Select Page
Your Journey Through The Psalms: Where to Begin

Your Journey Through The Psalms: Where to Begin

Editorial Comment: Mark Centers is a member of our Preaching Cohort, a small group of pastors and preachers in training that meets monthly to work on the preaching craft. He is also an Elective class teacher on Sundays. This year the group is working on preaching poetry with a focus on the Psalms. Mark presented some excellent work on the Psalms and so I’ve asked him to write a series of posts for our church to help us better understand and employ the Psalms. —Trent


If you’ve been in church long enough, you’ve probably been told to, “open your Bibles to the book of Psalms, right in the middle of your Bible.” Measured by chapters, Psalms is the longest book in our Bibles so it’s not hard to find. In it are the prayers, hymns, and laments of our ancestors to our great God. It’s filled with familiar lines that we rightly recall: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,” or, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (1:1; 23:1). But whatever you might think of the Psalms individually, they were compiled as a book. In this and several follow-up posts I want to help you hear the overall message of the book of Psalms.

As we begin, let’s get a common misconception out of the way. The Book of Psalms is not a hymn book. It is filled with songs of various kinds, yes, but it is not organized like our hymnbooks and not all of the Psalms were sung. It is a five-part story that chronicles the rise and fall of the Davidic dynasty (Books 1–3) while calling the nations to join Yhwh (Book 2) and mourning the “failure” of the Davidic covenant (Book 3). But this story does not end in despair. Book 4 takes the reader on a journey back to the roots of authentic biblical Judaism, while anticipating the deliverance of the world by David’s greater Son—marked by the return of the King, the Messiah (Book 5).

Enter at the Gate, Look Both Ways

As with any unified work, it begins in a very deliberate way. Psalms 1 and 2 act as the introductory gateway into this story. Imagine yourself beginning a hike through the vast forest of the Psalter—but in order to find a clear path into the heart of the woods you must first pass through a massive gate. The gate is supported by two hand-carved posts. The left post represents Psalm 1, the right post Psalm 2.

The word “Blessed” is clearly carved into the top of the left post (Ps. 1). Under this word you see two men, one walking a path to destruction and the other walking away towards a tree. The tree is carved in the center of the post. The tree is healthy, fruitful, and full of leaves. Underneath the tree a great river that never ends supplies life to the tree. The last image at the bottom of the Psalm 1 post is a court room scene where God sits as Judge. All those who are his stand with him, and those who do not stand with him are blown away like chaff.

You turn to examine the right post (Ps. 2). At the top is etched a congregation representing the world’s elite deliberating on how to break free from God and his Messiah. This deliberation is cut short with the laughter of God from heaven. In the middle of the post, you see a king with the full authority of heaven in his hands accompanied with this announcement: “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” The Son is given the nations as his inheritance and commanded to exercise dominion over the whole earth. The final carving is a concise warning to all people, but especially the world’s elite: “Pay homage to the Son, lest he be angry and consume you.” At the very bottom of the right post, we see the King on his throne with people all around him with this same word again—blessed.

Look Out for These Two Themes on Your Journey Ahead

These dual themes of the fate of the righteous and wicked, and the authority of the Messianic King are woven through this deliberately ordered anthology of the Psalter. The author of Psalm 1 and 2 purposefully introduces these dual themes for you. As you pass through the gateway into the forest of the Psalter, these images from the pillars will pop up again and again as a reminder of the bigger story. Always anticipate the juxtaposition between the righteous and wicked and the hope in the coming Messianic King.

In the next blog post on the Psalms, we will take a fast-paced journey through the 5-book arrangement. We will look for these themes, and we will see how the book of Psalms tells a story.

No Bits and Pieces, No Little People: Meet Francis Schaeffer

No Bits and Pieces, No Little People: Meet Francis Schaeffer

When the Sadducees came to Jesus with a disingenuous question about the resurrection, his response was direct: “you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mk. 12:24). We explored this interaction in Sunday’s sermon, “He is God of the Living.” The Sadducees insisted that there would be no future resurrection, that when we died that was it. It’s a brutal way to live. As in Jesus’ day we too are tempted to pursue religion without the truth of resurrection, to see the world as matter in motion without ultimate meaning.

Jesus’ chief interest in coming was souls. But we do well to ponder how a denial of a truth like the resurrection is destructive for both souls and societies. It’s by pondering the course of bad ideas that we more clearly see and speak the true goodness of the good news, to speak to our neighbors and the need of the age.

Maybe for you this pursuit isn’t so much about speaking to others as it is about coming to terms with the claims of Scripture yourself. As we said Sunday, if you have rejected Christianity because you cannot buy-in to the resurrection, you should be commended for seeing that claim for what it is. Whatever the case, I’d like you to meet someone who knew both the Scriptures and the power of God.

