Study of Psalm 123 (Part One)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven. We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal. Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy, for we have had our fill of contempt. We have had more than our fill of the scoffing of the proud and the contempt of the arrogant (Psalm 123:1-4 NLT).

Next in the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) is this short song. The human writer and the time of the writing of this song are unknown. Neither is important to understanding it. Like the others in this collection, it was composed for the worship of the Lord during the physical journey to Jerusalem, particularly at the required Festivals. Envision large groups of God’s old covenant people walking to the chosen city together. The very journey is celebratory and exciting. They move from the regular events of life to focus on the true and living God.

Like the previous psalm, it begins in the singular, but quickly moves to the plural. I lift my eyes to you… We keep looking…. Both singular and plural are important in the worship of the living God. Each believer must seek the Lord with his or her heart; all believers must join together in seeking God. One encourages the many; the many inspire the one. We can feel apathetic alone, and the zeal of others ignites a fire in us. A whole church might be listless, but the joy of one new worshiper can stir the existing ones to pursue God anew. While many of us have been able to gather digitally during the Covid-19 governmental restrictions against gatherings of many people, it has not been the same as meeting in person. We are glad for how we’ve been able to meet, but I wonder if some have begun to forsake the gathering of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). What will church gatherings look like in a couple months? You can be part of leading the way back to wholehearted worship.

The writer of Psalm 121 had to learn to lift up his eyes higher than the mountains to God. This lesson has been learned and the writer of this song lifts his eyes directly toward the Lord. In our day of religious confusion, many think it spiritually chic and sophisticated to lift up their eyes to nature, due to their pantheistic views. (By the way, what a deceptive term pantheism is, because if everything is god, then nothing is god. “God” or even “god” means a supreme being or deity of whatever conception.) Biblical teaching rightly directs us to the Lord God who is supreme over all people, forces, and things.

As the pilgrims journeyed toward Jerusalem and the temple, they sang of the one true God who reigns above the earth: O God, enthroned in heaven. The sovereignty of God is a major theme of the Bible. God tells us in the true story of his glory that he reigns, he rules, he is in charge of all things. This is a great comfort to the people of God, because this present world seems out of control. God reassures our troubled and confused hearts that he is still on the throne. The Spirit inspired the writer of this psalm to make that theme the first line of this song as they approached Jerusalem.

When we draw near to God, it is good that we remember that God is on the throne of the universe. We easily become overly familiar with the Holy One. We come to our Father, but he is in heaven. We might struggle to hold these two truths together. We need to view God as King while we also see him as Father. Our God who loves us is also holy and the absolute monarch. This provides us with much comfort and encouragement, when we acknowledge both in our lives. Together, these truth can transform our lives. Our Father-King is a reason to sing!

Before we leave verse one, we ought to notice our responsible action. I lift my eyes to you…. These words call us to refocus on the Lord (cf. Colossians 3:1-4; Hebrews 12:1-2). The purpose of the song is to rekindle adoration for the Lord in our worship. This cannot happen until we deliberately set our thoughts on him. O Lord God, use this song to refocus our hearts on you!

Grace and peace,

Grace Thinking

Romans 12:3

For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one (HCSB).

“God uses purposeful community to transform our hearts. The gospel, in the context of a community trying to do something, challenges our hearts and lives. This happens because we are placed in a situation where we are called to repentance, faith, and obedience. This is the process many of us disregard when we isolate and live for ourselves” (Watson, Sent Together). An example of what we ought to do is found in a great chapter on the Christian way of life, Romans twelve.

In verses one and two of Romans twelve, the Spirit of God sets forth the transformed way of life that God desires for his dearly loved people. Next, the Spirit gives specific teaching about the way the transformed people act in local gatherings (12:3-8) and in love (12:9-21). The Spirit does this through Paul the apostle, who asserts his authority to speak for God by the phrase by the grace given to me. At the same time, this phrase provides a model for the way we are to act (cf. 12:6). God’s people have been made rich by grace, and we are to serve God and others in conformity with the grace given to us. This includes the times we correct each other, as Paul was led by the Spirit to correct the Roman Christians in this letter.

