Book Review: Songs of a Suffering King by J.V. Fesko

Ask most Christians if they have read the Psalms, they will answer, “Of course.” Many will even claim it to be their favorite book of the Bible, or a place of refuge in emotional struggle. Often if pressed, however, the truth revealed is that we have certain favorite Psalms to which we turn, repeatedly, but the book in its entirety is a mystery to us. One of the interesting things to remember about Psalms is that the order in which the psalms appear, and the headings of authorship and timing are all inspired. While God certainly intend that we read and sing individual psalms, he also intended that they be encountered in a specific order, and as a complete unit.

J.V. Fesko makes this point in Songs of a Suffering King: The Grand Christ Hymn of Psalms 1-8, and then walks through the first eight Psalms in an effort to encourage our further exploration of this wonderful book. Fesko operates on two theological premises. The first is that all of the psalms are about Christ and the second is that the psalms should not only be read, but also sung. In light of the second, he includes a metrical version of the Psalm in the study at the end of each chapter which he has selected from a variety of available Psalters. Having been introduced fairly recently to the practice of metrical Psalter singing, I think this idea of singing a psalm after having studied it would be a great way to re-introduce the practice to a contemporary church who has lost it.

Fesko’s studies of the psalms in question are both Christocentric, and rooted in the history from which the Psalm written. This is not a study of the form of Hebrew poetry or the literary qualities of the passages. These are moving exegetical studies that show us that the Psalms aren’t the biblical equivalent of pulling a security blanket over our heads.

I reviewed Fesko’s work  Christ and the Desert Tabernacle two years ago, and having now read this one, I am eager to read more of his books. He has the rare gift of being both pastoral and academic and he manages to help us find Christ in parts of scripture we don’t believe he can be found.

I received no compensation for this post. I was provided a paperback edition for the purpose of review. I was not required to provide a positive one.


Book Review: Biblical Portraits of Creation by Walter C. Kaiser

I am behind on my book reviews. Apologies all around.

First up is Biblical Portraits of Creation: Celebrating the Maker of Heaven and Earth by Walter C. Kaiser. The study of creation is a controversial one and as is the case in controversy we are tempted to become polarized and tilt against the straw men of our perceived enemy rather than seek after truth. Walter Kaiser’s book cuts past that and goes straight to the source of truth: scripture.Biblical Portraits of Creation is an academic study of the whole of scripture. Kaiser digs deep into the text of not only Genesis 1 and 2, but also of wisdom literature, the prophets, and the New Testament to lay out a comprehensive study of what the entire counsel of scripture has to say about Creation. This is not a devotional, nor will you find any elaborate theories of dinosaurs, or diagrams of earth strata. Biblical Portraits of Creation instead explains how the Genesis creation account is foundational to and an interconnected part of the rest of scripture. It is designed, however, to be a study and each chapter ends with questions designed to aid in that pursuit.

Jonathan has been preaching through Genesis in our evening service, and he has said, repeatedly, if you get Genesis, you get the rest of the Bible. Kaiser’s study would be an excellent choice for a Sunday School class, or a small group who want to begin to see how that statement is true and want a chance to dig out the truth through some deep study of their own.

I received no compensation for this post. I was provided an electronic copy for the purpose of review. I was not required to provide a positive one.


Kissing Frogs Continues

This is the continuation of an ongoing fiction work I started years ago. If you want to read from the beginning, click “Kissing Frogs so Far” on the tab above the header.

Maybe, just maybe, he would one day have a single conversation with Tracey in which they did not both misunderstand each other and have a hackle raising competition. Maybe. But not today.

Joey’s spine was still tingling with the sensation that had run across it at the thought of being fired. The bill collectors had only just quit calling. He was beginning to check his mail without dread. He could not lose this job now. He was also having a hard time shaking the idea that he was going to be losing his job.

“Well, have a seat. Don’t just stand there kicking those boots. Did you get enough to eat? I told Joanna to make sure you were comfortable.”

