Archive for October, 2010

God’s Faithfulness and Ours: The Psalms in Our Worship 11

by   |  10.27.10  |  Uncategorized

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology

When we teach the Psalms in the University, we usually begin by trying to categorize them.  Almost a century ago, Hermann Gunkel classified them as hymns, laments, wisdom psalms, royal psalms, and whatnot.  Each box had several sub-compartments, but it all seemed quite neat and tidy.  There were clear categories, and you could figure out which box any given psalm belonged in. Perhaps for an introductory study, the tidiness is necessary so that students can get a sense of differences and not be bewildered by the complexity all at once.

However, when you get past the basic classifications and look at the texts more closely, especially at hymns and laments, you notice that they are not opposites at all, but in fact closely related.  Israel cries out to God in order to move to praise.  Israel praises God for responding to their cry for help.  Always, these psalms assume that God is an active and loyal God (or at least should be) and thus that their prayers are somehow efficacious.

An interesting example of the interrelationship of praise and lament comes in Psalms 16 and 17.  Psalm 16 is a sort of loyalty oath in which the singer promises to avoid worshiping angels or gods or demons (“the holy ones in the earth”) and, instead, trust in God.  The oath is one version of a hymn of praise, and it concludes in verses 7-10 with straight-up hymnic language: “I will bless the Lord”; “my heart rejoices, and my liver [correcting the Masoretic Text’s “my glory,” which makes no sense — the difference is just the vowels, not the Hebrew consonants, but that’s another story!] celebrates”; and “because you have not forsaken me,” among other things.  The psalmist has turned away from idolatry, which presents a powerful temptation to her or him and all other worshipers of God, and in doing so has found security and peace of mind.

Psalm 17, meanwhile, is a more normal lament or complaint.  it calls on God to hear the psalmist’s  just prayer and to test him or her to see if the inner person matches the outer words.  Because the psalmist is “righteous,” i.e., faithful to the demands of God for an ethical and creative life, he or she expects God’s help.  The help is not a reward or a sort of quid pro quo.  It is simply a reality that expresses the psalmist’s deep relationship to God.  A sovereign who cares about the behavior of human beings will want to be in close communication with men and women who share such views and act upon them.  Otherwise, God would be a careless ruler at best, and at worst a tyrant with very mixed-up values.

The assumption of this and many other psalms is that God has no obligation to help arrogant, smug, self-absorbed people who proceed as though God does not matter.  That is, God is not fooled by empty words, no matter how pious they sound.  So much for cheap grace!  But God does have, the psalmist thinks, a moral obligation to hear the cry of the genuinely suffering who entrust their lives to the sovereign of the universe.  In other words, divine sovereignty creates moral obligations rather than allowing God to escape them.

This last point seems very important to me.  Some Christians have construed God’s sovereignty to mean that God can do whatever God wants and that we should just be glad that what God wants is nice for us.  Such a view, however, seems very ill-considered.  Just as my little dose of power entails responsibilities and duties — because power is simply an expression of commitments and relationships — so too does God’s infinite power imply infinite duties and responsibilities.  For human beings, these responsibilities get expressed as relationships of fidelity and trust, of mutual blessing.  For us to “bless” God is to honor, respect, adore, and obey God.  For God, to “bless” us is to offer protection, moral guidance, and at the last (as the New Testament puts it) ultimate vindication expressed in resurrection.  The psalmist does not, of course, work all that out, but he or she does assume this sort of moral commitment on God’s part. More »

The Gospel of God Proclaimed (Sermon Notes)

by   |  10.25.10  |  Uncategorized

Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services<br /> Associate, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Below are sermon notes from that Gospel Meeting, the second of five that I will post: “The Gospel of God Proclaimed (Acts 2:14-47)?”

Beginning at the end. Spoiler Alert! How does the book of Acts end? He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance (28:30-31). It is the fulfillment of Israel’s hope. The Gospel is Unleashed! The Gospel is Unhindered!

Let’s go to the beginning where it all started.

