Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Contradictions by Phillip Jensen

Christmas Contradictions

by Phillip Jensen
Most Christians find a degree of contradiction in the celebration of Christmas. It can be seen in our attempts to ‘put Christ back into Christmas’ or in our critique of turning the generosity of gift giving into the materialistic cash cow of the retail industry. But lying behind these issues is a far more profound contradiction between natural and revealed religion.

Humans are almost universally religious, although it is notoriously difficult to define religion. The range of activities and ideas that come under the word ‘religion’ seem almost infinite. Humans want to be connected to something larger or ‘other’ than themselves which leads to all manner of religious expressions.

While the variety of these religious expressions is great, their similarity is also noticeable. There is the creation of mood by music or dance, by candles or lighting, by incense or joss sticks, and by artwork and architecture. There is the sense of authority in the ancient and traditional, in processions and in unusual clothing and costumes. There is the sense of otherness in the elevation of the mystical, magical or miraculous and in the downplaying of the rational, sensible or normal. There is the diminution of the human in obeisance, homage, physical discomfort or even self inflicted pain and suffering. There are usually dietary rules about what can and cannot be eaten and about fasting and feasting. There is the effect of being in isolation, quietness and silence or the opposite method of losing one’s own identity in a large crowd of worshippers all concentrating on a single concern.

These are all external expressions of what can be called ‘natural religion’. They are the expression of the religious instinct that requires humans to act in ways that align them with or please the supernatural being(s) or force(s) that impact lives. It is ‘natural religion’ because it is what humans naturally can understand and participate in. It is what is done when people think of ‘religion’. It is what is expected at a religious observance. The individual custom may vary – from drums to organs, from incense to candles or to joss sticks – but the basic idea that these are ‘religious’ is the same. It may be the otherness of a medieval chant or the overwhelming power of modern electronic percussion or just the rhythmic drumming of tribal dance but it moves the participants beyond the normality of life into a religious experience.

These religious expressions have an ethereal impact on aesthetic sensibilities giving some sense of ‘otherness’. They are all attempts and activities of humans to get in touch with the spiritual side of reality. And as such are quite different to revealed religion.

For what may be known about God, He has made plain to us in his creation (Romans 1:19f). And in many and various ways He spoke by His prophets to His people of old. And in the last days He has spoken to us by His Son – the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-4). He is the perfect expression of all that is God, for in Him the whole fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1:19). He was the Word of God become flesh. And when we beheld His glory we beheld the glory of God (John 1:1,14).

Revealed religion is not about how humans please God but how God saved humans. It is not about how we come to know God but about how God has made Himself known to us. It is not about how we perform the rituals that will bring us into the spiritual realm but how God entered into our realm to bring us to Himself. And behind revealed religion is the personal God as opposed to the spiritual force or reality or even the many gods interacting with each other. For revealed religion is about relationship with the personal God issuing in changed behaviour rather than the experience of supernatural otherness (James 1:27).

This very thing is what makes Christmas celebrations so contradictory for Christians. For if ever there was a time to celebrate the revelation of God to humanity it is at Christmas when we remember the moment in history when God became man. Yet each year the Christmas celebrations appear to be increasingly conformed to the practice of natural religion. There are the funny costumes, the large crowds, singing (often meaningless) traditional songs about mythical characters in a far away land and time. It is about food and gifts and community celebration. It is ‘seasons greetings’, ‘merry xmas’ and ‘happy holidays’.

And into this heady and enjoyable mix of natural religion, Christians try to inject revealed religion. We wish to proclaim God become man, the baby who comes to be crucified and sinful humanity’s need for a saviour. Our message is about relationship with God not ceremonies to get in touch with Him – but we declare this message in the midst of ceremonies where people are once more feeling touched by the supernatural or the nostalgia of their natural religion.

Richard Dawkins is the leader of today’s active atheists. He makes no bones about seeking to undermine Christianity. But in 2007, calling himself a cultural Christian, he confessed that he had no intention of undermining Christian tradition - “I like singing carols along with everybody else.” Natural religion is of no threat to atheism and can be joined in with enthusiasm by all and sundry even the most extreme anti-Christian atheist.

Many years ago I recall rejoicing to hear my child sing ‘Jesus loves me this I know’ and then recoiling in horror as she segued into ‘I feel like a Tooheys’. It is the undiscriminating jump from ‘I saw mummy kissing Santa Claus’ and ‘Rudolph the red nosed reindeer’ to ‘God of God, Light of Light, Lo he abhors not the virgin’s womb’ or ‘veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate deity’ that makes Christians cringe over the contradiction in Christmas celebrations.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Burdened, Blind, and Bored: God's Answer to the Contemporary Condition --- Psalm 65, Search the Scriptures

Psalm 65 (English Standard Version)

O God of Our Salvation

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. A Song.

1Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion,
and to you shall vows be performed.
2O you who hear prayer,
to you shall all flesh come.
3When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
4 Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!

5By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas;
6the one who by his strength established the mountains,
being girded with might;
7who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples,
8so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.

9You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide their grain,
for so you have prepared it.
10You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
11You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.
12 The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
13 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.


Psalm 65 speaks to the human condition apart from the God of the Bible. The psalm is universal in its scope, promising that people from all nations will make the God of Israel their God:
2O you who hear prayer,
to you shall all flesh come.

5By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas;

8so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.
When we look at the human condition as it is estranged from God, three words could be used to describe our sad situation:

  1. Burdened. Apart from the Lord, human beings are burdened by the guilt of sin. This is man’s deepest problem. His alienation from God comes from the unrelieved burden of guilt he must carry with him throughout his life apart from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. People spend millions of dollars in a futile attempt to understand and heal themselves through psychology, while the Bible’s true psychology is ignored: there can be no healing and wholeness apart from confession and forgiveness from our King and Creator.

    Into this hopeless situation, God has provided a solution for his sinful human creatures:
    3When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions.
    Our only hope of healing is in returning to God, who created us for himself. There is a way to return to him, but only if our sins are forgiven. Our sins can only be forgiven in Jesus Christ, who bore our sins so that we could be forgiven and brought back into his favor.

    Some people wonder why God couldn’t just forgive us apart from the cross. Why did he himself have to suffer in our place in the person of his Son?

    A crude analogy might show us why Jesus had to suffer and die in our place. Suppose you borrow my car. And, for the sake of argument, let’s assume there is no such thing as insurance. You use my car but wreck it. You apologize and say, “I am so sorry. Please forgive me.” The problem with this scenario is that my car is wrecked. Who will absorb the loss of money to repair the car? It will have to be either you or me. If I am to forgive you apart from you paying for the car, I will have to absorb the loss myself.

    Something similar had to happen in order for God to forgive our sins. Our sin is a huge, unpayable debt we owe him. We do not have the resources to pay it back. Therefore, our only hope of forgiveness is if the infinite God pays and absorbs our debt. This he did at the cross.
  2. Blind. Apart from this reconciled relationship with the Father that comes through the Son, people are blind to the glory of God. They are blind to the glory of redemption and they are blind to the glory of creation.

    How glorious and satisfying it is to live in fellowship with the Father and the Son through the Spirit. Christ’s atonement has enabled us to know and delight in the triune God. This was symbolized and tasted in the Old Testament temple:

    4 Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
    to dwell in your courts!
    We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
    the holiness of your temple!

    People are blind to the satisfaction they are missing! As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The Spirit, whom Jesus gives, brings us into the delight of God’s presence and blessing.

    But sinful, human blindness is not limited to the glory of redemption, it also extends to creation. Today, most people have a secular mindset. They no longer see God when they look at the beauty of the world. They wrongly believe that because science can describe nature, therefore God is ruled out of nature. And, so they look only at the surface of things, failing to see that the universe shows us God’s character and glory in a dazzling display. If we had eyes to see it, wherever we turn our eyes, from the smallest snowflake to the immense night time sky, to the three trillion cells of our own bodies, the glory of God is shining all around us. But in the arrogance of our scientific worldview, we miss God’s glory.