Meet Francis Schaeffer, a Recently Dead Pastor

It’s good for us to read the works of dead pastors from long ago, but it’s also good to read the works of dead pastors from not so long ago. In this case, the works of a man like Francis Schaeffer—a pastor and apologist from the mid-to-late 20th century—are proven valuable for two reasons. First, they have stood the test of time. Time is a wonderful sorting mechanism in a world of so many words. Second, his work has stood the test of time because he was a man who understood the times. Schaeffer was an exegete of the Scriptures and the present stage on which God’s saving plans are unfolding.

I came into Schaeffer in a theologically formative period of my own life through two books, He Is There and He Is Not Silent and The God Who Is There. Both books helped establish my confidence in the basic truthfulness and coherence of Scripture. I’m not alone. Albert Mohler tells his own story of how Schaeffer, as he puts it, “gave me a way of understanding how the Christian faith related to and answered the questions of the world around me.” Os Guinness tells a similar story in, “An Interview with Os Guinness on the 25th Anniversary of Francis Schaeffer’s Death.” Os and Mohler reminisce a bit together in a conversation they shared a few years ago. There are countless other stories along these lines.

Francis Schaeffer was an academic but no less an evangelist. His work in understanding the world was powered by his love for the people who inhabit the world, as it should be. If you’re a skeptic yourself, he had you in mind. 

Whereas Mohler first encountered Schaefer through his books, Guinness came to know Schaeffer in Schaeffer’s home turned ministry called L’Abri, which he co-founded in Switzerland with his wife Edith. If your interest is piqued, read Jerram Barr’s, “Francis Schaeffer: The Man and His Message,” for his story, his emphases, and some critique.

Where to Begin

With the Sadducee’s error in mind, this Sunday I quoted this excerpt from Schaeffer’s, A Christian Manifesto:

“Those who hold the material-energy, chance concept of reality, whether they are Marxist or non-Marxist, not only do not know the truth of the final reality, God, they do not know who Man is. Their concept of Man is what Man is not, just as their concept of final reality is what final reality is not. Since their concept of Man is mistaken, their concept of society and of law is mistaken, and they have no sufficient base for either society or law.”

Schaeffer had a way of getting under the surface of things. One of his central critiques of Christians in his day was that, as he said, “they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.” That is, we tend to see issues like pornography, the breakdown of the family, abortion, etc. instead of the total world and story in which these tragedies emerge. Schaeffer’s burden was to help us understand this.

For an entry into Schaeffer’s work, A Christian Manifesto is a good place to start, but let me offer a few other options. Three books together form the heart of his apologetic work: The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. These books will help to those wrestling with questions about the truthfulness of the Christian worldview and those who are engaging friends disaffected by Christianity. High School students and their parents will get help as well. Here’s from Escape from Reason

“People today are trying to hang on to the dignity of man, but they do not know how to, because they have lost the truth that man is made in the image of God. . . . We are watching our culture put into effect the fact that when you tell men long enough that they are machines, it soon begins to show in their actions. You see it in our whole culture—in the theater of cruelty, in the violence in the streets, in the death of man in art and life.”

The title of another book describes its aim: How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. We do well to study history with a Christian worldview. But the purpose of doing so must always be fidelity to the God of history in our own day. If you can put up with the dated and even cheesy production, watch the the video series by the same name: 

There are a host of volumes written by those who studied with Schaeffer in some fashion. One of the most important among them—and a book you would do well to have on the shelf—is Nancy Pearcy’s, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. For some reading on the life and ongoing relevance of Schaeffer’s work, check out the Summer 2020 edition of Southern Baptist Journal of Theology on the occasion of L’Abri’s 65th anniversary, edited by my dear friend Stephen Wellum—there, again, another influence of mine influenced by Schaeffer.  

No Little People

Schaeffer influenced the world with his words, but here are some words he wrote that explain his reach: “A compassionate open home is part of Christian responsibility, and should be practiced up to the level of capacity.” He more than understood the truth of Scripture for our day, but embodied it in Christian hospitality that changed the world.

This Sunday we will be in the next passage in Mark, 12:28-44, where we meet scribes who like the best seats and a poor woman who contributes all she has to live on. In all our work to understand the world, let’s remember our place in it with Schaeffer’s help—a man for whom there truly were No Little People:

Jesus commands Christians to seek consciously the lowest room. All of us — pastors, teachers, professional religious workers and non-professional included — are tempted to say, “I will take the larger place, because it will give me more influence for Jesus Christ.” Both individual Christians and Christian organizations fall prey to the temptation of rationalizing this way as we build bigger and bigger empires. But according to the Scripture this is backwards: We should consciously take the lowest place, unless the Lord himself extrudes us into a greater one.

It is there we come to know both the Scriptures and the power of God.