• The Jews believed that the Messiah would come and establish his unshakable kingdom freeing them from Roman oppression. Josephus states that there were four political groups: 1) Pharisees, 2) Sadducees, 3) Essenes, 4) Those in the north. This last group would be a band of guerrilla war fighters, insurgents, located in Galilee the home of 11 of the disciples. This was a well-organized group of trained fighters. They were expecting and waiting ——
• These northern Galileans are the descendants of the Maccabbees’ who overthrew Greek dominion and ruled Palestine until the Romans. Many thought this would be the time of the Messiah and God’s eternal Kingdom prophesied in Daniel. But it did not happen then. When would God bring his kingdom?
• 63 people claiming to be Messiah went to the desert who try to bring about uprising. Gamaliel refers to two: Judas and Theudus.
• Those in the north country ate and slept with apocalyptic. They breathed revolution. In hush whispers in back rooms they talked Messiah talk. It is within this context that Jesus came to earth to be Messiah. This is why so many misunderstood Jesus as Messiah and Jesus’ understanding of Kingdom.
The Feeding of the 5000, a miracle that occurs in all four Gospels—the 12 return from the limited commission with an army of all males; a Messianic uprising. A coordinated coming together to a place where they were familiar, green grass, the spring of the year, Passover. They were a group without a leader. An army without a general. A nation without a national leader. So, Jesus taught them many things — Jesus had to explain to the mob why he could not comply with their wishes.
• They sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Similar to the temptation in the desert enticing him to be King. And when Jesus realizes they were going to force him to be King, he dismisses the crowds and sends his disciples away and goes to prayer. He had resisted the attempt to make him into a political and military Messiah.
• From now on Jesus’ popularity faltered. Unable to trust the crowds, Jesus concentrates on the disciples. This story is a turning point in all 4 Gospels. Jesus refused to allow the crowd to make him the Messiah of their choosing.
• And out of Galilee, Peter grew up expecting, waiting, and hungering for Messiah. When Jesus said, “Come, follow me,” it is no mystery why this fisherman dropped his net. Messiah. He lived the next three years with Messiah. Jesus taught him discipleship. We read in the gospels about his struggles and his victories as he followed Messiah. Sometimes he tried to thwart Messiah only to be rebuked, “Get behind me Satan.” Then Peter’s tragic denial, “I do not know the man,” reminds us all of the times we too have thwarted the will of God in our lives. Now, in our text, Peter stands in Jerusalem boldly proclaiming “Messiah.” What made the difference? What transformed Peter from denier to defender? It happened Sunday 50 days earlier-Resurrection!

Imagine you are in the crowd…[Read Acts 2:22-36]. God has acted! God is the subject of every sentence. This is the message that was preached on that first Sunday, and every Sunday afterwards.

  • On Sunday, be assured that the one who was crucified, God made both Lord and Messiah.
  • On Sunday, as we gather around the table, we not only recall the facts of the gospel, we rejoice and give thanks and participate.
  • On Sunday, we can be affirmed that our faith is not in vain.
  • On Sunday, we can go forth with confidence that Jesus is alive.

Here we are on Sunday. Like every Sunday now for 2000 years, we hear the arousing crescendo of God’s mighty act of raising Jesus from the dead. He is risen; He is risen indeed. Sunday is resurrection day! More »

What is the Gospel of God? (Sermon Notes)

by   |  10.18.10  |  Uncategorized

Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services<br /> Associate, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Below are sermon notes from that Gospel Meeting, the first of five that I will post. First, “What is the Gospel of God (Isaiah 40:1-11)?”

A research project conducted in Italy asked residents in one city to share their life stories. As the stories were collected and analyzed, it became apparent that many residents were silent about one particular week in the town’s history. There were gaps in their story…
• And the GAPS in our lives not only baffle us; they discourage, bewilder, and demoralize us in so many ways.
• It’s life in the Gaps, the silences and slippages in our stories that tear up our days. Painful memories that deaden our capacity to live. So, we are restless, holding on to old habits, old customs, old memories, and old photographs.

Sometimes in the Bible, there are chronological gaps between two verses. Years can go by, and the biblical record does not describe what happened between those two verses. One such gap exists between Isa 39 & Isa 40. What happened in the gap? We need not speculate here. If you remember Isa 39 (retell). And we know what happened in the gaps:

• Destruction of Jerusalem, Destruction of the Temple, Deportation of the citizens. They lost the pillars of their faith foundation: Temple, Land, and King.
• Jeremiah and Lamentations both occur between Isa 39 and 40.

