Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Psalm 51: What in the World is Hyssop?

It seems such a strange request from a man who's in the throes of grief over sins that he can't deny and can't take back. I would propose to you that it was exactly the right thing for David and each of us to pray whenever we're confronted with our sins. But when you first read the word in Psalm 51, it does make you wonder, "What in the world is hyssop?"

Researching the plant won't give you much help. It produces a delicate white flower and is thought by some to have medicinal qualities. But this is one time that wikipedia.com won't help you. What you really need to know, in order to understand the grieving in David's request, is Old Testament history. David's mind goes to that original Passover, when the firstborn of Egypt were stricken dead and the houses of Israel that had blood on the door frames, were passed over. What does this have to do with David's request? Here it is. God directed the Israelites to take a branch of hyssop and dip it in blood and paint the door frames with it.

Here is David, grieved by his sin and bowed before God between the "already" and the "not yet." Already the blood of the first Passover had protected Israel from death and made their exodus to freedom and the land of promise possible. Already the Mosaic system of constant animal-blood sacrifices covered the sins of God's people. But the promised Lamb had not yet come. Not yet had his blood been spilt, once and for all, in the final moment of sacrifice that forever ended any need for further sacrifice.

So, reflecting on the past, David's words actually reach into the future. They form the ultimate backdrop to the future prayer. For embedded in this cry for cleansing
that remembers the spilt blood of deliverance (Passover) and the shed blood of forgiveness (Mosaic sacrifices), David cries for the one thing that anyone who acknowledges his sin will cry for; cleansing.

When your sin really does become ugly to you, when it produces pain in your heart and sickness in your stomach, you celebrate forgiveness, but you want something more. You want to be clean. You long to be once and for all purified from all sin whatsoever. You want your sin to be once and for all washed away. You want to be free of every dark residue of sinful thought, desire, word, or deed.

Yes, you'll love the fact that you can stand before God dirty and unafraid because of his comprehensive and freely given grace. You'll love the fact that his forgiveness of you has been full and complete. But you'll grow tired of needing and seeking forgiveness. You'll mourn the hold that sin has on you. You'll be frustrated with the way that sin seems to infect everything you do. And you'll begin to plead for what the blood of Jesus alone is able to do; wash away your sin! In this moment of need and helplessness, you'll cry, "Purge me with hyssop Lord, dip the branch of your grace into the blood of your Son and cleanse me once and for all!"

David never sang this great old hymn, but maybe he'll hear it some day and remember the tear-stained prayer that followed the visit of Nathan. Maybe someday he'll celebrate final cleansing with a chorus of the ages singing:

"What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
O' precious is the flow,
That makes me white as snow.
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus."

Monday, May 28, 2007

Psalm 51: Moral Vulnerability

Beauty compelling
Tugging, seducing
Wanting and craving
Weakened resolve
Lingering, staring
Moral transgression
Look of desire
Selfish rebellion
Act of betrayal
Weakened resolve.
Long consideration
Dreams of possessing
Evil hoping
Enemy lurking
Heart now racing
Battle raging
Nervous thinking
Flesh growing weaker
Drawn to the darkness
Weakened resolve.
Wrong seen as righteous
Plausible lies
Twisted pretenses
Self swindling
Guilty logic
Deluded perspectives
Weakened resolve.
Deciding and choosing
Date and location
Concrete plans
Words of acceptance
Verbal contract
Shared deception
Anticipation
Tracks covered over
Weakened resolve.
Deed now accomplished
Fleeing the scene
Dark of night
Trembling hands
Afraid of discovery
Made up stories
Weakened resolve.
Morning remorse
Hard to imagine
Fear of discovery
Rehearsed denials
Lust unweakening
Purity lost
No undoing
Weakened resolve.
Protecting secrets
Telling lies
Acting the part
Believable excuses
Internal battles
Hunger for more
Weakened resolve.
Haunted by guilt
Crushed by conviction
No more delusion
Power of truth
Weakened resolve.
Stain of iniquity
Remorse of transgression
Cries for forgiveness
Hope for mercy
Cast on compassion
Admission of guilt
Weakened resolve.
Bitter harvest
Sweet forgiveness
The grace of cleansing
Joy in acceptance
Rescuing Savior
Loving Redeemer
Patient Father
Acting in power
Sins bondage broken
No more compulsion
Freedom is given
Weakened resolve.
Confession of weakness
Tell of his mercy
Worship and service
Willing obedience
Resisting temptation
Steps of protection
Weakened resolve.
Seeking assistance
Sacrifice gladly
Witness to battle
Praise and thanksgiving
Long perseverance
Gone is deception
Weakened resolve.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Psalm 51: Everyone's a Teacher

Do you know that God has called you to be a teacher? You say, "Come on, Paul, you've got to be kidding! I've never been to seminary. I freeze up whenever I have to say something in front of a crowd. I don't feel that I'm as biblically literate as I should be. I don't think God really intends me to be one of his instructors."

