Friday, March 30, 2007

Psalm 51: Something Bigger

I have a confession to make. My confession is that I think I went for years as a Christian and didn't really understand confession. I think there's a subtle, yet significant, difference between the admission of wrong and true heart confession. Let me give you an example. Let's just say, (and you know this would never happen in my marriage, that in a moment of busyness and irritation, I speak unkindly to my wife. And let's imagine that a friend overhears what I've said and comes to me and confronts me with this wrong. Now I've been caught. He heard my words, there's no way of escaping it. And so with him watching and Luella listening, I say, "You're right, I shouldn't have spoken that way...Luella, please forgive me." Now this doesn't sound so bad on the surface, but it bears examining.

I've admitted that what I said was wrong, and that's a good thing, but there are two potential flaws in this confession. The first, is it could be that the only reason I admitted to this wrong was because I was caught red handed. I may not have been grieved at all by what I'd said. I may have confessed simply because I was in trouble. The second flaw could be that the confession was only a confession of the behavior (and that's a good thing as far as it goes) and not a confession to the heart that's behind the behavior. Here's the point. It's only when I'm grieved by my sin and acknowledge that this sin is heart deep, that my confession will be followed by the turning of repentance. You see, I speak unkindly to my wife, not because my schedule is busy or because she's less than perfect, but because there are things that I want (success, control, approval, etc...) and when she gets in the way of these things, I'm immediately irritated.

When David, in Psalm 51, prays for a pure heart and a steadfast spirit (vs.10, 11), he's acknowledging that his struggle with sin runs deeper than just behavior. He's not only confessing to the physical acts of adultery and murder, but also to the reality of a heart that's corrupt, that is, it loves personal pleasure more than it loves the Lord. When he talks of God's desire for a truthful and wise heart (v.6), he's confessing to a heart that's craved what's impure and that's loved what's foolish.

What results when you confess because you're deeply grieved by what you've done? What happens when you acknowledge that your physical sin is caused by a heart that's run amuck? The result is that you turn, really turn. What do I mean? I mean that you don't just turn away from the physical sin pattern, but your heart turns to God in new and deeper ways. What does this mean? It means that rather than being driven by the craving for the delivery of your little kingdom desires by the people and circumstances around you, your heart begins to be motivated by big kingdom purposes. True confession always results in living for something bigger!

And so David, once obsessed with the temporary and impure pleasures of his claustrophobic little kingdom of one, now becomes excited with and engaged in the transcendent purposes of God's big sky kingdom. So he says (vs.13-15),

"Then will I teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.
Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and I will sing of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise."

A truly broken and contrite heart will always turn to live for something bigger. Is your confession leading you there?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Psalm 51:Romans 7

I am a mass of contradictions, I don’t want to be but I am.
I preach a Gospel of peace, but my life isn’t always driven by peace.
I talk about a Jesus who alone can fully satisfy the soul, but I am often not satisfied.
I celebrate a theology of amazing grace, but I often react in ungrace.
And if I rest in God’s control, why do I seek it for myself?
Even in moments when I think I am prepared, I end up doing what I didn’t want to do.
Wrong talk
Are not the fruit of the new life, are not the way of grace.
So there is this law operating inside of me.
When I step out with a desire to do good, evil follows me wherever I go.
There is this war that rages inside of me, between a desire for good and sin that is anything but good.
There are times when I feel like a prisoner, held against my will.
I didn’t plan to be mad at the grocery store, but that guy made me mad.
I didn’t plan to be discontent, but it just enveloped me in the quietness of the car.
That discussion wasn’t supposed to degenerate into an argument, but it did.
I am thankful for God’s grace, but there is daily evidence that I'm still in need of help.
That battle inside me cannot be solved by
Helpful hints
I have been humbled by the war I cannot win.
I have been grieved by desires I cannot conquer.
I have been confronted by actions I cannot excuse.
And I have come to confess that what I really need is rescue.
So, have mercy on me, O God,
According to your unfailing love
According to your great compassion
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions
And my sin is always before me.
I embrace the rescue that could only be found in you.
Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Psalm 51: Darkness and Light

He'd lived in the darkness for so long he didn't know that it was dark. Dark was normal and since he'd never experienced light, dark didn't seem dark to him. It wasn't as though he woke up in the morning praying and longing for light. And it wasn't that he had to work to accept the darkness. No, darkness was all he'd ever known. Sure, he fumbled around, bumped into things, and fell down a lot, but none of it bothered him. It was what every day was like for him. He didn't really long to see. He didn't long to see because he didn't know that there was anything worth seeing. He really did think that he saw all there was to see; darkness. He didn't have an accurate sense of size, shape, or color. He had little sense of beauty. He didn't really know what things looked like because the darkness he lived in was so pervasive that the objects around him were but shadows, blobs and blurs.

