Book Review: Psalms Vol. 2

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A Commentary on Psalms: Volume 2 (42-89) by Allen P. Ross

9780825425639

Content: 5 star, but…

Kregel provides a valuable resource in this commentary. The commentary follows the typical pattern that Kregel has used on the Old Testament Commentaries (see Judges and Ruth). The sections for analyzing each Psalm are:

  • Introduction (Text and Textual Variants; Composition and Context; Exegetical Analysis)
  • Commentary in Expository Form
  • Message and Application

The strength of the commentary is the second section (Commentary in Expository Form). Ross provides sufficient detail to grasp the central ideas. As in other commentaries by Ross, this one well serves the student, pastor, teacher.

Ross carefully explores the text within its historical context (if possible). But even more, he properly understands the Christological implications and foreshadowing that often are lost sight of. For instance, in discussing Psalm 45, he writes:

“Any application to a historical figure would be idealistic, for no king ever championed only righteousness, let alone lived up to the titles and epithets give to him, try as he might. But again, these words will find their true and literal meaning in the righteous reign of the Messiah.” (p. 71)

Such an approach demonstrates scholarly yet accessibility to the Scripture texts. At the same time, Ross provides a pattern for students, pastors, and teachers in their own study and preparation.

Ross provides many helpful and critical footnotes regarding Hebrew words and phrases. Just a sampling of these notes: “help” (p. 88), “wisdom” (pp. 140-2), “atone” (pp. 146-7), “trespass” (pp. 180-2), “create” (pp. 191-2). Perhaps the best extended discussion is “sin” (pp. 185-9). The examples continue, but this short list demonstrates Ross’s understanding of the text itself, and the implications of such understanding elsewhere. The student is well served by studying each footnote in detail.

The last section of each Psalm is Message and Application. While shorter than the other sections, the author pulls together the main thoughts and relationships so that the pastor/student can be sufficiently prepared to present the Psalm in a logical faithful way.

So what is negative about the commentary? Actually for what is presented the commentary is excellent. But it is what is missing that reduces its value. Three items stand out as missing, but which could provide the final touches on this fine commentary.

I was immediately struck by no introduction to the commentary. This seemed odd. Granted it is the second volume in the Kregel Commentaries on the Psalms, but some kind of introduction to Book II of the Psalms would be appropriate. Even a 20 page introduction would have been helpful.

Another missing feature was the Bibliography. Given that this was a resource for pastors/teachers/students, a Bibliography would seem not only logical, but necessary. Yes, there are footnotes for quoted material. But sometimes a valuable resource will appear in the Bibliography and yet not be quoted directly.

The final missing feature was a reference index. I have found this lacking more and more in printed books, but to me this feature increases the value of the text initially and in further studies related to the Psalms. For instance, I often study in Isaiah. How helpful it would be to have Isaiah 33:20-21 as referenced in Psalm 65 (p. 422). Likewise for studying Psalm 19, to know that Ross has referenced it in Psalm 79 (p. 676).

The question arises: how do you add these three additional items to a book that is already 841 pages? My recommendation is that font size of the text could have been reduced. Yes, this is a readable size, but I would have preferred to have the additional items for the sake of the font size.

The only negative I have about the commentary is a rather imprecise statement;

“The motifs or this psalm [48] appear throughout the pages of the New Testament. Jesus promised that he would be with us till the end of the age (Matt. 28:20); but in the upper room he explained that it would be in the person of the indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:17).” (p. 131)

In trying to make the connection, he leaves a slightly skewed view of this matter of Christ’s presence with his disciples.

I should also note that I do not support the Premillennial position, but great value can be gained from the commentary nevertheless.

Summary

If you are a pastor/teacher/student of the Scripture, then this commentary is well worth the investment in the book. You will learn much, be guided in tying together the themes with a Psalm, and be encouraged in developing a usable preaching/teaching presentation.

Well done to Kregel and to Allen Ross; you have the Church in an exceptional way. The Church can use many more commentaries of this caliber.

Thanks to Kregel Academic & Professional for the review copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Depression-seeking help

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(Note: I wrote this on a flight Monday afternoon—Aug, 12. But I didn’t have a chance to post until today. So this post actually preceded Robin Williams death. As I listened to broadcasters/announcers/commentators on Tuesday, I couldn’t help but wonder: how can they know so little and make at times so uncaring and judgmental statements….?)