Let me explain what I'm talking about. It's true that God sets apart certain people for formal teaching ministry in the church. He gives them the gifts and grace necessary to do the thing he's called them to do. But the formal ministry of the Word in the body of Christ is only one aspect of the church's teaching ministry. Paul says, in Colossians 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom." It's clear here that he's talking about the myriad of everyday life ministry opportunities that God will give everyone of his children. According to Paul, you have been called to teach. And if you want to understand what that means, you need to understand that there's no real separation between life and ministry. Rather, the Bible teaches that every dimension of human life is, at the very same time, a forum for ministry.

Now this is where David comes in. He says, in Psalm 51, "Restore to me the joy of my salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways..." David is reminding us that what qualifies us to teach in the personal ministry context of daily life, is the grace that you received in your own moments of need. This teaching isn't about laying out a comprehensive theology of grace. Most of us wouldn't be qualified to do that. No, what it's actually about is realizing that my story of God having rescued me by his grace, is a tool that God intends to use in the lives of others. As I teach others, by being willing to share my own story, I am actually being a tool of transforming grace in their lives. In this kind of one on one, informal ministry, I'm not teaching the person ABOUT grace. No, I am sharing my EXPERIENCE of grace. People learn, not because I've opened the dictionary of grace, but because I've shown them the video of grace in operation.

So, are you a good steward of your story of grace? Have you thought about how to tell your story in a way that puts God and his grace in center stage? Have you looked around and considered who's living with or near you who could benefit from your story of grace? Where've you tended to not let your gratitude shine as brightly as it should? Where've you been unwilling to talk honestly about how much you were (and continue to be) a person in need of rescue?

So, it's true, you have been called to teach. Maybe not as a pastor, small group leader, Sunday School teacher, or a foreign missionary. But you have been called to a daily life of Gospel transparency, where you're ready, willing and waiting to share your gratitude for the grace you've been given, with someone who needs it just as much as you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Psalm 51: Natal Trauma

You probably don't need me to remind you of this, but there's nothing less innocent than childhood. You see the moral dilemma of children when quite young. For example, have you ever seen the body of a yet wordless infant stiffen up in anger? You know the scene. It's nap time. You've fed and changed him. You've sung every song known to human culture and finally he's asleep. You make your way to the door of the room and just as you're ready to make your escape, you hear this ear-piercing scream. You turn around and there he is, red-faced and with his entire body rigid with anger. Now you have to visit what's going on there. Clearly, this little one isn't suffering out of need. All of his needs have been taken care of. No, he's angry, and he's angry because at that moment you're not doing what he wants you to do. His rigid-body scream is saying, "Mommy, I love you and I have a wonderful plan for your life!"

Or consider this scenario. You take your five year old to Toys R Us. You place him in the cart and you aim the cart down the middle of those wide aisles. You do that because you don't want Johnny to be able to grab everything his heart desires. You get through the store without too much conflict and you find yourself in that final checkout aisle. Now this aisle is designed to be a conspiracy against your parenting, because at eye level and quite reachable are those $6.95 to $8.95, blister-wrapped items. So Johnny says to you, "Mommy, I want one of those." You say, "Johnny, mommy is not going to buy you anything else." Johnny says, "But Mommy, It's a "Captain X Bonco Figure" and I don't have any of them. Billy has all of them. He even has the play station that goes with it. I'm the only boy I know that has to go to someone else's house just to hold a Bonco figure." You say, "Johnny, I already said that I'm not going to buy you anything else." "Johnny says, "Mommy, if you buy this for me, I'll never ever ask for anything ever again. You say, "Johnny, you mustn't ask for that Bonco figure again, this puzzle is the only thing I'm going to buy today." At that point, Johnny begins to scream. It's embarrassing to have this encounter take place as people are waiting behind you to check out.