    Psalm 65 calls us to see the world in a new way. Just as life-giving water flows from the temple, so this universe is created as a vast temple. And as verse 9 says, God cares for his temple-universe by his good and providential care, as he sustains and nourishes the whole earth:

    9You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it.
  3. Bored. So many people in our society are bored with life. Nothing is sacred for them. Nothing is holy. Nothing provokes wonder. Cynicism prevails.

    For such people, constant thrills and entertainment is needed. When you have lost the wonder of God and the beauty of his glory, what else is left but the next experience or thrill? But the entertainment and thrills don’t ultimately satisfy, and leave the soul without God, unrelievedly thirsty.

    How different it is for the redeemed children of God. For the baptized children of God, who know the glory of their Redeemer and Creator, there is ever increasing wonder and praise. No longer is the world a boring place! The world is charged with the glory of God. A spiritual conflict is raging all around us. And, in the midst of that conflict, the Father’s baptized children are learning to trust and praise Him, for redemption, creation, and providence. Life can no longer be boring for those who are called to the Father through the Son for his praise!

    But, notice, that praise is more than just words:

    1Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion,
    and to you shall vows be performed.

    The Hebrew parallelism posits praise to God and vows to God. Praise and the devotion of obedience are synonyms, if you will. Praise is not merely words. True praise is offering your life to God and his will in response to great redemption in Christ. True praise is a lifestyle of devotion to the Father and the Son through the working of the Holy Spirit.

    The ultimate issue in life is my will or God’s will. God’s will is glorious. Following his will removes the burden of guilt and brings us forgiveness through his Son. Following his will removes our blindness, and enables us to see God’s glory. Following his will, removes boredom and replaces it with wonder and praise. Following his will, ultimately means coming to Jesus Christ as our Lord and our God. Will we come?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Words that Damage like Arrows --- Psalm 64, Search the Scriptures

Psalm 64 (English Standard Version)

Hide Me from the Wicked

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

1Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
preserve my life from dread of the enemy.
2Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
from the throng of evildoers,
3who whet their tongues like swords,
who aim bitter words like arrows,
4shooting from ambush at the blameless,
shooting at him suddenly and without fear.
5They hold fast to their evil purpose;
they talk of laying snares secretly,
thinking, "Who can see them?"
6They search out injustice,
saying, "We have accomplished a diligent search."
For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep!

7 But God shoots his arrow at them;
they are wounded suddenly.
8They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them;
all who see them will wag their heads.
9Then all mankind fears;
they tell what God has brought about
and ponder what he has done.

10Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD
and take refuge in him!
Let all the upright in heart exult!


Psalm 64 is a lament. The early portion of the book of Psalms is filled with lament after lament. There are so many laments that we begin to get sick of laments!

But the Psalms are realistic, because our lives can also be filled with trouble after trouble after trouble. Just as Christ experienced the cross before the crown, so the trajectory of the lives of Christ’s people is first suffering and then the crown for all who overcome by holding on to their trust in Jesus Christ, whom the Father sent into the world for our salvation.

I want to focus these brief thoughts on verses 2-4:
2Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
from the throng of evildoers,
3who whet their tongues like swords,
who aim bitter words like arrows,
4shooting from ambush at the blameless,
shooting at him suddenly and without fear.
We have all heard the children’s saying, “Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Anyone who has thought about this saying knows that it is utterly false. Words can, and do, hurt us. Psalm 64 recognizes the harm words can do when it compares words to arrows.

I was talking to a fellow a while back who was a bow hunter. If I remember right, he was talking about bow hunting for elk. Knowing nothing about bow hunting, I expressed a little surprise that a bow and arrow could bring down such a large animal, but he assured me that was not a problem.

Words, like arrows, can do great damage. There are some important observations we can learn about speech in Psalm 64:

  1. Destructive words come from godless hearts. In verse 5 we see the godlessness of the speakers when they think that no one can see them. Obviously, the Lord their creator was not in their thoughts.

    Good speech must come from a good heart. A good heart is a heart that trusts in God’s one and only Son. Since Christians belong to the Lord, body and soul, our mouths belong to him. Therefore, our speech should bring life and blessing to others, not death and destruction. Unlike the wicked, the Lord should always be in our thoughts, and our goal should be to use our words for the blessing of others.

  2. Destructive words directed against God’s Anointed One are particularly serious. Psalm 64 is a psalm of David. David was the christ or anointed one. Words against God’s anointed king were particularly sinful and wrong. To oppose God’s anointed king was to oppose God himself.

    How much more serious is it, then, to speak against Jesus Christ, the Christ, whom the Father sent into the world? Jesus is the exalted Lord of heaven and earth who rules over all things. How serious it is to speak against him or to fail to give him his proper due!

  3. Destructive words directed against Christians are also quite serious. There was always a close link in Israel between the king and his people. So many of the psalms of David end like this one with an application for his righteous people who belong to the king and the Lord.

    But if there was a close link between the king of Israel and his people, there is an even closer link between Jesus Christ and his people. All who have trusted in Jesus as their Lord are joined to him in the most intimate way. 213 times in Paul’s letters, Christians are described by the phrase in Christ. When Paul was converted, Jesus said to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me.” But Paul was on his way to Damascus, not to persecute Jesus, whom he thought was dead, but Christians. Paul came to understand the truth that Jesus himself articulated when he said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Mat. 25:40).

  4. Destructive words against God’s image bearers are also serious. There are really only two kinds of people on earth today: those who belong to the Father and the Son and those who don’t. Many people don’t like this way of looking at the world, but it biblical and it is the truth. It is found in this very psalm as we see the contrast between the wicked, who fail to consider God (v. 2-5), and the righteous, who rejoice and take refuge in the covenant LORD of David (v. 10).

    Not all religious paths lead to God. The way was narrow in the Old Testament, for only the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was the true God, and all other so-called gods were idols. The way is still narrow in the New Testament, for no one comes to the Father except through the Son. For no other sacrifice for sins has been given for us, except the one Christ accomplished outside of Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Without this sacrifice, the wicked remain in their sins alienated from the true God of the Bible.

    But the fact many people are outside of Christ does not minimize the fact that destructive words should not be aimed at unbelievers. All people continue to bear the image of God, despite their sin. Even the most vile and hardened criminals still retain something of the image of God, and therefore, our words should be aimed at blessing and life, not cursing and death.
Sticks and stones can hurt our bodies, but words can damage our souls. Words can do great harm, but they can also do great good. As Proverbs 18:21 says:
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
Or as Simon Peter said to Jesus:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
What do we love? Do we love death or life, wickedness or righteousness, the Lord or ourselves? Are we following Jesus Christ and his words or our own hearts?

The only real way to change our words is to have a change of heart. Only a reverence for the Lord will lead us to reverence the Lord’s people and all who are made in his image. A good and godly heart leads to life-giving words. A wicked and ungodly heart leads to words that damage and destroy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Dry and Weary Land Where There Is No Water --- Psalm 63, Search the Scriptures

Psalm 63 (English Standard Version)

My Soul Thirsts for You

A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.

1O 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.
2So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
3Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
4So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

5My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

9But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.
11But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

Jesus says, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). This is a hard saying. What does it mean to hate your life in this world? Why should we hate our life in this world?

I wonder if we might have a clue in the first verse of Psalm 63, when it speaks of “a dry and weary land where there is no water.” David was in the wilderness of Judah. It was dry, dusty, desolate, and threatening.

When the Lord created Adam, he lived in a well watered garden, the exact opposite of the wilderness. Adam enjoyed sweet fellowship with God as he and his helper served Him together in the garden. But then the first couple rebelled, and the garden was replaced by a wilderness. Self-autonomy and rebellion against God brought the first couple from a garden to a wilderness.

This is what sin does to our souls. Sin brings us existentially into a dry and weary wilderness of our own making. Our sinful independence from our Lord and King deprives our souls of the life that comes from union and communion with the Father and the Son.

