Guest speaker Jeff Louie explores the lament of Psalm 88 and how it can point us to Jesus.
It’s always good to be here at Cornerstone, it’s my home away from home. I don’t know how many years I’ve been preaching here. I think it’s been at least 15 years continually. I just want to just tell you, I have so much joy when I minister to you. I hope the joy that I have for you and for Lord shines through this message. I always like to share with you things that have occurred in my life, so that you’re up to date with me. This is the 2017 version of Jeff. Last year, I spoke a number of times. Nothing really exciting has happened. I’ll just tell you the hijinks of last week. The first major thing is that I am 99% finished with my kitchen remodeling.
I moved in to where we’re living, near SFO in 1992. It’s 25 years and I’ve freshened up the kitchen with hundreds of dollars worth of fixing. Every quarter of the century you have to go big. When you go big and it intersects with a 20% discount off all kitchen cabinets, you know it is the will of God. So we took advantage of the 20% off. I used my Costco card and got an extra 2% off. These days, you have to have your dollar go a stretch. So I’m near done with that. It takes months to do this. It’s okay though. I was a carpenter when I was much younger and I’m in control of this. The cabinets don’t fight back. If I make a mistake, it’s my mistake. If the cabinets have faces and talk to me, then I’m in trouble. I’m in control.
This past week, I went to the dentist. I’ve been going to the same dentist since 1990 when I moved to San Francisco. I have your basic teeth cleaning done. I have Delta Dental and two times a year I go for a cleaning, but there’s a little added problem here. In my older age, my teeth are chipping and cracking. I don’t know what’s happening. Two teeth in the front on the right are cracked. Who cares at the back ones? No one sees that, but it’s the front ones. They’re not the front one, but the front one and the one right next to it. It’s no problem. They just put this B dental, Bondo stuff on it. Then they put this little orange light on you. All of a sudden my smile is even better. It’s all fixed. Every 10 years they will have to redo it, but it’s no problem. It’s the wear and tear of life and getting older. But I have to stop my chewing on ice habit, that’s not good for old teeth.
The biggest hijinks that happened this week was my iPhone six was going on the fritz. I have to restore and back up four times. I’m getting no service. I don’t know about you, but in the days when you had landlines, you didn’t have to worry about this. Now, your cell phone goes on the fritz or you lose your cell phone? Oh man, that’s a problem! What’s happened to your world? You might as well become a hermit, live in a cave. You can’t do anything. I was with customer service online. They tried to send me a SIM chip and fix it. They couldn’t fix it. So I went to the Verizon store, I’m a Verizon customer. They said, “Oh wow, your cell phone’s broken.” I had an iPhone six. They were prone to bending. So he put on tape and says, “Yours bends, you see it’s like this.” I say, “Yeah, I have a problem. I Sit on it all the time.” He said, “We could tell. You need to lose some weight, Jeff because really the bend is pretty bad there.” So I got a new phone, the smaller form. Wow! It costs money,” because iPhones are not cheap, but they have easy installment payments. $15 a month for 24 months. I said, “You can’t go wrong with this.” Yeah, it’s a hassle. Do I get upset? Worried about it. Look, there are more important things in life than getting upset about it. It’s $15 and I’m in control.
I’m in control of this thing. It’s only $15. This is the normal wear and tear of life. All of us have to deal with inconveniences, but you have control over it. Every so often, we will get into a situation that is much deeper and darker. You ask, “What do you mean by that, Jeff?” I try to explain descriptively what it means when we’re in a deeper, darker situation. I boil it down to some principles. It’s when you no longer have control over your life, that’s a really bad feeling. You’re not in a good place and you’re not in control over it. Or you feel overwhelmed by people or the situation. It’s very, very bad. Every one of us face that type of dark situation at some point in our life. I don’t feel I have control. I see no solution in the foreseeable future.
