Reflections on the 100th Anniversary of the Chemical Corps

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At the end of last month, the U.S. Army Chemical Corps celebrated its 100th anniversary on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  Even though my Soldiers and I were directly involved in the planning, preparation, synchronization, and execution of these events, I cannot take credit for the success of this week-long celebration.  I am compelled to give glory to God, whose unseen Hand protected and provided divine extraordinary strength, wisdom, resources, and peace as I worked in His presence and for His kingdom.  It was one more confirmation of my own theology of work, which I have expounded on in my book: Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.

First, let me provide some highlights of our celebration to give you a glimpse into the figurative garden in which I have been placed to do the work of subduing, cultivating, and expanding.  (See Gen. 1:28 and 2:15.)  Second, I want to summarize how I experienced God’s presence at work during the process.  Third, I want to show how this work supplements the work that God wants done to bring shalom to this world.  Lastly, I want to encourage other ordinary workers as they work on major projects to depend on God and give Him the glory.

Our week-long celebration this year was similar to what we had done in the past.  We had a conference that brought together a select group of senior leaders from around the world.  There was a technology exhibit.  We also had an espirit-de-corps two-mile run, a sunrise service honoring our fallen heroes, and a formal ball at the end.  In addition, the Commandant gave us clear guidance to provide opportunities for our veterans to celebrate with us.  We set up a tour of one of our training facilities, a lunch with Soldiers, and a recognition ceremony to honor veterans that served from WWII to the present day.  We oversaw the planning process for ten months.  We conducted a dozen internal planning meetings, wrote three operations orders, conducted rehearsals, sent and received over 900 emails, made countess phone calls, and had daily conversations.  I did not do all of this alone.  We had a strong team of Soldiers and civilians working hard at all levels to make it happen.

What people need to know is that during the whole process, I was “leaning on the everlasting arms”.  I knew I could not handle this alone.  I was constantly trusting God for wisdom and strength to meet the unique challenges and high expectations of the leaders I was commanded to serve “as unto the Lord”.  There were many days I was overwhelmed by the thorns and thistles brought on by the curse (Gen. 3:17-19).  Then, I would remember that God’s grace was greater.  His peace that passes all understanding came just when I needed it.  There were more days where I experienced God’s presence clearly through prayer and meditation on His Word.  I knew without a doubt that God had equipped, called, and sent me here for such a time as this (Esther 4:14).  (See previous article on how I experience God’s presence in government work.)

I am grateful I saw God work in and through me every step of the way.  I also am grateful to know that these efforts will have long-lasting impact on the veterans, leaders, and Soldiers who participated in these events.  Ultimately, the celebration accomplished a number of important things.  After key leaders met to discuss issues and solve problems, they went back to their assignments a more unified team, committed to support the Army as a whole.  Our veterans’ recognition ceremony inspired young Chemical Soldiers and leaders to strive to achieve great things with their own Army careers, standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before them.  Celebrating our 100-year history will better prepare us to meet the challenges of the future in defending our nations and allies against weapons of mass destruction.  I know that our efforts here have directly increased shalom in this world, which is something that our Lord desires.

In closing, I would be remiss if I did not use this opportunity to encourage other ordinary workers as they strive to faithfully accomplish the tasks God calls them to do.  Christians work in a variety of fields to meet the needs of people.  Some will have a similar experience of being responsible for a milestone celebration as I did.  Some will oversee a multi-million dollar construction project, put on a high school musical, negotiate a deal, complete a research paper, or raise a child.  However, most employees will find themselves doing jobs that may never bring recognition, but are every bit as important if they are done as unto the Lord.

For all of us, work can be overwhelming at times.  Bosses can have unrealistic expectations.  Team members may not want to pitch in.  We may have to do things outside our comfort zones.  These times will require us to totally depend on God to work in us so that He can work with us and through us to meet the needs of people that are depending on the goods we sell and the services we provide.  When we see that our efforts have resulted in a successful outcome, we can give all of the glory to God.

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How Do Parents Avoid the Extremes of Isolation and Interference?