He had no idea what he looked like because he'd never really seen himself. He thought he knew what he looked like because he'd touched his face and run his hands down his torso, but he'd never seen himself in the light. He was actually quite content in his darkened world and he was quite happy to do what people do when you live in a dark place. He just got up everyday and did what you do when you can't see. Except he didn't know that he couldn't see because he'd never seen because he'd always lived in darkness.

Then it happened one day. He hadn't longed for it. He hadn't asked for it. It just happened. A shaft of light exploded into his world. At first it scared and confused him. He didn't know what it was and his eyes didn't seem able to take it in. All he really knew was that it was different from the darkness he'd always known. It was bright and beautiful and it hurt his eyes, but he couldn't stop looking. He couldn't keep himself from walking toward the light. The closer he got to the light, the more he began to see what was around him. There was a whole world of shapes and colors he'd never seen. But something even more profound began to happen to him. It was shocking, disturbing, and exciting all at once. The closer he got to the light, the more he saw himself! The first thing he realized was that he was naked. For the first time he felt naked. For the first time his nakedness made him uncomfortable. But he not only realized he was naked, he realized he was dirty. And not only was he dirty, he was confronted with the fact that he was lame.

He kept walking toward the light and he felt joy as he did so, but the joy was mixed with grief. As he walked he began to weep. He'd never wept like this before. He wept at the pain he felt over his condition. He'd not known how dirty he was. He'd not known how crippled he was and he felt overwhelmed at what he now knew. He was stunned by the fact that he'd been this way since birth and he'd never known it. He was shocked that he'd never figured out that he moved with a limp. But his shock was quickly mixed with the deepest longing he'd ever felt. It was like he was starved for something he'd never eaten, but now wanted desperately. What he wanted desperately for the first time in his life was to be clean. For the first time in his life he wasn't satisfied being crippled. He longed to be healed. And even though he didn't understand light at all, for the first time in his life he wanted to live in it. And he couldn't imagine ever being content to live in the darkness again.

So he started to run. He ran because he felt drawn - drawn to the light that had so radically altered his world. He wanted to be in the light because somehow he knew that if he could get in the light, he'd be washed and he'd be clean. Somehow he knew that if he could get to the light he would be healed. He knew he couldn't run because he was lame, but he did run. The light was drawing him. The light was giving him strength.

He remembers well those darkened days in that darkened place. He remembers it all with a broken and a celebratory heart. And he is very aware that not only has he been cleansed and healed, he's been given the ability to see as well. And he's deeply grateful that he's been clothed with what he couldn't purchase and that deep within him has been placed the desire to be clean.

"Generous in love—God, give grace!
Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
Scrub away my guilt,
soak out my sins in your laundry.
I know how bad I've been;
my sins are staring me down. "
Psalm 51: 1-3 (The Message)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Psalm 51: The Dance of Redemption

My sin
your unfailing love.
My transgression
your great compassion.
My iniquity
your cleansing.
My evil
your mercy.
My sin
your wisdom.
My iniquity
your presence.
My transgression
your restoration.
My sin
your salvation.
My song
your righteousness.
My broken heart
your delight.
My prosperity
your good pleasure.
Your altar
my delight.
Hide your face
from my sins
Create in me
a pure heart
Do not
cast me from your presence
Do not
take your Spirit from me
Restore to me
the joy of my salvation
Grant me
a willing spirit
Save me
from bloodguilt
Sustain me.

For I know
my transgressions
And my sin
is ever before me.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Psalm 51: Sin; It's Everywhere, It's Everywhere!

Sin is not hurtful because it is forbidden, but forbidden because it is hurtful.
Benjamin Franklin

Marriage is three parts love and seven parts forgiveness of sin.
Lao Tzu

Other men's sins are before our eyes; our own are behind our backs.

Pleasure is the bait of sin.

