Psalms Exegesis


The outstanding peculiarity of this Psalm is its sudden transitions of feeling. 
Beginning with exuberant thanksgiving for restoration of the nation (vv 1-3), 
it passing, without intermediate gradations, to complaints of God’s continued 
wrath and entreaties for restoration (vv 4-7), and then suddenly rises 
to joyous assurance of inward and outward blessings (vv 8-13).

The condition of the exiles returned from Babylon best corresponding to such 
conflicting emotions. Nehemiah supplies precisely such a background as fits the 

A part of the nation had returned, but to a ruined city, a fallen Temple, and a 
mourning land, where they were surrounded by jealous and powerful enemies. 
Discouragement had laid hold on the feeble company; enthusiasm had ebbed away; 
the harsh realities of their enterprise had stripped off its imaginative charm; 
and the mass of the returned settlers had lost heart as well as faith.

It falls into three parts of increasing length – the first of three verses (1-3) 
recounts God's acts of mercy already received; the second (4-7) is a plaintive prayer 
in view of still remaining national afflictions; and the third (8-13), a glad report 
by the psalmist of the Divine promises which his waiting ear had heard, and which 
might well quicken the most faint-hearted into triumphant hope.

Note the repeated use of the word “turn” (vv 1, 3, 4, 8) four times.

The prayer of verse 4, compare with verse 1, “turned” and now he is praying for God 
to “turn” us again. The restoration was incomplete – both in regard to the bulk of 
the nation who still remained in exile, and in regard to the depressed condition 
of the small part that had returned. The petitions of verse 5 look back to verse 3.

The partial restoration of the people implied a diminuation rather than a cessation 
of God’s wrath, and he beseeches Him to complete that which He had begun. The prayers 
of verses 4-7 are founded upon the facts of verses 1-3, which constitute both grounds 
for the supplicant’s hope of answer and pleas with God.

The mercies received are incomplete, and His work must be perfect. He did not mean 
to bring His people back and then leave them in misery. So the contrast between the 
bright dawning of return and its cloudy day is not wholly depressing. (Good ill – 
a day that dawns with bright sunshine, then clouds up and rains.) For the 
remembrance of what has been heartens for the assurance that what is shall not 
always be. That prayer is spiritual defiance of what is, in the name of what God 
has promised.

God leaves no work unfinished. He never leaves off till He is done. His beginnings 
guarantee His endings. This Psalm is rich in teaching as to the right way of 
regarding the incompleteness of great movements, which, in their incipient days, 
were evidently of God. It instructs us to keep the Divine intervention which 
started them clearly in view; to make the shortcomings, which mar them, 
a matter of lowly prayer; and to be sure that all which He begins He will finish,
and that the end will fully correspond to the promise of the beginning.

A “day of the Lord” which arose in brightness may cloud over as its hours roll, but 
“at eventide it shall be light,” and none of the morning promise will be unfulfilled.

The third section (vv 8-13) brings solid hopes based upon Divine promises, 
to bear on present discouragements.

In verse 8, the psalmist, like Habakkuk (2:1), encourages himself to listen to what 
God will speak. The word, “I will hear” expresses resolve or desire. Faith prayer 
will always be followed by patient and faithful waiting for response from God.

“Salvation” here is to be taken in its widest sense. It means, negatively,
deliverance from all possible evils, outward and inward; and, positively,
endowment with all possible good, both for body and spirit.

“Glory” – the manifest presence of God

Verses 10-13 – the exchanges of righteousness and faithfulness

In verse 10 righteousness and truth (faithfulness) are seen principally as a 
Divine attribute. In verse 11, it is conceived as human virtue. It “springs out 
of the earth,” that is, it is produced among men. All human virtue is an echo 
of the Divine, and they who have received into their hearts the blessed result
of God’s faithfulness will bring forth in their lives fruit like it in kind.

The same idea in verse 12

God gives that which is good, and thus fructified by bestowments from above,
earth yields her increase. His gifts precede men’s returns. Without sunshine
and rain there are no harvests.

Note verse 13

A wedding between the Divine and the human, between the heavenly and the earthly.
 “Righteousness, which in verse 10 was regarded as exercised by men, 
 and in verse 11 as looking down from heaven, is now represented both as preceding
 God’s royal progress, and as following in His footsteps. “Righteousness will make
 His footsteps a way,” that is, for men to walk in. All God’s workings among men,
 which are conceived as His way, have righteousness stamped upon them. That absolute,
 inflexible righteousness which guides all Divine acts. But the same righteousness
 which precedes, also follows Him, and points His footsteps as the way for us.
 What a wonderful thought that is, that the union between heaven and earth is so
 close that God’s path is our way.”
 Alexander McLaren, The Expositor’s Bible

PSALM 107:4-7


One of the mysteries = confusion and uncertainty in life are found in the Bible,
assuring us of guidance
1) God’s nature to reveal
2) Man’s nature to receive

    I.  Guidance Is Promised
    Not just good judgment or common sense; not evaluation but revelation

    II. Personal
    As to the Guide – “He” led them – What we need more than guidance is a Guide. 
    Our Lord does more than till us; He leads us. God told Moses, “My presence
    shall go with thee.” Jesus said, “I am with you always.” In a final analysis
    we are to seek the Guide rather than the guidance.
    For in finding the Guide we will also find guidance. God gave Abraham a Guide
    rather than guidance – “a land that I will show you.”
    When God puts us in a situation demanding wisdom and guidance, His purpose is
    to use that situation to draw us to Himself. Guidance is not the end in itself – 
    finding the will of God is not the issue, but the God of that will. In Exodus 33,
    when God gave guidance but not a Guide, Moses stopped. As to the guidance,
    “no man can walk securely by light guaranteed to another.” (John 21:21, 22; Peter
    and John; 1 Kings 13)
 How does guidance come?
    -   Internal conviction
    -   External confirmation

    A. Conditions – He leads the leadable
       1. Meekness, teachable spirit
       2. Obedience
       3. Patience

    B. Manner
       1. Inner conviction
       2. Outward confirmation
       3. Intuition
       4. Bible
       5. Circumstances (open doors, shut doors)

    C. Test
       1. Revealed – leave husband
       2. Right
       3. Reasonable
          a. What reason can know
          b. Don’t contradict reason

PSALM 139:23, 24

1) Thoughts demand a never-ending scrutiny lest they degenerate into something that
is utterly unwholesome. If there is anything that is in the least unwholesome, may
God help him to see it, remove it, and walk in the way of life – keep him from
“every way that leads to pain” – the way of sin.

2) Wicked: (atsab) idol; to work, to fashion, to pain, grieve or cause to travail
1 Chronicles 4:10 – Every idol is a maker saying, Here God is grieved.

3) Very beautifully does the lowly prayer of searching and guidance follow the
psalmist’s burst of fire. It is easier to glow with indignation against evildoers
than to keep oneself from doing evil. Many secret sins may hide under a cloak of
zeal for the Lord.

The Psalm began with declaring that Jehovah had searched and known the singer, and it
endswith asking for that searching knowledge. (“I want to know about me what you, God, 
know about me.”)

Thoughts are the inner life, ways the outer life. Both must be submitted to him.

There are two ways in which men can walk.
    1) The one is a “way of grief or pain” – all sin is a blunder. And the
    inclination to such ways is “in me,” as everybody who’s honest knows.
    2) The way of everlasting is not in me – but be led into it, no inclination

Lead me = we can’t find it ourselves
He prays against the danger of self-delusion. The fact of searching in v 1 turns
into a “petitionary” search me.
Every wicked way is a way of grief, trouble and sorrow.
True faith is like gold; it will endure a trail. Presumption is but a counterfeit.
The Psalmist’s:
    1) Intrepidity – determined to explore the recesses of his own heart. Do you
    have the courage to enter your own heart?
    2) Integrity – wished to know all his sins that he might be delivered from them.
    3) Wisdom
       - David wished to be thoroughly acquainted with himself
       - He was confident God could see through all the despair
       - God could remove sin

In searching yourself you know where the tender points are and will avoid those.
    - Prayer – How do I stand with you, Lord?
    - Greatest deception is not deceiving others, but self.
    - The humility of David

I have searched myself and find no fault, but Your eyes are sharper, etc.
Verses 1-3 – a matter of fact made a matter of prayer
A prayer of:
    1) Self-examination
        - Insight of God
        - Desire for help of God – Look me through and through, tell me what you think of me
    2) Self-renunciation (“wicked way” – try me)
    3) Self-dedication (“lead me” – a submission entirely to divine guidance in the 

The evil way – naturally in us; removed by God

The everlasting way – we need to be led into it
Wicked way in me – Human life is determined from within. The way is first in us.

