Psalm 6

elpaso-dayton

“Jesus wept.”   (John 11:35)

Some will insist on mere coincidence, but sometimes the intersection of Scripture and current events seems providential.  I have been publishing commentaries on the Psalms in numerical order, with the fifth being my most recent.  So here I am on Sunday, August 4, the day after two mass shootings within a 14-hour period in the United States.  Reading Psalm 6 the direct relevance to our current tragic situation becomes crystal clear if we substitute “me” with “us;” “I” with “we;” “my” with “our.”

O Lord, rebuke me not in thy anger,
nor chasten me in thy wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is sorely troubled.
But thou, O Lord—how long?

We all need to reflect on what has happened within the United States to cause so many acts of senseless mass murder.  It will simply not do to mindlessly fall back into our trite pet political positions.  Do any of you really imagine that there is a bright line between the “pure” and “impure” in this situation?  Perhaps rather than striking poses of self-justification we should rather ask the Almighty what we have done to bring this evil upon ourselves.  I contend that the answer would shock and humble each and every one of us.

Yes, our bones and souls are “sorely troubled.”  How many of us (me definitely included) have stopped to think about where God’s judgement fits into our contemporary crisis?  While we cannot know “how long” God will allow this to last we can be sure that our healing will be delayed until we abandon our pride and earnestly seek God’s Face.

Turn, O Lord, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of thy steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of thee;
in Sheol who can give thee praise?

To whom do we turn for deliverance?  To political strong men and women?  To bumper stickers, lapel buttons and door decals?  To political parties and human ideologies?  When was the last time that we knelt down before God in fear and trembling and sought His deliverance?  What a difference that would make in our spiritual and worldly responses to this terrible crisis.

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief,
it grows weak because of all my foes.

Look at the honesty of the Psalmist as he describes his sense of helplessness.  Can we be as honest with each other and to God?  Or do we (and I) always have to have the last word, the stinging rebuke, the confident statement or the certain solution?

Depart from me, all you workers of evil;
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my supplication;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and sorely troubled;
they shall turn back, and be put to shame in a moment.

Are we confident that the Lord hears our prayers and will accept them?  Do we believe that behind the scenes of the visible world God will act on our behalf?  Do we really know who are our enemies?  Are they our political opponents, or are they really “the powers of this dark world” and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12)?

Finally, what would happen if we ceased looking on our political opponents as “the dehumanized other” but rather as fellow children of God caught up with us in this fallen world?

I contend it would make a massive difference for the better.

This is not a plea for a utopian “kum ba yah” transformation where love and kindness wins the day.  No, we (and I) will continue in sometimes contentious, heated debate with our political and theological opponents.  But we must do so with the goal of seeking to persuade other fellow human beings that our perspectives are more valid while maintaining the humility to listen to their critiques and accept their correction when we have been proved wrong.

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Psalm 5

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Our introduction comes from the first expository paragraph from the Interpreter’s Bible.

We have in this psalm a hymn for morning sacrifice in the temple, sharply personal in tone.  While its references are related to the natural acts of worship of the writer’s time, its phrases are such that they can be applied to Christian worship in its most spiritual aspects.  It is a psalm from which the interpreter may take an image here, or a phrase there, and put himself in their charge, their true context being his own religious experience or need and that of the people whom he is addressing.



Give ear to my words, O Lord;
give heed to my groaning.
Hearken to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to thee do I pray.
O Lord, in the morning thou dost hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for thee, and watch.

The author offers his prayers in confidence that God will hear them, and then waits expectantly for the response.

For thou art not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not sojourn with thee.
The boastful may not stand before thy eyes;
thou hatest all evildoers.

Passages like this one can be discomforting even for confident, committed Christians.  For, due to the lingering power of sin operating in our partially sanctified lives, we can all (if we are honest with ourselves) identify areas within where wickedness holds sway.  Thus were we depending on our own righteousness for justification all would be lost.  But God, in His infinite mercy and grace has imputed Christ’s perfect righteousness to we soiled sinners in order to win our salvation.

We dare not boast of this mercy, as if the source were found to be within ourselves.  No, we can only stand justified before God because we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness.  Thus it is a terrible fault for a Christian to boast on account of their salvation.

But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.  (2 Corinthians 10:17,18)

Thou destroyest those who speak lies;
the Lord abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men.