Foolishly our souls look for life in this world. Our souls make idols of the good gifts of God. We make money or sex or power or work or pleasure or some other lesser thing ultimate in our lives. But sooner or later, such idols prove to be dry and dusty --- broken cisterns that can hold no water.

But David was not foolish. He did not look to this world and its anti-God ways for life. His soul looked to the Lord. He hated the way of the world that turns God’s gifts into idols, i.e., he hated his life in this world. Instead, his soul looked to the Lord, and he found true life---eternal life. Three times he uses the phrase my soul:

  • v. 1: my soul thirsts for you;
  • v. 5: my soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food;
  • v. 8: my soul clings to you.
It is interesting that this psalm ends with a warning about liars: “the mouths of liars will be stopped.” Simon Weil wrote, "One has only the choice between God and idolatry. . . . If one denies God . . . one is worshiping some things of this world." Life in this world apart from union and communion with the triune God is a lie. Worshiping the things of this world is like a mirage in a desert. Life found in anything but our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer is a mirage---a lie. But Jesus is true drink, true food, and the true lover of our souls. Let’s drink of him, feast on him, and hold to him and never let him go. Amen.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Recommendation for Mark Futato's Commentary on the Psalms --- Psalm 62, Search the Scriptures

Psalm 62 (New Living Translation)

For Jeduthun, the choir director: A psalm of David.

1 I wait quietly before God,
for my victory comes from him.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will never be shaken.
3 So many enemies against one man—
all of them trying to kill me.
To them I’m just a broken-down wall
or a tottering fence.
4 They plan to topple me from my high position.
They delight in telling lies about me.
They praise me to my face
but curse me in their hearts.

5 Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will not be shaken.
7 My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
8 O my people, trust in him at all times.
Pour out your heart to him,
for God is our refuge.

9 Common people are as worthless as a puff of wind,
and the powerful are not what they appear to be.
If you weigh them on the scales,
together they are lighter than a breath of air.

10 Don’t make your living by extortion
or put your hope in stealing.
And if your wealth increases,
don’t make it the center of your life.

11 God has spoken plainly,
and I have heard it many times:
Power, O God, belongs to you;
12 unfailing love, O Lord, is yours.
Surely you repay all people
according to what they have done.


I want to recommend to you Mark Futato's commentary on the Psalms. Most ordinary Christians don't buy commentaries. I guess they think commentaries are just for pastors. While it is true that some commentaries are too technical for the average Christian, many are not.

The best way I can think of recommending Futato's commentary to you is to simply quote him entirely from today's psalm. You will see how helpful his comments are; how he shows us how profound and life-changing God's Word can be; and how short and simple his commentary really is. When you stop to consider that we will spend 25 dollars for a pizza, the 25 dollars it costs to buy this commentary is well worth it. After all, food only feeds our physical bodies. God's Word changes and nourishes our souls.

Here are Futato's comments:

Where does the ultimate source of your well-being lie? In what or in whom do you place your trust to get you out of hard times or keep you safe when all is well? From where do you derive your own sense of dignity? What provides you with a profound sense of security in life? For many, the answer to these questions lies in money and power. Psalm 62 provide a different answer.

The heart of the answer is found at the center of the poem (62:7): "My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me." This central line is preceded and followed by two eight-line stanzas (62:1-6.-12; see McCann 1996 for the structure). The first stanza expresses quiet confidence in God in the face of adversaries. The second encourages confidence in God, not in wealth or power.

Quiet Confidence in the Face of Adversity (62:1-6). "I wait quietly before God," said David. To wait quietly is one thing when all is well, but David waited quietly though there was a storm all around him. David was surrounded by enemies bent on his demise. These enemies were not foregners but those who had access to David. They blessed David with their words, but all the while they were cursing him in their hearts. They took pleasure in lying about him as part of the plan to topple him from his position.

Surrounding the turmoil described in 62:3-4 are two nearly identical strophes of quietness (62:1-2 and 62:5-6). These stophes show us how David could be quiet in the middle of a storm. It was in the presence of God that David found quietness. He believed that God would deliver him from trouble. God was his source of protection and security. The presence of God provided inner serenity in spite of external turmoil.

While the two strophes are nearly identical, there are three differences. First, "hope" replaces "victory" at the end of the opening line of the second strophe. Second, an imperative replaces an indicative in the second strophe. These two changes indicate the the storm had not yet passed. Third, the adverb "severely" is missing in the second strophe, indicating that David had grown inconfidence through the process of prayer. Whereas he began by being confident that he would not be severely shaken, he came to the place of being confident that he would not be shaken at all. Quieting his heart before God had changed David.

From this psalm we learn the importance of taking the time to be quiet before God when there is turmoil in our lives. Our temptation is to move into high gear to stay ahead of he storm. While there is a time and place for action, our activity is often a form of self-reliance. So our external pace is as hectic as our internal space. Quieting our souls before God and centering on him as the source of our well-being will produce the state of heart and mind needed to take action when appropriate.

Life in God Alone (62:7). Deliverance from difficulties, our sense of dignity and self-worth, and our security in life come from God alone. Idolatry is not so much a matter of external images of deity as it is a matter of the heart (Ezek. 14:1-8). Idolatry is depending in an ultimate way on anything or anyone other than God. David affirmed that God was the source of his life in the most profound sense.

The idol of misplaced trust is often hard to detect. We think we are trusting God to supply our needs until we are faced with the possibily of losing our job. The anxiety we then experience indicates the presence of a hidden idol, misplaced trust in our job as the source of our security. We think we are depending on God's approval for our sense of personal well-being, until we come under severe criticsim by others. The pain we then feel indicates the presence of an idol, misplaced dependence on the opinion of others as the source of our sense of self-worth. Such painful experiences are in reality a true blessing, as they give us the opportunity to rid our lives of idols and to grow in dependence on God alone for life.

Trust in God, Not in Wealth or Power (62:8-12). Wealth and power are two particularly insidious idols. David instructed those around him not to trust in extortion or robbery, both of which are an exertion of power over others to increase one's wealth. He also instructed them not to make wealth the center of their lives should their wealth increase for any reason (see Paul's teaching in 1 Tim. 6:17-19). Instead, they should put their tust in God at all times---when times are good as well as when times are not. David taught that when times are tough, one way we put our trust in God is by pouring out our hearts to him. We can honestly tell God all that we are thinking and feeling. We can be completely vulnerable in his presence, because he is our refuge, our place of safety, protection, and security.

Faith comes from listening to God's word (Rom. 10:17), so David reminded himself and others that God has spoken. Two key characteristics God possesses are power and love. We can replace our dependence on our own power over others with a dependence on God's power. And God's power is never abusive, for his power is exercised in keeping with his unfailing love. So when we from time to time get caught up in the turmoil of life, we can quiet our souls before God, trusting that his power is at work in us to accomplish his loving purposes for us.

Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Sola Panel | Best preaching lessons

The Sola Panel Best preaching lessons: "Best preaching lessons Sandy Grant
If you're a preacher of God's word, what's the best preaching lesson you've ever learned? See if you can jot down your answer before you read on, and then perhaps share it in the comments section.
It was Russell Moore's absolutely excellent post a few weeks ago that caused me to reflect"

Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it.

A New Home Means a New Heart --- Psalm 61, Search the Scriptures

Psalm 61 (English Standard Version)

Lead Me to the Rock

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. Of David.

1Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer;
2from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
3for you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.

4Let me dwell in your tent forever!
Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!

5For you, O God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
6 Prolong the life of the king;
may his years endure to all generations!

7May he be enthroned forever before God;
appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!

8So will I ever sing praises to your name,
as I perform my vows day after day.


Where is your home? Where do you live? Most of us would answer the question with an address here on this earth. “I live at 7809 S. 99th Street in LaVista, Nebraska, USA.” But I wonder if our actual answer as Christians should be, “My home is in heaven, where Christ is. My true home is not below, but above with my Lord Jesus Christ.”