The greatest test of life is with regards to leadership – Who’s going to lead?

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Out of the Depths

“Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord.”
Psalm 130:1

The Spanish philosopher, Miguel Unamuno, once said:  If we ever got honest enough to go out into the streets and uncover our common grief, we would discover that we are all grieving for the self-same thing.”  His words call to mind the words of Paul in 1Corinthians 10:13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is COMMON to man…” The word “common” means “not unprecedented.”  However peculiar we may think our trials are to us, they are just common.  There is one thing we all have in common, and that is trials—and they are all common.  Just as Peter said in I Peter 4:12: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which to try to, as though some strange (foreign) thing happened unto you.”

All of us can identify with the words of the Psalmist—“Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord.”  We are all familiar with the depths.  The Hebrew word here for “depths” is used of a man caught in deep and dangerous water.  The Psalmist doesn’t identify what his specific problem was—he simply used the nonspecific “depths.”  If he had identified the “depths” we would have limited the words of Psalm 130 to that particular problem.  But as it is, the word, “depths,” is like the socks I’m wearing—one size fits all.

And so, whatever our particular “depths” may be, the Psalmist tells us what to do when we are going down for the third time.

I. Cry Out To The Lord.  The Psalmist says literally, “I have cried and still cry…”  Evidently his situation was still going on when he wrote these words.  This puts an immediacy, a “right now”, to his words.  The author is not writing history here, nor is he just postulating a theology theory.  This is something that is going on right now in his life.  He is writing out of the “right now” experience.

Very often these “depths”in which we find ourselves have been wrought by the providential hand of God to teach us to know ourselves before the Lord and learn of His grace and forgiveness.  Donald Grey Barnhouse once said, “Sometimes we think we have fallen out of grace, only to find that we have fallen INTO grace.”  And Alexander McLaren said, “If out of the depths we cry, we will cry ourselves out of the depths.”

1.   In crying to the Lord, we take our mind off the depths and put it on the Rock that is higher than I.

2.   In crying out of the depths, we discover what kind of God we’re dealing with—Verses 3 and 4.

II. Wait For the Lord, verse 5& 6.   “I wait for the Lord to act,” is the idea here.  In verse 6, he says that those who wait for the Lord are like those who wait for the morning.  Now there are two important things to remember about waiting for the sunrise.

1.   You can’t rush it.  Often we want to.   But setting our watches ahead doesn’t fool the sun.  It’s going to rise when it’s going rise.  And so the same with the Lord.  You cannot rush Him.  With God, timing is more important than time, and God’s timing is always perfect.

2.   The sun DOES rise.  Those who waiting for the morning, do not wait in vain, because the morning always comes.  And  those who wait for the Lord, do not wait in vain.  He will come, He will act, He will deliver.  Time spent waiting for the Lord is never time wasted.

III. Hope in the Lord.  Verse 7: “Let Israel hope in the Lord.”  As you know, the biblical idea of “hope,” is not “hope so.”   It is confidence and trust that God will keep His Word.  And we really can’t wait for the Lord if we don’t have confidence in Him.  To the Psalmist, this confidence is based on two things:

1.   God’s Goodness.  In verse 7, we read “…for with the Lord there is mercy (steadfast love).”
2.   God’s Greatness.  “And with Him is plenteous redemption.”  The New English Bible, reads:  “Great is His power to set men free.” As sure as the morning comes, God and God alone, will redeem His people.

Do you fill as if you’re drowning in trouble, going down for the third time?  Try the Psalmist’s suggestions.  What do you have to lose?

When the Upright Get Uptight – Part 3

The Solution to It, pt 2
Psalm 37

1Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. 2For they shall soon be cut down like the grass And wither as the green herb. 3Trust in the LORD and do good; So shall thou dwell in the land and verily thou shall be fed. 4Delight thyself also in the LORD; And He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.  5Commit thy way unto the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.  6He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light And thy judgment as the noonday. 7Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; Fret not thyself because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked devices to pass.

Sometime ago I was watching television, and following the news there came on this little spot advertising the Unity religion.  Ever so often, they will come on television with a 60-second spot, featuring a movie star or some other celebrity.  They start by saying, today, the word from Unity is—and then there will be a word like attitude, or perseverance.  It is a little pop psychology.  This particular night, this movie actress came on and said, today, the word from Unity is joy.  She talked about joy, and how joyful joy is, and how important it is.  She finished with this statement:  If you have lost your joy, get it back.  I sat there and thought, old dumb me, that never occurred to me.  Why didn’t I think of that?  All I had to do is get my joy back.

Of course, the problem was that she didn’t tell me how to do it.  That is the problem with most advice.  The world tells us to fly but doesn’t give us any wings.  People say don’t worry.  Thanks a lot.  What is it that I’m not supposed to worry about?  It’s like the doctor saying, I don’t want you to worry.  That makes me worry.   Sometimes people find themselves in great distress and succumb to some real dark, black periods of depression and other people don’t understand.  They say, just get your act together.  Shape up, get with it.  I wish it was that easy.

One of the things I appreciate so much about the Bible is that when the Bible tells us to do something, it goes on and tells us how to do it.  One of the things that you and I need to remember is that the Bible never commands us to do anything that we cannot do.  When the Lord gives us a command, he imparts to us the ability to obey that command.

For instance, Jesus stood before the tomb of Lazarus.  He said, Lazarus, come forth.  Don’t you think that’s asking quite a bit of that fellow?  Lazarus is dead.  That’s an impossible command.  If Lazarus could have come forth, he would have done it before now.  He gave an impossible command to come forth, but Lazarus did.  Why?  Because when Jesus gave the command, he also imparted to Lazarus the ability to obey that command.

He said to man who was crippled for 38 years, take up thy bed and walk.  That is asking a lot of a crippled man.  But he did.  He said to the man with the withered arm, stretch forth thy hand.  That’s something you can’t do with a withered arm; you can’t stretch it forth.  But he did.  When the Lord commands us to do something, we ought to look upon that as a promise because God will not command us to do something that is beyond our capacity by his grace to do.

When I open this psalm and read these first words, fret not thyself, it is like saying don’t worry.  There is no more useless, impossible advice in the world than telling somebody not to worry, not to fret.  How do you do that?  The Bible doesn’t stop there.  It goes on to give us what I am calling some alternatives to fretfulness.  First of all, we understand that even though we are saved, we are subject to these things.  We do come to moments in life where there is an angry frustration in our hearts.  We feel there is a general uneasiness about our lives.  We get the idea that sometimes God is not answering our prayers, or God is not righting all the wrongs in our lives.  The Psalmist gives us four alternatives found in verses 3, 4, 5, and 7:

Trust in the Lord and do good.  Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way unto the LORD.  Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for him.  These four are what I would call the alternatives to fretfulness.  In other words, the Lord is saying that he doesn’t want you to allow yourself to be carried away with fear and anxiety.  Rather…. trust in the Lord and do good.  Trust in the Lord includes them all.

We come now to these three which are the expressions of trust.  Trust is like a nut.  You open it up, and on the inside you’ll find delighting, committing, and resting.  They are the expressions of trust, the ingredients of trust.  God tells me to trust in him.  What am I to do?  Delight yourself in the Lord; commit your way unto the Lord, and rest in the Lord.
1)  Delight thyself in the Lord.

In verse 4 the Psalmist says:  Delight thyself also (The word also is very important because it ties it into what has just been said in verse 3:  trust in the Lord and do good.) in the LORD ( involved in this trusting is delighing thyself also in the Lord); And He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.

This is a famous promise, one that we love, and quote very often.  I think though sometimes we quote that verse like this:  If you will just delight yourself in the Lord, bless your heart, God will give you whatever your little old heart desires.  If you want a new Cadillac, delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you a cadillac.  If you want a new home, delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you a new home.  I’m not saying that’s not true.  I’m not saying if you delight yourself in the Lord, God won’t give you the desires of your heart.  What I am saying is that I think the Psalmist had something just a little bit different in mind when he wrote those words.  I don’t think he was saying here is an easy, quick way for you to get whatever you want in your life.  I think it goes deeper than that.  That is a superficial interpretation of that verse, and it goes far beyond that.  Delight thyself in the Lord, and he will give you a heart that is satisfied.  He will give you a heart that is at rest.  He will give you a heart that has its desires met.

