us why good theology is still important. People who have been raised in an atmosphere of threats of punishment and promises of reward often view God as a cruel tyrant, which is a cheap and tawdry interpretation that keeps them from experiencing the deep healing that God wills to extend to broken and sinful people. But on the other hand, people who have been brought up to understand God as a kind and merciful Redeemer who is always graciously working on their behalf tend to be hopeful about themselves and their future because they live in the confidence that God delights in them and is always on their side.
So, which kind of person are you? And if by chance you discover that your guilt and pessimism stem from your understanding of God, how do you go about changing it so that you might live more confidently and securely? Those are questions that the Old Testament prophet Zephaniah had to answer in his own life.
Zephaniah is considered one of the Old Testament’s minor prophets, but only because of the brevity of his message, not its significance. Zephaniah ministered during the same time as the more prominent prophet Jeremiah. According to the first chapter of his prophecy, Zephaniah was a descendant of Hezekiah, one of the good kings of Judah. So, Zephaniah knew what a good king looked like and was far from pleased at how the kings who had succeeded his ancestor had done.
The first part of Zephaniah’s prophecy is what you’d expect from a prophet who was not happy about the spiritual realities of his day. His main message was to point God’s people to the coming day of the Lord, when God would punish the nations for their disobedience, and would hold his most severe punishment for His faithless people Judah, who were mired in their disobedience to their Maker.
There is little encouragement in the first two and a half chapters of Zephaniah’s prophecy. But in the second part of the third and final chapter, a remarkable thing happens. Zephaniah’s outlook changes dramatically. Instead of pounding the people of Judah with threats of punishment and destruction, Zephaniah moves to a very different vision of the future – one in which God will gather His people unto Himself and restore their fortunes in the eyes of all the nations. It’s a quite staggering reversal of perspective. So, what caused Zephaniah to do such a 180?
Some scholars suggest that by reading between the lines we can see the impact of the reforms King Josiah made after his reforms kicked in following the discovery of the scroll during the renovations he had ordered for the temple in Jerusalem. You’ll remember from your reading of 2 Kings how when the scroll was read in the king’s presence, which many believe to have been what we now know as the book of Deuteronomy, the king was so convicted of the need for religious refo
Psalms as Torah: Then and Now