How do we help those experiencing what we experienced? Should we speak to the person? Can we speak to the person? What shall we say? Do we become intrusive by even asking such questions?

In one sense, if the experience is too close to what I lived through, my tendency is to back away. Am I reliving my experience through that other person? If so, is it that person’s experience that I want to fix, or my own? And what if I have misread the signs? What if I am projecting my own battles onto someone else?

Seeking help

Most often, this is not my problem. Rather people seek me out because they have read about what I have experienced with depression. That really is better—for me and for the other person. That way, the person needs help and seeks something to deal with the problem. And I do not have to intrude into the person’s inner life. No, this invitation for help is far better.

Over the last four years since I began writing about depression and the Christian life, several people have contacted me about depression. They had been battling it for months or years.

For some the fear is that a Christian should not have a problem with depression. Some view it as a sign of weakness or lack of faith. Others see a continuing rerun of the same thing. For some depression seems to establish a life of its own that seems to never end, rearing its ugly head time after time.

Survival, Relief, or Cure

I know for me, the reaching out for help was survival mode. I wanted to make it through one more day, one more week. I wanted to know if there was any hope at the end of this dark tunnel.

As I lived through medication and counseling, survival gave way to needing relief. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but rather a progression from desperation to a sense that something changed, maybe not even sure what, but it changed.

But what changed really was far greater than my own experiences, greater than the medicine, greater than counseling. These were all necessary and helpful. But something behind and greater is there..

Change behind that

All three (survival, relief, and cure) share the ultimate same change. The change was to know that the God who I thought had abandoned me during the whole tunnel of depression had not, in fact, abandoned me. In my darkest days, the only word I seemed to hear was: Why are you so weak? Why are you giving into despair. I could only agree with those (and many more) accusing questions.

The change was to hear God’s Word for God’s proper work: saving, redeeming, forgiving, restoring work for humans. For me. God’s good counsel of hope, love, mercy, favor were spoken to me, the broken, depressed, forgotten person. Not because I had conquered depression, but because I couldn’t conquer it.

That change I knew intellectually, academically, and could have taught it to others prior to the depression. But in the depths, I couldn’t know it. It was a lost word, a voice through too many other voices, my own in particular.

But God sent faithful people to me to speak his saving, redeeming, forgiving, restoring words, loving words. Repeatedly speaking to me. And in that process God worked the hearing ears to believe what he declared. As our one son repeatedly asked over the past 36 years: “How can you keep loving me?” I was saying those words to God. His answer needed to be spoken again and again. I have shown you how much I love you: look at my Son.”

And this was not “God’s Son” as I imagined him to be, how I wanted him to be. Rather, this was God’s Son revealed in his Word, in his baptism of me, in his body and blood, in his spoken word of absolution. There Jesus promised to be. There Jesus gave concrete evidence of his presence. And that was what I could cling to, the only thing I could cling to.

The Liturgy of S(p)orts

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Psalm 122:1 “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’”

What an interesting insight the psalmist gives to worship. He rejoices to go to Yahweh’s house! Is that true today? Perhaps some of us quietly admit that worship is less than thrilling, less than exciting. In fact, it might be a rare occasion when we could admit that we rejoiced about worshiping. An interesting parallel with basketball will help us better understand what happens in liturgy, and why we can join the Psalmist.worship01

For a basketball game people gather ready for the game. They (usually!) stand for the national anthem. So at worship we gather together standing for the opening hymn in worship.

At the basketball game, the players are introduced. So, too, in worship. One side in this game is: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit = God” and the other side is: “I, a poor, miserable sinner = us sinners.” At this point, God stops the game and declares, “You can’t play in My game. I am pure, holy, and righteous. You are sinners, deserving my full punishment.”

Then comes the surprise: God says, “I forgive you all your sins for the sake of My Son, the Star of the game.” With that, we are invited to play in God’s game with God’s rules, with God’s victory already assured!ForgivenessIn a basketball game, one team grabs the ball and rushes down the court to score points. Then the other team grabs the ball and goes the other way. In worship, since it is God’s game, He grabs the ball first and rushes down the court to tell us of His love and forgiveness. We rush down the other way, scoring with our praise. We don’t shout “Yeah, God,” but we use appropriate terms such as “Praise the Lord!” or “Hallelujah.”