In this paragraph, there is instruction about the correct usage of spiritual gifts in local churches. It begins with the right attitude in each member of a gospel partnership. Yes, each member, because this instruction is addressed to everyone. Each one of us must have a correct evaluation of himself or herself. An easy trap to fall into is to assume that others have attitude problems and we do not. “He has a big head,” or “she is in love with herself”. That might be correct, but it turns our attention from the point of the text. You and I must seriously ask ourselves if we are thinking too highly of ourselves. Do we see that we have received mercy in many ways (12:1), or have we become infatuated with who we suppose we are?

At the same time, we must have a sensible or sober-minded assessment of who we are in Christ. Called by grace to be sons and daughters of God, we have received the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts to follow Christ together. Therefore, we must not act less than we are. We can do what he has equipped us to do. Whether it is building up one another or reaching out to those away from the Lord, we should not be paralyzed by the not sensible opinion “I can’t to this!” God has placed you in life with the people around you for you to radiate the Father’s glory. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16 HCSB).

God has given each believer in Jesus a measure of faith. Faith is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9; etc.), and so we can trust in the Lord for what we need to build up the body of Christ and to win people for the Lord. This weekend in your local church, you should seek to help others on their journey. Part of this might involve listening to someone you have not listened to previously. You might be able to encourage someone who is weak. Your prayer might stir someone’s heart, and your kindness could refresh another’s heart. Look at others with the eyes of God’s love, and then act in love. Do not hold yourself back. Love one another.

Grace and peace, David

The Bigger Story (Part Two)

IMG_4300Ruth 4:13-22

In one of our groups recently, we discussed the topic of God’s sovereignty. Our walk of faith can prosper when we realize that God is in control of all things, that he has a plan that he will achieve for his glory and the good of his people. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36 HCSB). We have seen this idea in the book of Ruth several times. In this article, we will focus on it again.

In Ruth, we read the turnarounds that are part of the Lord’s ways. Many times these happen in small events. The small stories are important to God. We have seen God’s provision for two widows. God had given laws about gleaning and a kinsman-redeemer to provide for the needy. At the end of this book, we see him giving Naomi and Ruth a new family. This was very important to them and also to his plan, and so God provided (cf. Psalm 68:4-6). Naomi’s emptiness was replaced with fullness through her daughter-in-law and her son; she could enjoy being grandma to little Obed (4:16). What a great blessing it is to have grandchildren and to be able to hold them on your lap and care for them. Naomi’s arms are no longer empty, because God filled them. Perhaps you face some severe struggles right now. Your outlook might be gloomy, and you might be asking, “Does God care about the little story of my life?” Yes, he does. You are part of his great story and are significant. For this reason, reach out to him in faith. Take refuge in him until the disaster has passed (Psalm 57:1). When you are afraid, trust in him (Psalm 56:3).

God used the unexpected. After Ruth bore a child, the women praised the Lord for what he had done through Ruth. They told Naomi that Ruth was “better than seven sons”. This was high praise for Ruth in a culture where sons were highly sought after. It was the highest honor they could give the former Moabite, who had become a woman of honor. Now, think of what God taught Israel in the Torah. The Lord had given them the two great commands (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18); he also told them to care for the alien living among them (Leviticus 19:33-34). But ironically, Ruth the alien was the one who taught Israel to care. She was like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). God did the unexpected through her.

The women celebrated two blessings for Naomi in the birth of Obed. Naomi was assured of a kinsman-redeemer in her grandson, and she had someone to care for her in her old age. Obed would renew her life or “turn her life back”. This is the same word as “brought back” in 1:21. How Naomi misevaluated her life then! She thought that the Lord had brought her back empty; surprise! God had given her a grandson who would bring back her life; he would sustain her in her old age. God did the unexpected. Have you been evaluating your life by its present circumstances? You need to change your mind and reevaluate them by your relationship to Christ. Are you in Christ? Then you have one who will renew or bring back your life again and again and again. But there is more to see that we in our culture don’t want to see.