I just finished my semester at the seminary. My last class was with a group of senior students who are about to graduate. The class is very interesting. It’s a summary type of class, reviewing and piecing things together. They get to choose from a list of questions I have of what they want to talk about. So we talked about a few questions about ministry and life. I had about 15 minutes left and said to them, “Well, it’s a little too early to dismiss you. So choose a question and I’ll just answer it. We won’t discuss it.” There are about 10 students. They all agreed and said, “We want the one that says, “What are the sin and problems that ministers face as they minister for Christ?” I said, “You should have chosen a harder one. This is a no-brainer.” I said, “Depression.” I went on to explain how sometimes what makes ministry so complicated is it’s hard to change things. It takes a long time to transform people. Sometimes you can’t please everybody. Sometimes it’s just not as satisfying as you thought it would be, but you’re caught because you just can’t leave. I said, “Yeah, and you can’t tell anybody because you’re the pastor. You got to be the happiest man.” After the class ended, about six students came up to me and personally thanked me for bringing this up because they all shared with me that they’re going through the same thing. These were younger people, not old guys like me. They still have their real teeth.
Sadness and depression are experienced by people in ministry. It’ll come upon everyone in life at some time in your journey. Maybe once, definitely once, twice, three times. Sometimes it’s financial. If you’re in the Bay Area, and you are a relatively new person in the bay and come for a lucrative job in high tech, the biotech industry, or some other field then you’re doing very well. They’re paying you a lot. The average Google worker gets $150,000. For every one of those, you have people who have lived in the bay area longer and don’t get that. But you still live in a place where that’s what it takes to live here. You have one half that have and another half that have not. That’s a very bad feeling to have if you are a have-not. Especially if you have friends and relatives in the area and you love the Bay Area. It’s not a good feeling.
Some of it’s health. I’ve had my own bouts of health. My teeth cracking is an easy thing. I always share, I have rheumatoid, not rheumatoid arthritis. I have an autoimmune disorder that mimics rheumatoid arthritis. The Lord was very gracious to me. I had dealt with it for seven years. If you deal with a chronic illness, that’s very bad. I’ll tell you one of the worst things about it. If you have a chronic disability where you’re not bleeding, no one knows you have it and you don’t get any sympathy. Better that you have a broken bone or bleeding. It’s better they chop off part of your head, then you get sympathy. Autoimmune, “Who are you, man?” I’m making it up. Sometimes it’s physical. Sometimes it’s relational. In relationships, we are born as social beings. When that bond is not perfect or no longer there, it hurts us. No, we are social creatures. It pains us when that happens. It sometimes puts us in a very dark place because we feel that it’s out of our control. There is nothing worse than when that you can’t control it. It’s not the $15 a month for a phone fix. It’s not Bondo on your teeth paid by Delta Dental. So what do we do as believers? What does God have for us? We were all on this journey of inconveniences and nuisances, but also deep and darker places. In order to deal with this and to talk about what God would have for us, I’ve chosen a really interesting Psalm, Psalm 88.
When Terry told me that they’re going to do a Psalm series, this Psalm came to my mind. I said, “I want to choose the hardest, Psalm 88.” Well, 88’s a lucky number. I’m Chinese, 88 is a lucky number. We don’t have four, but we love 8. 88’s the absolute worse Psalm. Do you know what makes 88 the hardest? There are 150 Psalms, 149 of them have hope in them. Most of them are a lament, but even in the lament, there’s hope because ultimately the Psalmist has hope in the deliverance of God. 149 of the 150 have hope, except one. Psalm 88 is the most hopeless Psalm ever so much that if you ever read it, you wonder why in the world is it in the Bible. So painful. But I believe embedded in the words, there is a great hope that shines forth. I hope you see it too. We’re going to do this sermon in basically two parts. I’m going to just read through it and give my thoughts on this so that you understand how the Psalmist is fleshing out this poem. Verse one, “Oh Lord, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before you let my prayer come before you, incline your ear to my cry.”