You keep track of who is active by watching the pastor. When he faces the congregation, God has the ball, speaking to the people. When the pastor faces the altar, the people have the ball speaking to God.

As in a basketball game with four quarters, in worship we have four quarters. When the pastor says, “The Lord be with you,” that marks a quarter break. First quarter: Invocation, confession/absolution, and praise. Second quarter: Scripture readings, sermon, and creed. Third quarter: Lord’s Supper. Fourth quarter: final prayer and benediction/blessing.

In a basketball game, each player can commit five fouls before leaving the game. But in worship, five times we hear the words “your sins are forgiven.” God doesn’t want anyone to foul out of the game! Notice the focus of each: 1) Confession/Absolution (general), 2) Scripture readings (how God achieved forgiveness), 3) Sermon (application), 4) Creed (joining the Church Catholic everywhere at all times), 5) Lord’s Supper (specifically “for you”).

When the basketball game is on the line, everyone stands in anticipation of victory. So, too, in worship, when the Gospel is read, we stand, because in effect, God says, “Right here, this is My Star, and this is how He won the game.”gospelprocession

Years ago on Monday night football, Don Meredith had a way of signaling the essential end of the football game. He would sing, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over…” Many people think that the benediction/blessing at the end of the service is the same: “It’s over, finally.” But not so!

Unlike a basketball game in which the thrill of victory fades, in worship God declares that the victory celebrated during worship will continue with us during the week — daily. Therefore, we leave not looking for a let down, but having been built up by playing in God’s game according God’s rules winning with Him. In other words, the benediction declares that what God has done for us continues to be with us.

Guess what? Next week the game is repeated. Basketball fans do not complain that “we have to go to the game next week!” Nor as worshipers do we complain about worshiping next week. What an exciting event! Ultimately we look forward to the greatest day — when we will be with the LORD forever, rejoicing at the final victory won and celebrated permanently in heaven. Therefore, we join the psalmist and say, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go up to the house of the LORD.’ ”

Psalm-122 300pxRichard P. Shields © 1989, 2010

Day of reflection

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I realize that in light of the world events the past few weeks, this is an insignificant memory. 16 years ago yesterday my battle with depression reached an all time low, my breakdown. In some ways it seems like last week. In other ways, 50 years ago. But it is still real.

So, today I am reflecting on what happened, but more reflecting on God’s goodness in the worst times of my life. God is faithful.

The sense of loss and isolation and inability is so real even thinking about it now. That began a change in how I see the church and people in the church. I felt on the fringe, unloved, uncared for, very lonely. And my observation over the past 16 years is that many people feel that way in the church, there, but not really. Wanting to be there with fellow Christians, but scared to death to be with others.

My challenge to all in the Church is to be servants to those on the fringe, no matter how that is defined, no matter how many people that includes. The people are real, their needs are real. And the biggest need is for the Savior who breaks beyond the dividing lines and ministers to people on the fringe. He came to save all, even those on the fringe. Been there, done that, want others to be there, too.

Depression Get over it

 

Shared Memories

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We recently returned from a long (5,762 miles to be exact) trip over 25 days. Much excitement at TAALC National Convention, even more with family afterward. And many shared memories.

Shared memories are bonds that tie together family, friends, even communities. It’s really nice when you can remember, relive, laugh, or even cry with someone who was there.

Shared Memories Lost

Our mothers are 87 years old, live about a mile apart. They have known each other for 47 years, since my wife and I started dating. So there are many shared memories. But there are also aspects of their lives not shared. My wife has those memories with her mother, and I have others with my mother.

But it dawned me (I know, I am slow!) that when my father died in 1991, many of my mother’s shared memories became only her memories. Yes, there were friends around to reflect on that, and family (the three of us brothers and grandchildren) to tell the stories to. But the loneliness of the death of a spouse emphasized the shared memories, especially the changes. The same happens with a divorce or severe disability. It’s not that the relationship is denied but the shared memories become a thing of the past.

What struck me this year was that most of my mother’s friends have died and most of the family members of her generation are gone. Thus, the shared memories for my mother are hers, and hers alone. The loneliness increases.