The psalmists often single out lying as a particularly destructive sin.  Note in this instance deceit is tied directly to a desire to commit violence.  The fact is that most of humanity desires to live their liver in peace.  Thus it often requires crafty deceit to marshal a population towards war.

But deceit is also deployed for less massive but no less destructive purposes.  If you find yourself using or approving of ad hominem attacks, doxing, information hiding or outright lying to get your way, be it personal or political, then you should pause and reflect.  This is not to say that it is always impermissible to comment on an opponent’s character or to highlight information that best supports a position you believe to be closest to correct.  However, if your first impulse and primary purpose is to win by attacking your opponents character and distorting / hiding fundamental information then you have fallen into the terrible sin of destructive deception.

And destructive it is.  It tears asunder social cohesion and personal trust.  Eventually opponents and even standers by will recognize the cruel deceit that defines your behavior, thus shredding your credibility.  When all this occurs the use of raw power as opposed to persuasion and consent to settle disputes becomes the norm.  And bloodshed likely follows.

But I through the abundance of thy steadfast love
will enter thy house,
I will worship toward thy holy temple
in the fear of thee.

It is only through God’s initiative of love that we are saved from those same sins that beset the wicked.

Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness
because of my enemies;
make thy way straight before me.
For there is no truth in their mouth;
their heart is destruction,
their throat is an open sepulchre,
they flatter with their tongue.

It’s noteworthy that our enemies provide motivation for righteousness.  To the unsaved the apparent progress of enemies serves as a education on how to win in this world.  Thus the same tactics are turned back upon the “enemy” and now the world is doubly evil.

But to God’s Elect, our enemies are revealed to be the very evil that we abhor.  Thus their apparent progress doesn’t result in appropriation their tactics but rather a redoubling of revulsion about their evil.  And, the conviction that our only hope is to run deeper into God’s worship and His mercy.

Make them bear their guilt, O God;
let them fall by their own counsels;
because of their many transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against thee.

Here we find the concept that, since the enemy’s actions are based upon evil, they build on a compromised foundation.  Even though they may appear to prosper for a time, their building will ultimately collapse in upon itself.  Thus evil is understood to be not just immoral, but also utterly unstable.

But in addition to its internal failure, wickedness also finds itself to be opposed by God.  Thus His judgement leads not to simply temporal failure, but also to eternal punishment.

But let all who take refuge in thee rejoice,
let them ever sing for joy;
and do thou defend them,
that those who love thy name may exult in thee.
For thou dost bless the righteous, O Lord;
thou dost cover him with favor as with a shield.

The righteous are spared the life of lies, hatred and violence that consumes the wicked.  This is the doing of God, having raised them from the death of sin into the light of eternal salvation.  The joy of that eternal salvation can be experienced as a foretaste of its eternal completion here in this life irregardless of the wickedness by which we are surrounded.

Psalm 4

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Ligonier Ministries http://www.ligonier.org) provides opening guidance.

When used of the Creator, light can mean several things, but it is often a reference to His glory, His beneficence, and His love of righteousness. To have the light of God’s face shine upon a person, then, is to have the glory of the Lord shine in a special way on the illuminated individual. It indicates His approval of the person on whom He shines as one who is righteous in His sight.

Scripture describes the experience of God’s light as the greatest blessing that any human being can ever enjoy. This is certainly true of today’s passage, which says that the light of the Almighty’s face brings more joy than the harvest of grain and wine (Ps. 4:7). For an agrarian society like ancient Israel, whose livelihood was dependent on such harvests, this is a powerful statement of the glory of the blessings of the Lord. In keeping with Psalm 4:6, we also see in the Aaronic blessing the idea that life in the light of God is the highest honor for mankind (Num. 6:22–27; John 8:12).



Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
Thou hast given me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

This is the supplication of a humble servant of the Lord.

O men, how long shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?        Selah

Can the reader not but be struck by the powerful connection to our contemporary situation?  What is the primary purpose of our contemporary radicals other than to destroy the honor of anyone who opposes, or even insufficiently supports, their program?  We have reached the point where supposedly educated, responsible employees of a major corporation, that is Google, labeled three people, two of whom are practicing Jews and all three of whom have had relatives murdered in the Holocaust as “Nazis.”  What is this other than the seeking “after lies” in order to advance a partisan political program?  What is this other than dishonest dehumanization used to silence legitimate political discourse and in the extreme, justifies physical violence?