This doesn’t distinguish Psalm 88 from the rest of the Psalms. Most of the Psalms are lament ones. The ones that are not lament are wrapped around prayers and petitions, requests made to God because they’re in trouble. This is just like most of the other Psalms. We continue with verse three, which talks about the depth of the trouble. Verse three, “For my soul has had enough troubles. My life has drawn near to Sheol. I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit. I’ve become like a man without strength, Forsaken among the dead like the slain who lie in the grave.” That’s pretty serious. At least what the person’s experiencing. He’s using a death metaphor. I hope you caught it. Pit, grave, dead, slain, he’s using every synonym. He’s going to make you feel, I’m dying and you might as well count me as dead. That’s quite frank. I was a pastor for over a quarter-century and still minister to people.
If you came to me and said, “You know what? I feel like dying.” I’d say, “You need some help because you’re really depressed.” You feel like dying, you’re dead? Slain. Psalm 88 tells about honesty. I said, “Why is even this in the scripture?” It’s very honest. Some of us feel like that right now. I’m dying, but you’re not bleeding, but you feel you’re near death. That is not what differentiates this Psalm though from the other 149. The Psalmist continues. In verse six we get what makes the Psalm a little bit different. I’m going to focus your attention on where the Psalmist puts the blame. In other Psalms, the blame is cast upon the individual. I made a boo-boo, I suffer the consequence of the boo-boo, but you are forgiving God. Option A: God is a forgiving God, He forgives boo-boos. Option B: I’m doing the will of God. People, don’t like doing the will of God. So they’re attacking me. So the problem isn’t me doing the boo-boo, the problem is other people.
Option C is weird. For option C, I will read, “You have put me in the lowest pit in the dark places in the depth, your wrath has rest stood upon me. You have afflicted me with all your waves.” It’s not me. It’s not you. It is God. This is really weird. For its option C. The one to blame for my problem is you, God, “Your wrath has rested upon me. You have afflicted me with all your waves. You have removed my acquaintances far from me. You have made me an object of loathing to them. I am shut up and cannot go out. Eyes wasted away because of the affliction. I have called upon you every day, I’ve spread out my hands to you.” Now, this has to be where you get some separation of some 88. There’s a bit of anger toward God here, which theologically should not be. He’s a loving God, but I’ll tell you, I’ve been around the block as a believer and as a pastor.
I’m going to say something that I know is near sacrilegious. There will be times as a believer that we will not understand what’s happening in our lives. We will be angry at Him. I wish it didn’t happen, but every so often you are going to be blindsided by something, you are going to be praying, and it’s not you to blame. Though in a sense, it’s always a little bit of you and not other people. But God has placed you somewhere and it’s like, “I can’t take it anymore. I’m dying. Get me out of here. Your wrath is placed upon me. It’s very dark,” because the adversary, that might be too harsh of a word, the source of the anguish, is God himself.
Now we’re getting some separation of Psalm 88, how deep and dark this thing is. Verse 10 comes what I think is the critical center of this Psalm. It’s a series of rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions, there is no answer needed, but the answer is known when you read it, even without verbally giving an answer. The rhetorical questions come in verses 10, 11, and 12. “Will you perform wonders for the dead?” No. “Will the departed spirits rise and praise you?” No. “Will your loving kindness be declared in the grave and your faithfulness in Abaddon?” No. “Will your wonders be made known in the darkness and your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” No. The rhetorical question is at the center of it. In the time of the revelation of what God was revealing to His people. This is this life. Life is precious to me and I believe in God. I believe in a God that’s very powerful. That overarching looks over me, but I’ve checked my life and it’s not me. Why is your wrath resting upon me?
Verse 13 has a new complaint against God. Verse 13. “But I, oh Lord have cried out to you for help, and in the morning, my prayers come before you.” Okay, he’s doing the prayer. Verse 14. “Oh Lord, why do you reject my soul? Why do you hide your face from me?” Verse 15, “I was afflicted and about to die from my youth on.” This is chronic. Over a decade. “I suffer your terrors. I am overcome. Your burning anger has passed over me since I was a youth. Your terrors have destroyed me. They have surrounded me like water all day long. I feel like I’m drowning. They have encompassed me altogether.” Finally, verse 18, “You have removed lover and friend far from me. My acquaintances are in darkness.”
