Follows in an excerpt from a exposition on Psalm 88 titled “Lament” by Kevin Kim.
God put this intemperate, angry, over-the-top, blasphemous rant in the Holy Scripture…in His Scripture.He put it in there to let us know that He knows how we speak when we are hurting and He understands.
He understands when our feelings so overwhelm us that we say desperate things, incorrect things, even heretical things. He understands so much that He put an example in Scripture saying, “It’s safe to pray like this with Me. It’s safe to pour out your feelings like this with Me because I am still the God of this man, despite the way he talks. I am still his Father.”
God is saying, “I am not your God because you can put on a happy face every Sunday morning.” God is saying to you, “I am not your God because you say all the right things to Me. I am not your God because you do all the right things. I am not your God because you can hold it together. I am just your God. I am just your God, and I am big enough and I am strong enough to hold you when you’re falling apart and to love you at your very best and at your very worst.” He understands your weeping, He understands you anguish, He understands you tears, and He is big enough and strong enough to take it. It is safe to pour out your heart to Him. Psalm 88 is a sign of His grace and understanding.
I remember thumbing through the Psalter of a church I once attended for a brief while. I found it interesting that Psalm 88 was excluded. Having struggled with varying degrees of depression most of my life, I quite frankly am glad Psalm 88 is included in the Bible. Those with such struggles need to know they are not alone. Maybe, too, we find a hint, a shadow, of Christ’s lament on the cross within this Psalm, as One Who felt, at His darkest hour, forsaken, even by the Father as He faced a wrath deserved by us. Maybe we are sometimes allowed to share, even in our wretched unworthiness, a taste of His suffering. We find, too, He comes into our darkness, quietly, and whispers to us that we are, by His grace, accepted and loved, and that one day, all the darkness will pass.
A Cry of Desperation
A song. A psalm of the sons of Korah. For the choir director: according to Mahalath Leannoth. A Maskil of Heman the Ezrahite. (A)
1 LORD, God of my salvation,
I cry out before You day and night. (B)
2 May my prayer reach Your presence;
listen to my cry. (C)
3 For I have had enough troubles,
and my life is near Sheol. (D)
4 I am counted among those going down to the Pit. (E)
I am like a man without strength, (F)
5 abandoned [a] among the dead.
I am like the slain lying in the grave, (G)
whom You no longer remember,
and who are cut off from Your care. (H) [b]
6 You have put me in the lowest part of the Pit,
in the darkest places, in the depths. (I)
7 Your wrath weighs heavily on me; (J)
You have overwhelmed me with all Your waves. (K)
8 You have distanced my friends from me;
You have made me repulsive to them. (L)
I am shut in and cannot go out.
9 My eyes are worn out from crying. (M)
LORD, I cry out to You all day long; (N)
I spread out my hands to You. (O)
10 Do You work wonders for the dead?
Do departed spirits rise up to praise You? (P)
11 Will Your faithful love be declared in the grave,
Your faithfulness in Abaddon? (Q)
12 Will Your wonders be known in the darkness,
or Your righteousness in the land of oblivion? (R)
13 But I call to You for help, LORD;
in the morning my prayer meets You. (S)
14 LORD, why do You reject me? (T)
Why do You hide Your face from me? (U)
15 From my youth,
I have been afflicted and near death.
I suffer Your horrors; I am desperate. (V)
16 Your wrath sweeps over me;
Your terrors destroy me. (W)
17 They surround me like water all day long;
they close in on me from every side. (X)
18 You have distanced loved one and neighbor from me;
darkness is my [only] friend. (Y) [c]
For Easter, I am reposting the following essay from December 21, 2007. Unlike others, I am not sure when I became a Christian quite honestly, but I think is was not long before I wrote the following. He is risen! I am a great sinner and He is a greater Savior!