Yes, lies are told by all humans regardless of their ideological leanings.  However, can anyone name a major corporation that falsely labels mainstream liberals as Communists or Stalinists?  Is there a mirror-image city to Portland, where Mayor Wheeler allows Progressive Antifa to rampage through the streets beating up people and destroying property with impunity; that is a city that offers the same policy to neo-Nazis?  The answers are clearly no.

Am I here claiming that conservatives, libertarians, moderates and classical liberals are “righteous” in God’s sight?  Of course not!

However, neither can we pretend that the contemporary dominant Progressive class have not used their power to dehumanize their opponents through lies.  They dominate the commanding heights of our nation’s major institutions (e.g., mass media, education, entertainment, religious organizations, professional groups, etc.), so their behavior must be carefully scrutinized.

With power comes responsibility, and when power is abused we are within our rights as Christians to call out the perpetrators within context of God’s Word.  Note that Progressive Christians have been doing this for generations.  They therefore have no right to criticize this use of Scripture against the abuses of their ideological fellows.

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.

Who are “the godly” in God’s sight?  A Reformed Christian would answer that they are God’s chosen (before the beginning of time) Elect.  The Westminster Confession of Faith begins its teaching on this topic as follows.

1. Although hypocrites, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions: of being in the favor of God and estate of salvation; which hope of theirs shall perish:  yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God: which hope shall never make them ashamed.

There is no political dimension to this teaching.  Thus, Christians in good conscience can hold differing political positions.  However, if a Christian starts to justify purposeful dishonesty or dehumanization as political tactics then they should shudder at the implications and repent.

Be angry, but sin not;
commune with your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.        Selah

We are free to become angry at what we believe to be the failings of our opponents, be they political, organizational or other.  However, we are not free as Christians to adopt unrighteous tactics even if our opponents use them against us.

Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.

All that we can or should do is to in honesty, humility and competence make our best arguments in the marketplace of ideas and then “trust in the Lord” for the end results.  Yes, there are extremities in which acts of defensive violence can be taken.  There are also cases in which lawful force must be used to restore order or to protect the innocent.  However, our first and foremost purpose should always be in pursuit of peaceful resolution of disputes, be they personal, political or international.

There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Lift up the light of thy countenance upon us, O Lord!”

It is only through the light of God’s countenance that good can come to pass in this fallen world.

Thou hast put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for thou alone, O Lord, makest me dwell in safety.

We can live in good conscience and peace when we entrust ourselves completely to Christ and obey His commands.

Psalm 3

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John Calvin sets the stage:

How bitter David’s sorrow was under the conspiracy of his own household against him, which arose from the treachery of his own son, it is easy for every one of us to conjecture from the feelings of nature. And when, in addition to this, he knew that this disaster was brought upon him by God for his own fault in having defiled another man’s wife, and for shedding innocent blood, he might have sunk into despair, and been overwhelmed with anguish, if he had not been encouraged by the promise of God, and thus hoped for life even in death. From his making no allusion here to his sins, we are led to infer, that only one part of his prayers is comprised in this psalm; for as God punished him expressly on account of his adultery, and his wicked treachery towards Uriah, there can be no doubt that he was at first distressed with grievous and dreadful torments of mind. But after he had humbled himself before God, he took courage; and being well assured of having obtained forgiveness, he was fully persuaded that God was on his side, and knew that he would always preside over his kingdom, and show himself its protector.  But he, nevertheless, complained of his son, and of the whole faction involved in the conspiracy, because he knew that they wickedly rose up for the purpose of frustrating the decree of God. In like manner, if at any time God makes use of wicked and mischievous men, as scourges to chastise us, it becomes us first diligently to consider the cause, namely, that we suffer nothing which we have not deserved, in order that this reflection may lead us to repentance. But if our enemies, In persecuting us, rather fight against God than against us, let the consideration of their doing so be immediately followed by the confident persuasion of our safety under the protection of him, whose grace, which he hath promised to us, they despise and trample under foot.

Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 8: Psalms



A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
O Lord, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of me,
there is no help for him in God.        Selah

Thoughtless people often view persecution as a sign of God’s abandonment rather than as a chastisement of a beloved child.  We are so quick to declare ourselves blameless when suffering cruelty from our foes.  We are never blameless, but we may yet be found by God to be in the right within context of the specific situation.

But thou, O Lord, art a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cry aloud to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy hill.        Selah

This may well be an example of David’s complete confidence as one of God’s elect.  He has sinned terribly and with malice aforethought.  He has tried to hide his shameful acts from men.  But God, by exposing his evil and dispensing terrible punishment has driven David into true repentance.  There he has found God’s forgiveness even while continuing to suffer under the lash of His punishment.