The Lord also teaches the importance of community. We need to grow in our understanding and application of the truth of God’s set apart people, of our spiritual family. We need to join with those that Christ has joined us to. If we know the Lord, we are to share our lives with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This means much more than some casual chitchat on Sunday mornings. Our Father in heaven uses the sharing of life of his people to bring about good in our lives. Notice two examples of their community in action.

The neighboring women named the baby Obed (4:17). They named him Obed, which means “servant”. They saw his future as one able to serve Naomi and to provide for her when he matured. The community sensed the significance of the child and shared it with Naomi. Everybody could rejoice in what the Lord had done for her!  Perhaps letting others help name a baby seems strange to us in a self-absorbed western culture, but it seems that the parents would get all sorts of suggestions from their family and neighbors about naming a child (cf. Luke 1:59-66). They had a much healthier understanding of the need for community in a person’s life.

The women of the community celebrated the birth of Ruth’s son and Naomi’s grandson. The birth of a child is an important event in human life and should be celebrated. Sometimes men joke about women’s concerns about bridal and baby showers, but such times are important. Here the Holy Spirit puts God’s approval upon such events by putting this common event into the story; later Jesus showed the same sort of approval by attending a wedding and providing the best wine at the reception (John 2).

We need to be sharing all of life with one another. Read God’s word and pray that it will transform your thinking about your place and function in God’s family in a greater way than you have ever experienced.

Grace and peace, David

Two Outcomes of Redemption

DSCN0209Ruth 4:11-12

One of the blessings of summer is the opportunity to get away from our normal routines, if only for a couple weeks. Perhaps I should say, the experience can be a blessing if we use our time off to stop and think, to invest some quality time in our walk with God. We live in a culture that is very self-focused. We have carried this natural human tendency to extremes, and so we need to reorient ourselves to how God has designed us. He made us to share our lives with him and with people. This will be the nature of eternal life. In our text we can see some glimpses of God’s desire for us on display.

The first glimpse is the importance of worship. They asked for God’s blessing on Ruth and Boaz. Ruth in some ways could be called “a book about prayer,” because we have heard many prayers in it (1:8; 2:4, 12, 20; 3:10). “Now all the people respond with prayer to the transaction at the gate by seeking God’s blessing on Boaz and Ruth… Every aspect of life, from misery to joy, from the routine to the extraordinary, daily work and social intercourse, as well as the very private moments, are lived in the faith that God is there and God cares” (Atkinson, my emphasis). Prayer ought to be natural to redeemed people. It should be so much a part of us that we naturally flow into and out of it. Pray constantly (1 Thessalonians 5:17 HCSB). We should be able to talk with one another, and then seamlessly transition to talk with our Father in heaven together. Since Christ has set us apart for God (made us holy—positional sanctification), we should be living such holy lives that we have no qualms to approach God at any time.

The elders and the rest of the people prayed for three blessings. They prayed that Ruth would be fruitful, bearing many children like Rachel and Leah together did. Children are a great blessing from the Lord. Have as many as you can! (Yes, I know that is not politically correct, but don’t believe all the propaganda put out by anti-family types.) They prayed that Boaz would have a high standing in the community. Obviously, they were not jealous of his present success and prayed that he would become greater. The increase of a kind man like Boaz contributes to the prosperity of the community. They prayed for the good of their family and tribe. God had worked through the life of Tamar, who was from the people groups of the nations (a Gentile), to build up the tribe of Judah. They prayed that the family of Ruth and Boaz would also prosper.

The second glimpse is the importance of community. Notice the phrase “the elders and all the people.” They joined together to maintain order; for example, by being witnesses. No one would be able to dispute the legality of the land purchase and the standing of Ruth in their community. The new covenant community is to maintain the unity of the Spirit. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3 NIV). Every gathering of followers of Christ ought to have this as a core value. “Together, we will keep the peace in our fellowship as children of God” (cf. Matthew 5:9).