Biblically Parenting Adult Children

I wrote the article below and posted it on my blog on May 31, 2011.  It was my third post on this subject.  I think it might be helpful to a number of parents now.

My approach to parenting is based squarely on biblical principles.  Let me summarize the pattern I articulated in my last post.

God brings a man and a woman together to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28).  Children must learn to obey their parents as well as honor them (Eph. 6:1-3).  As children approach adulthood and develop independence, obedience to parents is no longer required, yet honoring remains (Ex. 20:12).  Then they go off on their own (leaving) to start the cycle over again (cleaving) (Gen. 2:24).

This article deals with more practical application of these principles on how we relate to our adult children after they have left the nest.  It comes down to loving our neighbor, as that is what they become.  I invite you to read what I discovered.

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I’ve posted a time or two last fall on my unique perspectives on “letting my children go”, but I still feel that I have lot more to learn, especially as our number two child is about to get married.

I honestly think Linda and I have been more or less successful at that figuring out that process, with almost eight years’ experience since our eldest started college in 2003.  We have watched all three of our little birdies leave the nest and fly off to college.  Two of them have already graduated with bachelor’s degrees, and a little over a week ago, the eldest received her master’s degree.  She also got married last spring, and the middle child gets married in just a few days.  The youngest is now half-way through college.  Major milestones!  We are so excited to see what God has been doing in their lives and are so proud of their individual accomplishments.

But now many questions remain in my mind.  How do we as parents maintain a healthy involvement and interest in their lives while they assert their independence?  Where are we most comfortable on the continuum between total isolation on one end and total interference on the other end (both of which are not good)?  How much communication is required to keep in touch?   How much is too much, causing them to cringe every time we text, call, or post something on Facebook?  How much is too little, communicating a lack of care and concern?

There’s a biblical basis to this discussion.  It has become quite clear to me over the past couple of years that the principle of “leaving and cleaving” is so basic to the success of a Christian marriage.  The leaving process starts at birth, literally, and our children continue to leave us, moving from complete dependence to relative independence over the next 18-22 years.  They must leave us, sometime before they get married, and we must let them go.  It’s not easy for any parent, but doing it right is one of the best gifts we can give our children.

Also, as I discussed in detail in a blog I posted in November 2010, we have to get our children to move past the biblical command to “obey your parents”, which is temporary, and only applies to actual children, and to begin to live out the command to “honor your parents”, which is for life, and applies to both children and adults.

Moms and dads naturally are eager to help their children throughout every stage of development; it’s one of the main ways we show love for them.  As they become adults, however, helping them isn’t always very helpful.  We can all recall when we went to tie our children’s shoes or tried to fix their hair at one point, and they told us emphatically, “Let me do it!”  It probably took us by surprise, but it was a good thing, because they were moving towards independence.

When they become young adults, parents still want to help them.  We may remind them of things they said they would do, but haven’t gotten around to yet.  We may want to help them find a car or a job.  (That’s where I am at now.)  Some may even want to help them find a spouse.  (Ours have done just fine without any help from us).  Some parents seem to want to give unsolicited advice.  Not sure all this helping is appropriate or appreciated.

Perhaps the biblical principle of “love your neighbor” should guide us as we relate to our kids as adults.  By telling us to love God and love our neighbor, the two greatest commandments, Jesus specifically meant for us to obey God and properly meet our neighbor’s legitimate needs.  Love is not just an emotion, it is an action.

What do our kids need?  They need us to believe in them.  They need us to trust them.  They need to make mistakes to gain wisdom and experience.  They need to be independent, for us to let them do it.

Rather than telling it like it is all the time, perhaps we can ask them some hard questions to make them think or challenge their thinking.  If they are about to make a really bad decision, we can and should confront them at the proper time and place, just like we would any other adult brother or sister in Christ that may be heading into dangerous territory.  The difference is, we will commit to approach it as one adult to another, no longer as parent to child.

What we always want to do is to be interested in and involved with their lives.  Not so much that we appear to be interfering, but more than enough so that they know we are not through with them.  We don’t ever want them feeling isolated from us or their family of origin.

