Skip to content

A Sermon Series through the Psalms

I have heard of several pastors planning or considering a series of sermons in the Psalms through the summer. That is what we are doing at my church. If you decide to plan such a series, one of the first questions you have to address is which Psalms to preach. Here are a few thoughts for those wrestling with that choice.

First, relax. You can’t go wrong here. It is good to make thoughtful choices, but it is also possible to overthink things. You are choosing between different portions of God’s inspired word. In my first pastorate there was little time for advanced sermon planning, and some of you are probably in similar settings. As long as you are working hard to understand God’s Word properly and to apply it to your people faithfully, you are doing well. Whichever Psalms you pick will be fine.

Then, as you have time to plan ahead, there are various ways you could approach your choice of Psalms depending on what you hope to accomplish. You could focus on repentance, lament, or praise, though 8 to 10 weeks on just one of those themes might not work as well. You could also preach through some of the specific units in the Psalms, such as the Psalms of Ascent (120-134) or the Hallel Psalms (113-118). Then, of course, your choices will be affected to some degree by what Psalms may have recently been preached at your church.

If you want to give a good overview of the Psalter as a whole, I’d recommend some of the following psalms. Psalm 1 and 2 introduce the whole book, so they would be a good place to start. Some people think of Psalm 1 as the introduction since it comes first, but it takes Psalm 1 and 2 to give a proper introduction. Psalm one points us to God’s word as our source of life and blessing. Psalm 2 then points us to God’s anointed king, the Messiah, as the one whom we must obey. We eventually discover that these two come together in the person of Jesus Christ. And properly understood, He is the focus of the Psalter.

Then, I would suggest another pair of Psalms, 22 and 23, the crucified Messiah and the God the Shepherd. Psalm 22 is one of the most clearly messianic Psalms. The NT confirms that this Psalm points to the cross (Jesus quotes verse 1 on the cross). Then Psalm 23 presents to us the care of God for his people with the image of a shepherd, and this image becomes a central theme throughout the rest of Scripture, not just for God but for those whom God calls to lead and care for His people. The crucified one is our Shepherd.

Then, it would be very healthy to preach on a psalm of lament. These are characterized in various ways, but any of the psalms which show the psalmist crying out to God, often complaining to God about the wrongs he is suffering will be helpful to our people. Our society tends either to ignore suffering, thinking it impolite to talk about or to be indicative of a lack of faith, or to wallow in self-pity. None of these are healthy or helpful. The psalms of lament are there to give us words and models for laying our complaints before God in faith. Two possibilities are Psalm 37 and 73 (they stick in my mind because their numbers are the inverse of one another). These psalms wrestle with the age old problem of the prospering of the wicked- “If God really exists, why am I suffering while I try to obey him and those people who have no concern for God have everything going their way?” It is helpful to learn that we can bring this complaint to God and to see some of the answer to such concerns.

Then, I would want to include Psalm 100 because it is a classic psalm of praise. Note the implicit missionary theme since the call to praise God is addressed to the whole earth. Note as well that we are commanded to praise God. Singing is not optional, despite the fact that some men say they just don’t’ sing. It is important for us to reckon with the greatness of God which is worthy of our praise and to recognize that in response to such a God we must either sin or sing. And, if you’re preaching Psalm 100, it would be great to sing the old metered version of this Psalm, “All People that in Earth Do Dwell.”

I mentioned the Psalms of Ascent earlier, and if I was seeking to be representative of the Psalter I’d pick a couple of them. Psalm 127 or 128 are great family psalms and can fit Fathers’ Day well. Lastly, I’d want to conclude a summary series with Psalm 150, which serves as a climax and conclusion of the book. The psalms stand as prayers and praises to teach the people of God how to talk to God. Thus, along the way they deal with sin, suffering and trouble. Lament psalms are the most common. But as the Psalter draws to a close the focus is more and more praise, until Psalm 150 is unmixed and unbridled praise. This does not ignore the suffering and sin in this life but helps us to see that history is moving toward the time when all care dissolves into praise when Jesus returns and wipes away every tear.

Psalm 97, “Rejoice the Lord is King”

A couple of weeks ago I preached on Psalm 97 at my home church, FBC Jackson, on Psalm 97, titling the sermon, “Rejoice the LORD is King.” The psalm calls us to joy rooted in the fact the Yahweh reigns, that He is supreme and sovereign over all. Sadly, too often the doctrine of God’s sovereignty has become a bone of contention, rather than the ground of contentment as it should be.

Here is the video of the sermon:

“Correcting the Record: The Reformers on Evangelism and Missions”

I am glad to see Sixteenth-Century Mission: Explorations in Protestant and Roman Catholic Theology and Practice, edited by Robert Gallagher and Ed Smither (Lexham Press, 2021) now available. My essay, “Correcting the Record: The Reformers on Evangelism and Missions,” is in this volume along with some significant missions essays.