There’s a question I have to ask about this.  What in the world does this have to do with worry?  What does this have to do with fretfulness?  The Psalmist is trying to help me not to fret, to overcome this frustration, anger and anxiety.  He says to delight myself in the Lord.   That leads to another question.  Why are you fretting?  Why are you upset?  Why are you uptight?  What is it that you are worrying about, and why are you worrying about it?

Isn’t it true that when we are uptight about something,  it’s because a source of our joy is in jeopardy.  After all, the only reason I’m worrying about this is that I know if it comes to pass, I can’t be as happy as I am now.   This is going to make me miserable.  There is a source of my joy, the delight of my heart that is in jeopardy.   So, he says you need to delight yourself in the Lord.  You need to find a source of joy that nothing can ever touch.  The reason I’m upset and anxious about something is because one of my wells of joy is about to run dry.  The Psalmist says you need to find a well of joy that will never run dry—even in the worst of droughts.

Let me show you what I’m talking about.  What are the basic things that gives us our joy in life?   I thought about this and came up with five.  You might come up with six or seven or more.  1)  The basic source of my joy is life—the fact that I’m alive.  I’m glad to be alive so that is naturally a source of joy.  2)  The second source of my joy is my health.  I may not have perfect health, but I thank God I’m healthy enough to be here today.  3)  My wife and children are a source of joy—one of the biggest wells of all.  4)  My parents.  My mother died a few years ago.  My father is still alive.  I would have to say he is a source of joy to me.  5)  My job, my occupation.  Thank God, it is always nice when you enjoy doing what you have to do.  I get a great deal of joy out of my vocation.  I don’t think I could be nearly as happy if I were not doing what I’m doing.  Wouldn’t you agree with me that these are pretty basic to all of us.  You feel like no matter what else goes wrong in life, if you have these, there can be joy.  The scary thing is that every one of those things is fragile.  I know I’m going to die someday if the Lord tarries.  I know my health is going to deteriorate.  My wife will die or divorce me.  My children are going to get married and go off.  I know my parents are going to die.  I will lose them.  One of these days I’ll have to retire, or maybe disability will force me to retire.

The scary thing about life is that one phone call can destroy everything.  Do you realize we are skating on thin ice?   That’s why I always say the scariest sound in all the world is a phone ringing after midnight.  I need to find a source of joy that’s not quite so temporary, not quite so fragile.  That is what the Psalmist is saying.  There’s not anything wrong in rejoicing in your life, your health, your family, your parents, and your job.  There’s nothing wrong at all in enjoying the things that God has given you. But,  God have mercy on us if these are the extent of our joy.  Every one of them is fragile and temporary.

The Psalmist is saying that you need to find your delight in the Lord.   You need a well of joy so that if all the other wells run dry, there’s one well that will not leave you without joy.  You’ll not be left without peace and contentment.    I have sat with many people who have suffered the loss of all things, and yet had this unspeakable, incomprehensible joy.  I don’t mean they were jumping up and down and laughing.  There was something that the thieves couldn’t break in and steal, something that the rust could not corrode, something that the moths could not eat through.  They had something that nobody could touch.

I always like to give this disclaimer.  I’m not saying that if you’ll come to these services and take notes and do what I say, you can go out of here and never fret again. No, it doesn’t come that easily.  You do not acquire the conviction of values by intellectual debate.  We grow into and learn these things.  I am not talking about push, pull, click, click, become Spirit-filled that quick.  I am not talking about little formulas that make your life different from then on out.  These are things that God wants to build into us.

My first recognition is that I do know I’m in trouble if I don’t have something more substantial to joy in than the things of this world.  I can be like the Apostle Paul, sitting in the Roman jail cell, not knowing if he will live or die, saying that I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content—satisfied—a heart at rest.

When Nelson Rockefeller died, a dear friend of his wrote an article in the New York City Times entitled, “A Sense of Incompleteness.”  He said that Rockefeller with all his millions, vice-president of the United States, governor of the state of New York, lived all of his life frustrated.  He died an incomplete man.  I thought that was a sad epitaph.  You would think if $700 million couldn’t make you complete, nothing could.

Then I read in Genesis that when Abraham died, he died full of years, and satisfied.  I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.  I’ve discovered something.  There is a well of joy that never runs dry.  That’s what the Psalmist is saying.  Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you a heart that is delighted and satisfied.

2)  Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.  First of all, delight yourself in the Lord.  Find in the Lord your source of joy because you can have all of God that you want.  You can’t have all of the money, health,  and years you want, but you can have as much of God as you want.  There is not anything that can affect that relationship.

We use this verse many times like this:  It’s a new day, and I have to go out and do my job.  Lord, before I walk out the door today, I commit my way to you.  That is a good thing to do.  Again, that is not exactly what the Psalmist is talking about.  He is talking about something far more than that.  Coming back again to the graphic picture of the Hebrew language, the word commit means to roll.  To commit your way unto the Lord is to roll your way onto the Lord.  It is the picture of a man who is carrying a burden.  This burden is so heavy on his shoulders that it is making him stoop down.  The Psalmist is saying that you have too big a load.  Take that load and roll it onto the Lord.  This thing you are carrying around is one of the reasons you are fretting and anxious.

I think the real key to understanding what he is saying is found in the word way.  It literally means a well-trodden path.  It’s not the way you are going to walk today; it’s the way you walk everyday.

One translation reads like this:  Commit your career unto the Lord.  Another reads:  Commit your reputation to the Lord.  My own translation and I think the word that best describes it is this:  Commit your lifestyle to the Lord.  He is not just saying the way you are going to walk today, the business you are going to do today (that’s included), but you need to commit your lifestyle, reputation, career, that well-trodden path, the life you are accustomed to living to Him, (we get our lives fitting like an old easy chair or a good pair of shoes that have been broken in—comfortable).    Why?  What does this have to do with worry?  What does this have to do with fretfulness?

Maybe we should ask another question.  Why are you fretting?  Why are you worrying?  Could it be that the reason you are worrying is that if this continues or comes to pass it is going to hurt your career, your reputation, make you change your lifestyle?  I don’t want to have to do that.  I like my lifestyle.  I have a comfortable way of living, and I wouldn’t want to drastically change it.

I’ll use a silly illustration.  Back in the 70s when they had the oil embargo, it made me nervous.  I knew when gasoline got up to the outrageous price of 45 cents a gallon, my lifestyle was going to have to change.  It upset me to no end.  When President Ford started talking about carpooling, and not driving your car around for pleasure anymore, I didn’t like that..  That made me uptight.  I was worried about high prices.  Why?  It was changing my lifestyle, and I didn’t want to change my lifestyle.  I like the way I’m living.  There are changes I would make, but when there is something looming on the horizon and it comes to pass, I am going to have to give up something.  The Psalmist is saying that I should try to become invulnerable.  Take all those things that are  vulnerable to the changes in this life, and do something about it.  Get you something that is not vulnerable.  Delight yourself in the Lord.  Commit your way unto the Lord.

Let me put it this way.  He says, take your reputation, your career, your lifestyle (you are uptight because it is in jeopardy), and say, Lord, you handle it.  You carry it for awhile.  Sometimes when we are worried about something, it’s not so much the thing itself that we are worried about as it is the effect that thing will have on my lifestyle, my career, or my reputation.

I was in the supermarket not long ago, and there was a mother doing some shopping with her little boy.  There is not anything little boys love more than to go shopping with their mother.  He was growing weary, and began to fuss.   He wanted to go home.  She tried to hush him up.  The more she tried to hush him, the louder he got.  Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you.   I’ve had the same thing happen.  Bless her heart, I knew what she was doing.  Before it was over, there was murder in that mother’s eyes.  You could see it. That boy was screaming and making a fuss.  Everybody was looking.

Now, let me ask you a question.  What do you think was really bothering that woman.  That her boy was screaming?  No, he does that at home all the time.  She probably ignores him at home.  Do you know what was really making her angry?  Everybody’s looking.  What kind of mother do they think I am?  I know what they are saying:  you can’t handle your own child.  You and I have said that, haven’t we?  When somebody comes over to visit, and they bring a child along who jumps on the furniture, you  say, I would like to get hold of that child.   They can’t handle their children. Am I telling the truth?  It’s not so much the things itself, the situation or circumstance, that has us uptight; it’s the effect that it will have on our reputation, our career, our lifestyle.