Marie Barone, the family matriarch in the T.V. show, “Everybody Loves Raymond”, clearly (and humorously) epitomized the interfering approach towards her son and his family.  Both Linda’s and my parents took the opposite extreme, that of isolation.  I do think that they meant well, but whether they realized it or not, they left the burden of working on any kind of relationship with each of them on our shoulders.  This was extremely challenging at times, since they were divorced and remarried on both sides.  We generally had to take the initiative to call them, plan visits, etc.  They valued independence in us, which did cause us to lean on each other and the Lord.  However, it also communicated that they were greatly relieved of any responsibility for us, financially, emotionally, or otherwise.

Linda and I don’t want to be like that. We understand that adult relationships are a two-way street.  Both parents and adult children have a responsibility to reach out to the other to maintain the relationship, communicate if boundaries are crossed, and need to be committed to figuring out what works throughout the course of many years and in every season of life to come.

Until next time . . .

More Thoughts on Parenting Transitions

This is the second article on this topic that I wrote and posted on my personal blog, The Spark is Still There back in November 2010.  (The first one was re-posted a few days ago.  You can read it here.)

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There was some spirited discussion on the topic of parent-child relationships a few days ago in my adult Sunday School class. It seemed like a harmless comment.  I didn’t mean to be controversial; it wasn’t like our recent study on the Five Points of Calvinism, or anything close to that.  I merely stated what was obvious to me that the command found in Ephesians 6:1 (and Colossians 3:20), given to children to obey their parents, was not addressed to and did not apply to adult children, but only to actual children.  Let me try to elaborate on what I was thinking, and then share a little more of our adult children releasing adventures over the past 7-10 years that I discussed a bit in my post on September 9th.  Marvin Lubenow, the pastor who married Linda and I almost 30 years ago, taught me a simple principle regarding interpreting Scripture.  He said, “If the plain sense makes sense, any other sense is nonsense.”  I’ve used that nugget of wisdom so many times, and it really applies to this passage in Ephesians.

When the original readers read Paul’s letter, they would have thought that it meant the same then as we do now. They most likely would not have read into it, “adult children”, meaning anyone who is married or otherwise, is living independently, and has left their childhood and adolescence behind.  I even looked it up in the Greek, which I rarely do.  The word used in this verse, techna, does in fact mean “children” in the natural sense.  Let me say this in a different way.  This command pertains to kids, rugrats, punkinheads, bambinos, etc.  Paul did not use the words “son” or “daughter”, which obviously would apply to all.

I also wish to point out that Paul himself, in another letter, refers to his own adult development that is well worth mentioning. I’m surprised I didn’t think of it before.  “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11.)  I do not think he thought of himself as a child any more, and I cannot imagine him thinking he still needed to obey his parents either.

Surely, all of us are or were someone’s child, in a limited sense. (Chances are, if your parents did not have children, you would not be here.)  However, this command is clearly directed towards actual children, to those not fully grown.  For example, it would be an incorrect interpretation to read into it and conclude that this biblical command should apply to a normal 60-year old woman and her 85-year old mother.  Paul (and the Lord) could not possibly have meant it to be understood in this way.  This daughter is not required to continue to obey her mother for life, regardless of whether or not they live under the same roof.  For her mother to expect total obedience from her daughter would be ludicrous, and it would indicate a rather unhealthy relationship between two mature adults.

Okay, so maybe my hypothetical example of a senior adult child and her elderly mother was a bad example. But it’s clear to me that this command for children to obey their parents is temporary based on the reality of human development, meaning that all children (under normal circumstances) eventually become adults.  The next command in verses 2 and 3, to honor one’s parents, was addressed to children, but does apply to both children and adults, and is lifelong based on the fact that it originated in the Ten Commandments.  (See Exodus 20:12.)  The point I was trying to make is that parents need to change their expectations and take the lead in getting their children to move towards honoring them rather than obeying them as they transition into young adulthood.