Yet, as her son I can bring back shared memories of the past 65 years that she may have forgotten. Likewise she can refresh my hazy memory of special or unique events, and even more everyday events that hold a special place in our memories.

Shared Memories and Worship

This caused me to think about church and shared memories. I love being part of a liturgical church and serving as pastor because the basic form has been consistent since the New Testament era. The musical forms have changed, but the structure is the same.

Such a heritage allows shared memories that are not time bound. Thus, as one generation passes and another comes on the scene—not unusual to have 4 or 5 generations present in worship on any given Sunday—the faith expressed still reflects the shared memory.

Why is that? Because the shared memory starts with Jesus Christ, not with us. As Jesus comes to us (as he promised)

  • in Baptism (Matthew 28:18-20): The invocation in worship (“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”) brings to mind our own Baptism into Christ (Romans 6, 1 Peter 3:21, Titus 3). The shared memory of the worship community is Christ-focused from the beginning words. Note that the invocation does not begin with these words “We make our beginning in the name of the Father…” To do so changes Baptism to our action, to making worship dependent on us, and we call God into our presence. Our shared memory becomes what we make it, not what Jesus has made it and continues to make it.
  • in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-27 and Gospel accounts): Again, note that we do this “in remembrance of him” not in a vague way, but in a tangible way: Jesus gives his body and blood in the feast, for the forgiveness of sins. The share memory is not determined by the worship community, but by Jesus himself.
  • in the Word (John 5:24; Matthew 28:18-20): Jesus establishes the community (through the Holy Spirit working) and Jesus is the center of all discussion (1 Corinthians 2:2). This does not mean we don’t talk about all that God has revealed in his Word, but it does mean that Jesus cannot be “one of many” topics, rather the center about which all revelation makes sense. The shared memory of the original disciples becomes the shared testimony on Pentecost, and continues today with everyone who proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Shared Memories in the Word

One of the greatest challenges in maintaining the shared memories as Christians is the great variety of English translations. It is relatively easy to keep the shared memories using KJV/NKJV/NAS/RSV/ESV. But what happens with the advent of GW/NLT/NET, etc. when the shared vocabulary is no longer there. Part of that relates to a shared cultural background in which the Biblical language and imagery had influenced society.

We don’t live in that kind of world today, no matter how much people (pastors, theologians, etc.) want to protest against it. We face a situation in which it is not just a breaking of shared memories but even of breaking shared language.

Shared Memories and Continuity of Faith Expression

I have beat the drum of “continuity of faith expression” for years. That is, in worship and translations, can we have 7 year old, 18 year old, 45 year old, and 80 year old understand with a common faith expression?

Obviously I favor translations that speak to today’s people. So I find myself torn, using accessible and faithful translations, while maintaining continuity of faith expression. This is not something I made up, but is a very real problem. For congregations that are long established and average age of worshipers is 55, then this is less of a problem. But what of the next generation?

In and beyond all this is the need to maintain the shared memories of Jesus Christ within the community. How is that done in your ministry? In your church? In your denomination? What challenges do you face with regard to shared memories?

Rethinking HCSB

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Over the past 3-4 months I have been reflecting on translation issues especially related to HCSB. This hasn’t been systematic study, but percolating ideas as I encounter the texts.

Yahweh or LORD?

I had posted previously (three years ago) about the HCSB sporadic use of Yahweh as a translation of the Hebrew יְהוָה֙. At the time I suggested that HCSB translators adopt Yahweh consistently throughout the Old Testament.

But in practice I am beginning to rethink this. It seems that the connection with the Septuagint (LXX) where κύριος is used for both יְהוָה֙  (YHWH) and אֲדֹנָי֮  (Adonai) would be strengthened. Further, the quotations in the NT follow the LXX, so there would still be a problem.

It seems that the better solution is to retain LORD as the consistent translation of God’s name. I think some kind of footnote could be used to indicate the difference between LORD and Lord. Obviously that does not help an oral reading, but the greater good would seem to be served by using LORD.

Contractions

I know that several translations (NLT, GW, HCSB) use contractions because “it is accepted English.” Originally I wasn’t opposed to the use of contractions. But as I reconsider this point, I realized that contractions work well when reading (by yourself). But with oral reading, contractions seem a little awkward. I also realized if the text has a contraction, when I read orally, I will use the non-contracted form without even thinking about it. So I will read, “I cannot” not “I can’t.”

