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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Man of Sorrows - The Darkest Psalm

The Psalm most closely associated with the Passion of Jesus is undoubtedly Psalm 22, from which we derive such well known verses as, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” and, “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

There are numerous psalms that we call “Messianic Psalms” for their close association with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  They were not written as straightforward predictions, but rather detail the personal laments of the psalmist.  In Psalm 22, David speaks of his own feelings and anguish.  But in the mysterious providence of God, David’s experiences foreshadow the details of the sufferings of the Son of David in such a way that they are considered predictive by the New Testament authors.  We might echo Paul and say that David’s sufferings were a shadow the substance of which belongs to Christ (Col 2:17).

There is another Psalm that gives a foretaste of the sufferings of Jesus, particularly the anguish of the solitude of the cross.  It’s Psalm 88.  Again, this is a psalm of David, in which he speaks from his own experiences, and yet, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he speaks for his Greater Son (Matt 1:1).  

I find this psalm to be helpful in providing some perspective on Christ’s suffering.  Many tend to emphasize the physical aspect of His passion.  Certainly, we should not minimize that the agony of crucifixion, but the Lord’s suffering was not limited to the horrific physical pain He endured.  Psalm 88 helps us to see that there was another aspect that was perhaps even more difficult, given the eternal, unfettered fellowship He enjoyed with the Father: on the cross, Jesus was abandoned and utterly alone.  

The psalm’s multiple references to the dark evoke images of those three hours in which Jesus hung on the cross in complete darkness.  There are multiple references to His sorrow, to His companions having shunned Him, and to God’s wrath sweeping over Him.  The overwhelming sense is one of suffering in complete solitude.  No one has ever been as alone as Jesus was on the cross.

Psalm 88 is unique in that it alone has no explicit statement of confidence or hope.  No small ray of light is allowed to stream in.  There would be no rescue for Him on the cross.  He was born to suffer in solitude and die.  This aspect of the psalm indicates yet again the complete darkness that Jesus endured so that, unlike Him, we would never suffer alone or without hope.  

While you can find the entire psalm here, I’d like to give you the most striking portions now.  Praise God for this Man of Sorrows, who tasted death on our behalf.

For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol.
 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength,
 like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, 
for they are cut off from your hand.
 You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.
 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
 You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. 
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
 my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you. 
(Psa 88:3-9)

O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?
 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
 Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together.
 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.

(Psa 88:14-18)

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

So Grateful to Be Here - A 10th Anniversary Reflection

Our 10th anniversary celebration is just days away.  I'm overwhelmed with thankfulness.  There are a host of reasons. I'd like to share just a few.

For many years I was terrified to be a pastor, both because of the pain I'd seen pastors endure and because of how difficult I thought it would be to devote enough time to the task of preaching, given the many demands on a pastor’s time.  I didn't want the pain, and I would rather not preach than preach poorly simply because I didn't have to time to prepare well.  Even though it was clear to me from the time I was a young man that this was the life God chose for me, I ran from it.  Eventually, I decided to be a biblical counselor as a way to serve God in lieu of being a pastor.

But at the first Together for the Gospel conference in 2006, God used John Piper's message to change my heart.  It was clear to me that I could no longer tell God in what capacities I was willing to serve him. I told the Lord that if He wanted me to be a pastor, I would do it.  But I asked him to bring the church to me rather than my going out and looking for a church.

Later that year I started seminary, still open to the idea being a pastor, but not at all looking for a pastorate.  I still had the same old fears, but was willing to overlook them if the Lord asked.  

Fast-forward a year and a half - my family was having lunch with the Joneses.  This cop who I didn’t know very well - and who didn’t know me very well - was pitching to me the idea of planting a church.  Those two old fears came to the surface. I only told him about one of them - the concern that with all the responsibilities of being a pastor I wouldn't be able to dedicate sufficient time to preaching. Of course, I wasn't going to tell him I was afraid of getting hurt – he was a cop, a real man's man, and I didn't want to sound like a little girl.