Joey slid into the booth, while mumbling something inane about hollandaise sauce and better than mama’s biscuits. Edward laughed and leaned back, crossing his arms across his chest.

“Well, I was doing everything in my power to make you comfortable coming into this conversation, and then my daughter knocked it all apart.” He chuckled again. “The story of my life, I suppose, and hers too. OK. Let’s cut to the heart of the discussion because you’re sitting over there hearing nothing at all and hoping desperately not to hear one of the many euphemisms people use for fired.”

Joey smiled weakly, and nodded.

“You’re not fired. Does that help?”

Joey smiled more weakly and shook his head. Edward put his elbows on the table, and said, “O.K. Let’s start over.”


Some Reflections on Providential Provision

Tonight, for the first time in my life, I served a meal in which not a single ingredient (unless you count the salt and pepper) was purchased in a store. We had roasted potatoes and carrots from our garden, corn from the Budd’s garden and one of “our” chickens. I hesitate to entirely claim those chickens, as Owen and Aimee put in most of the hard labor to raise them; nevertheless, they have never seen the inside of a grocery store. For dessert we had watermelon, also from the Budds. You’ve heard of the 100 mile diet? Tonight we had the 10 mile meal.

When we lived in St. Louis, I shopped at ALDI to make the food stamps stretch as far as they could. I have no idea where that food was farmed or grown, but we thanked the Lord for it all the same. In that place and situation we were trying to be the best stewards of the provision the Lord had granted us, and we are trying to do the same thing here.

Tonight as we prayed “give us today our daily bread” with the children, the Lord brought to mind all the ways in which His provision of daily food has changed over the years. The details of the daily bread has been different in every place, but the principle of dependence upon the Lord has remained.  The way the Lord provides, and the decisions we make about how to use that provision, is not only different from person to person, but from circumstance to circumstance; however, it is always, and only, the Lord who provides.

For that provision, in whatever form it comes, may we be forever grateful.


Some Thoughts on Privilege and Prosperity

Having read Little House in the Big Woods, my mackerdoodle has now, in her trademark fashion, begun peppering me with questions that begin with, “If Laura Ingalls were here, what would she think of [insert random place/item/event here.]?” It is a thought provoking way of looking at the world, and it has opened my eyes to the levels of extravagant opulence in which we really live.

For instance, we have a large number of whole chickens sitting in a freezer in our garage, just waiting to be eaten at our convenience. They are joined by a large selection of bagged, frozen vegetables. I don’t have to salt or smoke or dry things in order to preserve them for the winter ahead. I just freeze them and thaw them later. This has only been a reliable form of food preservation for less than 100 years, and is still not available to the parts of the world in which electricity is largely unreliable. What a tremendous luxury! Ma Ingalls would have loved such an option in her many cabins.

The house we are renting sits on 25ish acres and since the hay has been cut, the children have been flying kites up in the fields where the wind comes off the valley and the highway and goes for a run behind the house. In most of human history, and indeed, in most of the contemporary world, having that much land left open for luxuries like flying kites, is a privilege reserved for monarchs and despots, not the children of country preachers.

School has started for us this week and as I sat down with my plans and my goals and my new books, I realized that this, too, is a luxury. For a family to be able to dedicate one parent to the education of the children is a sign of our relative and societal wealth. It does not require all members of the family to labor for most of the day just to provide the basic necessities of food, shelter and clothing. Instead we can read and write and learn together of times and places in which it has not been so. A machine washes our clothes as we read about wind and build kites to fly in our opulent meadow. I take food from my freezer for lunch instead of walking to the market to barter what we have for a little bit of what we may need. The children can sit at my feet and complain lightly about their tasks instead of spending their days searching out clean (or less dirty) water to bring back to the family, or searching for fuel to keep the fire lit so that we can cook and clean and live. What a privilege. What a luxury.