Now, let's examine this moment. Johnny doesn't want a mom to provide for him. Johnny doesn't want a God to provide for him. No, Johnny wants to be that God. Johnny wants to think and it will happen, he wants to speak and it will be done, and if you stand in Johnny's way, there will be hell to pay!

You see, when David says, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me, " he's exposing the ultimate natal trauma. There's a deeper birth trauma than the physical suffering that both mother and child must endure in order for the child to be born. No, the deeper, more profound trauma is the devastating reality that you can't stop yourself from giving birth to a sinner. It happens 100% of the time. It's the natal disease for which there is no inoculation.

But there's more to be said about this universal natal trauma. When David says that he was sinful from birth, he's talking about something more significant than the fact that even babies do bad things. He's actually pointing to why babies do bad things. Being a sinner is about the disease of the heart behind the aberrant behavior. The moral problem of babies is not first about behavior. They have a behavioral problem because they want their own way. They want to live in the center of their own little universe. They want to be the kings and queens of their own little kingdoms. So, they are innately self-focused and rebellious. They've their own agenda and they don't want to serve the will of another. That's why the infant stiffens his body at nap time and the little boy starts screaming in the checkout aisle of Toys R Us. Both instances of bad behavior are rooted in the most horrible of natal diseases, an idolatrous heart.

This is precisely why David prays for mercy. If my problem is congenital idolatry, then I need something more than systems of behavior modification and emotional management. I need the rescuing mercy of a Redeemer, who'll take my guilt on himself, who'll take residence inside of me, and who'll continue to persevere until I've been completely cured of the disease that's infected me since birth; sin. Thankfully, that Redeemer has come and his grace is up to the task!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Psalm 51: Wrecking Balls and Restoration

You know whether a house is being restored or condemned by the size of the tools that are out front. If you see a crane and a wrecking ball, the house isn't being restored, it's coming down. Wrecking-ball responses to the sin of another are seldom restorative. This is one of the things that's so striking about Psalm 51 and the history that surrounds it.

If God had had a wrecking-ball response to the sin of David, there would be no Psalm 51. He had every right to condemn David. David was the anointed king of Israel. He was placed in his position by God. He was put in that position in order to be a physical representation of the one true King of Israel, the Lord himself. All that he did was designed to be representative, that is, making the invisible King visible. So, David's position made the horrible sins of adultery and murder doubly reprehensible. It was right for God to be angry. It would have been just and righteous for God to tear down the house of David forever.

But God's response wasn't a wrecking-ball response. No, God's response to David was the small-tool response of restoration. I live in Philadelphia. It's an older city where much old home restoration goes on. Pretend with me that you wander into one of those grand old stone homes that's being restored. And pretend that we're watching a craftsman remove one of the three pieces of a triple-crown molding that's on the wall of this wonderful old house. The carpenter is motivated by the vision that this house could be restored to it's former beauty, so he's not yanking the molding off the wall with a crowbar. He knows that the wood of the molding is dry and brittle, and therefore, susceptible to cracking and breaking. So, he's using the small tools of restoration. He has a light-weight hammer and an apron pocket full of wedges. He tap, tap, taps a wedge into place, then moves a few inches down and repeats the process. Gently, the wedges ease the molding from the wall. You take a glance behind you and you see three piles that comprise the three types of molding that trimmed the walls. And you're impressed as you look that there's not a crack in a single piece in the three piles.

God's response to the sin of David is the small-wedge response of a Restorer. He uses the small wedge of the sight-giving words of a prophet, who tells a well-crafted story. He uses the small-wedge of conviction, causing David's eyes to see and his heart to grieve. He uses the small-wedge of forgiveness, offering David his unfailing love and mercy. He uses the small-wedge of reconciliation, drawing David to himself once again.

But here's what's vital for you to understand; he didn't respond in that way just for David's sake, but for you and me as well. Why didn't God have wrecking-ball responses to David's sin? The answer is that God had plans for David and his descendants. God knew that from the family of David would come the Messiah who would be condemned. Jesus would take the full brunt of God's wrecking-ball anger against sin. And he would do that so we would never face condemnation, and have the hope of full and final restoration.