Psalm 61 piles up images of David dwelling with God. In verse 2, even though he is far from Jerusalem and the temple, David goes in prayer to the Lord, and asks to be led into His presence. In verse 3, God, himself, is described as a refuge and a strong tower. Such places are places where a person dwells, at least for a time. In verse 4, David asks to live in the Lord’s tent or sanctuary/temple, not just for a brief time, but forever. He also calls the Lord a shelter. In verse 5, David says that he has been given a “heritage,” a word used to refer to the land. But David uses the word metaphorically to point to something higher. David points to a dwelling place he has already been given that is higher than his earthly residence of Palestine. Like so many of the Old Testament saints, David understood that the land of Israel pointed to a heavenly homeland:
"These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be
called their God, for he has prepared for them a city." (Hebrews 11:13-16)
Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus teaches his disciples that their true home is with Him in heaven. When the disciples first encounter Jesus, they ask him a strange question: “And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?"” (John 1:38). But as John’s Gospel progresses, the disciples learn that Jesus always stayed with his Father. He was from above, and he lived with his Father above, even as he walked this earth below. Jesus’ home was above with his Father, but he expected his disciples to have the same heavenly home, when he said, “You are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world” (John 15:19).

Two more verses from John’s Gospel point to the fact that we are to live right now in our heavenly home with Christ. The first comes from John 12:26, when Jesus says, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” Where is Jesus right now? He is at the Father’s right hand in heaven!

The second verse comes from John 14:2-3:
“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
Christians through the centuries have tended to interpret these verses as referring to Christ’s return at the last day. But I believe Jesus is talking about his return via the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. How does Jesus keep his promise in John 12:26, that where he is, his servants will be also? He does it by sending us the Holy Spirit, who can dwell both in us and in heaven. By faith the Spirit lifts our hearts to heaven, so that we may dwell with Christ already in heaven, even as we walk this earth below.

Does any of this make a difference in how we live our lives? I have to think it does. As the familiar saying goes, “Home is where the heart is!” A new home means a new heart, and isn’t that the message of these words:
“Since then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Have You Been Conquered by the Gospel? --- Psalm 60, Search the Scriptures

Psalm 60 (English Standard Version)

He Will Tread Down Our Foes

To the choirmaster: according to Shushan Eduth. A Miktam of David; for instruction; when he strove with Aram-naharaim and with Aram-zobah, and when Joab on his return struck down twelve thousand of Edom in the Valley of Salt.

1O God, you have rejected us, broken our defenses;
you have been angry; oh, restore us.
2You have made the land to quake; you have torn it open;
repair its breaches, for it totters.
3 You have made your people see hard things;
you have given us wine to drink that made us stagger.

4You have set up a banner for those who fear you,
that they may flee to it from the bow.

5 That your beloved ones may be delivered,
give salvation by your right hand and answer us!

6God has spoken in his holiness:
"With exultation I will divide up Shechem
and portion out the Vale of Succoth.
7 Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet;
Judah is my scepter.
8 Moab is my washbasin;
upon Edom I cast my shoe;
over Philistia I shout in triumph."

9Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom?
10Have you not rejected us, O God?
You do not go forth, O God, with our armies.
11Oh, grant us help against the foe,
for vain is the salvation of man!
12With God we shall do valiantly;
it is he who will tread down our foes.


I would like to focus our attention on verse 11:
Oh, grant us help against the foe,
for vain is the salvation of man!
In this psalm Israel is asking the Lord for help as their armies go out to battle. David realizes that if the Lord does not fight for them, they will go down to defeat before their enemies. The Lord’s favorable presence is the key to victory.

The people had a promise of victory from the Lord. In verses 6-8, the Lord promises victory over the surrounding nations. Moab, Edom, and Philistia are mentioned in the promise as three enemies that will be defeated. But despite this promise of the Lord's favor, at least for a time, circumstances seemed to militate against his favorable presence (v. 1-3).

Many people struggle with the warfare element found in the Old Testament. It is not an easy problem, but one thing that eases the problem is to realize the theology behind ancient warfare. Battles between nations were seen by ancient near eastern cultures to be battles between the gods. The losing side was to adopt the gods of the winning side. Warfare was a form of evangelism in the ancient near east.

The truth, however, is that there is only one true God, the Lord, the God of Israel. When the surrounding nations were defeated, the idea was that these nations were then to adopt Israel’s Lord as their own. So when the Lord says, “Moab is my washbasin; upon Edom I cast my shoe; over Philistia I shout in triumph,” not only is God’s justice displayed toward his enemies, but also his grace!

When we come into the New Testament, Jesus ushers in the fullness of grace! “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The apostle Paul also speaks of this time of grace when he says, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

In this new covenant era, spiritual warfare has replaced physical warfare. No longer does the Lord’s army fight with swords, but with the message of the gospel. Just as people were conquered by the sword in the Old Testament because God fought for Israel, so now people are conquered by the gospel message as God accompanies his message with power. Jesus gives us a promise of divine authority and power, when he says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . ” (Mat. 28:18-19).

What lessons may we apply from this teaching? Here are a few:
  1. Only the triune God can conquer a soul, including yours and mine. Jesus Christ is the true evangelist. We must trust him and ask him to work in our own lives and the lives of others, for “vain is the salvation of man!”
  2. Prayer is vital. There is no such thing as independence or human autonomy. The reality of our situation in a God-created and God-sustained universe is that we are dependent on him at all times. We cannot change our own hearts, let alone the hearts of others.
  3. Let’s be careful not to trust in ourselves or our methods or even our prayers. Our God is sovereign, and he works as pleases, when he pleases. As Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
  4. Despite God’s sovereignty over his own work and timing, let’s believe that he desires to work in our lives and in the lives of those around us! He has promised the nations to his Son! “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:8). He has given us the promise of the gospel: to forgive our sins and give us the gift of the Spirit. The Lord wants to do a good work in our lives, and use us so that he may work in the lives of others too! The gospel is the promise of a favorable God, despite appearances to the contrary! Let’s believe the promise!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Making Lists or Learning to Observe while Studying God's Word --- Psalm 59, Search the Scriptures

Psalm 59 (English Standard Version)

Deliver Me from My Enemies

To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David, when Saul sent men to watch his house in order to kill him.

1 Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
protect me from those who rise up against me;
2deliver me from those who work evil,
and save me from bloodthirsty men.

3For behold, they lie in wait for my life;
fierce men stir up strife against me.
For no transgression or sin of mine, O LORD,
4for no fault of mine, they run and make ready.
Awake, come to meet me, and see!
5You, LORD God of hosts, are God of Israel.
Rouse yourself to punish all the nations;
spare none of those who treacherously plot evil.

6Each evening they come back,
howling like dogs
and prowling about the city.
7There they are, bellowing with their mouths
with swords in their lips—
for "Who," they think, "will hear us?"

8But you, O LORD, laugh at them;
you hold all the nations in derision.
9O my Strength, I will watch for you,
for you, O God, are my fortress.
10 My God in his steadfast love will meet me;
God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.

11Kill them not, lest my people forget;
make them totter by your power and bring them down,
O Lord, our shield!
12For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips,
let them be trapped in their pride.
For the cursing and lies that they utter,
13 consume them in wrath;
consume them till they are no more,
that they may know that God rules over Jacob
to the ends of the earth.

14 Each evening they come back,
howling like dogs
and prowling about the city.
15They wander about for food
and growl if they do not get their fill.

16But I will sing of your strength;
I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been to me a fortress
and a refuge in the day of my distress.
17O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love.


Sometimes it is helpful when studying the Bible to make lists like the lists below. There is quite a contrast between the wicked and the righteous, who are personified by David, in this psalm. May the LORD make us more like David (and his greater Son!) and less like David’s enemies, or the enemies of Jesus Christ, whom David foreshadowed.