I have been busy for a few days, and grumbling in my tasks. I have resented the tasks as onerous, instead of seeing the extraordinary prosperity they represent. I have coveted while all the time living a life that someone like Ma Ingalls would have not been able to imagine, let alone wish for. The Lord has inexplicably placed me in a time and place of milk and honey, and I grumble that I cannot “sit by the meat pots and eat bread.” The Lord has used my mackerdoodle’s questions to remind my grumbling, covetous heart of the true lavishness of His provision to me, and that, in all things, is the greatest privilege of all.


More Kissing Frogs For Labor Day

Tracey watched Joanna dash down the marble halls like they were a concrete basketball pad. Her ability to make any space seem comfortable was one of the things Tracey loved about Joanna. Even back in the worst days of living in someone else’s basement, Joanna made it all feel like camp instead of exile.

“I think you owe her an apology.” Edward’s voice was surprisingly gentle in its firmness.

“I know. I’ll find her after fight club and buy her lunch. I was a pretty big fool.” Tracey dropped her head onto the table top and was surprised to feel her father’s strong hand on her shoulder.

“The right man will come along, Tracey. You don’t have to push it.”

“You know how it is,” came her standard reply, “If you want to find a prince you’ve got to kiss a few frogs.

She stood up, before Edward could respond and beckoned Joey to join them.

The poor man looked so out of place here in the club. It was everything that he wasn’t, but rather than making him look rough and unpolished, Joey seemed to make his surroundings look pretentious and artificial. It was one more surprise in her short history with Joey Dreus.

She reached for his hand, and shook it.

“Thank you for everything, Joey. You are a true tradesman, and I am sorry for underestimating you.”

Joey was looking flustered, and his ears were turning red, whether from anger or embarrassment she couldn’t tell. It was like they spoke different languages and everything that came out of her mouth ended up in confusion.

“Am I fired?” came the reply.

It was Tracey’s turn to blush as she turned on her father.

“You didn’t tell him why you wanted to see him? You just summoned and he came?” Tracey laughed, and shook her head. She patted Joey on the shoulder as she walked away.

 

*****


From Potato Flowers to Pickles . . . OR . . . The Tyranny of the Urgent

From Potato Flowers to Pickles LifeMoreAbundant.meFor most of the summer our garden has occupied a small, but regular, portion of my schedule. Every morning we would go out and pick potato bugs from the potato plants, pull the largest weeds, and check on the plants. Occasionally, I would carry water over, but for the most part I did no heavy lifting. I had many philosophical thoughts, from being captured by the beauty of flowering potatoes, to musing on the way the Lord’s provision to us has changed over the last year, while being still entirely dependent upon Him. I pondered these things while walking peacefully through the rows before turning my attention to my other chores.

But for the past two weeks my home has been a hot, hairy, mess while I learn about the urgency of harvests. Everything bows to the timing of the garden, because while laundry and dishes and mopping the floor can wait, if you decide on Saturday evening to pick corn on Monday morning, the racoons may just beat you to it. Did you know that in three days a cucumber can go from the size of a thumb to “oh my goodness, the only thing I can do with that monster is pickle it!”? I didn’t either. I have gallons and gallons of pickles, and relish. I picked, and shelled, and blanched and froze peas every four days until I had to give up, because . . . cucumbers and cabbage, and broccoli. . . . The tomatoes and peppers are finally beginning to ripen, and I have moved from pickle to salsa production. Plus there’s apples literally falling from the trees in the back yard so there is apple jelly and apple butter, and apple pie filling all being sealed in glass jars with a satisfying “pop”.

The freezer is filling. The jars are going from empty to full. The Lord is providing for us, as he always has, in a completely different way than he has before. While He is doing that, he is also teaching me about how to tell the urgent from the truly urgent. Sometimes it means letting the cucumbers get a little bigger, or sacrificing a tomato to the worms. Sometimes it means cooking supper in between rounds of peeling, or stewing, or canning, or blanching. It is the Lord’s provision, and if I have learned anything over the last ten years, it is that the Lord’s provision is perfect, abundant, and wildly unpredictable.


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