So, in his grace, God hammers at you, but not with the sledge-hammers of condemnation, but with the small hammers of restoration. He's constantly tapping the wedges of redemption into place. He's constantly working to separate you and me from our sin. He's refinishing us by his grace so that we can shine with his character. We're forever free from the fear of the wrecking balls of condemnation. He was willing to be condemned so that we may live in beauty and for the purpose for which we were first constructed, the praise of his glory.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Psalm 51: When God is Glad

In the pain
of my confession
it's hard to recollect
the fleeting pleasures
of my sin.
My shame
hides your face.
My anguish
drowns out your voice.
The lingering visions
of what I've done
haunt
my soul
assault
my heart
dominate
my thoughts.
I want to undo
what
I've done.
I want
to turn back time
so that
my thoughts would be
pure
and my hands would be
clean.
But
lust was born
and
the deed was done.
I can't undo
what dark pleasure has wrought.
So I come to you
just as I am.
I bow before you
shamed and unclean.
The searching light
of your righteousness
puts fear in my heart
and
reveals more stains than
I ever thought I had.
I bow before you
because I've nowhere else
to go.
I confess to you
because I've no other
hope.
There's no place
to run
There's no place
to hide.
I can't escape
what I have done.
I can't erase
my stains.
So in my grief
I ask for one thing.
I long
to hear You sing.
I long
to see You rejoice.
For when my ears are graced
with Your song
and when I am blessed
by Your gladness
and when the angels
celebrate
then I can be sure
that I've been given
the greatest
of gifts
the miracle
of miracles
the thing that only love
could purchase
the blessing that only love
could offer;
forgiveness.

"Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you've crushed rejoice." Psalm 51:8

"The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, He will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17

"I tell you that in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." Luke 15:7

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Psalm 51: Sin is a Relationship

Sin is much, much more than the violation of a set of rules. Sin is more profound then rebellion against a moral code. Sin is about something deeper than behaving inappropriately. It's deeper than bad actions and wrong words.

When you witness the body of an infant who's not yet able to communicate with words, stiffen up in anger, you know you're dealing with something bigger, deeper, more fundamentally disturbing than a failure to observe a code of conduct. The infant is angry because you're asking him to do what he doesn't want to do. He's outraged that you'd presume to give him directions. He wants to be the king and lawgiver in his own little universe of one. He doesn't want to live under the authority of another. He wants to make up his own rules; rules that would, of course, follow the shape of what he wants, what he feels, and what he determines he needs. The only thing that would actually satisfy him is the one thing that he'll never have, God's position. He was created to live under authority, not to be that authority. So he fights his subjugation in a vain quest for self-sovereignty.

It's the desire to be God rather than to serve God that's at the bottom of every sin that anyone has ever committed. Sin isn't first rooted in a philosophical debate of the appropriateness or healthiness of a certain ethic. No, sin is rooted in my unwillingness to find joy in living my life under the authority of, and for the glory of, Another. Sin is rooted in my desire to live for me. It's driven by my propensity to indulge my every feeling, satisfy my every desire, and meet my every need.

This is why David says, "Against you, you only, have I sinned..." He isn't denying the enormity of his sin against Bathsheba, his violation of his calling to the citizens of Israel, or his capital crimes against Uriah, Bathsheba's husband. What he's understanding in his confession is that every sin is against God. In his conviction, David understands that sin is an act of relationship, or better stated, a violation of the one relationship that's to be the shaping factor of everything I do or say. Every sin is vertical, no matter how thunderous the horizontal implications of it are. It's God, for whom and through whom we were created to live, whose boundaries that we step over, because we don't love him the way that we should.

Because sin is about the breaking of relationship, restoration of relationship is the only hope for us in our struggle with sin. It's only because God is willing to love us in a way that we refuse to love him, that we have any hope of defeating sin. It's through the gift of adoption into relationship with him, that we find what we need to gain power over sin. And what do we need? A greater love for him than we have for ourselves. His love for us is the only thing that has the power to produce in us that kind of love for him.

Sin is a relationship and it takes relationship to deliver us from sin. Christ was willing to experience the rejection that our rebellion deserves so that we could have the relationship with God that's our only hope as we grapple with the selfishness of sin.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Psalm 51: The Holy of Holies

