January 30, 2000
A GOD OF PLENTY
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
This past fall, I was in Princeton doing a continuing education
course with a theologian named Diogenes
Allen. In addition to talking about Pilgrim's Progress, the ostensible subject matter, Dr. Allen read
for us each morning verses from the devotional book he himself used. It was a book published by the
Moravians, called Daily Texts. I was intrigued by the book, which includes two verses for each day and
a prayer, and blank spaces for your own prayer requests. It follows a pattern that Count Nicolas von
Zinzendorf recommended for the Moravians some 270 years ago. So, I ordered a copy and then a lot of
copies for the year 2000 to give to other people. In mid-January, the Old Testament verse was from
Psalm 65, verse 9c, which in their translation reads, "the river of God is filled with water." That
verse struck me the morning I read it, and coming upon it as I worked through Psalm 65 this past week,
I meditated again upon these words, "the streams of God are filled with water," as the New
International Version (NIV) puts it.
The words sound like a simple statement, not very profound,
but like so much of the Bible, when you
believe it is true and that it is for you as I do the words are rich with significance.
I was anxious to see what the original word meant. It is likely
to be treated in volume 10 of the
Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, the one not published yet; but old Brown, Driver and
Briggs says the word, pe - leg, means a channel for rain. The image that comes to my mind with those
words is the concrete basin for the Los Angeles River which, when it rains, is rushing with water.
Certainly the Psalmist lived in a desert world much like the world of Southern California, a world
where water is scarce.
The same word is used in Job 38:25 which speaks of God cutting
a channel for torrents of rain, and "a
path for the thunderstorms, to water a land where no man lives notice that, such squandering of
resources by our "for profit" standards a desert with no one in it, to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass."
God is clearly concerned with more than man. God is concerned with all of the world He made.
More often the word is translated, not "channel for water,"
but "streams of water." Think of Psalm
1:3, "he is like a tree, planted by streams of water." That's the same word. Or, there is Isaiah
32:2, "Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water
in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."
So verse 9 is saying that the river of God, or the streams
of water God gives, are full of water. The
image reminds me of Malachi 3:10, where God's people are to tithe, without skimping, and then Malachi
tells us what God does, "see if I will not throw open the flood gates of heaven and pour out so much
blessing that you will not have room enough for it." This is God, abundantly supplying our need. I
wonder if you are trusting God to do that in your life?
I recall a story that Dit Fenton told our Intervarsity group
when I was a undergraduate at Drexel
University in the late 1950s. It was at the time when the evangelism program of the Latin American
Mission, called "Evangelism-in-Depth," was first being used, and Dit's story was about a man named Don
Pedro. He was the leader of the outreach in Costa Rica. The work of the evangelism program took Don
Pedro away from his farm during a dry, hard time for farmers; but Don Pedro was committed to seeing
people in Costa Rica come to know Christ and he willingly gave the weeks of work the campaign took,
organizing neighborhoods and the large meetings. At the end of the campaign that saw hundreds of
people come to know Christ, Don Pedro came back toward his farm, past field after field of burned out
crops, scorched by the sun and the lack of rain. And as he drove, he came upon one field, rich and
green. This was Don Pedro's farm. Somehow, God's river had been full of rain waters for Don Pedro's
fields. And as this man of God saw his rich fields, he got out of his car and knelt down on the road
and thanked God for His faithfulness. Don Pedro. Dit Fenton's story of 44 years ago. That story
encouraged me at the time, and I have had opportunities since then to prove God in similar ways.
David's Psalm, Psalm 65, like all good sermons and all
Gaul has three parts to it. Verses 1-4
describe the God who atones for sin. Verses 5-8, the God who rules the physical world. Verses 9-13,
the God of bounty. Notice that reading this Psalm is a way to learn more about God.
1. God atones for people's sin. Talk of sin isn't common in
our society; which is strange since,
empirically, sin seems so obvious. For the past 20 centuries, it has been a sense of sin and their
unworthiness which brought people to Jesus, and it also made people who heard the Gospel, hesitate
about coming to God. When they became aware of their sin, it made them feel, well, dirty. Verse 3 is
about this. When we were overwhelmed by our sins, then here is what God does he atones for our
transgressions. The result of this is, to bring people over the threshold. They sense maybe I can
approach God. Maybe there is hope.
The problem here is the problem C. S. Lewis recognized in his book, Prince Caspian. There is one point
in the story where Jill is feeling terribly thirsty; and hearing the sound of a stream in the distance,
she makes her way to the stream, only to find by the bank of the stream, a huge lion. She is unable to
move because of fright, and the lion says, "If you're thirsty, you may drink." In a quavering voice
she says she'll find another stream."There is no other stream," says the lion it's Aslan. And she
hesitates. She finds out the same thing that Mrs. Beaver told an anxious Lucy in The Lion, The Witch
and The Wardrobe, when she first told her about Aslan the lion and that they were going to see him.