Several years ago I was in a meeting in a church I’d been in before.  One night a mother came up to me and asked to talk to me.  We visited, and she told me her husband had abandoned her, left her a number of years ago, and she had been left alone to raise her boy who was then about 16 years old.  This was back in the early 70s when the long hair was popular, and he was strung out on drugs.  Her boy was doing the whole thing, and she was heartbroken over it.  I told her I would be glad to talk to her but she really needed to talk to her pastor because I would be gone in a few days.   She said she had talked to him and he told her if she had been the kind of Christian mother she should have been, her boy would never have turned out this way.  That must have been a real blessing to her.  The unfortunate and ironic thing about this is that about two or three ears later, the pastor’s son did the same thing.

When that happens, one of two things can happen.  It can either humble you, which is good, or it can humiliate you, which is not good.  In this case, it humiliated the pastor.  Do you know what he did?   He quit the ministry.  I knew him.  I’m not saying that man was not concerned about his son.  What I am saying is that the thing that destroyed him was not so much the problem of his son, but the effect it had on his reputation. What made him uptight and frustrated to the point of anger was his concern about what people would think about him.

The Lord is saying your reputation is a heavy burden to be carrying around with you.  That will make you uptight.  Why don’t you just let me handle that?  There is a special promise attached to this one.  There is a promise attached to all of them, but this one has another one that takes up a whole verse.  In verse 6 he says:  He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light and thy judgment as the noonday.  Do you know what he is talking about there?  Vindication.  He is saying, commit your way unto me, trust also in me, and I’ll bring it to pass.  I’ll bring forth your righteousness as the light and your justice (what you are due) as the noonday.  I’ll see to it that everybody knows how righteous you are.  Don’t fret.  Don’t get yourself tied up in knots because you are afraid of what may happen to your reputation.  I will make your righteousness as the light and your justice shine as bright as the noonday.  You commit your way to me, and I’ll see that you are vindicated.

3)  Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.
Verse 7 says Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him.  So we have these four statements:  trust in the Lord, delight thyself also in the Lord, commit thy way unto the Lord, and rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.  Again, the word rest means to be silent unto the Lord and wait patiently for him.

I want to put all this together, and paraphrase it to bring out what I think the Psalmist is saying.  Here you have a situation that is causing you to be fretful, fearful, and anxious.   Don’t fret.  Instead, trust in the Lord.  Delight yourself in me.  Roll your reputation, your lifestyle over and give it to me.  Be quiet, and give me a chance to work.  That’s a little harsh, but basically that is what he is saying.  Trust that thing to me, start trying to find delight in me, and commit the whole thing to me.  Then be quiet.  Quit your griping, murmuring, and complaining.  Quit telling me how to do it.  Be quiet, and give me a chance to work.  Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him.  Give me a chance to do my work.

The real key there is to wait patiently.  I was afraid he was going to say something like that.  I always do real well on all these until I get to this one.  I don’t want to sound like a dictionary, but these words are so important.  The word translated wait patiently here means to turn in a circle.  It means to writhe and twist in pain.  Do you know how this word was originally used?  It was used for a woman in labor.  God has some sense of humor to take that word and use it for the word wait patiently, because there is not anything more painful in the world than waiting patiently.  Actually, waiting isn’t hard to do.   I guarantee you that if God delays, you are going to wait.  It is waiting patiently that is the key, the trick.  In the Bible when it talks about waiting patiently, it means waiting with anticipation, waiting with expectation.

We live in Irving, Texas, which is right next door to the DFW Airport.  What a blessing that is to us.  I can leave my house, and in ten minutes I can be checking into any major airline in the country.  It has been a lot of help to my wife to be so close.

When I am coming in on a late night flight, Kaye doesn’t have to drive an hour and a half across town.  I was coming back a few years ago on a flight from up north, flight 214, to arrive at midnight.  Kaye came to the airport, parked the car, went to the gate and waited.  Twelve o’clock came, but the airplane didn’t.  No big deal.  They are late ever once in awhile.  She waited  about thirty minutes, but still no flight 214.  The monitor had not changed information, so she went over to the man behind the desk and said, I am here to meet flight 214 that was supposed to be in at twelve o’clock.  It’s not here.  When do you expect it?  He said, oh, it will be another 30 minutes.  Check back with us later.  She waited another 30 minutes.  Now the plane is still not there and is an hour late.  She goes back to the man at the desk.  She said, I’m still waiting for flight 214.  When is it arriving?  He said, it looks like it will be another 30 minutes.  Check back with us.  She waited another 30 minutes, and it still wasn’t there.  Now it’s and hour and a half late.  She goes back to the man and says, when are you expecting flight 214?  The man said, well, I’m sorry but we can’t give you that information.  Check back with us later, please.  That sounded odd to her.  She went back to him and asked when flight 214 had left.  The man said, I’m sorry but we can’t give you that information.  Check back with us later, please.  You know what she was thinking, don’t you?  She knew that plane had gone down.  They had lost it on the radar and weren’t telling anybody.  Kaye doesn’t do well in that kind of situation.  She went backto the man.  By now he knew her.  She said, listen, flight 214.  I don’t want to know when it is going to get here, and I don’t want to know when it left.  Can you tell me one thing?  Is it in the air?  The man smiled and said, yes, it’s in the air.  Do you know what Kaye did?  She waited patiently.  Why?  She knew it was in the air.

There have been some times I’ve said to the Lord, can you tell me when my fight is going to come in?  Can you tell me when this is going to be over?  And he says, I’m sorry, son, but I can’t give you that information.  Well, Lord, can you tell me when this started and what’s going on.  He says, no, I’m sorry, but I can’t give you that information.  Lord, can you just tell me one thing?  Is it in the air?  And the Lord always says, yes, it’s in the air.  Then I can wait patiently.

Psalm 130 talks about waiting for the Lord.  It says:  those that wait for the Lord are as those who wait for the morning.  Two things about waiting for the morning:  sunrise.  One, you can’t rush it.  There is no way you can make it rise more quickly.  Second, it does rise.  It always rises.  Those that wait upon the Lord are like those who wait for the sunrise.  You cannot rush it, but you never wait in vain because the sun always rises.  When you wait upon the Lord, you never wait in vain.

I believe that God can take these things, beginning today, and build them into your life.


When the Upright Get Uptight – Part 2

The Solution to It, pt 1
Text: Psalm 37

It is a strange world we live in–a strange time.  It is interesting how things change, interesting that the things we once thought were the solutions to our problems have now become our problems.  I remember a number of years ago when somebody said the solution to our problem would be unhindered, free love.  If we would get rid of all our hang-ups, and get rid of all our antiquated, Puritanical ideas, that would be the solution.  Now it has become our problem.

It is that way in the human situation.  We always seem to run faster when we’ve lost our way.  Somebody described a fanatic as somebody who has lost his purpose and redoubled his effort.  That is a pretty good definition.

The Psalmist opens with this statement:  Fret not thyself.  Immediately, that sets the theme for the whole psalm, the subject of it, the title of it.  He is saying to us as God’s people to  fret not ourselves.   The word carries with it the idea of a frustrating situation.  It really has in it the idea of heat.  We sometimes say, that burns me up; I’m all hot under the collar; I’m hot and bothered about this.  This is a good way of rendering what the Psalmist is saying, but he is addressing himself to people who believe in God, to Christians.  Yet they are not exempt from certain situations that cause them to be filled with fear, frustration and even a tinge of anger.

If you think about it for a little bit, you will agree that this is the reason any of us ever become anxious and fearful and frustrated.  It is because there is a great contradiction between our expectations and our experience.  There is a great conflict between the way things are and the way things ought to be.  These things the Psalmist is talking about are peculiar to Christians.  There are some things that upset us that wouldn’t upset a lost person, some things that bother us that would not bother an atheist.  An atheist hardly ever looks at children starving to death and asks why God doesn’t do something about it.  He doesn’t have that problem.  You and I have to face that enigma.  If there is a God of absolute goodness and power, then how do you reconcile that with all the wrong in the world?  You and I as Christians know how things are supposed to be.  We ought to live in a world of justice and equity and fairness.

We have expectations, and they are legitimate expectations.  We expect things to be as God would have them to be.  We expect certain things of our life and our family.  We have legitimate expectations.  Those expectations are encouraged when we become Christians because we read so much in the Bible how all things work together for good, and how God will not withhold any good thing from those who walk uprightly with him.  So these are legitimate expectations.

When our experience does not match our expectations, the result is fretfulness, anxiety, frustration, and sometimes anger.  Why hasn’t God made the wrongs right?  Why hasn’t God fulfilled my expectations?  Why doesn’t God take charge and do something about it.