I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, for the Lord sustains me.
I am not afraid of ten thousands of people
who have set themselves against me round about.

And so, in spite of the terrors that surround him David yet sleeps in the peace that can only come from confidence in God’s protection.  When awake David is not dominated by fear, but trusts in God’s providential purposes.

Arise, O Lord!
Deliver me, O my God!
For thou dost smite all my enemies on the cheek,
thou dost break the teeth of the wicked.

It is a terrible thing for the elect to yet sin against God.  It is a wicked thing to set your face against God and His chosen, seeking their destruction.  In some cases the wicked come to destruction in this life.  In all cases their destruction is complete in the next.

We have been trained by contemporary philosophy to deny the existence of wickedness.  By succumbing to this lie we allow wickedness to grow in power and spread in scope.  We also are blinded to the places within ourselves where wickedness holds sway.

Deliverance belongs to the Lord;
thy blessing be upon thy people!        Selah

When under siege in this life we may fall or we may prevail.  But our deliverance is sure are we to be found in Christ.

Psalm 2

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The fall of Rome by Thomas Cole (1801 – 1848)

Charles H. Spurgeon’s opening remarks set the stage for this beautiful and comforting Psalm.

We shall not greatly err in our summary of this sublime Psalm if we call it THE PSALM OF MESSIAH THE PRINCE; for it sets forth, as in a wondrous vision, the tumult of the people against the Lord’s anointed, the determinate purpose of God to exalt his own Son, and the ultimate reign of that Son over all his enemies. Let us read it with the eye of faith, beholding, as in a glass, the final triumph of our Lord Jesus Christ over all his enemies.



Why do the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?

Both “conspire” and “plot” refer to secretive plans.  Very few people would deny that there are legitimate cases in which secrecy is necessary.  However, the loss of accountability and the associated temptations for corruption and duplicity in secretive organizations argue powerfully against thoughtless acceptance.

But this conspiracy and plotting are claimed to be “in vain.”  The world is filled with people, both powerful and powerless, who claim that they understand the mechanisms by which events can be controlled.  They imagine that by pressing this lever or pushing that button they will obtain specific, predetermined outcomes.

History argues decisively to the contrary.  For it is filled with the occurrence of unintended consequences, unexpected twists and hidden motives that baffle and overturn those foolish enough to imagine they are in control of events.

The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us.”

The kings and rulers of the earth imagine endlessly that they can control events so as to increase their wealth and power.  But it is not against each other that they fight, but rather “against the Lord and his anointed.”  They presume to operate above and outside the “bonds” and “cords” of morality due to their will to power.

Does the Lord passively accept this rebellion?  Are His anointed powerless?

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord has them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“I have set my king
on Zion, my holy hill.”

These great rulers and revolutionaries are pathetic objects of derision to the Lord God.  They act with clever planning, malicious deception and power of arms only to be utterly overturned by a word spoken by the Lord God.

And what is that word? “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”  That King is no other than Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

Today we know this promised Anointed One as the Lord Jesus Christ. It is impossible to submit to God without submitting to Him as Lord and Savior, for the Father has made Him Lord and Christ, bestowing upon Him the name above all names (Acts 2:36; Phil. 2:5-11). John Calvin comments, “All who do not submit themselves to the authority of Christ make war against God… . It is in vain for them to profess otherwise.”

I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my son,
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

God is not in the slightest passive in the face of this rebellion.  Yes, in this fallen world the kings and rulers will rage against God’s purposes.  But Jesus Christ, the begotten Second Person of the Christian Trinitarian God will ultimately “break them” and “dash them.”

The word “begotten” must not be passed over without comment.  The Nicene Creed uses this word to explain Jesus Christ’s eternal place in the Godhead.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Ligonier Ministries provides additional insight.

The Son is eternally generated by the Father. This generation, or begottenness, never had a beginning. The Son has always existed and has always been fully God even though He is begotten of the Father. And the Father has always begotten the Son such that the Son and the Father are both fully God.

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
with trembling kiss his feet,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

A king (or ruler) can only be wise if they understand that they are subservient to a just and omnipotent God who will intervene in human affairs as He deems right.  The opposite of the initial kings who plan and conspire is the king who serves “the Lord with fear.”  There is no secrecy that this omnipresent God cannot penetrate, no motives that are hidden from Him.  Were we to truly believe this our thoughts and actions, even those hidden from all human sight, would be fundamentally transformed.

