Friday, July 6, 2018

Understanding the Rocky Soil... Psalm 129—Really?

A song of ascentsSince my youth they have often attacked me—let Israel say—Since my youth they have often attacked me, but they have not prevailed against me. Plowmen plowed over my back; they made their furrows long. The Lord is righteous; He has cut the ropes of the wicked. Let all who hate Zion be driven back in disgrace. Let them be like grass on the rooftops, which withers before it grows up and can't even fill the hands of the reaper or the arms of the one who binds sheaves. Then none who pass by will say, “May the Lord’s blessing be on you.” We bless you in the name of Yahweh. Psalm 129 (CSB).
We all lament the epidemic of Christian youth who drift from the Lord as they move from high school into early adulthood. Whether it is 45% or 85% it is still at epidemic proportions among U.S. Evangelicals. It seems that Psalm 129 offers an interesting perspective and prognosis for this problem. In Psalm 129 the unnamed psalmist offers three earmarks to assist parents, youth pastors, and local churches prepare their youth to navigate this inevitable transition.
The Psalm uncovers three diagnoses related to adolescent drift, thereby offers remedies for the same. These same three diagnoses also emerged as characteristics that Jesus used in His Parable of the Sower. In the second soil mentioned by Jesus in this parable, the shallow soil, Jesus offered three qualities related to the spiritual drift so common among adolescents:
  • The Laboratory of Persecution
  • The Lack Spiritual Depth
  • The Loss of Spiritual Blessing

The interrelationship between Psalm 129 and the seed sown in the shallow soil becomes apparent by linguistic markers. Both speak of short-lived grass. One on the rooftop and the other in the rocky soil. The psalm emphasizes a lack of blessing. The words of Jesus “falling away.” The most interesting theme is that of persecution. In the psalm, the psalmist testifies in first person of receiving continual persecution from his youth. Yet, having faced persecution from his youth, he did not SUCCUMB TO persecution. By contrast, in the Parable of the Sower, the second soil, the shallow soil, is scandalized BECAUSE OF persecution.
And in a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.” Mark 4:16-17 (NAS).
The tragic fate of the seed sown in the shallow soil comes at the point of persecution because of the word of God. Once a child leaves the protective shelter of his Christian family, if he indeed clings to his faith, he will encounter persecution. The moment he verbally shares his faith with others, he faces immediate persecution. The antagonism of the world to the gospel is so unexpected and abrupt, that it comes as a shock to the unprepared. The words of Jesus are shown to be true:
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” John 15:18 (NKJ).
Persecution is part and parcel of the true Christian life. Properly negotiating persecution is seminal to a robust biblical Christian faith. Here is another reason why a universal salvation and the state-run church model make no sense. If everyone is a Christian, why then is there persecution? Hence, for most of Christian history experiencing persecution because of the gospel was not taught as a part of Christian doctrine. Nevertheless, God has foreordained persecution as His crucible to test the character of His people.
We must prepare our youth for persecution. This task is quite simple as the Book of Psalms, the Gospels, and the Acts are replete with examples of persecution and encouragement of how to properly handle it. Further, as we encourage youth to be involved in personal evangelism, we cannot ignore that persecution is one of the first things they will encounter.
Likewise, Jesus spent most of His sermon preparing His disciples for evangelism discussing persecution. The sermon of Jesus in Matthew 10 speaks so strongly of persecution as to be almost overwhelming and unbelievable. He emphasized persecution far more than He did the message they were to deliver. 
We do our youth a disservice when we speak glibly of evangelism, as if it will not result in persecution. We do our youth a double disservice when we contrive methods of evangelism that soften, eliminate, or minimize the possibility of persecution—especially if we still call it evangelism!
Our youth need to face persecution. And as they do, we must be there to assist them in dealing with it, just as Jesus did in His Missional Sermon in Matthew 10. Perhaps spiritual persecution, with its corollary, the narrow road, are the missing elements that youth need for them to have the spiritual depth they need to escape a scandalized faith.
Two points in these passages are extremely sad when considering the many youth who falter from their faith once they reach adulthood. The first is a lack of blessing on their life.
“Neither let those who pass by them say, ‘The blessing of the Lord be upon you; We bless you in the name of the Lord!’” Psalm 129:8 (NKJ).
At best, Christians who drift due to persecution live an unblessed life. At worst, Jesus explained that they stumble (σκανδαλίζω, Matthew 13 and Mark 4) due to the word of God and withdraw (ἀφίστημι, Luke 8) from believing.
Second, Christians who drift due to persecution turn to a hatred of Zion—God’s people and God’s purposes. It is amazing to consider how someone who once tasted the sweet things of God can so quickly and radically turn from the Lord to become an open persecutor of those who walk the narrow road.
“Let all those who hate Zion Be put to shame and turned back.” Psalm 129:5 (NKJ).
The dual mention of youthfulness in Psalm 129:1 is no coincidence. This psalm offers guidance to parents, youth workers, pastors, and church leaders in dealing with the complexities of young people moving out of adolescence and into early adulthood. There is hope for the epidemic. That hope is found in teaching the full counsel of God to our youth—including what the Bible says about persecution and walking the narrow road. Youth must be prepared for persecution and the understand the world’s true hatred of Christ.

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