Let me talk to you about my Messiah, Jesus Christ. Let me open quite controversially. If Christ is just a great moral teacher, He failed, and failed miserably. For all His altruism, His selflessness in serving others, for all His concern for the disenfranchised, for His formidable moral standards, His end is not one that I would consider a glowing endorsement for emulating His life. He was crucified; He died a death quite gruesome and, in death, was associated with criminals. If such is the potential end for emulating Christ the Teacher, then I want nothing of it. If we consider Christ only a moral example, then I cannot endorse Him above the Buddha. I cannot endorse Him above Gandhi. I cannot endorse Him above an Old Testament patriarch. They differ not in kind, but only in degree. His death carries no greater meaning and import than that of Martin Luther King’s. However, if Christ is more than a teacher, if He is who He and His followers claim Him to be, the Son of God whose death on the cross precedes something greater, His physical resurrection, I then must consider Him in an altogether different light.
I read, in the New Testament canon and in early church history, stories of martyrdom. I read, too, of multitudes abandoning the very foundations of their life to turn and follow, often at great personal, and sometimes ultimate, cost, the One whom they believed to be something greater than a teacher. These 1st century Palestinian Jews (and the gentiles, also), the first followers of Christ, had no great need of a Messiah as a life coach, a minister to their finances and marriages. Their lives were, I believe, even if in a time of political tension, quite predictable for the most part. They were tied to the rhythms of the land, of harvest. They were, for the most part, farmers and craftsmen. They were embedded in the life of the synagogue. Too, the individualism, the obsessive focus on self, of contemporary western culture would be, I believe, quite alien to them.
The Messiah that many were expecting and the Messiah that they received were quite different from one another. Again, there was political tension in that time and place. Judea was under Roman rule and before the first century closed, the 2nd Temple would be, as predicted by the Messiah, in ruins. The expected Messiah would be a King, a strong Man who would break the shackles of Roman oppression and return to the Jews self-rule, and Jerusalem, the city of God, would take her place as the beacon of light to all the nations. This did not happen, though. They instead received a Child who would grow up to divide rather than conquer, to turn child against parent, neighbor against neighbor. He would upset the status quo. He would be, for a time, a pauper King, having, as He said to would-be disciples, no place to lay his head. The Messiah was homeless. His family, for the most part, before witnessing the resurrected Christ, did not, I believe, consider Jesus to be anything but perhaps a bit mad. Even his inner circle of disciples could not wrap their minds around Christ’s proclamations about Himself. Rather, they still anticipated a political King who would establish a theocracy. The pre-Easter Jesus, on the cross, left his followers discouraged and defeated. The post-Easter Jesus revolutionized his adopted ones. Easter changed everything.
How can I talk coherently about Easter and find words worthy to address our risen King, words not compromised by cliché? I am humbled by the task. First, Easter is absolutely not just a metaphysical event having no concrete reality. The resurrection was not just merely a spiritual event; it is more than metaphor. The resurrection actually occurred in time and space. The Creator, the One through whom all things hold together, was willingly brutalized and murdered by His creation. He willingly became our Scapegoat, our blood sacrifice once for all. He is the new Covenant. Everything changed on Easter.
I can give coherent reasons and evidence to help illuminate the reality of the Easter event. It does not, contrary to what most would imagine, require a giant leap of blind faith. I can affirm with as much clarity the physical resurrection of Christ as I can most any event in ancient (and not so ancient) history. Where does this leave me, though? What do I do with this formidable knowledge? What does it mean and to where does it lead? Before we can even begin to address these questions, we must inquire as to the why of the Easter event.
Why did the Word that created cosmos, created humanity, deem it necessary to take on, from the Christmas event to eternity forward, a sinless human nature, and after taking on flesh, have it brutalized and nailed to that tree? Only in the context of that question can we begin to understand the Easter event. Here we find truths both simple and daunting, both compelling and repulsive.