A sin takes on new and real terror when there seems to be a chance that it is going to be found out.
Mark Twain

Do not bite at the bait of pleasure till you know there is no hook beneath it.
Thomas Jefferson

Sin is sweet in the beginning, but bitter in the end.
The Talmud

Laziness grows on people; it begins in cobwebs and ends in iron chains.
Thomas Fowell Buxton

To sin is a human business, to justify sins is a devilish business.

If you have sinned, do not lie down without repentance; for the want of repentance after one has sinned makes the heart harder and harder.
John Bunyan

The beginning of atonement is the sense of its necessity.
Lord Byron

It is impossible for a man to be freed from the habit of sin before he hates it, just as it is impossible to receive forgiveness before confessing his trespasses.

We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or the guilt of sin.
C.S. Lewis

Self is the root, the tree, and the branches of all the evils of our fallen state.
William Law

In short, a man must be free from the sin he is, which makes him do the sin he does.
George MacDonald

The temptation of the age is to look good without being good.
Brennan Manning

Repentance is but a denying of our will, and an opposition of our fantasies.

Personal sin reflected upon breeds compassion.
John M. Shanahan

People don’t do what they believe in – they just do what’s most convenient and then they repent.
Bob Dylan

I would rather feel remorse than know how to define it.
Thomas A’Kempis

Why does no one confess his sins? Because he is yet in them. It is for a man who has awoke from sleep to tell his dreams.

All sins tend to be addictive, and the terminal point of addiction is damnation.
W.H. Auden

Adam ate the apple, and our teeth still ache.
Hungarian Proverb

Sin is never at a stay; if we do not retreat from it, we shall advance in it, and the farther we go, the more we have to come back.
Issac Barrow

Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made nothing entirely straight can be built.
Immanuel Kant

We are all too Christian to really enjoy sinning, and all too fond of sin to really enjoy Christianity. Peter Marshall

Original sin is that thing about man which makes him capable of conceiving of his own perfection and incapable of achieving it.
Reinhold Niebuhr

Few love to hear the sins they love to act.
William Shakespeare

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Psalm 51: What Does It have to Do with Me?

So what does it have to do with me, this poverty child? What does it have to do with me, this homeless birth in a busy town? What does it have to do with me, these shepherds searching for angel-announced hope? What does it have to do with me, this little boy wandering among the shavings of newly-planed wood? What does it have to do with me, these dirty feet from dusty paths of middle-eastern villages? What does it have to do with me, this unremarkable vagabond? What does it have to me, this traveler with his motley pack of men? What does it have to do with me, these weird sayings and mysterious stories? What does it have to do with me, this healer man with crowds of broken citizens? What does it have to do with me, these jealous leaders plotting evil? What does it have to do with me, confusing predictions about a future unclear? What does it have to do with me, these hungry crowds fed by a little boy's lunch? What does it have to do with me, prostitutes and drunkards made to feel welcome? What does it have to do with me, these courageous declarations while standing in the synagogue? What does it have to do with me, this palm branch carpet processional? What does it have to do with me, this private dinner in a rented room? What does it have to do with me, this basin unused with proud men at the table? What does it have to do with me, this dark garden echoing with painful prayer? What does it have to do with me, these three asleep, with a friend in torment? What does it have to do with me, this kiss of death with soldiers as witnesses? What does it have to do with me, these trumped-up charges by jealous men? What does it have to do with me, this bruised and bloody back? What does it have to do with me, this crown of thorns with flowers removed? What does it have to do with me, this Roman ruler washing his hands? What does it have to do with me, this cross dragged outside of the city? What does it have to do with me, this dirty, bloody man nailed to a tree? What does it have to do with me, these criminal companions hung on either side? What does it have to do with me, soldiers gambling for the accused clothes? What does it have to do with me, sword to the side to finish him off? What does it have to do with me, this scarred corpse placed in a borrowed crypt? What does it have to do with me, these women surprised at the body gone? What does it have to do with me, this story so removed, so long ago? What does it have to do with me, this one wise and suffering man? What does it have to do with me, Palestine graced, hope rejected? What does it have to do with me? This story is my story, each chapter is for me. This unattractive man of humble beginning and ignominious end is the Hope of the Universe. Mercy is what it has to do with me, it is what my sin requires.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Psalm 51: Somebody Else

