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The Christian Life is a Musical

Jim and I have both made the point that Psalms is God's hymn book. God gives His people a hymn book because He ordained for them to be a musical people.

When Adam first saw his new bride, his response (in the Hebrew text) is poetic: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man" (Gen 2:23). This is essentially the first love song. Our bent for poetry is as old as creation.

When Israel crossed the Red Sea, they sang a hymn of triumph (Ex. 15). Throughout Hebrew history, it was a tradition to sing when God gave them victory. They also sang when they suffered defeat.

King David became the sweet psalmist of Israel. Imagine a king who is also your nation's most prominent singer-songwriter. He also ordained musicians and choirs to perform his songs.

King David point us to King Jesus, who also was, and is, a singer. In Psalm 18, David thanks God for causing him to triumph in battle. He writes, "For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing to Your name" (v. 49). The Apostle Paul says that Christ's victory over sin fulfilled the words of David "in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. As it is written, 'Therefore I will praise You among the Gentiles, and sing to Your name'" (Rom. 15:9). Christ's suffering and death, according to Paul, was a love song of praise performed in front of the nations. It's fitting, therefore, that Christ's final moments with the disciples on the night in which He was betrayed involved singing a hymn (Matt. 26:30). And He quoted a psalm with one of His dying breaths (Mark 15:34).

Paul tells us that the Spirit-filled life produces music. Christians are to be constantly "addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart" (Eph. 5:19). Singing and making melody are different. Singing is self-explanatory. But the making of melody is to be done "with" or "in" the heart. He means that our hearts have to provide the melody for our words. God wants to pluck our heart strings, not just our vocal cords.

Music is one of the most important things we do as a church. And it's something we should carry into our homes and work. It's an act of obedience. It's also a way of addressing the world. A while back I heard a story of a famous actor who became a Christian because his housekeeper was constantly singing hymns. After hearing these songs over and over, and being somewhat annoyed by them, he asked her, "Why do you keep singing these songs?" This was an open door for her to share the gospel. And the gospel changed his life.

I tell my daughters that the life of a Christian should be like a musical—a song could break out at any moment—even when it feels ridiculous. And the gospel should be the soundtrack of our lives. 

I look forward to hearing your voices this coming Lord's Day.

Posted by Heath Cross

Psalms is Telling a Story

Here is some food for thought as we begin to study the book of Psalms. Psalms is a collection of prayers that are telling a story. One of the more amazing things I've learned about Psalms is called the "canonical" view of the psalter. It goes like this:

There are five books in Psalms:
  • Book 1 (Psalm 1-41)
  • Book 2 (Psalm 42-72)
  • Book 3 (Psalm 73-89)
  • Book 4 (Psalm 90-106)
  • Book 5 (Psalm 107-150)
These books were arranged deliberately. Each book is telling part of a larger story. I don't have space to lay this out in detail but here's a broad picture.

Books 1-3 show us the rise and fall of the messianic kingdom of God in Israel. Book 1 is introduced by Psalm 1. It is the prologue to the story, calling us to focus our mental powers on the Word of God. Then, in Psalm 2, we see the announcement and anointing of God's King. From there, the King faces problem after problem, attack after attack.

The King's kingdom hits a dramatic low point at the end of Book 3 in Psalm 89. The psalmist recounts God's promises to David that he would never lack a son to sit on the throne. But now Israel is facing exile: "But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust" (vv. 38-39). It appears the crown is falling off the King's head.

In Book 4, beginning in Psalm 90, God's people are in exile. The kingdom is in shambles. In a surprising turn, Psalm 90 is written by Moses, the key figure of exile and wandering in the Old Testament. He says, "O Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations" (v. 1). He reminds God's people that no matter where they are—at home, in exile, in Egypt, or in Babylon—their true home is found in God Himself. They will never be homeless even if they don't have a roof over their heads.

Book 5 is a book of praise. Very early in the book we have the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). These were songs that pilgrims sang as they made their way back to the holy city of Jerusalem. Exile is over; God's people return to the land to offer Him sacrifices of praise.

Put this together and the structure of Psalms shows us a picture: God anoints His King. His King and kingdom suffer attack. His people go into exile. Then they return home with triumphant songs of praise. This is a canonical view of the psalter. And it is good news.

Martin Luther called Psalms a "little Bible." Indeed, it is, because it summarizes the message of God's saving work. Jesus Christ must wear the crown of thorns before He wears the crown of gold. He must go homeless so that we can find a true home in Him (Luke 9:58). He must be cast off and exiled so that we can be brought near to God. He must ascend Mount Calvary so that we can ascend Mount Zion with triumphant songs of praise.

God's kingdom may appear to be in shambles from time to time. But return always follows exile. Joy always follows sadness. And resurrection always follows death. Here we have no lasting city, but we will cross the Jordan with triumphant songs in our ascent to the Promised Land.

As you look at the hills around Stephens Valley this coming Lord's Day, remember the words of Psalm 121: "I lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth."

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Posted by Heath Cross

Summer in the Psalms: Bringing Our Emotions to God

This Lord's Day we are beginning a new sermon series. We are spending our summer working through various chapters in the book of Psalms. It's fitting, considering the tumultuous times we find ourselves in.

There's so much I could say about the Psalms. Bring it up to me in conversation some time and I'll tell you all kinds of things I learned in seminary. For now, I'll emphasize something one of my professors used to say as he encouraged us to sing from the psalter regularly. The book of Psalms is God's hymn book. And in this hymn book, God's people are called to express every possible emotion.

There is joy, sorrow, anger, delight, and everything in between in Psalms. Therefore, as we read (or sing) the Psalms, we are encouraged to understand and express our own emotions. Let me emphasize that we get to express those emotions to God. The old hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" remind us, 

O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear.


All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

When emotions are cut off from God, disorder ensues. We lose peace and we bear pain.

Psalm 2 comes to mind. In it we see the nations raging. They're angrily conspiring against God, His Messiah, and His kingdom. What if they had taken their concerns to God Himself instead of trying to figure things out themselves? What if they had voiced their rage to God instead of meeting together and fanning one another's rage?

You can take your anger, frustration, and confusion up the ladder. You can go to God Himself. He's big enough to handle it, trust me. Isn't that what we see in the gospel anyway? In the gospel we see mankind - individuals, the church, and the government - collectively forming a raging mob against God Himself. They're shouting, "Crucify him!" But Jesus steps into the angry mob. You're not going to shock Him by telling Him you're confused and angry. He's seen the worst of human confusion and anger. He's tasted the worst of human confusion and anger.

If you're healthy and happy, thank God. If you're lonely and confused, tell God. Express your emotions to Him. It will help you through things. He's not called the "Wonderful Counselor" for nothing.

Posted by Heath Cross