"But is he safe?" Lucy asks. "Safe?" Mrs. Beaver says, "Of course he's not safe! But," she adds,
That's always the question for people about Jesus. Well, is
he safe? And the answer is, of course
he's not safe. But he's good. And we need his goodness which atones for our sin. We also need to
know he isn't to be trifled with. Then, in verse 4, we learn what people find when they come to him,
they "are filled with the good things of your house." By Jewish law, the sacrifices which made
atonement for sin also feast the worshiper and the priests. This is what the regulations of Leviticus
7 allowed. There's a Christian version of this in 2 Corinthians 9:8, "And God is able to make all
grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you will abound in every
good work." We need that as much as the Psalmist did. God atones for people's sins.
2. Secondly, God not only atones for sin, He rules the physical
world. It's interesting how the
Psalmist conceives of that. It's not in talk, but in actions. Christians are often accused of being
all talk. Where were they when I needed them, they ask? Nietzsche said that. Gandhi might have
become a Christian except for the way Christians treated him. It was interesting to hear Larry
Readnour's assessment of the Grantham Church before he left this week for his new ministry in
Cincinnati. He said what we do really well in the Grantham Church is serve people. We send out more
people each year in service projects than the church he is going to, which is four times larger, has
sent since it was founded some six or seven years ago.
David takes the same tack that Larry took. He balances words
and actions. God, you hear prayers,
verse 2 says. And then in verse 5, God answers prayers. What does He say? He doesn't say, good boy!
like we were dogs. He acts. "You answer us with awesome deeds." The King James Version (KJV) has,
"You answer us by terrible things in righteousness." Here it is again, of course He's not safe, He's
God. But notice the deeds. God forms the mountains, which stand for the firmest part of the earth.
God stills the seas. Jesus, who was God, did that in Mark 4. God also stills the turmoil of nations.
You care for the land, verse 9. You provide us with bountiful grain, verse 9. God acts.
All this is the basis, back in verse 1, for our praise of God.
Tom Semmel said that in his home
church, verse 1 is inscribed on the wall at the front of the church. It's a German church, so the
words are in German. I'm not sure what German version is there, but the words are, Dir gebuhrt
Lobpreis, O Gott. "Praise is due you, O God." Why? Because He rules the physical world, and acts for
good. And we benefit from that.
3. Thirdly, God not only atones for sin and acts for good,
but he gives abundance. Here's where
verse 9 comes in. The river of God is filled with water. In that Moravian devotional guide, this
verse is linked with the New Testament verse, John 4:14, where Jesus says, "whoever drinks the water I
give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling
up to eternal life." What David is doing in this Psalm is drawing an analogy between the need for
water in the desert places and God satisfying our spiritual thirst. God is a bountiful God. Are you
beginning to get the force of verse 9? The river of God is filled with water?
John Steinbeck wrote a short novel titled, To A God Unknown,
about a man named Joseph Wayne who leaves
his Vermont family and their farm, and comes to a valley in central California which is so rich that he
falls down and embraces the soil. Of course, not knowing God, he worships the land because it is
rich. That is a common mistake, to see only the things before you and not what makes them so.
The Bible is full of pictures of God's bounty. Deuteronomy
11:11, "the land drinks rain from heaven."
Or once again, that verse in Malachi 3, "see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour
out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." Verse 11 of Malachi 3 continues, "I
will prevent pests from devouring your crops and the vines in your field will not cast their fruit."
This is what happened to Don Pedro in Costa Rica. This is all amazing stuff.
Psalm 65 has a wonderful ending. God drenches the plowed furrows
of land with rain, verse 10. The
farm carts overflow with produce, verse 11, and then the pictures finish with the wonderfully poetic
The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.
Derek Walcott is a poet from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. In 1992, he won a Nobel prize for his
poetry that dynamite money of Alfred Nobel put to good use. One of his recent books of poems,
printed in 1997, is titled The Bounty. And one in the series of poems in the book has these lines:
This is how the rain descends into Santa Cruz,
with wet cheeks, with the hills holding on to snatches of sunlight
until they fade, then the far sound of a river, and surging grass,
the mountains loaded as the clouds that have one bright
fissure that closes into smoke, and things return to fable
and rumor and the way it was once, and it was like this once....
God brings abundance into the lives of those who trust Him.
When you pray for God to bless you, He
answers your prayers. He answers with awesome deeds whose effect is to show us God's river is full of
water for our needs.
As Jill is hesitating by that stream side in Prince Caspian,
Aslan asks her how Scrubb happened to fall
off the cliff. This happened just before Jill came to the stream. And Jill honestly admits it was her
fault. She doesn't try to pass the blame on to Scrubb. And Aslan likes what he hears when she makes
that confession. Willingness to admit our sin is a condition for bounty. We shall always be thirsty
and desert- bound without admitting the wrong of our lives. But once Lucy admits her wrong, Aslan
encourages her to drink. And all her thirst is satisfied. That's the key to receiving God's bounty,
as much in David's day as it is in ours. Where are you about this? Are you willing to admit to God
that you haven't been living worth anything? For His part, God waits to bless you until you have come
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