1. praying (1-2)
2. depending (1-2)
3. attacked: life threatened (3), verbally (3)
4. innocent (of charges brought by enemies v. 3-4)
5. friend of the LORD (“come to meet me” v. 4)
6. trusts in God (9-10)
7. hopes in God (10)
8. loves God’s justice (10)
9. desires the best for his/the LORD’S people (11)
10. desires that enemies might know the LORD as sovereign (13)
11. servant of the LORD (13)
12. satisfied with God in his strength and love (14-17)
13. lives in God --- “fortress” idea
14. worshiper of the LORD (17)

David’s enemies:

1. oppose God’s anointed king (1-2, et. al.)
2. work evil (2)
3. stir up strife against David (3)
4. unreasonable (3-4)
5. plot evil (5)
6. speak harmful words (7)
7. godless in their thoughts (7)
8. little strength as compared to God (8)
9. destined for condemnation and defeat (10)
10. proud (12)
11. speech characterized by pride, cursing, and lies (12)
12. objects of either condemnation or blessing if through repentance they come to
know that God rules (13)
13. dissatisfied (14-15)
14. alienated from God (16-17)
15. don’t know God as one’s home/fortress (16-17)
16. not a worshipper of God but of something else (themselves or their own power?) (16-17)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Learning to Apply the Psalms to Ourselves --- Psalm 58

Psalm 58

God Who Judges the Earth

To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David.

1Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods?
Do you judge the children of man uprightly?
2No, in your hearts you devise wrongs;
your hands deal out violence on earth.

3The wicked are estranged from the womb;
they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
4 They have venom like the venom of a serpent,
like the deaf adder that stops its ear,
5so that it does not hear the voice of charmers
or of the cunning enchanter.

6O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!
7Let them vanish like water that runs away;
when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted.
8Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,
like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.
9Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!

10 The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.
11Mankind will say, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
surely there is a God who judges on earth."


When we read the psalms it is important to understand who the main characters are and how they apply to us. So, for example, in Psalm 58 we have the following groups of people:

  1. The “gods,” which is a reference to human rulers. Scripture sometimes refers to human rulers as “gods” because of their authority to render verdicts, which are supposed to reflect the justice of the one, true God.

  2. “The wicked,” which is a reference to all people who are estranged from the true God.

  3. “The righteous,” who are those who have entered into a relationship with the true God through covenant and sacrifice by the means of faith.

In Psalm 58, wicked human rulers are described in verses 1-2. The wicked, including the wicked human rulers, are described in 3-9. Finally, the righteous are described in verses 10-11.

As Christians, we would put ourselves in the category of the righteous, rather than the wicked. So, does this mean that those verses describing the wicked have nothing to say to us? No, because there is a sense in which we too are still wicked even as Christians. We have an old sinful nature that continues to live within us. This sinful nature is sometimes called in Scripture, the old man or the flesh or the old self. These descriptions refer to original sin --- that anti-God tendency that still lives within even the most holy of Christians, and won’t be removed from us completely until we enter heaven. This old Adam or sinful nature must be put to death daily, so that we might rise with Christ daily to live a new life in fellowship with the Father and the Son by the Spirit.

With this in mind, there is a lot for us in Psalm 58, as we learn to put to death the old nature within and live a new resurrected life with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Verses 1-2:

Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods?
Do you judge the children of man uprightly?
2No, in your hearts you devise wrongs;
your hands deal out violence on earth.

The first point I would make from these verses is this: Ideas have consequences! These wicked rulers devised wrongs. They came up with false ideas. They believed lies and told lies, and the result was violence. People got hurt on account of these wrong ideas.

It is so easy to forget that ideas have consequences in the lives of people. Neitzche told the lie that God was dead and all that mattered was the will to power. The Nazis ran with Neitzche’s wrong ideas and the result was millions of deaths in World War II and in the concentration camps. The communists in Russia told the lie that it was ok to steal from the rich to give to the poor, and the result was the loss of property and an impoverished nation that ended with bankrutcy and bread lines. Evolutionists tell the lie that human beings are just animals and are not created in the image of God. It is not surprising such a view leads to the cheapening of life, a shockingly high murder rate, and a lack of respect for one another, in the western societies that have bought this lie. Ideas have consequences!

This past week in America, a Muslim extremist murdered thirteen people and injured many more. Many in the military knew of this man’s radical Muslim views and his sympathy for terrorists, but no one said anything. Why? Because in America we are afraid to state the truth when the truth may be politically incorrect. The result of our wrong and false ideas, i.e., political correctness, is that 13 American soldiers are now dead. Ideas have consequences.

What is the solution to the false ideas that bring so much damage and violence to human lives? There is but one answer, and that is truth from our Creator and Redeemer. Lies only cease when truth begins. Jesus Christ is the truth, who brings us life, not death. Devising wrongs---false ideas are never harmless. They are the reason for the violence in our world. The only solution is the truth God reveals to us in his Word.

In verses 3-5 we read:

3The wicked are estranged from the womb;
they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
4 They have venom like the venom of a serpent,
like the deaf adder that stops its ear,
5so that it does not hear the voice of charmers
or of the cunning enchanter.

The wicked have three attributes in these verses:

  1. They are estranged from the Lord.

  2. They speak lies, which are likened to a deadly poison.

  3. They cannot be controlled.

From these three negative descriptions, we should learn three things:

  • First, our greatest need is to be adopted into the Father’s family. We need to end our estrangement from God by coming to the Father through believing the Son he sent for our salvation. The Father has done everything necessary for us to be reconciled to him. He has sent his Son, who became flesh and suffered and died in our nature so that we might be forgiven and adopted into his family. We no longer have to live as orphans. We can live life as a son of God.

  • Second, we need to hear truth from our heavenly Father. This truth is found in his Word, the Bible. This truth was made incarnate in his beloved Son. In Jesus Christ we find the truth to counteract the venomous lies the wicked so easily believe, devise, and speak.

  • Third, we need to live for the Father as obedient children. We should pray to be controlled by the will of God and the Spirit of God. Verse 4 describes a deaf adder that won’t hear the voice of the charmer. The wicked won’t hear the Word of God or be controlled by it. We must pray to be different. We must learn to be obedient children who desire to know and do our Father’s will. We must pray for the Spirit to empower us to obey the will of our Lord Jesus Christ once we know it.

As we listen to Psalm 58 describe the wicked, we know this describes the enemy still within us, namely, our old Adam. The old man must die, so the our new man might rise to live a life of righteousness and fellowship with the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sola Scriptura

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All of Us Need Protection from Destruction --- Psalm 57, Search the Scriptures

Psalm 57 (English Standard Version)

Let Your Glory Be over All the Earth

To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave.

1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
2I cry out to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
3 He will send from heaven and save me;
he will put to shame him who tramples on me.

God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!
4My soul is in the midst of lions;
I lie down amid fiery beasts—
the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!
6They set a net for my steps;
my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my way,
but they have fallen into it themselves.

7 My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!
8 Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
9I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
10For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!


As I read and re-read Psalm 57, verse one stood out to me, and I want to focus on this single verse:
1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
In the context of Psalm 57, the “destruction” David fears comes from Saul and his men, who were seeking his life. David sometimes hid in a cave with his men from the menacing king (1 Samuel 22 and 24). It appears that during these times in the cave David’s mind would go back to that first Passover night, when the people of Israel were kept safe from the destruction of the firstborn of Egypt as the angel passed by those houses marked with the blood of the lamb. In a similar way David would be kept safe from the destruction of Saul’s avenging army as it passed by, for David sought refuge in the Lord.

One of the truths little understood today is that all of us need protection from destruction. Every human being is under the sentence of condemnation because of sin. Scripture teaches that “God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Romans 11:32).

We see that that all people deserve destruction in the Old Testament. The Passover brought destruction to Egypt, but why was Israel spared? Was Israel spared because they did not deserve this destruction themselves? The fact that Israel put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts shows that they too deserved the same destruction from the Lord.

The same truth appears in the sign of circumcision. When Israel was about to enter the promised land on the other side of the Jordan, the whole assembly had to be circumcised. This circumcision showed that Israel deserved to be cut off from the land and judged even as they were about to be the instruments of cutting off the Canaanites from the land and bringing the Lord's judgment upon them.