In verses 1-9, the Psalmist indicates three things to us as believers that tend to cause us to be fretful and frustrated and angry:  the inequities of life and the injustices of life.  Somehow or other I have the idea that God owes me.  Just seems like it ought to count for something that I am a Christian.  There ought to be some perks..  If I am a Christian, I ought to be exempt from some things.  It disturbs and confuses me when the same things that happen to lost people happen to me.

When our son died in 1975, we received quite a few cards and letters from people offering their sympathy.  We appreciated every one of them.  I remember one letter in particular that we received from a family in Memphis.  I had recently been in their church in a meeting.  When they heard about our son’s death, they wrote a letter.  The first paragraph was what you would expect—the usual sympathy and condolences.  But the second paragraph started off like this:  Bro. Dunn, we know that you are a man of God, that you have given your life to Christ and committed to preach the gospel, and that you faithfully do it.  We do not understand how something like this could happen to you.  Well, I agreed with them.  I didn’t understand it either.  Their letter sounded like they could understand if something like that happened to them because they were just people, but I was a man of God.  I think what was really causing them to fear was the fact that if this could happen to someone like me, heaven knows what could happen to someone like them.

Don’t accuse me of being negative or depressing.  I’m just telling you the way things are.  You and I are human beings and are still part of this human situation.  It is true that the innocent are often hit by stray bullets.   Sometimes the moral suffer with the immoral, and the innocent suffer with the guilty.  We are part of this human situation.
As Paul says, the whole creation is groaning together, and we also who have received the first fruits of the Spirit groan within ourselves.  There are some groans that are native to our nature.  As long as we are in this body of flesh, there are going to be certain groans, certain travails, and certain problems.

Does the Bible have anything to say to us about this?  I know there are those who teach that if you and I just have enough faith and are filled with the Spirit of God, we can rise above all these things.  All we have to do is rebuke the devil, plead the blood, praise God, pray, make positive confessions, and we’ll walk through life trouble free.  I’ve heard a lot of testimonies to this effect, but the truth of the matter is for one testimony I’ve heard like that, I can tell you a hundred more who have not had it that way.  And these folks are just as faithful as the others.

I’ve always been impressed with the eleventh chapter of Hebrews.  I love it when he really gets to sailing over in the latter part of that chapter and says and time would not permit me to tell.  Then he goes ahead, like a preacher, and tells.  He goes into all these wonderful things that these people have accomplished by faith, and how they have escaped the edge of the sword and had their children raised from the dead.  Then he says:  and others were tortured, and sawn asunder.  He says it twice:  and others.  Now wait just a minute.  I guess those and others didn’t have enough faith.  No, he is talking about the same kind of faith.  You see, there is the faith that enables us to escape.  Then there is the faith that enables us to endure.  Now, of course, I prefer to escape. And there are many times when God does allow us to escape, but there are times when we have to have faith—not to escape, but to endure.  Someone said to me when I was in the hospital:  the trouble with you is you don’t have enough faith to be healed.  I said, oh, no, I have enough faith to be healed.  My problem is I don’t have enough faith to stay sick if that is what God wants.   Somehow I think it may take a little more faith to endure than it does to escape.

What if God doesn’t right the wrongs in your life?  You won’t need anything I have to say if God rights the wrongs in your life.  Praise God, I hope he does.  But  does God have anything to say to you if he doesn’t?  What are you going to do if God doesn’t immediately right all the wrongs in your life?    Here is what God has to say to us when we find ourselves, as the Psalmist found himself, surrounded by things that are not as they ought to be, and when our experience doesn’t live up to our expectations.
The four statements that he makes are in verses 3, 4, 5, and 7.

Trust in the LORD and do good; So shall thou dwell in the land and verily thou shall be fed.
Delight thyself also in the LORD; And He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.  Commit thy way unto the LORD,
Trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.  Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him.

I like to think of these four statements as alternatives to fretfulness.   This is what I am to do.  Trust in the Lord.  Delight myself in the Lord.  Commit my way unto the Lord.  Rest in the Lord.  Now, I believe that the first one contains the whole bit and that is what we are going to look at today..

Verse 3 is a summary solution of the whole business:  Trust in the Lord and do good.  Having said that he has said it all because all the way through the Bible you will find there is always this contrast between faith and fear.  These are two mutually exclusive emotions or attitudes.  Where there is fear, there is no faith; where there is faith, there is no fear.  You remember when Jesus would rebuke his disciples, he would say:  Why are you so fearful?  Where is your faith?  When the Psalmist says that rather than fretting we should trust in the Lord, he says it all.  Everything is contained in trust.   The other three I see as the ingredients, or the expression of trust.  I like to think of faith or trust as a nut.  You crack it open and on the inside you find delighting, committing and resting.  In other words, what do you do when you trust the Lord?  Oh well, you are delighting yourself in the Lord; you are committing your way unto the Lord, and you are resting in the Lord.
Verse 3 says trust in the Lord and do good.  Stay in the land where I’ve placed you.  Dwell in the land and verily there your need will be met.  You shall be fed.  Here is the main  statement:  Trust in the Lord and do good.

As I said yesterday, the Hebrew language is a very picturesque language, filled with imagery.  The root meaning of the word that is used here traces back to the idea of literally one who is helplessly lying face down on the ground.  It is the position of a person who has come to the end of all resources and has no means of support.  Literally, you could say to trust in the Lord means lying helplessly face down.   Always the words that are used for faith and trust in the Bible have the idea of reliance upon Him of resting upon Him  It reminds me of what the proverb says:  lean not unto thine own understanding, but trust in the Lord.  Don’t lean on your own cleverness.  Don’t support yourself on your own understanding and ability to figure out the situation.  Rather cast yourself on the Lord.  Trust in the Lord.  This is a very graphic picture of a person lying helplessly face down on the ground.  Is there any more helpless picture than that?
God says there are just some things you are going to have to leave to Him.  That’s all there is to it.  You can’t do anything about it.  You know you can’t because you’ve tried.  I believe that God brings us to the place where we realize we are not in control of our lives and that scares me.

I think it would be safe to say that the one great task God has for all of us is to teach us how to trust him and I want to say three things about this.

1)  You only learn to trust God by trusting God.
You don’t learn to trust God by reading books on it, although I can recommend a good book on it.  You don’t learn to trust God by listening to sermons on it.  You learn to trust God by trusting God.  You don’t learn to swim by reading books on swimming.  You don’t learn to fly an airplane by reading a book on flying.  You learn to do those things by doing them.  You only learn to trust God by trusting God.

2)         Most of us won’t trust God until we have to trust him.
Generally speaking, there is something about fallen human nature that finds it very difficult to cast ourselves on our Lord and admit there is nothing we can do about our situation.  So we won’t trust God until we have to.  As long as I have one more trick up my sleeve, as long as I have one more dollar in the bank, as long as there is one more seminar I’ve not attended, or how-to book I’ve not yet read, I am not going to trust God.
Have you ever noticed how we won’t face the truth about ourselves until we have no choice?  Man does not face the truth about things until disaster forces him to face the truth about them.  You see this on every hand.  When the Challenger exploded, we investigated it thoroughly.  When the fellow in Kentucky killed the 27 children on the school bus, I didn’t hear anyone say anything about banning alcohol.  But they immediately appointed a commission to study why school buses aren’t safer.  That’s ridiculous.  That’s going at the wrong way.  Why didn’t they study all those things ahead of time?   Disaster forces us to face the truth about ourselves.  You may be the exception.  I’m just telling you that most of us are carnal enough that we won’t trust God until we have to.  This brings me to the third statement.

3)         God sees to it that we have to trust him.
If the only way you learn to trust God is by trusting him, and you and I won’t trust him generally until we have to, then God sees to it that we have to trust him.  By that I mean that he puts us in situations where the only way out is up.  We have no choice.  It is sink or swim, live or die, trust God or go down.

The old saints used a phrase that we would do well to bring back.  They spoke of being shut up to faith.  What they meant by that was that God would maneuver us into situations where there is no choice.  We had to trust him.  Maybe the reason we are in our situation today may be that God has  shut us up to faith.

I think the greatest illustration of this in the Bible is Israel at the Red Sea.  God had delivered them out of the land of Egypt.  Under the leadership of Moses, they came and camped by the Red Sea.  They weren’t out of the will of God; they were following God.  God brought them to that point:  the Red Sea is in front of them, the mountains are on either side, and Egypt is  behind them.  One day they wake up, look over their shoulder and here come all the Egyptians swooping down on them.  That’s when you find out  these people were Baptists, because they immediately began blaming the pastor.  Well, Moses, here is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.  Not enough room in Egypt to bury us, you had to bring us out here to find room enough to plant us all.  Moses went  behind a rock and began to pray.  God said two things.

