Back and Forth: A Loving Farewell

Please read Psalm 78 (NIV).

Four expectant fathers were in a Minneapolis hospital waiting room while their wives were in labor. The nurse arrived and announced to the first man, “Congratulations sir, You’re the father of twins.”

“What a coincidence” the man said with some obvious pride. “I work for the Minnesota Twins baseball team.”

The nurse returned a little while later and turned to the second man, “You sir, are the father of triplets.”

“Wow, That’s really an incredible coincidence ” he answered. “I work for the 3M Corporation. My buddies at work will never let me live this one down.”

An hour later, while the other two men enjoying celebratory cigars, the nurse came back, this time she turn to the 3rd man – who had been quiet in the corner and announced that his wife had just given birth to quadruplets. When the man didn’t reply the nurse asked “Don’t tell me another coincidence?”

After regaining his composure, the man said “I don’t believe it, I work for the Four Seasons Hotel.”

Everybody’s attention turned to the 4th guy, who had just fainted, flat out on the floor. The nurse rushed to his side and after some time, he slowly came back to consciousness.

When he was finally able to speak, he kept whispering the same phrase over and over again; “I should have never taken that job at 7-Up… I should have never taken that job at 7-Up… I should have never taken that job at 7-Up… “

(Retrieved from http://www.praize.com/jokes/parenting_skills/big_expectations__65516.html on August 21, 2013.)

 

A teenager had just passed his driving test and asked his father, who was a pastor, whether he could borrow his car.

“Yes, you may borrow my car, if you study the Bible, work hard at college and get your hair cut.”

A month later, the lad asked again whether he could borrow the car. 
His father said: “I’m very proud of you, son. You’ve been studying your Bible and your college results are excellent. But the only thing is, you still haven’t had your hair cut.” 
The son replied: “I’ve been thinking about that. You know, Samson had long hair, so did Moses, Noah, and even Jesus. 
“That’s very true,” said the father. “And they walked everywhere.”

(Retrieved from http://jokes.ochristian.com/Parent/Study_the_Bible.shtml on August 21, 2013.)

 

The title of this post, “Back and Forth,” refers to a process we’ll undergo as we look at Psalm 78. It is also a way of life; to look BACK to the past to learn it’s lessons and then go FORTH into a confident future, intent on not repeating old mistakes. Usually, going BACK and FORTH doesn’t get you anywhere. But taken in this biblical sense, it is a process that promotes progress.

Psalm 78 is one of the longest Psalms. It recounts the history of God’s people from Moses through King David. It is an unflattering history, going into some detail about the cycles of rebellion and restoration, sin and forgiveness. The idea behind all this is to train the next generation to avoid the mistakes of the previous ones.

Psalm 78 looks BACK at the misdeeds of previous generations.

The mistakes they made.

Verse. 10 = “They did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by His law.” Sin is disobedience. It has deadly effects; it is the cause of our physical and spiritual demise. In the meantime it ruins relationships, driving a wedge between us and God. Sin is a universal problem but it has no earthly solution. We can deal with the symptoms, but the illness is so severe only God can cure it, by His grace. Sin is not something we can blame on our genes, our environment, etc. As this vs. makes clear, sin is something we choose to do, and are therefore wholly responsible for it.

Verse 11 = “They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them.” It seems amazing to us that the same people who had walked between the waters of the Red Sea could later lose confidence in God and refuse to obey Him. After all they’d been through, you’d think matters like the existence and will of God would be settled in their minds.

But are we any better? Has human nature and memory improved any in the thousands of years since this Psalm was written? Aren’t we too prone to forget the great things God has done for us but always remember the difficulties and disappointments we’ve faced?

Verse 22 = “they did not believe in God or trust His deliverance.” Trust is an essential component of faith, isn’t it? We have to trust the promises of God and wait upon Him, no matter how many or how severe our trials become. How do we expect to experience God if we never have to face trials? How can we possibly personally know His deliverance if we never have anything from which we need to be delivered? We pray to be delivered from evil, not to avoid it entirely.

Verse 41 = “Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel.” Only once – in Malachi, in the matter of tithes – did God allow His people to test Him. Most of the time, “testing God” meant testing His patience by being stubbornly sinful and unrepentant. God’s patience is limitless, but sooner or later being patient is not appropriate. There comes a time when sin must be met with wrath in order to drive the people to repent. God knows everything and He acted justly and appropriately when this time arrived.

Verse 57 = “Like their fathers they were disloyal and faithless, as unreliable as a faulty bow.”

God does not change, but people do. And they don’t always change in godly ways. We don’t always choose change that betters us. We too frequently choose the opposite – we choose the wrong way, the easy way, the sinful way, the tempting way. A “faulty bow” would be of no use to even the most skilled archer. Similarly, we are of no use to God when our giving in to temptation makes us “unreliable, disloyal, and faithless.”

Wrath fell on them, but eventually God showed them forgiveness and redeemed them.