When we come to the New Testament, both the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper teach us that we deserve destruction because of our sins. Baptism is a sign that signifies death and judgment. Yes, that death and judgment is borne by Jesus Christ through the cross, but our baptism shows that we deserve this death and judgment ourselves. If Christ does not bear the waters of death and judgment for us, then we must bear it ourselves.

The same lesson is taught in the Lord’s Supper. The bread signifies Christ’s body broken in death. The wine signifies his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins. But our participation in this remembrance of his death says that apart from our union with Jesus Christ, we too deserve destruction. Our sin deserves death and judgment from a holy God. No one is righteous. All of us are disobedient and are under the sentence of death from God. Our only hope lies in the mercy of God, who sent his beloved Son to die our death and bear our judgment.

Knowing what we are saved from such destruction makes verses like Psalm 57:1 so very sweet! Listen again to David:
1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
Our salvation is sheer mercy. We deserve nothing from the Lord except destruction from his holy hand. Our sinful nature and sins are a great offense to him. We have not trusted and loved him above all else. His will has not been the rule of our lives. We deserve destruction from his hand, and we acknowledge this truth whenever we remember the Lord in our baptism and partake of the Lord’s Supper.

And yet, even as we mourn our sin, we are also comforted. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” We are comforted by the amazing grace and mercy of God that would find a way to protect us from his own holy wrath and destruction. That way meant that the Lord himself would humble himself to take to himself our human nature, and go in that nature to the cross. There Jesus died in our place and bore the destruction we deserved. What a God we have! What a Savior, who loves us to this degree! Gladly, I will hide myself in the shadow of his wings! Gladly, I will make this God my refuge and my life! Amen.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Sola Panel | Delightful whispers from the Psalms

The Sola Panel | Delightful whispers from the Psalms

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Learning to Change our Emotions and Overcome our Fears --- Psalm 56, Search the Scriptures

Psalm 56 (English Standard Version)

In God I Trust

To the choirmaster: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. A Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.

1 Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
all day long an attacker oppresses me;
2my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many attack me proudly.
3When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
4In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?

5All day long they injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
6They stir up strife, they lurk;
they watch my steps,
as they have waited for my life.
7For their crime will they escape?
In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

8You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
9Then my enemies will turn back
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
10In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise,
11in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

12I must perform my vows to you, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
13 For you have delivered my soul from death,
yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.


In this psalm David moves from fear to confidence. This change from fear to confidence is not just an intellectual change. It is also an emotional change, for both fear and confidence involve our emotions.

It is typical to hear people say, “I can’t change my emotions,” but apparently this is not true, for David’s emotions were changed in this psalm as he moved from fear to confidence.* What can we learn about changing our emotions and overcoming our fears in this psalm?

David begins in verses 1-3a by acknowledging his problem and his fear. He did not deny his problems or how he felt. He was honest about his emotion of fear:
Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
all day long an attacker oppresses me;
my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many attack me proudly. . . . I am afraid.
If step one is to be honest about our emotions and our fear, step two seems to be a change of focus. Instead, of looking at our problems or ourselves and our fear, step two involves looking at the Lord through his Word. Notice, how David focuses on the Lord in the Word in verses 3 and 4:
3When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
4In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?
By faith David focuses on God. Specifically, David focuses on the God who makes wonderful promises to his people in his Word. By focusing on the living God, his power and his promises, trust is produced in David’s heart. Everything changes as David looks at the God who is on his side. Men do not look so powerful in comparison to the all-powerful God. Men look quite mortal in comparison to the ever-living God. The thing that moves David from fear to confidence and changes his emotions is looking toward the Lord by faith.

But if you are like me, you are not being hounded by a nasty king Saul, nor have you fallen into the hands of the Philistines lately! What enemies do you and I have?

As Christians we need to learn that we have four enemies who keep us plenty busy (and fearful)! Those enemies never cease their oppressive attack! Just as David’s enemy (Saul) and his agents never ceased their attack on David (v. 1-2), so the Christian’s enemies never call for a truce. The world, the flesh, the devil, and death all are intent on destroying us. The world has two main weapons, namely, seduction and persecution, including slander and insults. The flesh is that anti-God tendency within us that must die daily with Christ. The devil is that liar and accuser of the Christian, who is the unseen power and prince of this world. And, death is that ultimate threat that has no answer except in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

One of my constant fears (and my sin gives me good reason for this fear!) is that my sin (both original and actual) has somehow disqualified me from the grace and favor of God. I look back on my life and I see a pattern of sin that is so grievous and dishonoring to my heavenly Father. At times, I fear that maybe I am not his. Maybe I have sinned against him to such an extent that there is no hope for me.

How are such fears overcome? The answer lies in looking by faith toward the heavenly Father and his promises to us in Christ. Yes, I am unworthy. Yes, the devil has good reasons to accuse me. Yes, I don’t know of a greater sinner than myself. But I remember the Word of God. I look to the promises of God. I remember the gospel and those words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” I remember that those two little words “for you require all hearts to believe,” and that I sin heinously if I refuse to believe those words are for me, even though I am a vile sinner.

I close with these words from Martin Luther: “
It is of the utmost importance that we highly esteem, honor, and rely upon the holy sacraments, which contain nothing but God’s words, promises, and signs. This means that we have no doubts about the sacraments or the things of which they are certain signs, for if we doubt these we lose everything. Christ says that it will happen to us as we believe. What will it profit you to assume and to believe that sin, death, and hell are overcome in Christ for others, but not to believe that your sin, your death, and your hell are also vanquished and wiped out and that you are thus redeemed? Under those circumstances the sacraments will be completely fruitless, since you do not believe the things which are indicated, given, and promised there to you. That is the vilest sin that can be committed, for God himself is looked upon as a liar in his Word, signs, and works, as one who speaks, shows, and promises something which he neither means nor intends to keep. Therefore we dare not trifle with the sacraments. Faith must be present for a firm reliance and cheerful venturing on such signs and promises of God. What sort of a God or Savior would he be who could not or would not save us from sin, death, and hell?”

*We cannot change our emotions directly, but we can change them indirectly as we focus on the Lord and his promises, which engender faith and different emotions! Such a change comes from the Lord as we look to him in a reliant faith.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Christian Discipleship and the Current Political Situation in the United States

Dual citizenship

I have a dual citizenship. By this, I don’t mean that I am both an American and British citizen, or anything like that. Instead, I mean that I am both a citizen of the kingdom of Jesus Christ and the United States of America. All true Christians have this kind of dual citizenship. Jesus recognized this situation when he said, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and give to God the things that are God's.”

Seeking the welfare of the city

What should our attitude be as Christians toward the earthly nation the Lord has placed us in by the first birth? I lean heavily on these familiar verses from Jeremiah 29, when God’s people were exiles or pilgrims away from their true home:
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
As believers we should “seek the welfare” of the place the Lord has determined for us and “pray on its behalf” as we make our way to our true home above.

Salt and not losing saltiness

Another key set of verses, which speaks of our responsibility to the earthly city is found in the Sermon on the Mount:
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”
Here Jesus compares his people to salt. Salt had an important preserving effect for certain foods in that culture. Jesus seems to say that his people can have a good effect on society if they retain their salt-like quality. What does this mean? It means that Christians must live out their identity in Christ. Christians must live out what they truly are in Him without hiding their identity before others.

The danger Jesus warns about is living lives inconsistent with who we are as Christians. To be salt means to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. While it is true that all of us fail the Lord miserably, our failures should grieve us, and cause us to humble ourselves in continual repentance, and renewal through faith in Christ. Even our sin and shame, if accompanied by repentance and faith, can lead us to become more like Jesus of whom we learn, who described himself as “gentle and lowly in heart.”