I really wish I could blame
somebody else.
I wish I could place the responsibility
on somebody else.
I would love to point the finger
at somebody else.
I wish I could convince myself
that it was somebody else.
I tried to feed myself the logic
that it was somebody else.
For a moment I bought my argument
that it was somebody else.
There is always another sinner
who can bear my fault.
There is always some circumstance
that can carry my blame.
There's always some factor
that made me do what I did.
There's always somewhere else to point
rather than looking at me.
But in the darkness of bedtime
the logic melts out of my heart.
In the moments before sleep
the pain begins to squeeze away my breath.
As my mind replays the day's moments
the conclusion is like a slap.
There is no monster
to hide from.
There is no excuse that holds.
My war is not external
the enemy is not outside.
The struggle rages within me,
nowhere to point or run.
No independent righteousness,
no reason for smugness or rest.
I am my greatest enemy
and rescue my only hope.
In the quiet I face it
I cannot blame somebody else.
One more time I close my eyes admitting
my only hope is found in Somebody else.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Mercy Me: Psalm 51 and Everyday Life

It was one of those moments you want to take back. It was one of those times when you go where your desires and emotions are leading you. It was one of those situations when you know you should stop or walk away but feel you can't. And it was one of those moments when afterward you are confronted with the sin that still lives inside of you. Yes, it was one of those moments.

It wasn't a big deal in one way. Just a small conversation that had turned a bit ugly. It wasn't a dramatic life-altering moment. It was in the privacy of my home with one of my family members. But maybe that's the point. Perhaps it's very important because that's where I live everyday. You see, you and I don't live in a series of big, dramatic moments. We don't careen from big decision to big decision. We all live in an endless series of little moments. The character of a life isn't set in ten big moments. The character of a life is set in 10,000 little moments of everyday life. It's the themes of struggles that emerge from those little moments that reveal what's really going on in our hearts.

So, I knew I couldn't back away from this little moment. I knew I had to own my sin. The minute I thought this, an inner struggle began. "I wasn't the only one at fault. If he hadn't said what he said, I wouldn't have become angry. I was actually pretty patient for much of the conversation." These were some of the arguments I was giving myself.

Isn't this interesting. Rather than appealing to the mercy of the Lord in the face of my sin, what I actually do instead is function as my own defense lawyer and present a list of arguments for my own righteousness. The theology behind the defense is that my greatest problem is outside of me, not inside of me. In so arguing, I'm telling myself that I don't really need to be rescued by the Lord's mercy. No, I'm telling myself that what I need to be rescued from is that sinner in the room who caused me to respond as I did.

Here's the point. Before you can ever make a clean and unamended confession of your sin, you have to first begin by confessing your righteousness. It's not just your sin that separates you from God, your righteousness does as well. Because, when you are convinced you are righteous, you don't seek the forgiving, rescuing, and restoring mercy that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

What's actually true is that when I come to the Lord after I've blown it, I've only one argument to make. It's not the argument of the difficulty of the environment that I am in. It's not the argument of the difficult people that I'm near. It's not the argument of good intentions that were thwarted in some way. No, I only have one argument. It's right there in the first verse of Psalm 51, as David confesses his sin with Bathsheba. I come to the Lord with only one appeal; his mercy. I've no other defense. I've no other standing. I've no other hope. I can't escape the reality of my biggest problem; me! So I appeal to the one thing in my life that's sure and will never fail. I appeal to the one thing that guaranteed not only my acceptance with God, but the hope of new beginnings and fresh starts. I appeal on the basis of the greatest gift I ever have or ever will be given. I leave the courtroom of my own defense, I come out of hiding and I admit who I am. But I'm not afraid, because I've been personally and eternally blessed. Because of what Jesus has done, God looks on me with mercy. It's my only appeal, it's the source of my hope, it's my life. Mercy, mercy me!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Head Bowed and Hand Open

I wake up everyday with a plan. I know exactly what I want to accomplish, how I want to accomplish it, and when I hope to complete it. I think ahead about the things I need to accomplish and how they need to be approached. I envision the end when I'm in the middle of the process. I naturally think schedules and deadlines and assign myself completion points because it helps me to work more efficiently. I like being busy and I don't mind the pressure of being responsible for what seems more than I can do. I go to bed rehearsing what needs to be done and I wake up with the list corrected and in better order. I don't mind getting up early and staying up late. I wake up every day with an agenda. There's never a day when I don't have a plan.

