Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 22 2019 - Psalm 84 – God's lovely house

The heading of this psalm suggests that it was written by one of the temple singers who were known as "the Sons of Korah." This particular singer would seem to be far off from Jerusalem and unable to join in the praises of the people of God. His heart aches to be able to return to "the courts of the Lord" (vv. 1-2).

The temple courts were open to the sky and the eaves of the temple would have provided good sites for nesting birds. So the psalmist expresses his envy of sparrows who can so easily fly into the temple area and find refuge there, close to the altar of the Lord – almost as if he were singing, "O for the wings, the wings of a dove…".

He thinks with envy of those who are travelling up to Jerusalem in pilgrimage, travelling from their homes and villages for one of the major festivals as the child Jesus travelled with his family from Nazareth to Jerusalem for Passover. He thinks of the way in which they are willing to face all manner of hardships on the road; the valley of Baka (which may mean weeping) is turned into a place of springs or refreshment (v. 6). The picture is like that of Israel of old travelling through the wilderness and being provided with water by God. Despite the difficulties of the road "They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion" (v. 7). They anticipate arriving at Zion, the hill on which the temple was built, and this prospect gives them the strength to keep going. The psalmist longs that he could join these pilgrims.

Temple worship would have included prayer for Israel's king – the Lord's anointed. Though the psalmist is unable to join those worshiping God in the temple, he joins them in prayer for the king (vv. 8-9). In doing so, he may have looked beyond the imperfections of Israel's current king (whoever that may have been), and prayed for God to send his promised Messiah, his anointed king through whom he would restore his people and establish his kingdom throughout the world.

He ends by returning to his expression of longing for the courts of the Lord. He would rather be there than anywhere else. One day there is better than a thousand elsewhere. If he cannot be there as a temple singer he would be happy to be there as a doorkeeper. There is nowhere else he would rather be, for the Lord God is his "sun and his shield" (v.11), his light and his protection. God is the source of all that he longs for.

He ends with a word of testimony, "Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you" (v. 12).

The Temple was not like our church buildings; it was unique. It was a visible symbol of God's presence with his people and his covenant promises to them. We miss the passion and focus of this psalm if we liken it our longing to be in church.

This psalm, like psalms 42 and 43, expresses a longing for God himself – to be in his presence and to know his blessing. Meeting with other Christians in worship is an anticipation of the day when we shall be welcomed into God's presence, see his glory and worship him with the multitude of his redeemed and with crowds of angels. This psalm can encourage our longing for glory.

God answered the prayer of this psalmist and sent his Messiah into the world. Jesus has called us to follow him; he has made us pilgrims, travelling home to God. There may be hardships along the way but the prospect of glory turns our tears to joy and gives us strength to keep going as we fix our eyes fixed on Jesus, the first focus of our faith and the one who will bring us safely home.

Father God, we thank you that your Spirit has given us a longing for you. Thank you for Jesus your anointed one who has made us your children and has called us to follow him. Help us to do so with joy and with longing for the day when we shall enter the heavenly city and know the beauty of dwelling in your presence for all eternity. May our testimony be that of the psalmist, "blessed is the one who trusts in you."

Jun 22 2013 - Acts 14:8-28 – I will build my church

In Lystra a man who had been lame from birth listened eagerly to Paul’s preaching. Seeing his faith, Paul told the man to stand up. Like the man healed at the Beautiful Gate of the temple in Acts 3, the man did not drag himself to his feet, he “jumped up and began to walk” (Acts 14:10). The crowd who witnessed it thought that Paul and Barnabas must be gods come down to earth. Paul had scarcely managed to stop them sacrificing to them when Jews from Antioch and Iconium turned the crowd against him. Paul was dragged outside the city, stoned and left for dead. However, when the crowds had dispersed, he got up and went back into the city before leaving with Barnabas for Derbe the next morning.

Having preached in Derbe and gained many disciples for the Lord, Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps, returning to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. In every town they encouraged the new believers, strengthening their hearts and telling them that the way of the kingdom passes through many trials and persecutions.

Imagine these Christians. They had been believers for only a few months. In every town (with the exception maybe of Derbe), they had seen how the followers of Jesus faced persecution and they knew that they could expect the same. How would these young churches survive?

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in each of the churches as they passed through, choosing those they believed most able to care for the others. But the elders themselves must have been new to the faith. How would they be able to cope with their responsibilities? We read that with prayer and fasting, Paul and Barnabas laid their hands on them and committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Paul knew that the future of these churches lay not only in the hands of these inexperienced pastors but, more importantly, in the hands of the Lord. He would build his church, and even trial and persecution would not destroy it.

In 2010 I spent a short time in Madagascar, joining in the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the translation and publication of the Bible into the language of that island. The church there went through a period of severe persecution in the nineteenth century. Missionaries had to flee the country and Christians were hunted down and imprisoned. Some were even stoned to death or thrown to their death from cliffs. Yet, far from destroying the church it was strengthened and grew. Without the missionaries, Christians learned to rely on the Lord in whom they had believed. The same remarkable growth of the church occurred in China after the expulsion of Western missionaries in the twentieth century.

Paul's missionary methods deserve continual study. They may have been driven partly by necessity, but they also became part of his strategy for promoting the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church.

In our ministry, are we creating a culture of dependence upon ourselves or of dependence upon the Lord? Are we ready to allow Christians who are young in the faith to take on areas of responsibility, teaching them to look to the Lord for their help, or are we determined to retain control in the fear that it will otherwise all fall apart?

Lord Jesus, help us to trust that you will build your church by your own power and by your own Spirit. Thank you that you use us in the work of the kingdom. Keep us passionate and devoted in the work to which you have called us. But keep us also from the deceit that it all depends on us.

Peter Misselbrook