However, at what age does this transition take place? Who gets to decide?  The parent, reluctant to let go?  The eager child, ready to spread his or her wings?  Linda asked me, “Doesn’t it vary with culture?”  Good question!  I think so.  More importantly, how do parents get their children to the point where they are no longer considered children in the true sense of the word?

The process is tricky. If you release them before they are ready, they may not have the skills they need to thrive in the wilderness of adulthood.  If you hang on to them too long, you either stifle their development towards independence and they may never leave the nest, or they break away abruptly with bad feelings between you and them that can take years to heal.

I’m not sure I have all the answers, but I think I may have some ideas. Let me share some of the things we did to get our three offspring to the point where they are now, with one newly married, one getting married next year, and the other about 3/8 of the way through college.

I think that it was a gradual but intentional process that started quite naturally when they were learning to drive. You have to admit that letting your son or daughter take your family car or van on the road is a pretty hefty adult responsibility.  I truly enjoyed teaching each of them to drive, and somehow they learned all the rules, mastered the necessary large motor skills (no pun intended), and developed the mental abilities to make quick and safe decisions.  When they were ready, they took their tests and were given the right to go out on their own, under certain restrictions.  As they became better drivers and demonstrated more responsibility over time, they earned the privilege of having some freedom.

The next major opportunity to prepare them for independent and responsible living was in choosing a college. I aggressively conducted a vast amount of internet research for each one of them.  My goal was two-fold: to help them discover the right school for them to best fit their own heart’s desires, and to unravel the big financial aid ball of yarn to help them get there.  I had my preferences, which I made known, but when it came time to narrow down their options, select a few schools to visit, fill out college applications, apply for scholarships, and make a final decision to choose one school to attend, each did it quite well, because that was what was expected of them.

So, exactly when did they leave childhood and become young adults? I think that it happened gradually over a period of a few months during that first year of college.  Linda and I began to see subtle changes that included steady intellectual growth, increasing spiritual maturity, and a new level of confidence that developed each year they were away.  We enjoyed deep adult conversations with them face to face and on the phone about how they chose to handle a variety of personal challenges, and that pattern continued to improve over time.  Now that each of them in their own way have made a series of good decisions about their future, we feel a strong sense of peace.

I’m thinking that they all thought of themselves as adults and we did as well at almost the same time. Impossible to say which came first, but I humbly submit that people often live up to the expectations of others; children will often act as mature as we treat them.  When you start treating them and talking to them as an adult, asking them hard questions rather than telling it like it is, I think they adapt a little quicker to that role.  At least that philosophy seems to have worked for us, only by the grace of God.

I do not want to make it sound like it was a seamless transition over the past ten years as each of my children moved from adolescence to young adulthood. There were definitely some bumps in the road along the way.  I made a lot of mistakes when they were younger that negatively impacted my relationships with them later on.  I know I was not a perfect parent and I still have a lot left to learn.  Linda and I were making it up as we went, and we adjusted to these major changes in different ways.  It is often more difficult for fathers to let their daughters go; the same goes for mothers and their sons.  But it became easier in some respects as we were forced to let each one grow, move on to bigger and better things, and discover God’s plan for their lives.

Our daughter had been on her own for nearly three years when a huge transition occurred last March. I had to do what every daddy dreads, as I walked our daughter down the aisle of a church and literally handed her over to a young man who was to become my son-in-law.  Our role as her involved but not interfering parents is still being shaped as we speak.  I do know that it was a significant emotional event for me.  I completely identified with the country song I heard for the first time last year that goes something like this:

I loved her first

I held her first

And a place in my heart will always be hers

From the first breath she breathed

When she first smiled at me

I knew the love of a father runs deep

And I prayed that she’d find you some day

But it’s still hard to give her away

I loved her first

As for her brothers, we are not quite done raising them yet. Andrew has got a few years left before our roles change radically, but he’s coming along just fine.  Our days are numbered for Brian, who is getting married in June.  He’ll be ready to leave and cleave, just as the Scripture says, and we’ll lose a son but gain a daughter.