We, as disciples of Christ, are beholden to our Messiah to apprehend these difficult truths to the best of our ability. Because of complacency that often permeates American Christianity, I believe that, as a church, we often worship more a pre-Easter Jesus rather than the post-Easter Jesus. The pre-Easter crowds gathered to the Messiah to receive from Him. The post-Easter Messiah drew to Him those who were willing to die for Him. The followers of the pre-Easter Jesus fell away from Him at the cross. The post-Easter disciples of Christ followed Him to the ends of the earth; they looked to give themselves away, to serve the Messiah, to die to self. I ask myself, which Christ am I following?
“The deeper I go into the gospel, the more I comprehend and confess aloud the depth of my sinfulness. A gruesome death like the one that Christ endured for me would only be required for one who is exceedingly sinful and unable to appease a holy God. Consequently, whenever I consider the necessity and manner of His death, along with the love and selflessness behind it, I am laid bare and utterly exposed for the sinner I am.
Such an awareness of my sinfulness does not drag me down, but actually serves to lift me up by magnifying my appreciation of God’s forgiving grace in my life. And the more I appreciate the magnitude of God’s forgiveness of my sins, the more I love Him and delight to show Him love through heart-felt expressions of worship.”
A number of posts ago, I indicated that I would, at some point in the future, post some thoughts on altar calls in specific, on contemporary evangelical methodology in general. Now is a good time as any to begin.
I find it interesting how relatively late in church history that it became, for the most part, the de facto contemporary evangelical methodology. Here, a little knowledge of church history illuminates. As far as I have been able to determine, and I am not a scholar, seminarian, or student of church history, the altar call methodology was not widely instituted until the early and mid eighteen-hundreds. Charles Finney, with his ‘new measures’ is most directly responsible for contemporary evangelical methodology. It is somehow ironic that his legacy and influence reverberates ever so strongly and much of the laity has never heard of him.
I think an abbreviated history of Finney and his new measures is perhaps in order. Finney, a lawyer who came to faith on October 10th in the 1821 after years of unbelief, became a Presbyterian minister. Part of the process of becoming ordained involved professing adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith. He later admitted that he was almost totally ignorant of what the document taught. [Charles Finney, The Memoirs of Charles Finney: The Complete Restored Text (Grand Rapids: Academie, 1989), 53-54]
Finney also rejects Calvinism, perhaps as a response to what may be called an errant strain of Calvinism called hyper-Calvinism that he had been exposed to and perhaps by which, ironically, he was led to a profession of faith in Christ. It, too, must be understood that the great revivals, the Great Awakening, had been through preachers and theologians such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, staunchly Calvinists in their understanding of grace. Finney also entertained ideas errant and dangerous. Essentially, from what I gather, he denied the scope of the Fall and taught what seems to be a justification by works. He appears to constantly downplay God’s sovereign role in salvation. His theology turns the eyes of the heart from God to a focus on a seemingly ‘not-so-fallen’ humanity. Finney essentially denied the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Therein we find egregious harm and error, the seeds of which seem to be in full bloom in this age and time. While evangelicals would reject Finney’s errant theology if they were aware of it, they heartily embrace his evangelical methodology.
What Finney popularized in his aforementioned ‘new measures’ was the precursor and close cousin to the altar call, the ‘anxious bench’ and ‘mourner’s bench’. What Finney taught was that revival could be ‘worked up’ through psychological and emotional inducements. Revival did not need to be altogether prayed down as much as worked up.
Going back to altar calls, which are just one expression of an overarching methodology of psychological and emotional manipulation, those who have been in conservative evangelical churches, be they mega or small, be they Baptist or charismatic, be they traditional or contemporary, have often been exposed to calls to come forward to the altar. Many have responded to altar calls, sometimes more than once. Some have come to a redeeming faith in Christ through altar calls. Often, those who give altar calls present the Gospel message completely and without compromise.
