Thursday, November 8, 2018
Scratching the Surface of the Psalms #31
Scratching the Surface of the Psalms
“A Shared Hatred Born of Love”
Knowing so many people were having my home pastor for lunch if you know what I mean, I never wanted to be a pastor.
I didn’t want to be paid to be holy and abused and had known from a very early age that being a pastor is like wearing a deerskin and walking through the woods on the first day of hunting season.
Pero Dr. Felmeth called me into his seminary VP office and told me that I was going to be the “temporary supply” – technical term back then for pastor-on-the-cheap for churches that can’t/won’t fork over for a full-time and fully credentialed cleric – of the Delaware Presbyterian Church near the Water Gap on the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
When I said I was going to be a homiletics or theology professor not an ecclesiastical grunt, gofer, and “errand boy for the wandering desires” of people with a coincidental religion about Jesus (Bob Dylan), he reminded me that I was on a full scholarship and would do what he told me to do.
Actually, he not me knew I was called to be a pastor.
That’s why he sent me to the church against my wishes; and Mary Williams, a dear old saint who sat in the front pew every Sunday and would always nod and whisper affirmations when I preached, confirmed the VP’s discernment of irresistible providence in my life.
Approaching five decades later with a passion that grows for pastoral ministry, I confess they were right and I was wrong.
Of course, call and comfort don’t always go together.
Jesus said people who really love Him will be hated for really loving Him because they pray and try to follow Him instead of agreeing with the last person that they’ve talked to like bad sentences ending in prepositions.
Jesus said disciples will catch everything but heaven for loving people enough – that means pointing ‘em to Jesus by the book without watering down any part of the message and not pandering to people who only want to hear about the parts of the Bible that they like – not to be liked by them.
Jesus said believers know they’re going to spend a lot longer time with Him than anybody else which means they don’t have a hard time establishing life’s priorities.
Pero, again, that doesn’t always translate to every day being a hot fudge sundae; or as I like to tell young women and men who are Biblically faithful ergo foolish enough to follow Jesus, “Yeah, I know you want to be just like Jesus except for the crucifixion part.”
Fortunately, the final chapter goes like this in His words, “If you go to the cross with Me, you will wear the crown with Me. If you give up this life to be Mine, You will live with Me forever in paradise.”
Sooooooo while I was called to do what I’ve been doing ever since, there have been moments when I should have taken the advice of Luther’s dad and gone to law school; or stayed in the ivy tower and become like those other professors who never practice what they preach.
I’ll never forget my very first trial as pastor of the Delaware Presbyterian Church.
I noticed someone had doctored The Apostles’ Creed in the church’s hymnbooks. Specifically, someone had crossed out “The Holy Catholic Church” and penned in “The Holy Christian Church” in every hymnbook!
Sooooooo I said, “I don’t know who defaced our hymnbooks with an improper rendering of the creed. Only a really ignorant person would do that. Only someone who really has no clue about our heritage would change the wording. Anyone who is remotely literate knows catholic means universal and doesn’t refer to any particular part of the Church. I know some folks have an ignorant bias about our sisters and brothers in the RCC that feeds this illiteracy; yet it has nothing to do with a part of the Kingdom but everything to do with the whole Church: ‘The Holy Catholic Church.’ So we’re going to say it the right way.”
After the worship service, Mary pulled me aside and said, “Everybody knows you’re right; but you’re gonna catch it. Dr. Wilbur Thrush, our pastor for over thirty years, did it.”
My friend in Metuchen, New Jersey did not.
He removed a bust of his predecessor from the sanctuary that had been donated to the church.
It reminds me of the beautiful brass sign with my name on it that was put out front on the beautiful stone sign of Kansas City’s Second Presbyterian Church.
I got it changed to “Jesus Christ – Our Lord and Savior.”
Before the change, I got the ball rolling by saying in worship, “If this church is ever going to get going, we’ve got to get back to Jesus. The first thing that we need to do is go out front and take down the pastor’s name and lift up the name of Jesus!”
While greeting folks after worship, a woman who looked redder than a stadium filled with Husker fans yelled at me, “How dare you take down the name of our beloved pastor Dr. ____! He was a much better pastor than you’ll ever be! I’m going to session to make sure that his name stays right where it’s always been!”
“Uh,” I said in the midst of an uncomfortable scene, “his name was taken down when I came. The only name that will come off the sign is mine.”
She marched off.
Check out Psalm 91 and you’ll figure out how/why I survived like so many before, with, and to come after moi.
I’ve been battling denominational, liturgical, architectural, academic, and countless other cultural and ecclesiastical idolatries since Dr. Felmeth forced me to go to that church.
I hate idolatry.
Idolatry is anything or anyone distracting from the allegiance and affection due God alone.
I got that hatred of idolatry from God.
He gave commandments to us about it.
The prophets preached against it.
Jesus cautioned us about it.
The apostles wrote about it.
It’s a shared hatred born of love.
God’s hatred of idolatry is shared by anyone who knows Him and wants to make His saving Lordship known.
Idolatry distracts people from the only One who can save ‘em.
That’s why David wrote so uncompromisingly in Psalm 31, “I hate those devoted to worthless idols, but I trust in the Lord.”
I really like Peterson’s paraphrase: “I hate all this silly religion, but You, God, I trust.”
Of course, picking on people’s idolatries can be problematic.
It doesn’t do a lot for job security.
Ask pastors like…
Ask the prophets.
You can get nailed for picking on people’s idols.
Psalm 31 returns to a consistent theme in David’s prayers and songs.
God is our only shelter from the storms of life.
God is our only deliverer from the meanness, madness, misery, and miscreance of a world that keeps falling.
Jesus Himself quoted this psalm while on His cross: “Into Your hands, I entrust My spirit…I’ve put my life in Your hands. You won’t drop Me. You’ll never let me down.”
I believe David returned to this theme of God’s saving Lordship so much because we need to hear it so much in a world that threatens our sanity, stability, and safety so much; especially when we take on its idols.
It’s good to be reminded He saves: “I seek refuge in You…You are my rock and my fortress…You will free me from the net that is secretly set for me…You are my refuge!”
It’s good to be reminded we will live triumphantly now and forever: “Love the Lord, all His faithful ones. The Lord protects the loyal…Be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord.”
That’s why David wrote so many psalms about God coming through for us as Savior in time and forever.
Jesus put it so simply and eternally satisfyingly: “You will be hated by everyone because of My name. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered.”
Let me put it another way.
Idols become dust in the wind.
With Jesus as our foundation, focus, and filter, we’re part of the family that lives forever.
Let me put it another way.
Don’t be like Aaron and exchange eternal security breeding existential calm for nothing more than idolatry that’s never more than a little bull.
We’re part of “The Holy Catholic Church” believing in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit along with “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
Blessings and Love!
Wake up! Look up! Stand up! Speak up! Act up for Jesus!
Shatter the sound of silence!
Salt! Shine! Leavenate!