Therefore, I would recommend HCSB consider replacing all contractions. I don’t think (notice you are reading this from a screen, not reading out loud to someone!) there is any benefit of using contractions, especially for an oral text.

Marketing in the Church

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I watched this video today, which I will title, Marketing for Food.

As I thought about that (I worked at marketing for a Fortune 100 company for 7+ years), I began to think about marketing in the church. Have we covered up the ugly aspects? Have we twisted what the Church is by changing the message?

Easy Targets for Marketing

It is easy for us to point fingers at the false marketing of the Christian life. For instance, this one DNA of a Winner by Joel Osteen, or this one “I want to deserve fire” by Benny Hinn. And the list continues. Yes, each one has a major problem behind the marketing demonstrated in the videos.

Sadly this kind of marketing always leads back to the person, and always disappoints, despite the marketing. Many have spoken to these issues, exposing them. If you have further questions, read your Bible, not just those proof texts promoted by the marketers above.

Harder targets for Marketing

But let’s move to the darker side of marketing in the Church. That darker side meaning you and me, as we live out the Christian life. Do we market the Church as we want people to see us on Sunday morning while in worship? Do we want to control the environment so that none of the ugliness of sin is seen, much less dealt with? Not sins “out there” but the sin in my heart, my hard heartedness, my loneliness, my withdrawal from someone who needs help, because I, too, need help?

The hard part is no one is paying for this marketing. I am doing it myself. No one is using a test panel to see which is the most effective tool to manipulate. No one is asking about the right color palette to use. No one is worried about their marketing jobs.

Marketing the Crucified Life

No, in the Church, we market by our lives, by what God is doing in and through us, by means of His Word and His Sacraments. Consider these marketing strategies:

Come to Jesus—where he may be found

Come to Jesus—where he may be found

 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and You will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NAS)

[Paul said:] “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20 NAS)

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me — to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NAS)

When we get to life in the Spirit, as Paul presents it, notice that it isn’t outward deeds that receive attention, rather the forming of “Christ in you” (Galatians 4:19). Paul notes the deeds/works of the flesh are evident.

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, bstrife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,  envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 NAS)

But the marketing of the life in Christ is portrayed by Paul this way:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  (Galatians 5:22-23 NAS)

So which is easier to market? Our flesh likes the first option. We are attracted to the flashy, catchy phrasing, the easy Christian life, that we only model on Sunday morning. But the life in the Spirit is marketed when we walk with someone through a divorce, through cancer, through rebellious teenagers, through fractured friendships. We will be misunderstood, misrepresented, misquoted, and even just plain missed.

There won’t be headlines to boast of this life, but it will be “Christ in us” through the Spirit that God will use for His purposes. No marketing campaign, no catchy YouTube videos of 10 minutes to success. But humility in the mud of sin and life, prayer in the pit of despair, and ultimately the Word that speaks to our condition, Baptism that reminds us of whose we are, and the Lord’s Supper that bring life and forgiveness to one who cannot see life or hope in anything.

HCSB Thinline

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I am in my final preparation for this Sunday’s Pentecost sermon I was reviewing Acts 2 in HCSB. I found some printing problems in the Thinline Bible.

In the HCSB translation, quotes from the Old Testament use bold font and are indented. But notice in this passage in Acts 2:36

HCSB-Acts2

 

Also, I noticed the problem of the Old Testament references repeated with two separate footnotes. Here is another example in Acts 2.

I remember Dr. Carter mentioning something about this. Couldn’t remember if this was specific to the Thinline Reference Bible, though.

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Interview: Book Review and More

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Back on April 28, I reviewed the book Gospel Assurance and Warnings by Paul Washer. Shortly afterward Jordan Cooper (aka justandsinner) invited me to join him on a podcast to discuss the book review and further topics. The interview took place this morning. It was an honor to be interviewed and to discuss not only the book, but Law and Gospel, and true assurance of salvation. Interview.

We also had a chance to discuss the practical implications of getting this correct. Here are some additional links that will help:

Law and Gospel: Passive and Active Righteousness

Liturgy—Confession and Absolution

Liturgy—Brokenness, Forgiveness, Praise

The real world meets Law and Gospel

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