What many altar calls and variants thereof do, however, is often introduce non-biblical language, non-biblical conditions, and non-biblical calls to salvation. What some altar calls do, also, is offer an easy grace, a salvation seemingly without cost, without an inferred need for repentance. What altar calls may sometimes do is give those who respond a false sense of security because they were actually never presented with the Gospel and therefor never actually came into a redeeming relationship with Christ. Also, many studies and statistics have shown that only a very small percentage, mostly in the single digits, of those who respond to altar calls during crusades and revivals actually remain actively involved in the faith for more than a year. They simply seem to drop out of sight and fall back into their ‘pre-decision’ lifestyles. We must remember that the biblical call to evangelize, the Great Commission, is to make disciples, not just converts, real or otherwise.
Following are a few examples of misleading evangelical methods. Many calls to the altar proclaim that Jesus has a wonderful plan for your life if one would just respond to the call, raise your hand, or say a prayer. Well, Jesus may not have a wonderful plan for your life as many would count wonderful. Such is never promised in the canon of Scripture. His plan for you may be quite difficult and not without cost. The Messiah’s calls to discipleship were not easy calls. What would the martyr Steven say about Christ offering you ‘your best life now?’ Would such an inducement work in the Sudan? Would such and inducement work in China? We are not called to press an ‘easy button’ for redemption. Sadly, I have actually seen, on more than one occasion and at more than one location Jesus being referred to as the ‘easy button’ to salvation.
I have heard other calls to salvation go thusly: “If you cannot remember the moment you were saved, now is the time to ‘nail it down.’” Such is not a biblical call to salvation. The only times that I recall the New Testament calling one’s salvation into question is the lack of observable growth, of spiritual fruit, over the long term in ones life. What is introduced in the context of the call to ‘nail it down’ is a false, unbiblical condition for salvation. To emotionally manipulate someone into making a decision based on doubts about the veracity of or inability to recall an earlier decision bought about by emotional manipulation is both ironic and unbiblical. If you have repented of sin and trust in the grace and redeeming work of Christ alone for salvation, you have it ‘nailed down’ and will persist in His grip whether or not you remember the point in time you first came to trust in Christ.
I have heard other calls to salvation infer that if one does not respond to this particular call, you may never get another chance to ‘decide’ for Christ, that this particular ‘move of God’ must be acted upon now for you may never get another opportunity. What is inferred in this manipulative scheme is that there is a time stamp on the grace of God. If you do not come forward now or raise your hand or say a prayer, you may never be wooed by the Holy Spirit again. At best, this is unbiblical. The call to grace and redemption through Christ only expires when one departs this tent of flesh.
I could go on with more examples of unbiblical and emotionally manipulative methods that I have personally witnessed, but my point is clear. Too, I am absolutely not inferring any ill will is intended by those who use such methods. I am not intending to cast doubt on their love and commitment to Christ. The use of such methods is more born out of perhaps ignorance and perhaps out of a denominational tradition. Without regard to intent, what is happening, though, is that the Gospel is all too often presented in an often unbiblical way, much like the hard pitch of a used car salesman. Do people sometimes come to redemption, to a saving knowledge of Christ through such methods? Sometimes, perhaps more than one would expect, this methodology produces fruit. God can and does sometimes use the one drop of truth in an ocean of error. Sometimes one may run around holding a metal rod during a thunder storm and not get struck by lightening. Does this mean that doing such is a good idea?
More recently, perhaps in the last couple of decades, we have seen the nature of the church being inverted and redefined in some quarters of western Christendom. Rather than going out into the world to make disciples, Christ’s call to the Great Commission and the nature and constituency of the church had been turned upside down. Now, congregates are now often being instructed to bring the world into a recalibrated church so that a charismatic (not using the word in the theological and Pentecostal sense, but referring to a commanding personality) pastor can present what is hopefully a faithful call to the Gospel. Bring in your ‘unchurched’ friends and family and we’ll get them saved is the inferred contract. (Note with absolute confidence that I am definitely not saying that is wrong to invite the unsaved to church.) Inducements are introduced to the church to make it more attractive to the ‘unchurched.’ Topical and often entertaining sermons that cater to one’s felt needs replaces sound expository preaching. Give away everything from IPods to motorcycles during the service to draw people through the doors. There is actually a church that gave away an Orange County Choppers custom motorcycle to induce people to come to church. The question is this: Is the clarion call of the word of God, faithfully proclaimed, not enough? Did the apostle Paul deem it necessary to give away camels and tents to bait people to the Gospel? The apostles fished with nets.
