Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Unlocking the Psalms

I just spent the day out at a lakehouse (Thanks to the McCrackens!) praying and reading and writing to prepare for my sermon on Psalm 1 at our upcoming Winter Camp. No guest speaker this year--it's going to be some of our FOCUS staff unpacking various Psalms. We picked this particular topic (proposed by Peter Ueng) for a couple of reasons.

First off, we want to see our students grow in biblical literacy, and they often feel especially intimidated by the Old Testament. It's easy to come up with a long list of topics we'd like to preach on, and that's certainly important! But maybe it's more important to equip these young people for a lifetime of engaging with God's word and learning how to let the scriptures speak into their thinking, their feelings, and their actions. Many students arrive on campus, even from church backgrounds, never having read much of the Bible, and they feel intimidated by it. Our hope is to help them get excited about the book of Psalms and to give them tools to read it well.

Secondly, throughout most of Christian history, the Psalms have been the hymnbook of God's people. This is a rich tradition that stretches back hundreds of years even before the birth of Jesus! Yet now, in America, we hardly use them at all in our corporate worship, and as a result, our praise songs can begin to all sound the same. There is certainly little place for lament (over a third of the Psalms) in our church services, to the degree that we begin to feel that when we're hurting, being with the church is not the right place for us. We think at church we need to be happy and joyful. This shouldn't be! Our hope is that the Psalms can further inform our worship, helping us relate to God in all the seasons of life. If these young people don't know how to relate to God in the hardest and darkest seasons of life (or even worse, if they buy the lie that loving God means everything will go smoothly and painlessly, disregarding Jesus' words that "In this world you will have trouble"), they are in danger of running away from God rather than to him when the storms of life hit.

We all need to go back to the Psalms and hear again their message for us. The first Psalm is different than the rest--not a prayer, but a blessing.

When we hear "law" or Torah, we should not think just of a list of rules from the Old Testament, but the will of God for all creation, all the received wisdom from generations before, and even God's guidance through our consciences (compare with Psalm 119 and all the different ways "law" is conceived of). This is not a book for just anyone; we are greeted at the beginning of the book as a reader of God's word and as a lover of God's will. There are two paths--God's path and a path to destruction. It's not a book for perfect people; even people on God's path can fall down. But it's also not a book for people who scorn God and his ways, walking a completely different path through life. We're invited as followers along the right Way into a life of solidity and fruitfulness. That's God's will for us. If you haven't approached the Psalms lately, I encourage you to read them again. And I ask you to pray for those of us who are preparing these lessons for the students. I'm sure we'll post them for you to listen to in a couple of weeks!

Brady Bobbink at Staff Retreat and Sunday Morning Service

We had the wonderful blessing of Brady Bobbink (founder of the SICM conference) and his sweet wife Shirley coming to our staff retreat to encourage our team. They spent MANY hours answering questions and ministering to us. It was such a blessing! Then he came and spoke at the joint service of our Family of Churches. It's well worth a listen. You can find it here!

Brady speaking during one of our sessions at Staff Retreat.
I love this sweet picture of my dad with Brady at the end of the service.

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