I'll spare you all the details of how the rest of that conversation went. You may hear more of those details this weekend. What I really want to say now is just how amazingly kind God has been to me over last 10 years regarding those two fears.  

I was afraid of getting hurt, but it's not what I expected, nor what I feared.  First, I’ve never been part of a church that is as loving as PBF.  What kind, godly people we have.  Certainly, we are sinners and we do hurt one another, but the love and care that I’ve experienced at Providence has far exceeded any pain that I feared.  The Lord has allowed me to shepherd the gentlest congregation I’ve ever seen.  

Also, the pastors whom I watched suffer as I was growing up did so alone; they did not serve in a plurality of elders. My experience has been very different.  Ministry is difficult and can be painful.  It is a given that you will be misunderstood and encounter unique trials, but by God's grace, PBF has had a plurality of elders from the first day.  The work, the pain, the reward, the joy is shared.  I was afraid of getting hurt, but what a gift these shared trials have been as they have forged friendships with my fellow elders that have proven well-worth the pain.  We have matching scars - and I’d receive the blows again ten times over rather lose the joys we’ve shared serving the Lord together.  

My second fear was that I would be so busy with ministry tasks that I would be unable to devote sufficient time to what I regarded a critical task, preaching.  I’d seen this pattern over and over in other churches and the thought of becoming a part of it made me nauseous.  But the Lord has been so generous.  He has consistently raised up saints who delight to do the work of ministry so that week after week I have all the time I need to study to preach.  Initially, the standard for this kind of service was set by Pastor Rick, who purposed to do everything necessary to keep me in the study.  He still exemplifies this, demonstrating that he is as devoted to the preaching of the Word as anyone I know.  Others have followed that example.  The result is that my original fear is a thing of the past and something that I only think about when telling the story of how we decided to plant the church.  (On that note, may I ask a favor?  If you are ever blessed by a message that I preach, would you go and thank Pastor Rick or Pastor Ken or Pastor Dan or Pastor Jason or Pastor John?  Would you go and thank one of our deacons?  Every message preached at Providence is a result of many people doing many things so that one person can focus primarily on studying.)  

On top of fears unrealized, I am overwhelmed to be part of a church family that I love so dearly.  I love the body of Christ at Providence Bible Fellowship.  I’m so grateful that he overcame my fears so that I might have the joy of serving Him with you.  I can’t believe it’s already been 10 years together.  May He give us many more.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Orphan Care Ministry Silent Auction!

It has been wonderful over the last few years to see the Lord increasing the number of families adopting at Providence Bible Fellowship.  There are numerous young lives who have been graced by loving adoptive parents – and we’ve had the pleasure of participating in various ways.  Right now we have two more families waiting for adoption placements that could come at any minute and another expecting a placement later in the year.

I’m so grateful for those who He has moved to start our Orphan Care Ministry.  One of the ways we are seeking to bless families interested in adopting is to help with funding.  As you know, the cost of adoption is astronomical.  A reasonable adoption can run $25,000, which is far more than most young families have lying around.  One difficulty we have is that those among us who are giving also have limited resources.  Others cannot give financially, but strongly desire to contribute in some capacity.  So we are looking for unique ways to continue to help without exhausting everyone’s ability to give.

We believe we’ve found one in our next big event to raise funds: a silent auction, concert, and light meal on Saturday, April 7, 4:00-6:30 at PBF.  The key is that we are depending upon our membership to invite people outside of the church both to donate items to be auctioned AND to attend the auction for the purpose of purchasing items.  Here are ways that anyone can help:

-       Donate items
-       Solicit businesses to donate items, gift cards, etc.
-       Invite friends, neighbors, co-workers to donate items
-       Invite anyone and everyone to the auction on Saturday, April 7, 4:00-6:30.
-       Pray that the Lord would bless the event by providing funds for adoption and by exposing our community to the gospel.

To avoid a flurry of activity at the last minute, we would like to have item donations dropped off at the church by March 16. 

To help get the word out and encourage donations/attendance, you can download a letter here, explaining the event.  And here is a donation form that any donor can use to help us know how to list the item for auction. 

Please put this event on your calendar and plan to help any way that you can!