There should be a verse 19 and 20 that says, “But in this, I praise you in the temple because you are God almighty and you are worthy of all praise. So forgive me what I said.” No, it just ends with “My acquaintances are in darkness.” It’s the strangest. The person’s very, very upset with God. How does this work? It could be one of the most depressing things you ever read in scripture. But one of the things I want to show you before we talk about how to apply this thing is where this thing ultimately ends up. In a way, Psalm 88 was written by a real person, experienced a real thing, set in corporate worship that they experienced real suffering as a nation of Israel. It was real. Individually real, corporately, real, but actually Psalm 88 has a trajectory beyond and you don’t see it unless you see verses 10, 11, and 12 as the center of the Psalm where there’s a bunch of rhetorical questions.
“Will you perform wonders for the dead?” No. “Will the departed spirits rise and praise you?” No, because this is all that’s life. There’s a series of abandonment, unanswered prayer, and depression that we sense. There is no solution in Psalm 88. I have to tell you, in the Psalm itself, there is no solution. You might as well die and get it over with. Until we read the gospels and we understand Christ and why He came. The first one is Mark 14, “Every day I was with you in the temple teaching and you did not seize me, but as this has taken place to fulfill the scripture and they left Him and fled.” So what’s going on here? This is when Jesus is betrayed prior to His crucifixion. He’s betrayed by Judas with the kiss. They come to arrest Him. Jesus says, “Why this time? You could have gotten me any other time but now you’re doing it.” That last line, “They all left and fled Him.” What is this he said? All the guards ran away? No. The disciples all fled and left.
Judas was the one who betrayed. So we take out him. There are 11 others, 11 disciples fled. The second passage was also Mark 14:72, “Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny three times.” He began to weep.” Now, what’s this? You have the disciples, 12. Then you have the disciple, Peter. He was the disciple. He was the one who swore he would never forsake or deny Jesus Christ. He would never run away from Jesus. The others could, but not the disciple. In Mark 14, you have the disciple denying Jesus.
Mark 15. “The crowd went up and began asking Him to do as He had been accustomed to do for them. Pilate answered them saying, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” For he was aware that the chief priest had handed Him over because of envy. But the chief priest stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead.” Some of you may be familiar with this episode, others may not. Basically, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, understands that Jesus is being railroaded by leaders. He tries to have a way out. He says, “I know what I’ll do. I can give a pardon. I bring two people and they get to choose.” The people will get to choose, which overrides leaders. It’s like a democratic vote.
Pilate says, “I’ll stack the deck. I’m going to put Jesus, someone they all love, compassionate, tells it like it is, but very loving. The other one will be a known criminal.” Stack the deck. They choose the known criminal man. The people that Jesus was to deliver, reject Him for a known criminal. You see how stacked this was. Now when I was young, that’s many years ago. Many, many years ago when I was taller, I used to play basketball, street basketball. Those feared New York Street basketball players. That’s not me. I’m a little too short. I can’t jump, I can’t dribble with my left hand. Which means no MBAs, no MBA for you. Not even D League. Not even high school. So it’s like saying to the warriors, you get to choose your next player. My right is Steph Curry, on my left is Jeff Louie, “Who do you want? What do you want, Jeff? Are you crazy? It’s Steph Curry. I can’t even draw with my left hand. I can’t even jump because it’s stacked. No way is Jesus going to get out of this. His disciples flee, the disciple denies, and then His people want the crook. Ultimate rejection. Mark chapter 15, “At the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” This is the final, I don’t want to say rejection, but that’s the only word I can think about.