Now, you're probably thinking, "Paul's poor wife! This man is obsessed!" I am committed to responsible living and I don't think responsible people have a lot of free time. But there's a problem with all of this. I do make a really good pseudo-sovereign. You know, I love me and have a wonderful plan for my life. And I can struggle with the sovereign God who I claim to serve, but who's not signed on to do anything he can to make my plan work. Here's where our agendas tend to conflict. While I'm investing my energies to make sure my work is complete, he's exercising his grace to make sure I'm complete. While I'm working toward success, he's working towards my holiness. While I'm committed to a disciplined and orderly day, he's committed to use whatever's needed to advance his work in and through me.

But it's not even that simple or obvious. The reason it's so easy for me to be snookered by my own self-sovereignty is that the bulk of what I'm doing is work for the kingdom. I tell myself that it's all about God, his kingdom, and his glory. You see, the problem with the kingdom of self is that it's a costume kingdom. It so deftly masquerades as the kingdom of God. So, self- aggrandizing plans for success masquerade as godly discipline. Impatience with others masquerades as a leader's zeal for the kingdom of God. Holding too firmly onto personal plans masquerades as godly focus. It's quite easy to think you're serving God when you're actually serving yourself. It's quite easy to confuse your plan with God's plan. It's quite easy to praise the fact that God is in charge while living as if you are. It's quite possible to thinking you're building his kingdom when actually you're using his building materials to erect your own little kingdom. It's quite possible to do all of this because the kingdom of self so easily morphs into the shape of the kingdom of God.

This is why we need more than a system of redemption. This is why we need more than theology and rules. This is why we need more than a set of wisdom principles. This is why we need a Redeemer. What we need to be rescued from the most is us! We need to be freed from our hold on us. We need to be freed from our desire to dominate us. We need to be liberated from imprisonment to our agenda for us. We need a Redeemer because our greatest struggle in life exists inside of us and not outside of us.

So once more today I confess to my allegiance to me. Once more I confess to my desire for self-sovereignty. Once more I pry open my hands and let go of the tight grip I have on my life. Once more I entrust my day, my schedule, my plans, my life into the hands of the One who is sovereign. Once more I rest in his power, wisdom, grace, faithfulness, and love. Sure, I keep planning, but with the hope that each day I'll do it more and more with my head bowed before his glory and my hand open to his will.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

On The Other Side of the Border

So there I was in Toronto, rushing through immigration to catch a plane back home. I got to the other side of the border and realized that I'd left my PDA/Cellphone in the rental car I'd just returned. I started to go back for it and realized that I couldn't go back across the border. I called the rental car agency and told them what had happened (identifying my account number and rental car). They told me that I was mistaken, that nothing had been left in the car. The problem wasn't that I couldn't make calls, the problem was that this piece of technology is my brain!

I immediately bowed my head and thanked the Lord for his sovereignty, this trial, and the sanctification that would result. If you believed that, I have a heavily populated island in New York that I would like to sell you! I was so frustrated. I wanted to blame someone, anyone. "It was the rental car guy's fault," I reasoned. "If he hadn't told me to disconnect the GPS, I wouldn't have become distracted and I wouldn't have forgotten my phone!" What was I going to do for the next couple days? How would I keep track of my schedule?

The next day I called the cellphone insurance people only to find out that I needed a Toronto police department report and an officer badge number before they would process my claim for a new phone. Now, I was even more frustrated. How long would this thing go on before I got a usable phone with my needed information on it?

Telling this story really is quite embarrassing. I talk to people all the time about the security and rest that can be found in the sovereignty of God. I tell people all the time that God will take them where they don't want to go in order to produce in them what they couldn't achieve on their own. I teach again and again that God is much more committed to our holiness than he is to delivering our personal definition of happiness.

But I've had to face the fact once again that I don't want God to be sovereign, I want to be. And there are moments when I don't want to be made holy. I would much rather have life be predictable and comfortable, thank you. I don't want to experience the hardships of uncomfortable grace even though I know I still need to grow and change.

So, once again I've confessed to the idolatry that is behind my anger. I've confessed how much I worship at the altars of comfort and control. And I've prayed that some day, by God's powerful and patient grace, that I'd be on the other side of the border where I'd treasure God's work of grace inside of me more than I treasure the ease of the world outside of me. I'm not there yet, but I'm closer than I was last year. How about you?