Malcolm Yarnell called it,  “the most exhilarating collection of essays I have ever reviewed.” You can see the table of contents here with contributors and titles.

My hope for my essay is to debunk further the ahistorical idea that the Reformers did not care about missions. Good work has been done by others pointing out missions emphases in the writings of the Reformers. I seek to build on and add to this, while also dealing with the scholarly root of this idea. A condensed version of my essay has been published previously, but this book contains the full version.

On Education

Some of my favorite discussions of the value and importance of education, as well as discussions about approach to education, are found in surprising places. For instance, Robert Ruark’s The Old Man and the Boy is a charming, fun story set mostly in the context of the outdoors- hunting, fishing, sailing, etc.

However, in chapter 22, when the boy is doing poorly at school and sees no use for it, the old man surprises him with a defense of education. Amongst other things, the old man says:

“Knowledge is an accumulation, like a pack rat hides things. Things you never knew you knew have a way of popping up later. You’re supposed to fill your skull with a lot of things, against the day you might need one of them. And remember this, too: you can’t pour a gallon of knowledge into a one-quart brain. The idea is to make the brain big enough and flexible enough to handle what it has to handle. I want to see some better marks next month, or we might just find ourselves not shooting any quail this fall. That ain’t a threat. It’s a suggestion. Let’s go catch some fish.” (247)

The boy doesn’t take to this right away but begins to see the value of education and begins to thrive in school. One error we allow too often is the disconnect between education and the outdoors. There is no reason why they ought to be thought of as so separated. And, that is a great image: “you can’t pour a gallon of knowledge into a one-quart brain.”

I can’t capture the full chapter here, but it is well worth reading.

Great new book on Christ-Centered Preaching

David King’s new book is now available and it is excellent! I had the opportunity to read it prepublication and really appreciated it. Here is the blurb I wrote for it:

This is an excellent resource for all pastors! If you are not sure about preaching Christ from the OT, David King will help you see why this is necessary, valuable to your people, and possible for you. If you are already convinced that you should preach Christ from the OT, King will provide you with a very accessible guide to achieving this goal consistently and faithfully. And, this is a book for preachers, from an experienced preacher and pastor. His empathy for those engaged in this significant task is clear, and he gets right to the heart of the issue in practical terms. His pastoral heart also comes through guiding the reader to care faithfully for the flock by preaching Christ to them from all the Bible. This may be the most helpful book you could read on preaching this year.

Preaching and Academic Work

I enjoyed reading The Ideal Bishop: Aquinas’s Commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles by Michael G Sirilla, and am working on a proper review to be posted at PastoralEpistles.com.

In this post, i simply want to point out part of Sirilla’s discussion about the manner and goal of biblical exposition as understood by key masters of the Medieval period. Sirilla writes:

“…the scriptural doctrine…must then be applied pastorally for spiritual growth through praedicatio, preaching, which was considered an integral task of exposition or academic biblical study. The duty of preaching has become somewhat foreign to contemporary academic theology; but it was an essential component that crowned and completed the work of the theologian in the thirteenth-century academy. Thus, the interpretation of divine revelation was both an academic and an ecclesial task directed toward a pastoral end for the good of souls.” (91)

“Aquinas and his contemporaries inherited this exegetical approach, and thus they sought to develop a systematic, theological understanding of the biblical text with the explicit purpose of preaching for the salvation of souls and the glory of God.” (92)

While I have my significant differences with Catholicism in general and Thomas in particular, this is an important point that needs to be reclaimed. Too much of modern biblical scholarship finds it inappropriate to include any sense of churchly application and concern for salvation or the good of souls. In that case, biblical study looses its central point and becomes much ado about very little.

An Ode to Great Books

Denis the Carthusian’s Commentary on the Psalms

Beatus Vir (Denis the Carthusian’s Commentary on the Psalms): Vol. 1 (Psalms 1-25); trans. Andrew M Greenwell (Arouca Press, 2020)

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this commentary along with my daily psalm reading (at least while I was in the first 25). Denis (1402-1471) lived and worked as part of the Carthusian order. I had never heard of him before this book but discovered in the helpful introduction that he was the most prolific writer of the Middle Ages, producing about 4 times as much writing as Augustine! He wrote commentary on every book of the Bible, and his writings were widely and warmly received. According to the introduction, Denis’s writings were central to academic study for the century following his death with a common saying being, “He who reads Denis leaves nothing unread.” However, this is the first time any of his commentary on the psalms have been translated into English. Grenwell said Denis started his commentary writing with the Psalms because he saw “them as the fulcrum as it were, or perhaps better, the corpus callosum—that thick, connective, communicative Scriptural tissue—between the Old and New Testaments.” (xxiv)