We praise God for all of the victories, and continue to pray and work through the many challenges that lie ahead. We still need His wisdom, provided abundantly through His Word, His Spirit, and His people.

P.S. Even though I rejoice in the current independent state of my maturing adult children and their continued transitions towards that end, we still very much miss having them around.

Come when you can; stay as long as you like

Last night, at our formal social event called the Green Dragon Ball, where my wife and I celebrated the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps with 700 of my closest friends, we got better acquainted with the Fort Leonard Wood chaplain and his wife.  They are a few years younger, with a son in college and a daughter still at home.  I mentioned that I had done some writing several years ago on the subject of parenting young adults.

This article below was originally published on September 9, 2010.  It was the second one I had written and posted on a personal blog I had created called The Spark is Still There.  Although it is not steeped in biblical references like the articles I normally post on this forum, it is indeed practical theology.  My reflections are based solidly on my understanding that our children are a gift from the Lord, that it is our job to raise them up as He has taught us, and then we are to set them free to live out their own faith and relationship with God.  It is about honoring the biblical principle of “leaving and cleaving”.  I think that there may be some wisdom here in this article and a few others I will post later on that parents of young adults may find helpful.

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Parenting Transitions

Here I am, three weeks into the “Empty Nest” syndrome once again.  I took our youngest child, Andrew, back to college on August 20th.  Time to reflect a little on that event and others related to it.

It wasn’t nearly as emotional of an event as it was this time last year.  It was pretty routine for both he and I.  Sure, we had a good summer together, and I was definitely going to miss him, but I honestly wasn’t feeling sad to go home all by myself.  I really enjoyed our three-hour drive together, and I was actually quite happy for him.  He was where he belonged and was now reunited with his sweetie that he had missed terribly all summer long.

We’ve done this taking our kids back to college thing more than a few times now.  Linda took Melissa to Wheaton College, near Chicago, all the way from Utah for the first time in August of 2003, while I was doing my second unaccompanied tour in the Republic of Korea.  I can only imagine how hard that was on Linda, doing it all by herself.  It didn’t surprise me to hear that on the way home she cried anew each time she crossed yet another state line, taking her further and further from her daughter.

When we took Melissa back to school the following year, I was the one struggling and suffering.  I’m not kidding, it was very hard on me; daddy saying goodbye to his little girl.  What made it even more painful at the time was that the minute we pulled up to the driveway to her dorm, the Christian song, Blessed Be Your Name, was playing on the radio.  It was one of those times I knew that the Lord was speaking directly to me through the speakers in our Ford Windstar mini-van.

For those who know this song, you may recall these powerful lines, taken from the book of Job:

He gives and takes away
He gives and takes away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be your name

Ouch!  It was a clear message to me: He gives us our children, and then a mere 18 years later, He takes them away from us, so they can go out and do bigger and better things.  It is an act of faith as we let go of each one of these precious gifts that He has given.

When we took her back to Wheaton in 2005, it was much easier on all of us, being the third time for Linda and the second time for me.

The next year, it was Brian’s turn to go to college.  It was pretty hard on both he and his parents, but we got through it, knowing full well that it was the right place for him to be.  Time has confirmed that decision to attend William Jewell College, near Kansas City, MO.  Miraculously, we got both he and Melissa back to their respective schools within two or three days of each other and survived both long drives, six hours one way to the northeast and four hours one way to the northwest.

If I’m counting correctly, the grand total is 11 trips; five for the eldest, four for the middle child, and two for the littlest rabbit.  There were five for Melissa because I had to account for taking her to start grad school in 2008, where she would live in an apartment in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Another large step of faith for all concerned.

And so, for the past seven years, this has become our life.  We say goodbye to our children in the fall, in January, and in Melissa and Brian’s case for the majority of several long summers spent far from home, and we say hello for major holidays, when school gets out in May, and perhaps a few special visits here and there.  You get used to saying goodbye, and it does get easier over time.  You know you are going to miss them when they leave, but you simply learn to rejoice with those who rejoice.  They rejoice because in their minds they are going home, not leaving home.  College becomes their home, and that is all right.  I know I felt the same way when I was that age.