Why is it that many advisers to church planters (and sometimes the pastors, themselves) appear, as evidenced by their websites, to be more instructors on marketing and product placement than proclaimers of the Gospel? What has happened with the best of intentions is that more and more churches, modeled more on secular business and leadership practices than on biblical mandates are becoming more and more consumer driven. If a service conflicts with the Super Bowl, then the church will reschedule so that attendance does not decline. Increasing numbers of churches are opening up coffee shops in the church to draw in the crowds. Churches put up fountains that dispense chocolate and give massages to moms on Mothers Day to draw people into church. What ends up being engaged, again with the best of intentions, is a ‘bait and switch’ evangelical methodology that plays to our self-indulgence. Can such a church survive without creative and witty video introductions to topical sermons that constantly draw on popular culture references? Can it survive with a less than professional band? Can it present a message of hope and reconciliation with God through Christ without framing everything between a pastor’s personal and often humorous anecdotes? Does such a church depend too much on human creativity and effort and perhaps not enough on the power of His word? When all that is peripheral is stripped away, what is such a church left with? I remember running across this quote from another blog: “What you draw people with is what you draw them to.” How do I reconcile Christ’s call to die to self in the face of chocolate fountains and easy buttons in church?
Perhaps I am way off base, but much of contemporary evangelical and ecclesiastical methodology, in all its applaudable zeal, seems at times, unintentionally, to treat Jesus as a means to an end rather than an altogether and absolutely wonderful end in and of Himself. It as if Jesus is a prescription being dispensed a sick world. It is as if I have a fatal, systemic infection and am given a wonder drug, an antibiotic, and I am being told that all I have to do is take this drug and I will be healed. I may not develop an all encompassing love for this drug; I may love not being sick more than I love the drug. I may become more enamored with and focused on the one who gave me this drug than the drug itself.
I have stated, perhaps ad nausea, what I believe to be wrong with much of American evangelical methodology. What then do I propose is correct? I believe it is this: In the times the Gospel is preached in the New Testament where we have details of what is said, there is not one single example where anyone is told that the circumstances of their life will necessarily improve when they become disciples of Christ. What is recorded, though, is an absolute focus on and exaltation of Christ. We see the apostles going out into the world proving Christ from scripture. We see the condemnation of sin, the call to repentance, and proclamation of the absolute falleness of humanity. Solely proclaimed is faith in the atoning work of grace through Christ to restore rebellious humanity to the Savior. Such leads to a selfless life focused on Christ.
Again, as stated in a previous post, we must remember that Christ, incomprehensibly loved by the Father and Holy Spirit and sharing an incomprehensible unity within their Trinitarian relationship, condescended to take on human flesh and then looked down both barrels of Father God’s holy and incomprehensible and righteous fury over our sin; He faced Father God’s white-hot anger that should have been directed at His redeemed ones. He, the all mighty Creator of all, was beaten and scourged by the created. He was nailed to that horrific Roman torture and death machine, the cross, naked and shamed. He then gloriously defeated death by physically rising from the tomb. Why did He do this? He did it that we, His flock, may be, through His grace alone, clothed in His righteousness, that He may be glorified forever.
Orthodox Christians affirm the omniscience of God. We are told in New Testament canon that the hairs on our head are numbered. In our finiteness, we can we only begin to barely apprehend the periphery of God’s omniscience. In thinking recently about this attribute of our Father God, His ‘all-knowingness’, I dwell on the following observations of the created order that reflect His glory and majesty:
- The universe is at least 156 billion light-years wide. As a reference point, a light-year is, well, the distance light travels in one year; light travels at over 186,000 miles per second which translates to 5,876,000,000,000 miles per year.