They joined together to celebrate. Sharing joy is significant. When you share your joy, it multiplies. It is like the bread and fishes of the boy. If he kept them, only he would have eaten them and been satisfied. But when he gave them to Jesus for the good of others, a great crowd was satisfied – with leftovers. Don’t waste your life on yourself. Be willing to share your life with others, so that together you can celebrate the Lord’s blessings. Offer your life to the Lord in sharing it with others, and he will multiply its worth beyond your ability to calculate.

Grace and peace, David


IMG_0867Ruth 1:19-22

I’m not sure if Bible believing churches down south still do this, but years ago they used to have an annual “homecoming” service. Usually there would be special music, a guest preacher, and of course, “dinner on the grounds”. You can be sure that the dinner would feature fried chicken, baked beans, corn bread, and sweet tea. Since back in those days I was a “preacher boy”, I can attest to the always present chicken. I heard of one rather rotund Southern preacher who said as he pointed to his belt, “You know what this is? It’s a fence around a chicken cemetery!” Anyway, a homecoming service was a happy time, though I can’t actually remember anyone coming home for the homecoming in the church I served, since it was a relatively new church. But every church had to have one.

Our text speaks of a homecoming, and in the culture of that time, it was an unexpected homecoming. We live in such a mobile age, in which we have friends and family scattered around the country and the world, that it is very difficult to comprehend how very hard it was for people to move in that time. When people moved away, you expected your goodbye was permanent. So then, for Naomi to return to Bethlehem was a startling event. But this text speaks of more than one woman’s homecoming.

When Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem (1:19), it seemed that the men were out in the fields and the women working in town. You can picture the scene. One woman caught a glimpse of Naomi walking into town, and hurried out for a better look, with her daughters close behind. (There was no daytime TV in those days!) She saw her forgotten friend and told her oldest daughter, “Sarah, run over and tell Martha and Hannah that I think Naomi has come home!” As the word spreads, a crowd of women gather to see and to greet Naomi. It was a happy time of year, and they were so happy to see her! “Naomi, is that you? Welcome home! But… where are Elimelech, Mahlon and Kilion?” And one woman said to a friend in the growing crowd, “I bet she has some story to tell. Who needs a daytime soap opera when you have reality TV in our little town of Bethlehem?” You can see the women looking at her clothes, her face etched with grief and bitterness, and her hair sprinkled with gray hairs. They can sense that amid their joy, a long-lost friend has returned in great sorrow. Off to the side stands a young Moabite woman, for the moment ignored and unwelcomed. (Please remember that they lived under the law covenant, and Ruth was a despised Gentile and, even worse, she was from Moab.)

God has made us social creatures, to be part of a community. Being part of a community is an important part of what we are. Tragically, Americans have lost what this means, and millions are suffering the emotional and psychological consequences of the loss of community. The church is Christ’s new community in his better covenant, and each one of us needs to welcome people into our spiritual community. Reach out to strangers and welcome them cheerfully. Your welcome might be their doorway to faith in Jesus.

It is good for women to act like women and to socialize like women—very interested in personal matters! Yet a woman should be godly as well as feminine. So watch out for the temptation to spread malicious or salacious gossip. Instead, look for opportunities to spread the joy and peace of the Lord in your conversations. You know that another woman has the need to be listened to. How can you listen and provide godly hope and comfort? Remember that Christ has selected you as a female ambassador for the sake of his name.

Chapter one of Ruth opened with a famine beginning; it closes with a harvest beginning. So, this was a joyous time in Bethlehem. They were able to see God’s blessing in their fields. God had come back to bless his people! And now the women see a dear friend come back, as if from the dead.

As Christ’s believing community, we need to welcome people home to the Lord. It matters not where they have lived in the world under the cruel oppression of the evil one. And Satan is a cruel destroyer of humanity! We say, “Come in! Make yourself at home! Rejoice with us, because the Father’s grace in Christ is overflowing!

Grace and peace, David