Holding to the Word as both law and gospel

As Christians we hold to the Word of God, and we believe that this Word contains both law and gospel. The law gives us a standard of righteousness---it reveals the character of the God who gives it. The gospel tells us how God can be merciful to us through his Son, who fulfilled the law with his perfect righteousness, and bore its penalty through his death on the cross. Part of being salt in society is faithfully speaking both the law and the gospel to the world around us.

John the Baptist is an interesting case study for us in speaking both the law and the gospel to his contemporaries. He pointed to law and the need for repentance, but he did not stop there. He also pointed people to the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Yet the gospel did not nullify the law for John. To Herod, a political leader who had taken his brother’s wife and was in the midst of this scandalous sin, John boldly proclaimed the law, and was beheaded because of his stand for righteousness.

Thus, these are some of the principles that guide our interaction with the society around us: seeking the welfare of the nation we live in, living out what you are in Christ, faithfully speaking the law and the gospel to others. In the rest of this article, I would like to apply these principles to our present situation as dual citizens of both God’s nation and this earthly nation, the USA.

Freedoms under attack in the present situation

First, I want to show how our basic God-given, constitutional rights and freedoms are under attack through contrasting quotes from the founding fathers of America with people who are, either in, or close to the current administration. This contrast will focus on five areas of freedom:

The right to property

James Madison: “That is not just government, nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has in his personal [possession] . . . liberty is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the less.”

Van Jones: “No more broken treaties. No more broken treaties. Give them [Indians] the wealth. Give them the wealth. Give them the dignity. Give them the respect they deserve. No justice on stolen land. We owe them a debt.”

The president and many people in his administration are on record that they desire to redistribute wealth. The problem is that this redistribution is not in accord with the constitution or the basic right to property the Lord envisions for the human race.

The right to bear arms

Thomas Jefferson: “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

Cass Sunstein: “Almost all gun control legislation is constitutionally fine. And if the court is right, then fundamentalism does not justify the view that the second amendment protects an individual right to bear arms.”

If Sunstein and others don't like this particular freedom/right, then they need to remove it from the constitution. This would be the honest way to change, rather than twisting the plain meaning of the constitution.

The right to a free press

Thomas Jefferson: “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed.”

Robert McChesney: “Any serious effort to reform the media system would have to necessarily be part of a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist system itself.”

It is hard for rank and file Americans to believe that anyone would want to get rid of a free press. But steps are being considered and taken to this end by the administration. Mark Lloyd's proposal to seize radio stations and give them to others through unpayable government fees is chilling.

The right to freedom of speech

George Washington: “The freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”

Mark Lloyd (FCC diversity “czar”): “It should be clear by now that my focus here is not freedom of speech or the press. This freedom is all too often an exaggeration. At the very least, blind references to freedom of speech or the press serve as a distraction from the critical examination of other community policies.”

Mark Lloyd is on record as looking to Hugo Chavez as a model for the U.S. to emulate in Venezuela's takeover of the media.


George Washington: “There is no practice more dangerous than that of borrowing money; for when money can be had in this way, repayment is seldom thought of in time, the interest becomes a loss, exertions to raise it by dent of industry cease, it comes easy and is spent freely, and many things [are] indulged in that would never be thought of if [they were] to be purchased by the sweat of the brow.”

Joe Biden: “Now, people when I say that --- [say] what are you talking about Joe? You’re telling me we have to go spend money to keep from going bankrupt? The answer is yes, that’s what I’m telling you.”

In just this last year, the current administration has run up a 1.4 trillion dollar deficit. The national debt is now 343,000 per citizen. It is difficult to see how a financial collapse is not looming in our future.

Applying biblical principles to the present situation

Let’s apply the three biblical principles of seeking the welfare of the society, living out our identity in Christ, speaking law and gospel, to this current situation:

First, seeking the welfare of the society the Lord has placed us in. I don’t believe that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Nor do I believe the founders were all Christian men. The best studies seem to show that only 10% of Americans at the time of its founding even attended church! Many of our founders were deists and deeply influenced by the rationalism of the day. Jefferson even rewrote the New Testament eliminating all of the miracles.

But there is no doubt that the idea of limited government and basic freedoms and rights are consonant with biblical truths. Scripture warns us of the awful power that government can wield and damage it can do if unchecked. Surely, limited government and checks and balances are very much in accord with Scripture. Freedom is always better than slavery in the Bible, and the lender is always in a better position than the borrower. Therefore, for the welfare of our society Christians are right in extolling freedom and warning about the dangers of total government and big debts.

Second, being salt or living out what we truly are in Christ. At the heart of discipleship are two things: 1) submission to the Word of God; 2) repentance and faith. I find these two fundamental requirements in these words from Jesus: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Christians have compromised or lost their saltiness in both of these matters of discipleship. Christ’s yoke involves his rule through his word. But large portions of Christendom no longer believe in the Bible as the inspired Word of God. We refuse to hear the Word when it challenges us or reproves us. For some, the Word of God is neglected year after year as it sits on the shelf. Is it any wonder that the salt has lost its saltiness, and therefore, our culture continues to increase in corruption?

With regard to repentance and faith, we also fail to live out the meaning of our baptism to die with Christ in his cross in repentance, and to be raised with him through faith in his resurrection. We so easily countenance our sin. Where are those who mourn over their depth of their sin, but rejoice in the height, depth, length and breadth of God’s grace to us in Christ? Again, we have lost our saltiness.

Third, we must speak the law and the gospel, first to ourselves, and then to those around us. The law brings God’s judgment. The gospel brings God’s salvation from that judgment.

Sometimes the law can be discerned in the difficulties we face personally and in our nation. God often sent slavery to his people to get them to repent and call out to him in faith (this is the pattern in the book of Judges). God often sent debt, cultural chaos, and inept political leadership as a sign of his judgment, i.e., the threat of the law. But the law is intended to cause us to repent. The law is intended to drive us to the gospel.

It seems to me that the difficulties our country is facing are God’s shout of the law to us! He is forcefully telling us of our need to repent and turn to him once more for mercy. And, even if our culture is deaf to that message, you and I as Christians should not be. We should hear these great difficulties our nation is facing as his warning to repent and come to Him through His Son!

I know I need to repent and seek the Lord with all my heart! Won’t you join me? Won’t you come with me to humbly kneel at the foot of the cross to hear the Father’s word of forgiveness for his Son’s sake? Won’t you then wait with me there, humbly asking the Lord Jesus Christ to raise us up to a new life by the Spirit? Let’s not ignore the word of the law and its judgment that we are hearing in this nation. Let’s use that word of the law to drive us to the wonderful gospel of grace. Amen.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dismantling America

This article nicely sums up why we are at a critical time in the history of the United States of America. Do you love the rights and freedoms you have in America as a gift of God? Then please pay attention and speak up before we all lose them

Dismantling America

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Casting Our Burdens on the Lord --- Psalm 55, Search the Scriptures

Psalm 55 (English Standard Version)

Cast Your Burden on the LORD

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David.

1 Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
2Attend to me, and answer me;
I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
3because of the noise of the enemy,
because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
and in anger they bear a grudge against me.

4My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
6And I say, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
7 yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;

8I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest."

9Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues;
for I see violence and strife in the city.
10Day and night they go around it
on its walls,
and iniquity and trouble are within it;
11ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
do not depart from its marketplace.

12For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
then I could hide from him.
13 But it is you, a man, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend.
14We used to take sweet counsel together;
within God’s house we walked in the throng.
15Let death steal over them;
let them go down to Sheol alive;
for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart.

16But I call to God,
and the LORD will save me.
17 Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he hears my voice.
18He redeems my soul in safety
from the battle that I wage,
for many are arrayed against me.
19God will give ear and humble them,
he who is enthroned from of old,

because they do not change
and do not fear God.

20My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;
he violated his covenant.
21His speech was smooth as butter,
yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
yet they were drawn swords.

22 Cast your burden on the LORD,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.

23But you, O God, will cast them down
into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery
shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you.