- There are approximately 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, our galaxy.
- There are approximately 70 sextillion stars in the visible universe.
- The number of subatomic particles of electron size in the universe is approximately:
……..—.30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, ——–.--000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 – or 3 followed by 79 digits.
- The age of the universe is somewhere between 11.2 and 20 billion years old (with all respect to my YEC brothers and sisters).
- The universe had a discreet starting point and is winding down.
God, who created the universe ex nihilo, from nothing, knows both the position and momentum of all sub-atomic particles. He knows immediately all there is to possibly know about every subatomic particle in the universe at any point in time of the age of the universe. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle does not apply to our Creator God.
Not only does He immediately know all there is to know about each sub-atomic particle in each discreet moment over the age of the universe, He also knows all contingencies about all of His creation. He knows that if He had created the universe such that if any one factor was different, He knows immediately all that can be know about any alternative universe of any number of altered factors.
God is not contingent, is not dependent, upon the universe. The universe is contingent, is dependent, upon Him. Indeed, it is in Christ Jesus, who spoke the worlds into existence from nothing, through whom all things hold together. In reflecting on creation, I affirm the following:
The true God is not a false pagan god of polytheism or henotheism, gods of idolatry who are only reflections and projections in large of flawed and limited humanity.
The true God is not the false god of pantheism where god is all and all is god. At it’s essence, this theology deifies mankind, hardly an object, given our nature and history, of worship. We need no further impetus for self-indulgence.
The true God is not the impotent, false god of panentheism, the dipolar god of process theology, wherein that which is material may be considered the ‘body’ of god and the non-material spirit of god is the ‘soul’ of the universe, as it were. The god of panentheism is not the immutable sovereign God of all creation.
Father God is not the false god of open theism, a deity not privy to or in complete control of future events though he, according to this errant theology, may forecast them with a measure of accuracy. Again, the true God is absolutely sovereign over creation. He knew all our thoughts before the beginning of time. There is nothing hidden from Him. Further, God is not a risk taker, as some open theists would affirm, for He is sovereign over creation. He is not a needy God. He is utterly and completely sufficient unto Himself. He is not a lonely God in a desperate search for someone to love Him. He is utterly fulfilled in His trinitarian nature. He simply loves us, His adopted children, His redeemed ones, because He loves us
Abba God is not the false impersonal God of deism. He is a personal, knowable God. He condescended to reveal Himself to humanity, to a world in rebellion, through the Bible and ultimately through the incarnation of Christ Jesus.
Anything less than the absolutely righteous, absolutely holy, absolutely just, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, merciful, immutable, and personal triune sovereign God of the inspired, infallible, and authoritative canon of the Old and New Testament is less than worthy of worship, less than worthy of complete confidence and trust, less than worthy of adoration.
What follows is an excerpt from a post I authored a few weeks ago on the incarnation of Christ that seem to be an appropriate conclusion to this post:
- As profound and foundational are the doctrines of the trinity and the physical resurrection of the Messiah, and absolutely in no means do I intend to diminish their import, it is the incarnation of our Savior that leaves me most breathtakingly at a loss for words. That Christ, fully almighty God, immutable and fully in transcendence over creation, Who spoke into existence, ex nihilo, the natural order, should step out of eternity and condescend to take on flesh, a sinless human nature, and, out of love, subject Himself to a fallen creation, leaves me wanting for words. Christ, God almighty, His incarnation realized by His conception and virgin birth to Mary, was obedient to Father God to the point of death on the cross to provide propitiation for sin and, after defeating death, will for eternity forward, walk with us as we behold His cross-scarred body. Here we find incomprehensible truths that followers of the Messiah will feast on for eons.
He offered up His Son as a perfect sacrifice for our sin so that through our repentance and faith in the redeeming work of sovereign grace in Christ’s death on the cross and physical resurrection, we have forgiveness and eternal life. How can we neglect so great a salvation.