First, he said:  stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.  I’ll fight these Egyptians.  God said, Moses, I didn’t save you people out of Egypt to fight Egyptians; I saved you folks to go in and possess the land.  Now you do what I’ve saved you to do, and I’ll take care of the Egyptians.  By the way, let me just say that one of the most effective strategies of the devil to defeat a church is to get a church sitting around fighting all the Egyptians that are snapping at its heels, instead of going forward.  God said, you go forward, do what I’ve given you to do, and I’ll take care of the Egyptians.  Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.

Then he said:  go forward.  Ah, yes.  Do you realize, of course, that there is a Red Sea forward?   If you will just hold back the Egyptians long enough for us to build some boats, we’ll appreciate it very much.  But God said, just take off there across the Red Sea.    They were shut up to faith.  Do you know what they did?  They obeyed God, trusted God and stepped out.  I like the way the Psalmist says it:  the waters fled before them—as if the Red Sea was scared to death of them.  And they walked across on dry land.  What a mighty demonstration of faith!  But I want to tell you something.  I don’t believe they would ever have done it if there had not been an Egyptian army behind them, encouraging them to do so.  I think if God had just come out one day and said, we are going to have a pop quiz today and see how much faith you have.  Take off across the water.  I think they would be there yet.  But you put an Egyptian army behind them, and they are going to think about that.

They only had one choice.  It was either trust God, or go back to Egypt.  I guess that is about the only choice we ever have, isn’t it?  You either trust God or live in bondage.   God brings us to the place at times when we have to admit that this is something we are going to have to leave with Him.

I never will forget when we were going through some trying times in our church.  Have you ever gotten so weary that you are too tired to even believe anymore?  You know there is a weariness of the soul that goes beyond weariness of the body—a weariness that makes it impossible for you to even affirm life. I was at that point.  I will never forget getting on my knees in my office and laying my head on the sofa saying, Lord, I am so worn out, I am so weary, I am so bone soul weary of this.  Lord, I don’t even have the strength to even believe anymore.  I said, if you are going to solve this thing, you are going to have to do it without my help.  I actually said that.  I don’t know, but I thought I heard God give a sigh of relief as though he was saying, that’s what I’ve been waiting on.  Haven’t you felt that way before?

I love Isaiah 46 where he is contrasting the false gods, Baal and Nebo, with the true God of Israel.  He is talking about the time when Cyrus comes into Babylon.  They take their gods and load them on donkeys.  These gods are made of iron and gold and stone.  They are so heavy the donkeys have a hard time carrying these gods.  As a matter of fact, they are so heavy that the donkeys can’t outrun the enemy.  Finally, the enemy catches up with them and captures their gods.  But he comes back and says, but, oh, the God of Israel said, I have carried you when you were in the womb.  When you are old and gray haired, I will still carry you.

You see, folks, the difference between false gods and true God.  False gods can only go as far as you can go.  You have to carry them.  But the true God carries us.  When we don’t have the strength to move, it’s all right.  Sometimes that’s the best place we can be for God to demonstrate his power and faithfulness—God teaching us to trust him.
We don’t stop there because he goes on. He says, trust in the Lord and do good.  Trust in the Lord and do good.  In other words, faith isn’t passive.  Doing good is just as much a command as trusting in the Lord.  All right, what am I to do?  Trust in the Lord.  What does that mean?  It means that I have come to the place that I recognize there are some things I am going to have to leave in the hands of God, and this is one of them.  So, Lord, it’s yours.  I don’t have the strength to do it.  I’ve tried to solve it, and I can’t do it.  Lord, as best I know how, I’m throwing myself on you.  If you are going to solve this thing, you will have to do it all by yourself.  He says, now that you’ve made that commitment, just take care of business.  Do good.  He is not necessarily talking about doing religious good.  He is not saying trust in the Lord and go hand out religious tracts, or pray, or something like that.  He is talking about everyday good, economic good—your daily functions.  He is saying:  trust me in this thing, and then carry on—take care of your business.  Answer your mail, wash the dishes, comb your hair, go to work.

There is not anything as paralyzing as fear and worry and anxiety.  You’ve been there.  You get so depressed that you just don’t care about anything else.  You can’t function.  You don’t care if the house is dirty or  if the grass is growing, all  you want to do is crawl in bed and pull the covers over you and  hide.

When I was a pastor, there were times when people would come to me when I knew they were going through tremendous family problems.  Here is a Sunday School teacher telling me, pastor, I am going to have to give up my class because you know what we are going through right now.   I thought it was the wrong thing for them to do.  Basically, they were simply giving themselves that much more time to brood over the matter.

I think any counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist, saved or lost, will tell you that one of the greatest therapies for depression and anxiety is to do something.  That is what God is saying.  You can trust me.  Leave it with me and go about your business.  If I have learned to trust God in this particular situation, I am able to function.  But if I am not able to carry on with my everyday duties, that tells me I have not yet learned to leave this with God.   There is no use for both of us to worry about it.  The tending to business is not only an evidence that I am trusting God, but it is a way to manifest and express confidence in God.

He says:  So shall thou dwell in the land and verily thou shall be fed.  I think the New American Standard says dwell in the land and feed on God’s faithfulness.  One translation says to stay where God has placed you and fulfill your duty.  Don’t try to run away from it, hide from it.  Stay where I’ve placed you.  Do your duty.  In that situation, verily you shall be fed.  Your need will be met in that situation.

One of God’s most frequent promises to us is the promise to meet our physical and material needs.  What the Psalmist is saying here is much of what Jesus is saying in Matthew 6.  He says to take no thought, don’t worry, about the material and physical necessities of life.  That’s the way pagans live.  Pagans are preoccupied with the material and physical necessities of life.  But God says, leave those things to me.  You be preoccupied with seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and I’ll see that these things are taken care of.  You tend to my business first, and I’ll see that all your needs are met.  I think that is exactly what the Psalmist is saying:  trust in the Lord, take care of business.  In that situation your needs will be met.

Why does the Lord make such a big deal out of meeting my physical and material needs.  I don’t think there is any other promise that you find as frequently and as intensely in the Bible as that one.  Over and over again he says to us not to worry.  I’ll meet your needs.  I’ll take care of you.

Paul says, my God shall supply all your needs.  Why do you think God promises to do that?  Is it because when you become a Christian you become so inept that unless God takes care of you, you’ll starve to death?

Are God’s people so naïve, so heavenly minded, of no earthly use?  Bless their hearts.  If God didn’t feed them and clothe them, would they starve to death? Do you have to trust in God to have your needs met?  No. I know a lot of lost people whose physical and material needs are being met a lot better than mine.

The Bible says that God opens his hand and satisfies the desires of every living creature.  The rain falls on the just and the unjust.  God’s providence is impartial.  The sun shines on sinners and saints alike.   I think the reason God makes such an issue of this is because you and I can usually only travel on one track at a time.  If we are preoccupied with physical and material needs, we really can’t give our best to the service of the Lord.

My wife and I have been married 33 years this December.  I would have to say that 90% of our early problems can be traced back to financial problems.  It is difficult to be the kind of husband or wife you ought to be when your mind is preoccupied with that.

I think Jesus is saying, I want you to be preoccupied primarily with seeking my kingdom and doing my righteousness.  If you will make that your number one priority, I’ll see to it that you don’t lose out in these material and physical necessities of life.  Don’t be like the pagans and heathens who feel like you have to expend every ounce of energy worrying about whether you’ll starve to death.    Worry about doing the will of God.  If you will make that your number one priority, I’ll see to it that you don’t miss out, that your needs will be met.

In 1964 I was called to be pastor of Munger Place Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.  The church was 50 years old.  I was the third pastor in 50 years.  The first pastor founded the church and died after 35 years.  The second pastor was there 15 years and retired.  Then they called me at his suggestion.  We had become pretty good friends.  I remember when I was moving all my books into the pastor’s study, the former pastor came in and sat down.  He said, Bro. Dunn, (old enough to be my grandfather but he never called me anything but pastor or Bro. Dunn) you know that Sunday was my last official day here as pastor.  I said, yes sir, I know that.  He said that he had called the church into business meeting that Sunday night, and  asked the church to take some action that would affect me.  He hoped I didn’t mind..  I thought, oh, I hope we are not going to have problems here.  I asked, what did you do?  He said, I asked the church to raise your salary $75 a week.  I said, no, I don’t mind.  Feel free anytime you want to do that.  Then he said, now, I didn’t do that for you.  I did that for the church.  Young man, you can’t do your best for God or this church if you are having to worry about making ends meet.  That was a wise man.  That’s not truly only of a pastor.  That’s true of all of us, isn’t it?