In the holy of holies,
Where my deepest thought dwells.
In the secret place,
Of the heart,
Where no one sees,
And no one knows.
In that place where worship,
Sets the course,
For all I say,
And all I do.
In the holy of holies
Where thoughts,
Afraid to be verbal,
And desires,
Never quite spoken
Determine,
What I will seek,
And say,
And do.
In holy of holies,
Where greed lurks dark,
And anger stands dangerous.
In the shadows,
Where lust captivates,
And envy enslaves.
In that sacred place,
Of the heart,
Where I plan what I will do,
And rehearse what I will say.
In the holy of holies,
Where love is born,
Or succumbs to hate.
Where gentleness,
Falls to vengeance.
In that place where,
Thinking never ends,
And interpretations,
Become a way of seeing.
In the holy of holies,
Where feelings grow in power,
And overwhelm,
What is sensible,
Good,
And true.
In the holy of holies,
Where I stand naked,
All covering gone,
Before you,
What I am,
As I am,
Void of defense,
Stripped of excuse.
Nowhere to hide,
No reputation to polish.
In the place where you,
Can see,
And hear,
And know.
May you do there,
What I cannot do.
May you create there,
What only mercy can give.
May you hold back,
What I deserve,
And give what,
I could never earn.
May you create in me,
A clean heart.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Psalm 51: The Terrible Trinity

The Bible doesn't pull any punches as it describes the scary reality of sin. You have the powerful words of Genesis 6:5 "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." Every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time! Could there be a more forceful way of characterizing the pervasive influence of sin on everything we do?

Or you have Paul building his case for the sinfulness of everyone, that reaches this crescendo, "All have turned away, they have together become worthless, there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:12).

Along with this, the Bible very clearly unpacks the underlying spiritual dynamics of sin as well. Passages like Luke 6:43-45 and Mark 7:20-23, teach us that sin is first a matter of the heart before it is ever a matter of behavior. Romans 1:25 alerts us to the fact that sin, in its essence, is idolatrous. It is when God is replaced as the ruler of my heart that I give myself to doing what pleases me rather than what pleases him.

Psalm 51 is one of the definitional passages when it comes to sin as well. David employs three words for sin that really define the nature of what our struggle with it is all about. The first definitional word he uses is the word, TRANSGRESSION. To transgress means to acknowledge the boundaries and willing step over them. I trangress when I knowingly park in a no parking zone. I know I'm not supposed to park there, but for the sake of person convenience, I do so anyway. Often our sin is just like this. We know that God had forbidden what we're about to do, but for personal success, comfort, or pleasure we step over God's prohibition and do exactly what we want to do. When we trangress, we not only rebel against God's authority, but we convince ourselves that we're a better authority, with a better system of law than the one God gave us. Propelled by the laws of personal wants, personal feelings, and personal need, we consciously step over God's boundaries and do what we want to do.

But not all of our sin is conscious, high-handed rebellion. So, David uses a second word, INIQUITY. Iniquity is best described as moral uncleanness. This word points to the comprehensive nature of the affect of sin on us. Sin is a moral infection that stains everything we desire, think, speak, and do. Sadly, no infant since the Fall of the world into sin, has been born morally clean. We all entered this world dirty and there's nothing we can do to clean ourselves up. Iniquity is like inadvertantly putting a pair of bright red socks into the wash with a load of whites. There'll be nothing that escapes the red stain and remain completely white. In the same way, sin is pervasive. It really does alter everything I do in some way.

But there's a third word that David uses that gets at another aspect of sin's damage. It's the word, SIN. Sin is best defined as falling short of a standard. In our moments of best intention and best effort, we still fall short. We're simply unable to reach the level of the standards that God has set for us. Sin has simple removed our ability to keep God's law. So, we fall short of his standard again and again and again. In your thoughts, you fall short. In your desires, you fall short. In your marriage or family, you fall short. In your communication, you fall short. At your job, you fall short. With your friends, you fall short. We simply are not able to meet God's requirements.

This "terrible trinity" of words for sin really does capture with power and clarity the nature of the war that rages inside each one of us. Sometimes I do exactly what God requires, but I don't care because I want what I want and so I step over his wise boundaries. Sometimes I look back on what I've done, thinking that I'd done pretty well, only to see ways in which my words and behavior were once more stained with sin. And over and over again, I'm confronted with my weakness and inability. I fall short of God's standard even in moments of good intention.

How can this terrible trinity do anything other than to drive us to seek the grace that can only be found in the divine Trinity? In our sin we need a Father who's not satisfied with leaving us in this sad state of affairs, but will exercise his sovereign power to set a plan in place that will rescue us from us. In our sin we need a Son, who is willing to take our punishment so that we can be forgiven. And in our sin, we need a Spirit who will dwell within in us, empowering us to do what we would not be otherwise able to do.