Now, why did I, an evangelical Protestant deeply rooted in the Reformation, enjoy this commentary by 15th century Roman Catholic theologian? Well, of course there were things I differed with and I would not recommend this as a starting place for beginners. The place of works in salvation is concerning, though I don’t claim to understand the nuances of Denis’s thoughts on this topic. What I appreciated so much was his use of the psalms. He did not get bogged down in so much that commentaries do today, but unabashedly read the psalms as the word of God for the people of God. His voluminous knowledge of Scripture was apparent as he connected a psalm to texts in both testaments. Even if, in the end, I doubted the texts should go together I was convicted by his awareness of texts. Readers today with our access to searching capabilities of digital resources can easily forget that these authors of the past must largely draw merely from their own memories.

Denis typically examines each psalm as the voice of Jesus, the voice of the church together, and the voice of the individual believer. He uses different terminology, but that is the gist. Because of the purpose of the psalter, I think this is the right way to go. As a result, even when I would discard some of his interpretations he was helpful in stirring me to pray and praise with each psalm. I find myself eager for the next volumes. This commentary embodies the spirit of this quote form Paul Claudel which is included in the introduction: ‘Let us read the Holy Writ, but let us read it as did the Fathers who showed us the best way of profiting by it; let us read it kneeling! Let us read it, not critically with the foolish curiosity that leads only to vanity, but with the eagerness of a famished heart!’” (xxxii)

We are indebted to Arouca Press and Andrew Greenwell for undertaking this project. Despite his comments to the contrary, Greenwell does have a way with words that makes this translation enjoyable to read. He very often includes the Latin in parentheses to allow the reader to consider nuances. The numbering of the psalms follows the Vulgate, with which Denis was working, so it is different from that of our English Bibles (though a parenthetical numbering system is provided to help the English reader).

“Why We’re Taught Not to Speak Ill of the Dead”

Jim Geraghty’s column today, “Why We’re Taught Not to Speak Ill of the Dead,” is a healthy, helpful reflection on death. And, the bases of his argument are thoroughly consistent with Christian belief.

He first points to the value of listening to wisdom from the past. This is particularly helpful in an age when so many seem to think there is nothing to learn from those who’ve gone before us.

We used to widely honor the instruction to not speak ill of the dead, at least in media and public communications. But in our modern era of social media, the instinct is largely the opposite.

the modern advocates for speaking ill of the dead seem oddly confident that the ancient Greeks and Shakespeare and everyone else before them could not possibly have grasped the moral nuances of this uniquely modern circumstance of a controversial figure dying.

Then, Geraghty reminds us of the universality of death and suggests the way we react to news of the death of celebrities (ones we like and ones we don’t) probably reflects on our own wrestling with the unavoidable reality of death. His appeal to recognizing our shared humanity, including our frailty and finiteness is a needed word for today.

I suspect the saying is driven by a sense of universal empathy. The public figures you love and adore will die. The public figures you hate and detest will die. In their final moments, the differences between them will become quite insignificant. Few of us are likely to feel “ready” to die when our time comes. Few of us will believe, in our final days, that we lived with no regrets. In our final moments, we are likely to feel vulnerable, frightened, and perhaps pained. Even the most powerful dictator looks frail and weak and sad on his deathbed. Death humbles us all, and death comes for us all.

We have a hard enough time grappling with our own mortality as is. … Recognizing that the public figures we can’t stand are human beings means recognizing that they are mortal, and that they are as vulnerable to age and cancer or heart disease other health problems as anyone else. That is one more stark reminder that our days are numbered as well. The powerful and wealthy and famous may have the resources and good doctors to delay the grim reaper’s arrival for a bit, but not to deny him.

No matter how much we may think that we are different from those we vehemently oppose, they are as human and mortal as we are, and we are all going to end up in the same grave; ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Perhaps we say we should not speak ill of the dead because the finality of death should also mark the end of our disagreement with the departed. … they’ve gone to meet their Creator now; our argument with them is finished.

Geraghty’s column is occasioned by the death of one specific person, but the truths are universal. Christians need to be people who empathize with others in death, who recognize our own weaknesses and failures, and who are reminded of our own mortality and need of God’s grace.

Looking to a New Year after a Particularly Difficult Year

On the first Sunday of this year I preached at my home church, FBC Jackson, TN, on 1 Peter 5:6-11. This text struck me as timely with it’s call to humbly receiving what God allows, even suffering, casting our cares on Christ, and preparing to resist temptation, while drawing strength from the sure hope of what is to come.