One last thing to address.  Our newly married daughter and her wonderful husband came home for several days in August, right before school started.  We hadn’t seen Melissa and David since their wedding in March.  This was their first trip home, and it was great to finally see them interact as a married couple.  No conflicts that I can recall; no awkward moments.  We did have to tease the new son-in-law upon their arrival about us making up the futon for him to sleep on like he did during his last visit at Christmastime, but it was short-lived; he knew we weren’t serious.  We definitely enjoyed our time together, and look forward to the next one.

When discussing the details of this visit with Melissa on the phone a few months earlier, I somehow came up with a very simple saying. “Come when you can, and stay as long as you like.”

This statement implied a strong desire to see them, and more importantly, a lifting of any burden of pressure, guilt, or expectations on the timing or length of the visit.  It was all about respect for them as independent adults and about us honoring the biblical principle of “leaving and cleaving”.  They had the freedom to choose when to come and go when it was convenient for them.  It meant that this visit was about them graciously sharing their lives as a married couple with us, and in gratitude, we would feed them well, and would even let them do some laundry if they needed to.  If it was a short visit or a long one, that would be their decision to make as a couple.  We would be grateful for the time to share our lives with them once again, but their needs would come first.

I used this little phrase again when we invited Brian and his new fiancée to come home for Labor Day weekend.  It seemed appropriate, as he will be moving towards that transition of “leaving and cleaving” next summer.  It was also a great visit.  The principle seems to have worked out well with them, too.

We are still learning how to treat our children as adults, but I think we are on to something.  The best we can hope for is that they will come back home again, or perhaps, let us visit them at their home next time.

So, it’s back to just Linda and I again.  And yes, with one year under our belts as empty nesters, we are clearly enjoying our time alone together as a couple.  Yes, the spark is still there!  We talk with our kids on the phone at least once a week.  Also, we and they send texts and/or post something on Facebook as needed.  We rejoice that they are all independent, compassionate, responsible, Christian adults who are making good decisions and have found true love.  What more can a parent ask for?

Later.

The Use of the Old Testament in the Psalms (Part 11)

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In the final chapter of Seeing the Psalms: A Theology of Metaphor, William Brown steps from the merely theological to the personal, as he looks at Psalm 139.  His exposition of this beautiful psalm brings much personal significance to me.  I will explain why shortly.

This particular psalm never quotes from the OT narratives.  It does not give a direct reference to any specific historical event.  However, it does clearly allude to the creation event in Genesis, as David reflects on the sovereignty of God who was intimately involved in his own creation in his mother’s womb.

Listen to what David says, “For you created my inmost being; you kit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained form me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps. 139:13-16).

Let me point out the obvious parallels between God’s work at creation in Genesis 1 and His work in the creation of David from conception to birth.

David used the term, “you created” in Ps. 139:13, signifying a divine act that God had done once before when He made all things.  This also reminds us that He had created Adam (Gen. 2:7) and then Eve (Gen. 2:21-22).  He characterizes God’s work in his mother’s womb in verse 14 as something that God “wonderfully made”, concluding, “your works are wonderful”.  This lines up with other psalms David wrote where he reflected on God as creator and/or creation as the works of His hands (see Ps. 8:3-6, 19:1, and 124:8).  He refers to the process of his own fetal development in verse 15 as being “made in the secret place” and “woven together”.

The same God who supernaturally brought everything into being from nothing (ex nihilo) in the beginning had also supernaturally brought something from a one-celled fertilized egg.  When David recognizes these creative acts, he marvels at God’s divine omnipotence, omniscience, immanence, and sovereignty, as should we.

I chose to write a critical book review on Brown’s work three years ago when I took a seminary class on the Psalms.  Here is a short excerpt from that six-page paper:

“Brown then skillfully exposited on the third section of this psalm, as he described God’s care over his development in the womb, providing a keen insight here: ‘The psalmists’s own genesis, as a result, corresponds to the genesis of humankind from the earth’ (211). Brown eloquently remarks that the psalmist ‘construes himself as handwoven material and praises God for the masterful handiwork he knows so well . . . the intricacy of his physical structure bears direct witness to the Weaver’s care’ (211).  I was moved to tears as I pondered my own humble beginnings and marveled over God’s supernatural work in my own mother’s womb.”