His father, God, and Jesus knows it. “Why have you rejected me? I’m your son, deliver me. Everyone has left. You have forsaken me.” See, in a sense, Psalm 88 was written by a human being, reflecting human experience, to which every one of us here has some part that we can tie and grab a hold on because we experience things like this sometime in our life. But Psalm 88 has a greater trajectory and a greater goal. Christ was the ultimate fulfillment of Psalm 88. You have to understand this. That for whatever happening, the gospel writers, especially Mark was framing the narrative so that you know that Jesus was rejected by everybody, even by His father. I don’t know if I’d say reject, I’ll just use the word forsaken, which is tough enough. Isn’t it? You say, “Why?” It all revolves around versus 10, 11, and 12. The series of rhetorical questions. I will read them again. “Will you perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise? Will your loving kindness be declared in the grave and the faithfulness so in Abaddon? Will your wonders be known in darkness and your righteousness in the land of the forgetful?” In Psalm 88, it’s no. That’s why you have to answer me now, Lord because what good is it if I’m dead.
Christ changed the whole narrative because that which you assume to be no in Psalm 88 becomes yes in Christ. All the suffering we experience because of a fallen world, Christ experienced as the perfect son of God, so that we may be redeemed so that we can have the narrative changed in our lives. It’s an incredible Psalm when you understand how it fits in the whole path of Jesus Christ. From a moment of doubt comes now to Romans chapter 8:37-39. “But in all things, we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come nor powers nor height, nor death, nor any other creative thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” In Christ, “Which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord,” comes the ability for the believer to understand. The love of God for us is inseparable to us in Christ. It changes the whole narrative of suffering. This is why water and the message in terms of application. Some of you are new believers in this journey and are learning prayer and are very excited about this series on Psalms because it’s much about expression. Psalm 88 reinforces that God really loves honesty. One of the issues of Christianity is sometimes we play a game with people. We have to pretend to be better than we are and you die, wallow in your suffering because you can’t explain it to anybody. If I’m a pastor, someone’s like Psalm 80, “What are you doing in my church, man?”
Christ is saying, “You know what? I’ve come to redeem you. You’re welcome.” For others, you are in some midst of sadness, maybe not in this depth. What you need to do is recast, understand, and focus upon the work of Jesus Christ in your life. To understand love will triumph over suffering and that all suffering has its plan and purpose to make us better, more faithful, and more reflective of God in our lives. There will be others here who just like the Psalmist are angry with God. I wish we didn’t exist, but Christians cannot be angry with God except in front of a therapist. No, you can’t say it church. We might even doubt you’re a Christian. How can you doubt? How can you be angry at God,? It’s absurd. I’ve been a pastor for over 25 years. I’m a Christian for 54 years. I know people get angry at God. I know it.
If you’re in that situation where you’ve lost control and are angry at Him, you need to reframe that anger and reframe how you see God. You have to separate the situation from who God is Himself. From the one who places you in untenable situations, to one whose ultimate goal through Jesus Christ, who bore all the suffering for everyone in this room and in this world, to demonstrate His love for us. You need to reframe and recast how you view God from an angry God who bears His wrath upon you to a loving God who demonstrated that love through Christ. Who changed the narrative. You still need to do what you need to do in life. But the whole aspect of who God is, “Is He hateful? Is He loving?” Maybe you need to recast that. You say, “How did He love me?” No greater love can one ever demonstrate than to have the son of a God die for you. Maybe you need to recast. Others, you may not be a follower of God and say, “Why do I need to believe in a God that’s so old school, ancient?” I’ll tell you what because the world needs this. The world’s a mess. We are messes. We need to deliver inside out, which sends us into the next world to reframe how we view all and deal with our issues.
We will be people always burdened with sadness. The older you are, the more you understand this. But for the believer in Christ, sadness is never to be hopeless. There I draw a line. I experience pain in life, but Christ is my hope because He conquered the grave. In a strange way, He loves me more than even I do myself. If you could understand that you will understand the grace of God, and how that will change how you view your faith. Allow me to pray for you. “Heavenly Father, wherever we are in life. I especially pray for those who are in darkness. That through Christ, you give us a peace that passes all understanding through Jesus Christ, and you lift us up. In a moment we see your grace. We see your love and we see you, different Lord. Then you, your great love, peace, and mercy toward us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”