What is Jesus saying?  I want you to do your best for me.  If you will, I promise I will take care of your needs.  So he says, trust in the Lord, take care of business, and in that situation, I’ll meet your need and feed you.

When the Upright Get Uptight – Part 1

“The Source of It”  Part I
Psalm 37

I want you to open your Bible today to Psalm 37.  I want to read the first seven verses.  During these days together we are going to be looking at Psalm 37 under what I have titled When the Upright Get Uptight.

1Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. 2For they shall soon be cut down like the grass And wither as the green herb. 3Trust in the LORD and do good; So shall thou dwell in the land and verily thou shall be fed. 4Delight thyself also in the LORD; And He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.  5Commit thy way unto the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.  6He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light And thy judgment as the noonday. 7Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; Fret not thyself because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked devices to pass.

Not long ago I saw an article in the newspaper.  Actually, I had been looking for something like that for sometime.  I knew that it was bound to happen sooner or later.  The article was simply telling about a new government publication that had just been released entitled, Everything Doesn’t Cause Cancer.  The article went on to explain that in the past several years there had been so many warnings issued about this that our country was being slowly gripped by cancer paranoia.  They said that not everything causes cancer.  Just about everything, but not everything.  I myself had begun to develop some of that paranoia.

I picked up a newspaper, and a front page article said: Tests Link Shampoo with Cancer.  This is not good news to someone who likes to wash their hair occasionally.  The article said they had fed these laboratory rats shampoo for six months, and they developed cancer.  Well, I figured anybody who drinks shampoo for six months deserves whatever they get.  That’s the way these things are presented.  We become paranoid and are trying to create a risk-free society.

Lewis Thomas says there has never been a time when we are living longer, but enjoying it less because we are worrying more about it than ever before.  Man is living longer now than he ever has lived in the modern age.  Back during the days of the Roman Empire, the average age was 25 years.  Only one out of four men lived to be 50.  It was calculated that just to keep the Roman population maintained, every woman would have to have four babies.

Right now, we are living longer and healthier than ever  .Yet, at the same time, we are worrying more about it.  We live in a very fretful age.  I guess that is one of the things that caught my attention about Psalm 37.  The psalm opens with these words:  Fret not thyself.  I don’t know of anything in the Bible that is anymore up-to-date and relevant than that.  If there is a message that you and I need to hear today, it is this:  fret not thyself.  In a number of the Psalms the very first phrase serves as a title or subject introduction, giving you an idea of  the subject or theme of the entire psalm.  Psalm 37 is one of these.  The very first phrase introduces the entire theme to us:  fret not thyself.

God knows that even though I’m saved, and even though I’m trying to walk with the Lord, I still find myself filled with fretfulness at times.  The Hebrew language is a very picturesque language full of images, and one way you could translate this phrase fret not would be “don’t get all hot under the collar.”  Don’t allow yourself to get hot and bothered.  It is the idea of a person who is frustrated because of some situation.  We sometimes use this phrase:  this just burns me up.  Well, that’s sort of the idea of what the Psalmist is saying.  But there are certain conditions or circumstances as the Psalmist writes that have a tendency to cause these believers to be a little bit uptight, to be filled with fretfulness and fear, and it also has the idea of anger in it.   The Psalmist’s word is simply this:  whatever the situation is, don’t allow yourself to become filled with fear, fretfulness, and frustration.  Don’t allow yourself to be burned up to the point of fretfulness over the situations that you face.  That is significant to me because it indicates that even though I am saved, I still find myself in fretful situations.

There is a lot of teaching going around today that gives the idea that if you and I are filled with the Spirit, as we ought to be, and we are as full of faith as we ought to be, we’ll be able to rise above everything..  Life will be smooth and easy for us.  God will take all of these barriers out of the way, and we will move through life without ever having a ripple.  The only thing wrong with that is that it is wrong.  The Bible doesn’t necessarily teach that just because we trust the Lord, and just because we are his people, that we are exempt from the everyday trials of life.  We are not.  We are still part of this human situation.  As long as we live in this world–this flesh, no matter how saved or Spirit-filled we are, you and I are going to be faced with those situations in life just like anybody else.  Sometimes they tend to fill us with fear and anxiety and fretfulness.  I think it is important for us as Christians to understand this so we won’t think something has gone wrong when we find ourselves in one of these situations.

I met an interesting fellow in Colorado a few years ago.   We talked for awhile.  When we left, his parting shot was:  keep loving God; keep hating sin; and watch out for trucks.  I appreciated that little bit of practical advice because to tell you the truth there have been times when I’ve thought that if you loved God and hated sin, you didn’t have to watch out for trucks.  But the fact of the matter is you do have to watch out for trucks.  We do face situations in which our lives are filled with fear and anxiety.  So the Psalmist says fret not thyself.

What I want to do today is to look at some of the sources of this.  Then we’ll look at the solutions–I hesitate to call it a solution—but the alternatives, what the Psalmist says for us to do in this situation.  Today I want us to examine what specifically it is that causes us as Christians to fear, or to be angry, or frustrated.  It is significant that  the Psalmist is talking about things that are peculiar to Christians.  In other words, there are some things that might anger a Christian or cause him to be fretful or worry that would not cause a lost person to fret and worry.  The moment you begin to believe in the Lord, and become a person of faith, you have certain problems that other people do not have.  We are going to be talking about  things that I think are peculiar to Christians, things that might make me fearful and fretful that would not make someone else fearful.
Lets mention three.

the injustices or inequities of life.

Notice what the Psalmist says in the very first verse:  Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.  Here the Psalmist is saying there is the possibility that even though we are God’s people, there is something about the wicked that frustrates us.  The frustration is that so many times they seem to be so successful.  He says don’t be envious of the wicked.

He goes on in verse 7 and says:  Fret not thyself because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked devices to pass.  The idea is that here is a godless man, and he is all the time scheming and planning strategies, and every one of them is successful.  And here you are, a child of God, striving to live for God and honor him, and it seems like everything in the world is coming apart at the seams.

Here is this fellow across the street from you that doesn’t care about God, and lives as if there is no God, and everything seems to be going well for him.  His boy is the captain of the football team, and his daughter is the head cheerleader.  Don’t you hate people like that?   Everything seems to be going well for them, and the fellow has no use for God whatsoever.
1.  Life is not fair.

Now, here is something that is peculiar to those of us who are saved.  We believe that God owes us special treatment, and that life ought to be fair—at least a little bit.  After all, if I am a child of God and if I am striving to live for and honor him, I think God ought to take that into consideration.  Really, when God starts passing out all the calamities of life, he ought to remember that I am his child.  I feel I should get special treatment.  Yet, the psalmist is saying that the truth of the matter is that we oftentimes will look at the wicked, and they seem to be getting along so well that we become envious of them.  That leads to frustration and fretfulness.  Here I am.   I’m praying.  I’m doing everything I know to do, and everything is coming apart—but not for the wicked person.  The injustices of life–  the inequities of life–the fact that life is not fair.

I’m sure some of you are familiar with the book written several years ago by Rabbi Harold Kushner, called When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  It is a very interesting book, but not a Christian book, and he reaches some conclusions that you and I could not reach.  It became a best seller in 13 different countries and I saw the Rabbi interviewed on television.  They asked him how he came to write the book.  He said he had been a rabbi for years and had seen a lot of people die, stood beside bed of many a person as they have gone out to meet God.  He said that never one time did it cause him to question his faith.  But when he saw his fourteen-year-old boy dying of that horrible aging disease, suddenly for the first time he had a problem.

Folks, it is easy to philosophize about suffering when you are not suffering.  It is amazing that when the wreath is hanging on your own door, everything looks different.  I appreciated the rabbi’s honesty.  But, all of a sudden, it’s my son, my flesh.  The devil says:  skin for skin, all that a man has will he give for his flesh.  That’s true.  And, brother, when it is your skin and your flesh, suddenly you begin to question.  You say, wait just a minute; this isn’t supposed to be this way.  I’m trusting God.  I’m as close to God as I know how to get.  It would seem to count for something.  Yet, here is my son dying.