Verses 38+39 = “Yet he was merciful; he atoned for their iniquities an did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return.” It’s important to balance out this passage. It mentions a cycle of disobedience, wrath, repentance, and restoration. This Psalm shows us, in short form, the history of Israel and how God brought disaster and death on His own people so that some of them might be saved.

God is love, but He is also holiness. His offer of grace is free, but it transforms those who truly receive it. We miss the point if we think of God as a demented and toothless old great-grandfather who only looks on adoringly, not seeing the sin of His people.

Verse 52 = “But he brought his people out like a flock; he led them like sheep through the desert.” God intended to be the leader of His people. Generations after He lead them to the Promised Land, they rebelled and demanded a king to rule over them, They foolishly wanted to be governed by a man and not by God. He knew their hearts and understood this. In this case, God’s punishment took the form of giving them what they wanted. The people demanded a king and God gave them one. It didn’t take long after that for the situation to deteriorate The king oppressed the people, they suffered, and in the fourth generation, Israel was divided. Had they continued to follow God’s leading, all that would’ve been avoided.

Verse 72 = “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” The psalm ends with David as an example of the kind of leader God wants to appoint over His people. He wants them to be ruled by people who are true to God’s heart and skillful in the ordinary matters of leadership. I’ll have more to say about this verse later.

Psalm 78 holds FORTH the truth to future generations.

Verses 1-3 = the psalmist sets forth his purpose – to remind them of “things hidden from of old – things we have heard and known, things our fathers have told us.” Even though this is a song, he uses words like “teaching” and “parables” to make clear that his purpose is to impart information, not entertain or inspire. The subject of his material will be the history of their nation. It is a cautionary tale of how their forefathers repeatedly failed to be faithful, were disciplined by God, and then returned to him.

Verses 4-8 = His target audience is the next generation – to help them learn from both the mistakes of their forefathers and from God’s grace to them.

“We will not hide them from our children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD…” Remember, the main thing in our lives is to direct attention to God. Our children are to be a special focus of the main thing; one might argue that they are the primary recipients of our efforts. This does not mean that family life should be child-centered. Family life should be God-centered, for the sake of the children. We must help them to realize that devoting their attention to God is the main thing for them as well.

“Which he commanded our fathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them…and they in turn would tell their children.” Instead of the generational responsibility outlined in this verse, what actually happened? Each successive generation drifted a little further away from God. Instead of succeeding generations enlarging the faith of their fathers, they forgot God’s mighty deeds, His salvation and failed to build up the family of faith.

Perhaps you’ve heard the proverb, “What one generation permits in moderation the next will pursue to excess.” In other words, what may seem like a minor accommodation in morality or spirituality could, in a generation, result in a degeneration of the faith. If we would remember that apart from the grace of God we are just one generation away from the demise of the Church, we might take our responsibility to pass on the torch a lot more seriously.

“Then they would put their trust in God…they would not be like their forefathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation.” We have every reason to expect, pray, hope, and work at the next generation being better than our own. Not because of some misplaced belief in a vague evolutionary process that is humanistic, but because of the truth God revealed to us.

God’s ideal plan is for the faith to be passed along from one generation to the next in the context of families. Church is the next level, but primarily to support parents training their children the right way. In this respect, I suppose this would’ve been a more appropriate message two weeks ago when we dedicated Mack and his family. What we affirmed in that dedication service is precisely what God wants to see happen; parents and extended family training young people in the faith.

How many of you remember what you were doing on January 25, 2004? I can tell you for certain what I WASN’T doing: going to church. January 25 was to be my first Sunday with as pastor of First Baptist Church of Olney. But an ice storm the day before required us to cancel worship that morning. We had an innovative solution to that problem – we held Sunday worship on Wednesday night. I created an impromptu “phone tree” on the spot that Sunday morning to let everyone know about the change in schedule.

In our rented house on Fair Street, the Best family did their best to celebrate my youngest daughter’s ninth birthday. Truth be told, we felt pretty lonely. We were far from home, iced in, alone, and didn’t even have the consolation of worship that morning. It was not the kind of way you want to start a new chapter in your life.

Thankfully, things got better. Starting that Wednesday night, we finally got to meet our new church family. On that night, the Scripture I set before them was Psalm 78:72. I explained that though this verse was about King David and how he ruled Israel, it expressed what I hoped and planned for my ministry in Olney.

I would be their pastor, their “shepherd.” I wanted to do my shepherding with both “integrity of heart” and “skillful hands.” To my way of thinking, “integrity of heart” spoke to the personal side of ministry; to be loving and sincere; to focus more on relationships than results. By way of contrast, “skillful hands” spoke to the professional side; doing what was necessary in the way I was trained to do it, using the most effective tools of our time to communicate God’s timeless word.

I trust God that He will judge fairly what we did with our time together. As we part company, God alone knows what lies ahead. But as we’ve learned, this is certain; we can be the generation that trusts Him to work it all out. We can be the generation who serves Him with “integrity of heart” and “skillful hands.” We can be the ones who love and train the next generation to do all this and more.

May God bless you.

 

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