The message of this Psalm is well summarized as follows.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that Christ executes the office of king by “subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies” (Q&A; 26). All who oppose this work do so in vain. He will conquer the hearts of His elect, drawing them all to Himself. He will defeat His enemies and ours. He is the mighty King and Lord of all, and we need not fear anything if we are in Him.

Amen!

Psalm 1

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This first Psalm is considered to be introductory for the entire Book, and representative of the major themes that will be developed and explored throughout.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

The conflict with contemporary sensibilities is immediate.  The first four verses of the very first Psalm warns against those who are designated as “wicked,” “sinners” and “scoffers.”  No attempt is made to explain what they have done to warrant such denigration. The unavoidable implication is that people with these characteristics exist and that they are to be identified as such.  They are recognized for what they are by the “blessed” man and then avoided like the plague.

Who in this time of “diversity” and “openness” would dare to speak of someone as wicked?  Since we have been taught to look upon other people as first and foremost members of racial, gender, religious, national and orientation groups, to designate virtually anyone as wicked is viewed as identical to vile prejudice towards their entire group(s).  Thus it becomes problematic to call, say, even the Muslim terrorists who planned and executed the 9/11 attacks as wicked.  So we wander around aimlessly looking for any and every other explanation rather than the one staring us straight in the face.

The idea of sinners is also verboten in our current culture.  After all, aren’t we all presumed to be essentially good, and, that good is best found by being “true to ourselves?”  Isn’t whatever we are predisposed to desire “how God made us,” so our best morality is found in following whatever these predispositions or desires might be to their ultimate extremity of experience?  And how dare anyone say that we are all sinners in need of God’s invasion of grace to redeem that which is utterly corrupt and evil in our own natures?  Perish the thought!

Finally, isn’t the direction of our dominant cultural, economic and governing institutions set towards mockery of God and those who have faith in Him?  If “god” exists at all isn’t it most likely some sort of demiurge who has pathetically and evilly messed up the worlds it has created?  And aren’t those ignorant, close-minded people who worship it to be identified and denigrated for their idiocy?  Yes, they certainly are.

A person, even a Christian, saturated by the assumptions of contemporary Western culture will read these four first verses as red flags that scream “don’t go any further, here there be monsters!”

but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

It’s only getting worse.  Now the Psalmist is talking about God’s Word as if it isn’t a means of patriarchal oppression but rather as a source of goodness and wisdom.  It isn’t defined as a product of the human mind but rather as an external, objective communication from the divine mind of God, that is, revelation.  It is something to be delighted in, rather than something to be twisted by human cleverness into whatever is needed to advance a partisan position or sovereign personal desire.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The blessed man’s life yields good fruit.  His goodness leads to prosperity.  Thus he can only be seen as having “more than his fair share,” be it in possessions or any other aspect of well being.  How can this be “the good” since it doesn’t conform to the Socialist utopia that must be worshiped and obtained by any means necessary?

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

Oh no!  Now the “wicked” are said to be “like chaff.”  They will “not stand in the judgment” nor be allowed “in the congregation of the righteous!”  How judgmental!  How dare anyone speak of the “wicked” and the “righteous!”  That is, unless the “wicked” are anyone who opposes or even insufficiently supports todays ideological secular talking points.  But this interpretation isn’t viable since the standard is God’s Word rather than human ideological fashion.

for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

So the eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent God looks down on us humans and separates us into the righteous and the wicked?

After reading Psalm 1 how can any contemporary Western human not sense that this is something utterly foreign to their presumptions and experience?  What possible good can come from continuing down this fraught path?

Perhaps the sanctification of our souls?

There are here described two distinct paths.  It’s time for deciding.

The Psalms

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There was a time, many centuries long, when the Psalms were both influential and beloved.  They seem to have fallen into disfavor during my lifetime.  Why?

The Book of Psalms is quoted more often than any other Old Testament book in the New Testament.  Psalms is also quoted most often by Jesus Christ.  Yet I rarely hear sermons on the Psalms and even devoted students of the Bible seem to avoid deep engagement.

Is there something about the Psalms that disturbs contemporary Christians?  I think so.  Therefore we must look into this Book.  For it is often by disturbing our souls that God presses us forward into profound discoveries about our new life in Christ.