This brings me to my final point.  As I wrap up this reflection, I want to keep my promise to explain why this psalm is so personal.  Here is a quote from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession:

“You see, I was the result of a problem pregnancy, a supposedly untimely conception by two intelligent young college students. By God’s grace, I was allowed to be born. When I look back on all the things God enabled me to do and the family I raised with my wife of thirty-seven years, I know that God had a purpose for me. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord … ‘Plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). My life was not an accident.”

Psalm 139 helps us to praise God for His wonderful works of creation, both large and small!

The Use of the Old Testament in the Psalms (Part 10)

Let me share just a few thoughts on one verse in the Psalms that refers to God’s faithfulness in the past, but does not give us a specific reference to a historical event.

William Brown, in Seeing the Psalms: A Theology of Metaphor, continues to shed some light on the metaphor of water.  In our previous post, he had focused on water as a picture of chaos, whether individual or communal.  Here, he moves on to show how the lack of water depicts affliction.  Brown explains, “Most prominent is the motif of ‘thirsting,’ a metaphor indicating the psalmists’s desperate desire for an encounter with God” (p. 121).

Brown highlights Ps. 143 as an illustration of the believer’s “thirst for God within a situation of conflict” (p. 122).

In the midst of conflicts with “the enemy” (v. 3), King David expresses confidence in God, which is based on His past performance.  Psalm 143:5-6 reads, “I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.  I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.”  Brown declares, “Trust is met with the hope of sustenance and, thus, deliverance from persecution.  Sustaining such hope is the supplicant’s remembrance of God’s past deeds” (p. 122).

I wondered what other commentators have to say about what David may be referring to when he said that he remembered “the days of long ago.”

In the new commentary I purchased a little while ago to help me with this study, Psalms, by Tremper Longman III, I found something helpful.  Longman states, “The psalmist looks to the past to find confidence to live in a troubled present and to engender hope for the future (see Ps. 77:11-20).  After all, considering God’s works in the past (days of long ago) would bring to mind the numerous times when God saved his helpless people . . . The psalmist, knowing his own inability to save himself, now calls on the God of the exodus to do so” (p. 462).

Any Christian should be able to relate to this idea.  Whether we think of God’s lovingkindness, grace, and faithfulness to His people throughout the Old and New Testament or in our own experience, we should be able to recount the days where God infiltrated our lives and showed up.  Whether these days were long ago or more recent, recalling them to our minds will give us hope to handle any challenges in the present or the future.

 

The Use of the Old Testament in the Psalms (Part 9)

Beauty-of-Sea-Waves-9As I continue to page through William Brown’s insightful work, Seeing the Psalms: A Theology of Metaphor, I find another small gem that adds to our study of how and why the Psalms takes the reader back to key elements of the OT narrative.

In his chapter on the metaphor of water, he indicates, “Whether as a hostile force or as a source of sustenance, water is as much of polyvalent image in the Psalter as it is a defining element in the diverse environment of Palestine, a small land of remarkable topographical and climatic contrasts” (p. 105).  He continues, “Water imagery in the Psalter reflects both geographical and climatic extremes: the metaphor of thirst in a parched land connotes the psalmists’s desperate yearning for God’s saving presence, and the onslaught of chaos is well illustrated by the roaring power of a flash flood and churning sea during a storm” (p. 106).

Brown begins this fascinating in-depth exposition by highlighting water as a metaphor for chaos.  He states, “In their various laments and thanksgiving songs, the psalmists convey the raw, destructive power of rushing water and roiling waves in vivid ways” (p. 106).