We haven't been left to the ravages of the terrible trinity, because we've been rescued by the love of a better Trinity. Thank you, Sovereign Father, for your gracious plan. Thank you, Sacrificial Son, for standing in our place. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for your empowering presence. In you Triune Lord, we really do find help and hope.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Psalm 51: Longing for Jesus

It is dramatic anticipation at its finest. It is the best of foreshadowing. Every line drips with the drama of the necessity of what's to come. It's one of those moments when it's very clear that the present makes no sense without the future. If you know your Bible at all, you can't read Psalm 51 without feeling it. If this Psalm has no future, then it's cries are the vain screams of the tormented heart of a desperate man and little more. David's entire hope in the present is tied to an event in the future. No future, no hope. Welcome to the story of redemption.

You see, David's sin, Nathan's confrontation, and the resultant conviction and confession are a mini-chapter in the grand, origin-to-destiny story of redemption. David's prayer for forgiveness cries for more than a God who's willing to forgive. David's plea reaches out for an actual means of forgiveness. You may say, "There was one. God had instituted a system of sacrifices for the atonement of sin." But the sacrificial system clearly was not enough. There was one dead give-away; everyday the offerings had to be made over and over and over again. The repetition of the sacrifices was necessary because the blood of bulls and goats couldn't atone for sin. The whole system of sacrifice itself looked forward to the offering of the ultimate sacrifice that would finally and completely satisfy God's' holy justice and anger, resulting in no further need for sacrifice.

David didn't fully understand it, but the cries he prayed and penned in Psalm 51 were a cry for the final Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the drama of this Psalm. In acknowledging the power and pervasiveness of his sin, David isn't only reaching out for full and complete forgiveness, but for deliverance as well, the kind of deliverance that can only be found in the spilt blood of the promised Messiah, who would someday hang willingly on the hill of Calvary. Psalm 51 is a hymn of longing. Psalm 51 longs for Jesus.

As David prayed for mercy, unfailing love, and great compassion powerful enough to wash away transgression and create purity of heart, he wasn't praying for a thing, no he was praying for a Person. Jesus is the mercy for which David prays. Jesus is the unfailing love that is his hope. Jesus is the compassion for which he cries. Yet, David can pray with confidence because the decision had been made. The end of the story had already been written by a sovereign, Savior God. Jesus would come at the precisely planned time. His whole life would march toward that dramatic moment when he would in agony cry out to his Father, "It is finished!" "Father I have done what you sent me to do. I have offered myself as the final sacrifice. Redemption is accomplished."

Every time you acknowledge your sin, you long for Jesus too. But you're not longing for the final sacrifice, because it's been made. No, you and I long for the final deliverance. We long for that moment when we'll be taken to the place where sin will be no more. We long to see Jesus, to be with him, and to be like him. Isn't it comforting to know that that final deliverance has been written into the story as well? It is our guaranteed future. And so we long with hope.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Psalm 51: Already, Not Yet

Psalm 51 lives right in the middle of the "already" and the "not yet." Why is that worth observing? Because that's exactly where you and I live as well. We live right in the middle of God's great redemptive story, that's what the already and the not yet is about. If you're going to live right and well, you need to understand where you're living.

Here's where you and I are, in the great story of redemption. Already the "mercy," "unfailing love," and "great compassion" that David cried out for have been provided for us in Christ. The ultimate sacrifice of forgiveness that David's prayer looked forward to has been provided by the blood of Jesus that was spilt for us on the cross. God harnessed the forces of nature and controlled the detailed events of human history in order to bring his Messiah Son to earth at just the right time and place to provide for you and me the one thing we desperately need and cannot provide for ourselves; forgiveness.

Already the Holy Spirit, for whom David prayed, has been given to you and to me. It's almost beyond the limits of our rationality to consider that that Holy Spirit actually lives inside of us teaching, correcting, convicting, and empowering us every day.

Already, God's great book of wisdom, grace and warning - the Bible, has been given. When David talks about teaching sinners God's way, he looks forward to the gift of the Word, God's ultimate tool of instruction. We live every day with the Word in our hands, celebrating the wisdom that it gives us that we would have no other way.

So, as we celebrate the already, we need to be very aware of the not yet. This world is still a terribly broken place, not yet restored to what it was created to be. There's never a day when we are not touched with its brokenness in some way.