I said earlier that the person of faith has problems that other people do not have.  For instance, every time I see on television these innocent children starving to death over in Ethiopia and other places, I can’t help but say, why doesn’t God do something about that?  I tell you, folks, the atheist has a good argument that we wish would go away, but it won’t.  If there is a God of absolute goodness, power, and sovereignty, then how do you explain all the injustice in the world?  An atheist  would just say that was the way the cookie crumbles, que sera sera, into every life a little rain must fall, and there’s no problem.  But when I say that I believe in God, and I believe in a God who rules with all power, goodness, and wisdom, I’ve got a problem.  How do you explain that?

I’ll tell you how the rabbi explained it.  He came to the conclusion that God was not sovereign.  As a matter of fact, one of the chapters in his book says God can’t do everything, but he can do some important things.  He came to the conclusion that God can do nothing about death, disease or the devil.  Well ,that’s all I’m concerned about.  I mean you take away those three things, and you really don’t need God anymore, do you?    This allows him to still believe in God and still accept the injustices in his own life.  God is not sovereign.  God would do something if he could, but he cannot.  Well, I can’t come to that conclusion.  I would have to throw away the Bible.  I believe the Bible teaches very clearly that God is absolutely sovereign and in control of this world.  Then how do you explain the injustices of life?

What bothers me is not so much that bad things happen to good people, it is when good things happen to bad people.  If it just all evened out, that would be all right.  This is what the psalmist is saying:  we are envious of the wicked.  The first thing I think we need to understand is that one of the things that causes us to fret as believers, and sometimes become filled with a frustrated kind of anger, is the fact that life is not fair.  Life is not always just and equitable.
2)  God doesn’t do anything about it.

The second thing that the psalmist mentions or alludes to is  the inactivity of God.  As you read through these verses, you’ll notice that God makes a promise.  In verse 2 he says:  For they shall soon (I need to talk to the Lord about his definition of soon.  I don’t know how old the book of Psalms is but that’s not soon.) be cut down like the grass and wither as the green herb.  Verse 10:  For yet a little while and the wicked shall not be.  Verse 9:  Evildoers shall be cut off, but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.  In other words, if every time somebody sins, God did something about it, that would resolve a great many of our questions.  The real problem is that they seem to be getting along just fine, and God doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it.  Lord, why don’t you do something.

One of my favorite prophets is Habakkuk.   He opens his prophecy with a complaint.  He says, Lord, how long will I have to cry out unto you?  Lord, why don’t you do something.  The Chaldeans are coming.  Internally our country is corrupt, and externally the Chaldeans are coming.  Lord, I have been screaming, praying, and Lord, you are not doing anything.  One of the frustrating things to us as believers is that at times it looks like God isn’t doing anything.  How long have you been praying for that situation?  It seems God hasn’t moved yet.  And to us it looks as though God is not working, but the fact of the matter is that God is always at work.  He really is.  Habakkuk says, Lord, you aren’t doing anything.  In verse 5 God comes back and says, well, I am doing something, and I’m going to tell you but you won’t like it when you hear it.  Behold and believe, I’ll show you a wonder you will not believe though you see it.  Well, all right, Lord, if you are doing something, I wish you would tell me what it is.  After all, the Chaldeans are about to come and take us.  If you are doing something, I would surely like to know what it is.  God said, I’ll tell you what I’m doing:  I’m raising up the Chaldeans.  I am using the Chaldeans as an instrument of chastisement because of your sin, your idolatry.  You’ve been praying I’d do something about the godlessness in your country.  All right, I’m doing something about it.  I’m raising up the Chaldeans.  The interesting thing to me is that the very thing that made Habakkuk think that God was not at work was the very work that God was at.

Every once in awhile somebody will say, well, the Lord has really started to work in our church.  What we mean by that is that God has finally started behaving like we want him to behave.  But the truth is, folks, he who watches Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.  God is always at work.  What arrogance you and I have to say that God isn’t working.  We say, do you remember when God was working a few years ago, back when everything was going great.  God was answering every prayer.  We were doing well financially.  The kids were behaving themselves.  Oh, wasn’t it great when God was working?  Now, times are bad.  What right do we have to say that God was working then and isn’t working now?  Folks, God is always at work.  It only looks as though he is inactive, and that causes us to be frustrated because it appears that God is not doing anything.
3)  Our ignorance of the ways of God.

I’m convinced that if I knew God like I ought to know him, I would never have a fretful moment.   What I think is indifference on the part of God is simply ignorance on my part.  What to me at times looks as though God does not care or that God has lost control is simply ignorance on my part.  This ignorance takes two forms.

1)  I’m ignorant because God works on a different time schedule than I work on.  In other words, I’m in a hurry.  I keep looking at my watch because I’m a time and space creature, and so are you.  I feel pressured not only by the clock but by the calendar.  I know that my life has a certain number of days and years to it.  Things have to be done now.  God, why don’t you answer this prayer now?  After all, time is passing.  By this age I ought to be further down the road than I am.  Lord, why aren’t you doing anything?

I fully believe God doesn’t own a clock or a calendar.   If God knew what time it is, or how late things are, certainly he would do something.  I always like to make at least one profound statement in every message.  Sometimes I’ll tell you what it is; otherwise, you wouldn’t recognize it as profound.  This is it. With God timing is more important than time.   It is just the opposite for me.  Time is so important.  But with God timing is more important than time.

Moses had the right idea—just did it at the wrong time.  He was about 40 years too early in trying to deliver Israel from Egypt.  It has always amazed me that God took 30 years to get Jesus ready for a three and one half year ministry.  When he showed up at 12, and mystified all the teachers, if that had been us, we would have put him on the sawdust trail and said: Boy Preacher Astounds His Professors Everywhere.  My soul, don’t you know the world is going to hell.  What do you mean going back to Nazareth and hiding yourself for 18 years?  Lord, don’t you know how urgent everything is?  Yet, God just seemed to take his time because with God timing is more important than time.  I’ve come to believe that God takes a lifetime to get us ready to do one or two important things.  God works on a different time schedule and that frustrates us and makes us anxious.

God also works with a different value system.  This is where the rub really comes.  The things that are valuable to us are not necessarily valuable to God.  Our value systems are different.  If I were to say to you today that God is good, what do you think of immediately?   I think of good in the sense of convenience, comfort and circumstances.  I’m going to be honest with you.  When I find myself in an adverse situation, my first response is not:  Oh, boy, here is another chance to trust the Lord and develop character.  Now, I’ll come to that—eventually.  But I will tell you that my first thought is:  God, you’ve got to get me out of this.  This can’t be the will of God.  The devil has gotten in here somewhere.  When I think about God being good to me, and you are praying for God to bless me, I know exactly what you are talking about.  That is the problem because  God works on a different value system.

My wife and I were in Jackson two or three years ago.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn downtown.  Right across the street is a big antique store.  We went over there one day.  It was a huge old house, antiques everywhere.  I would pick up something and say, I have thrown away better stuff than this.   If I had known this was going to be valuable, I would have hung on to it.  I’ve been looking for my baseball cards for years.  I know what happened.  My mom threw those away years ago when I went off to college.  And, I can’t believe I sold my ’65 Mustang for $400.  But I had no idea it was going to be that valuable.  We just throw things out because it’s junk!  It may be valuable one day and make you rich.

I’m sure that is the way I’ve been praying a lot of times.  Lord, I need to get rid of this junk.  Oh, no, hang on to that.  It may not look like much today, but one of these days it will be valuable.  I just don’t always have the same standard of values as God.  I think God is more interested in creating in me a Christ-like character than he is in making me comfortable.

One of the problems with most of us is that we have so many things now, we don’t know which things are necessary.  Every once a while God comes along and says, son, the trouble with you is that you are plugged into so many sockets that you don’t know which one is hot anymore.  So, we’ll start unplugging a few.  When we get to the right one, you’ll know it.  The Lord puts his hand on one, and I say, oh, God, if you unplug that, I’ll die.  I can’t live without that.  He unplugs it, and nothing happens.  He puts his hand on something else, and I say, oh, Lord, if you unplug that one, I know that will kill me.  He unplugs it, and nothing happens.  And I discover that a lot of those things that I thought were absolutely essential and valuable are really just junk.  That frustrates me because I think I’ve figured out what is important in my life.  God comes along and shows me that it is not as important as I thought.

These are some of the basic things that I think cause us as believers to fret:  the injustices of life, the idea that God doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it, and the fact that I’m so ignorant of what God is up to anyway.

So we’ll stop there today.  We’ll have to fret for one more day.  If you have fretted this long, one more day won’t kill you.  Starting tomorrow, we look at what the Psalmist says to do about that.   I hesitate to call it a cure and solution, so I won’t do that.  I like to call it alternatives.  I always like to leave myself an out.