As a great example, Brown takes us to Psalm 107:23-26, where we see a scene of a ship “caught in an almost ‘perfect storm’ (p. 106).  He reminds us that in response to the sailor’s desperate cry in v. 28, Yahweh calms the storm in v. 29, reminiscent of when Jesus did the same in Mark 4:35-39.  Brown suggests, “YHWH is the storm God who both stirs and stills the waters” (p. 107).

In addition, Ps. 107 describes a common pattern using several different scenarios where there is a predicament, petition, pardon, and ending with praise.  None of these difficult storms in life described here are depictions of historical events in the life of Israel.  Rather, they are personal illustrations of great trials where God brought deliverance in each case.  Its purpose is summarized well at the end: “But he lifted the needy out of their affliction . . . Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord (vv. 42-43.)

Brown then takes a closer look at other psalms where chaos is illustrated by water.  This section is where I found my greatest inspiration this morning, as I read about God’s authority and power to rebuke the waters.

In Ps. 104, we have a clear allusion to the Noahic flood.  Looking at the context, in verses 2-5, we see the psalmist lists creative events such as God wrapping Himself in light, stretching out the heavens, laying out the beams, making clouds, wind, and fire, and setting the earth on its foundations.  He then mentions covering it with water so high that it “stood above the mountains” (v. 6).  He goes on to say, “But at your rebuke the waters fled” (v. 7).  Here, God commanded the floodwaters that had destroyed His creation to diminish so that He could start again with Noah and his family.  The psalmist ties God’s authority and power at creation to this new creative act, where the water goes “to the place you assigned” (v. 8).  We are reminded in v. 9 that God promised in His covenant with Noah that He would never again flood the earth.  (See Gen. 9:8-17.)

Brown indicates that the waters God rebuked now have a new purpose: “they become sources for springs that course through the valleys.  As in Psalm 74, the waters’ flight is followed immediately by the formation of streams, which Psalm 104 depicts as a means of God’s provision for the animals” (p. 110).

Incidentally, this Psalm reminds me of the common partnership between God’s work and man’s work.  Psalm 104:13 declares, “the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work”.  Starting with the next verse and continuing on to v. 23, the psalmist alludes to or directly mentions human work: cattle that need to be taken care of (v. 14), plants that need to be cultivated (v. 14), wine that needs to be pressed (v. 15), cedar trees that need to be cut down and made into lumber for buildings (v. 16), and daylight that calls man to go out and work (v. 23).

Next, Brown takes us to Ps. 106 to highlight the exodus, where God rebuked the water, removing chaos from His people to bring glory to Himself.  Verses 9-12 reads, “He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert.  He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.  The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived.  Then they believed his promises and sang his praise.”  Brown points out, “Divine ‘rebuke’ secures Israel’s safety” (p. 110).

Brown deftly ties this rebuke of the waters in Ps. 106 to the preceding psalm, where we see an astonishing parallel, demonstrating God’s power and authority.  Ps. 105:14-15 states, “He allowed no one to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: ‘Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.’”  Brown instructs, “As God’s people, wandering in the wilderness, are deemed ‘off-limits’ for the kings of the nations, so the engulfing waters of the Red Sea are warded off (and defeated) as Israel is led through the deep” (p. 110).

Later, Brown concludes, “Only God can pull Israel out of the depths, out from the mouth of death and onto solid ground.  As God alone can still the billowing waves of the sea, so only God save a people in the face of military defeat or deliver an individual before the power of any enemy” (p. 115).  Amen!

I rejoice in finding these divine connections in God’s word, not only between these Psalms and major events that took place in Genesis and Exodus, but among these Psalms themselves.  They illustrate quite loudly that God was in control when He created the earth, restored it after the flood, during the crossing of the Red Sea, and as He led them through the wilderness.  He had all the authority and power needed to do this work because He is God.  In His mercy and by His covenant love and faithfulness, He did it all for the sake of His people.

Through Jesus Christ, those same promises that are based on God’s unchanging nature apply to us as well. He will take us through deep waters and calm our storms.  He will deliver us from bondage to freedom.  He will protect us from our enemies and provide for us.  Let us rest in these truths, and remain faithful to never forget.