  • E.g., Lamentations begins: “no resting place” (1:3), “no pasture” (1:6), “no one to help” (1:7), “none to comfort” (1:9, 16, 17, 21; 2:13), “no rest” (2:18).
  • Lamentations ends: 5:20, 22 –a question Israel does not know the answer, a question about being “forgotten” and “abandoned” by God.

• Loss, suffering, & dismay. And the people of Israel conclude, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God?” (Isa 40:27)

What about life after the gap? 40:1-11: With devastation surrounding us on every side, God offers us a new world based on memory and guaranteed by promise. God comes. Not to fight or to destroy, but to comfort and protect. Suffering reverses into well-being and health. The valleys will be raised and the mountains lowered so that Israel’s return to Jerusalem will be smooth, like an Interstate Highway. … And God’s glory will be revealed. More »

On the Moral Life: The Psalms in Our Worship 10

by   |  10.12.10  |  Uncategorized

Integrity.  What is it?  We all want it, if it doesn’t cost too much.  We all respect it in others, as long as they don’t rub it in our faces.  But what is it?

Psalm 15 is about integrity, a serious moral purpose that structures one’s life.  Like Psalm 24’s “who may ascend the Lord’s hill?” it opens by asking who can abide in the presence of God.  That is, it begins with a sense of connection between a person’s character and his or her proximity to the Almighty, as well as, conversely, the belief that the part of the world that spends the most time with God will be inhabited by people of integrity.  Or put yet another way, the place in which worship occurs (“your holy mountain”) is also the place in which personal character gets built.

The psalmist goes on to describe the person of integrity as the one (1) who proceeds “perfectly” (tamim in Hebrew), which seems to mean “maturely” or “appropriately,” rather than flawlessly.  Think of the Olympic diver who nails all the twists and flips and enters the water upright and with almost no splash.  That’s living tamim.  This person also (2) “does what is right,” or “does righteousness,” or perhaps even “practices justice.”  The person who stands before God orients her or his life toward other human beings in ways that reflect the just nature of God.  And (3) this person speaks truth in his heart.  A curious turn of phrase.  It is not enough to speak truth with one’s mouth.  Not only is there always the question of just what the truth is, and when it might be appropriate to withhold some part of it, but the more serious problem is that truth-telling can become crass or calculating when it loses its moorings in the character of the truth-teller.  Hence the harder task of telling truth to oneself.  Such honesty is a prerequisite of integrity.

The psalmist then turns to negative attributes of integrity: the virtuous, spiritually mature person avoids slander, plotting with or against a neighbor, or anything shameful.  A notion of honor seems to be in play.  The truth is that this concept deserves a lot more consideration than it receives in our modern culture.  Honor is a word that has fallen on hard times, but it provides part of the glue that holds people together.  Our need and desire to be respected by others causes us to seek morally valid lives.  Honor displaces shame, just as it displaces self-seeking.  Without a sense of honor, we are left only with force.  (By the way, if you’re interested in this idea, you might like reading James Bowman’s book Honor: A History [New York: Encounter, 2006]).  The psalmist calls us to lives of honor.

Then verses 4-5 talk about relationships.  The person of integrity chooses relationships well.  This for me is the hardest point to be clear about.  On the one hand, we Christians must love all and be merciful to all.  Like God, we must not be respecters of persons.  On the other hand, we seek relationships with others who “fear the Lord” and reject what is shameful.  We use whatever power and wealth we have for good, not operating on the basis of fear or favor.  We hold in contempt any behavior based on dishonest transactions (“He does not take a bribe against the interests of the innocent”) and are disturbed by anyone, especially leaders, who appeal to fear, hatred, suspicion, or any unworthy human behavior or attitude.