This is a long psalm, so I want to concentrate on just one verse:
22 Cast your burden on the LORD,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.
In this psalm, David is a man overwhelmed by fear and burdens. Verse 5 is an example of his fear:
5Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
Verse 2 is an example of his burdened soul:
2Attend to me, and answer me;
I am restless in my complaint and I moan . . . .
What are the causes of his fear and burden? In general, the answer is his enemies:
I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
3because of the noise of the enemy,
because of the oppression of the wicked.
What is the good news of the psalm? The answer is:
God . . . who is enthroned.
Because God is enthroned, and because he is good (he is the redeemer in verse 18) I can find help. Our Father and his Son are strong enough to help us, and good enough to help us! This help is not necessarily immediate deliverance, but rather a promise from the Lord to sustain his children until deliverance comes:
Cast your burden on the LORD,
and he will sustain you
As believers, like David, we too have enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. These enemies are all bitterly opposed to Christ. The world in its anti-Christ apathy and hatred, and its love for pleasure, profit, and power, is always trying to seduce us away from our devotion to Christ. The flesh (the sinful nature or old man) is that enemy within us that opposes the new work of the Spirit in us. The devil is that personal being who is the unseen power behind the world’s deceit and sin’s power.

These enemies bring fear and many burdens into our lives. They are too strong for us. Therefore, our only hope is to look to the Lord and cast our burdens on him. Jesus Christ is our justifier, therefore, no one can condemn us. Jesus Christ is our sanctifier, who renews us into his image as we look to him by faith.

In all of this we can do nothing, for we cannot justify ourselves or change our sinful hearts. Therefore, we ask Jesus Christ to send forth his Spirit to brood upon the wild sea of our hearts and bring forth a new creation. “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Amen.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Sola Panel | The community gospel part 1: A powerful and dangerous formula

The Sola Panel | The community gospel part 1: A powerful and dangerous formula

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Living "Coram Deo" at all times --- Search the Scriptures, Psalm 54

Psalm 54 (English Standard Version)

The Lord Upholds My Life

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David, when the Ziphites went and told Saul, "Is not David hiding among us?"

1O God, save me by your name,
and vindicate me by your might.
2O God, hear my prayer;
give ear to the words of my mouth.
3 For strangers have risen against me;
ruthless men seek my life;
they do not set God before themselves.

4Behold, God is my helper;
the Lord is the upholder of my life.

5He will return the evil to my enemies;
in your faithfulness put an end to them.
6With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you;
I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good.
7For he has delivered me from every trouble,
and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.


I want to focus on this sentence found at the end of verse 3: “they do not set God before themselves.” Here are how some other English versions translate these words: “
They care nothing for God.” --New Living Translation

“They do not care about God.” --New Century Version

“people without regard for God” --Today’s New International Version
Who were these people who did not set God before themselves? And, who would be their modern day counterparts, people who are without regard for God?

The Psalm’s setting is the time when David was running for his life from king Saul, who was trying to kill him. The Ziphites, who were part of the tribe of Judah, knew of David’s whereabouts and gave that information to Saul. Saul, then, came and was about to capture David and his men, when an urgent message came to Saul to return at once because the Philistines were raiding the land. Through this stroke of providence, the Lord once again saved David’s life. It’s no wonder that David says in verse 4, “God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder (or sustainer) of my life.”

So, who are the people who did not set God before themselves or cared nothing for him? They would include Saul, the men in Saul’s army who were chasing David, and the Ziphites.

Why did these people slander (the evil in view in verse 5 can be translated as slander) and wickedly pursue the life of an innocent man? What caused this wicked behavior? Quite simply, it was their lack of regard for God. It was because they did not set the Lord before their eyes. Their ungodliness led to wickedness.

Who would be the modern day counterparts of Saul, his men, and the Ziphites? The answer is not hard. It would include all those who care nothing for the God revealed in the Old Testament and most fully in Jesus Christ. In love, God has sent his beloved Son into the world. He came to die for our sins. He came to bring us forgiveness. He has been raised to the place of all authority over heaven and earth. Not to come to the Father through the Son, and to recognize Jesus as our Lord, is to commit this sin of caring nothing for God.

But before we let ourselves off the hook as professing Christians, isn’t it true that we can go through great chunks of the day with no regard for God? Isn’t it true that we can live for hours, and even days, without setting the Lord before us? Instead of living moment by moment coram deo, i. e., before the presence or face of God, we live our lives as practical atheists, hardly ever considering the God we are called to love with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

O, how we need to repent of our independence from our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer! We live as though we have no need of him, when the truth is, we cannot live without him.

I write this to challenge myself as well as you. We live in a secular world that mistakenly thinks that such independence from God is good, when it is, in fact, the essence of sin. As Christians raised and enveloped in this secular mindset we need to be sanctified and renewed. We must learn to do just the opposite of our culture. We must learn: to set God before ourselves; to care about God; to have regard for God at all times. He is now our Father because of Christ. In any difficulty his name is powerful (v. 1). At all times his name is good (v. 6). At all times, whether good or bad, he deserves our sacrifices of praise and thanks (v. 6).

Monday, October 19, 2009

A good word on word studies from Bill Mounce

I thought this was a good article about word studies and how far they can take us. --Bill

ψαλλω and Musical Instruments (Monday with Mounce 45)

Someone asked me the other day about the precise meaning of the Greek word ψαλλω and any relationships it has, if any, to the ancient debate of musical instruments in worship.

I hesitate to blog on this because I am sure there has been much discussion in the Worship Wars literature about this and I am not aware of the pitfalls lying in wait for me. (Can pitfalls "lie in wait" or am I mixing my metaphors? Oh well, you understand.) My books on worship are at school and I can't get to them. So much for disclaimers.

But the person mentioned that some lexicons support one position, and others lexicons support the other. Let's see.

The latest version of BDAG gives this meaning to ψαλλω: "to sing songs of praise, with or without instrumental accompaniment." The suggested glosses are "sing, sing praise." The cognate noun ψαλμος is defined as "song of praise, psalm and is used in the NT as a reference to the Psalms or more generally to a hymn of praise."

It is interesting that Liddell and Scott give these meanings for classical Greek: "to play a stringed instrument with the fingers; later, to sing to a harp, sing, N.T. Louw and Nida agree. "to sing songs of praise, with the possible implication of instrumental accompaniment."

Both words are used in the LXX to refer to the Psalms, which were often sung with musical accompaniment. However, the word can be used just of singing apart from mention of an instrument (Ps 33:2).

ψαλλω occurs five times in the NT, none of which specify anything more than the voice (Rom 15:9; 1 Cor 14:15 (2x); Eph 5:1; James 5:13). The noun occurs seven times, four times in Luke-Acts of a psalm, the books of Psalms, or the entire section of the Jewish canon also called the Writings (Luke 20:42; 24:44; acts 1:20; 13:33). In Paul they are used of a song sung (1 Cor 14:26; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).

So what can we conclude? It appears that the word has shifted somewhat in meaning, since originally it clearly referred to playing an instrument, but by NT times it could be used more generally of human singing. I suspect the lexical data will not take us any further than that.

But it does point out an important lesson for all young Greek translators to understand, and that is that words change their meaning.

They can widen in scope, narrow in scope, or shift altogether. I suspect the question that engendered this blog was because the Classical Greek definition and the Koine are somewhat different, and the person asking did not realize that Liddell Scott cannot be compared directly to Koine lexicons like BDAG.

But does this mean that the "songs" in the NT were unaccompanied by musical instrument. Absolutely not. The New Testament inherits the culture of the Old Testament, and the later was full of instrumentation.

The burden of proof would lie on the person assuming that instruments were not used in New Testament worship, and then it would have to be proven that the absence is normative for all worship of all time.

The lesson for us is to watch the dating of the references, realizing that words shift meaning from Classical to Koine. And also realizing that word studies don't necessarily solve debate. They may give us the range of possible options, but other factors usually determine which option we choose.

As for me and my house, we will use any means available to praise God for who he is and what he has done.

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