Does the psalmist overdo this attitude?  Some people would find him or her a bit too aristocratic or hifalutin.  Maybe so.  But I don’t think so.  It makes more sense to me to read this psalm as a call to clarity of purpose.  We Christians ought not indulge our passions for superiority, our longing to succeed by helping others fail, our desire to wallow in fear and hatred.  These are all human passions, and as humans we are subject to them.  But on the other hand, as people who have been privileged to worship the God of all the earth, we dare not allow them to master us.  Something to think about. More »


by   |  10.11.10  |  Uncategorized

Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services<br /> Associate, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology

This summer I was asked to preach a Gospel Meeting in Tennessee. Upon further inquiry, the elders clarified that they desired a good-ole-fashion revival. I soon realized that the primary audience also included folks from area congregations who attended various meetings throughout the summer.

My memories of Gospel Meetings are limited. Thirty-five years or more have past since I last attended one. I remember sitting in the amen corner with my grandfather as Bro. Neal Penny preached for 2.5 hours on the book of Hebrews. I took notes. I took 14 pages of notes. He began with Hebrews 1:1 and concluded his running commentary with 13:25. When he was done, I knew the preaching in Tennessee was different than where I grew up.

It would have been easy to adapt their request for a Gospel Meeting to something more familiar. I toyed with the idea of a seminar on Philippians or Colossians. I considered relevant themes to contemporary contexts. But instead, I chose to address their expectations as the primary hearers of the sermons: A Gospel Meeting.

I began brainstorming. The following list emerged:

• The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 15)
• The Four Gospels
• Gospel preacher
• Gospel light
• The Gospel Advocate
• Gospel music

On Not Discounting God: The Psalms in Our Worship 9

by   |  10.05.10  |  Uncategorized

Last week, as I was flying back from a deans’ meeting in Pittsburgh (aren’t you envious?), I tried to change my flight to get back home a little earlier.  The meeting had ended sooner than anticipated, so it made sense to try.  After fiddling with her computer a bit, the airlines desk person said to me finally, “You don’t have a gold or platinum card do you, Mr. Hamilton?  I’m sorry, but since you have no status with us, I can’t change your flight.”  You don’t have any status with us.  Really?

Now this is not a big deal since I got home safely and on my original schedule.  Not having status with the airlines simply means that I haven’t wasted too much of my life sitting in crowded coach seats or idling about terminals crammed with people I don’t know.  Not having status might be a good thing, on the whole.

But a lot of people undoubtedly hear sentences equivalent to that all the time, for many of our fellow human beings have no status with anyone.  “I’m sorry, but because you’re young or old, a woman, a person of a group different from mine or you have less education or more life baggage, I can’t take you seriously.”  That’s the message, spoken or unspoken, that we humans have found myriad ways to deliver.

The author of Psalm 14 knows this too.  The psalm is best known for its apparent critique of atheism, “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.”  But this is not quite the point, for no one (as far as we know) was an atheist in the ancient Near East, at least in our sense of denying that any divine realm existed at all.  As you read the psalm carefully, then, you realize that what the psalmist means is that some people believe that God is indifferent to the plight of those who suffer.  They have erroneously concluded that God will not take sides in the struggle of human existence, or perhaps that victory in the race for the survival of the fittest proves divine favor.  In this, they do not differ much from a great many people we know, who believe that their wealth and power are divine blessings and signs of divine approval.  Alas, we are all susceptible to such careless thinking, as becomes clear in our prayers that thank God for the blessing of living in a country with our material wealth, as though we are quite sure that such wealth is, without further ado, a blessing.

For the psalmist, the insolence involved in believing that God will not help the poor or the vulnerable will lead to a nasty end, for God will send forth deliverance from Zion.  Apparently, he or she has in mind the return of exiles deported by one of the empires that swept over Israel and Judah, hence verse 7’s description of the context of salvation: “when the LORD returns the turning (Hebrew: shuv shevut) of his people.”  Far from allowing the present evil to continue indefinitely, God will let “Jacob rejoice, Israel celebrate.”  Thus the future will not look like the present.

In our own time, it is too easy to blame the atheists and agnostics for distrusting God while ignoring our own acts of distrust.  Atheists at least are often honest.  We Christians sometimes are not because we expect God to act in ways that preserve the structures with which we are comfortable.  But God is not limited by our expectations.  And this is why our worship and love for God make sense. More »