Sin that has wreaked such havoc on each one of us has not yet been finally and totally defeated. The sin that still remains in us, continues to affect everything we desire, think, do, and say. Even in our moments of best attention it's right there with us subverting our desires, capturing our thoughts, and distorting our behavior.

The devil, who is the enemy of all that is good, right, and true, hasn't yet been finally destroyed. He still lurks about with deceit in his eyes, destruction in his hands, and trickery in his heart.

So, we live with celebration and anticipation. We celebrate the amazing gifts of grace that we've already been given, while we anticipate the end of the struggles that will face us until the final chapter of the great story of redemption comes. We do live in the in-between. We do live in the hardships of a world that teeters between the beginning and the end. But we don't need to be discouraged and we don't need to fear, because the end of all those struggles has already been written and so we're guaranteed that the things that are not yet will someday be.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Psalm 51: Your Ultimate Fear

What's the thing that you dread most? What's your biggest fear? What are you convinced you can't live without? What would your biggest personal disaster look like? I got to thinking about the question of my own ultimate fear as I was reading Psalm 51 once again. David prays "Do not cast me away from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me." (v.11). This should be our greatest fear in all of life, but is it?

She had it all and maybe that's why she was so afraid. She was living in a nicer, larger house than she ever thought would be hers. She had nicer clothes and nicer things than she would ever have imagined. She had the uber-successful husband and three beautiful children. She went to a great church. They had wonderful family vacations. She ate her breakfast, on most spring and summer mornings, on the stone deck overlooking the beautiful valley that opened up beneath the hill on which her house had been built. But morning after morning she'd sit there and worry. She'd worry about her marriage, was it really as solid as she thought it was? She'd worry about their finances, was her husband's job as stable as he said it was? She'd worry about her children, were they doing as well as she thought they were? She'd worry about her health and the health of her husband. She'd even think about the possibility of a natural disaster ravaging their property or an economic disaster destroying their finances.

Something very significant had happened to her and she didn't even know it. The very things for which she'd been so grateful, the very things that she once thought she didn't deserve, had morphed into things that she was convinced she couldn't live without. What she once greeted with surprised gratitude, were the sources of major anxiety. The things that once seemed out of place in her life, had become the very things that defined her life. And so she lived with a low-register drone of fear through every day.

But there was something else that had changed. The thing that was meant to define her life, and that once did, no longer defined her. There had been a time when everything in her life was defined and evaluated by her relationship with God. There was a time when she greeted God's grace with a surprised gratefulness. She'd been quite aware of her sin and deeply appreciative of the forgiveness that she'd been given. She'd once carried a lively sense of privilege in having been given an acceptance with God that she could have never earned or deserved. There was a time when she would greet each day wondering what she would have done if God hadn't made himself known to her, hadn't accepted her in his family, and hadn't graced her with his presence.

But now these thoughts were no longer center-stage. No longer would she identify herself as a sinner, rescued by grace. No longer did she get her meaning, purpose, and sense of well-being from the Lord. Now she was more concerned about losing her mansion than being cast out of God's house. Now she was more concerned about losing her husband than God removing his Spirit from her. That once heartfelt and wholesome question, "Where would I be without the Lord?" had been replaced by the question of how she'd cope with the loss of any one item in her personal catalog of material things.

But I didn't think long about David or about my friend, because my mind turned to me. What is the thing in the world for which I'm the most thankful? The loss of what is the thing I fear the most? The existence of what in my life gives me meaning, purpose, and that inner sense of well-being?

"Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me."

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Psalm 51: The Gospel of Prosperity

It is an interesting way to conclude a prayer of humble confession.

"In your good pleasure make
Zion prosper;
build up the walls of
Jerusalem.
Then there will be righteous
sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings to
delight you;
the bulls will be offered
on your altar." (verses 18 and 19)

Yes, this prayer of confession really does end with a prayer for prosperity. David is so bold as to not only ask God for mercy, but to also ask God that he would bless him and not only him, but all of Israel! You may think, "Hasn't this man learned his lesson? After all of this, hasn't he learned what is really important?" But we need to look at this final piece of David's prayer again and this time more closely.

What David is requesting is completely different from the modern "health and wealth gospel" prayers for prosperity. Those prayers for prosperity have one fatal flaw in them. They are prayers for prosperity for the purpose of the delight of the person praying the prayer. Not so with David. He has lived a little self-focused life. He has now been caught up in the call to live large, that is, for a kingdom greater than his own. This prayer is evidence that he's learned the lesson of the danger of living for his own delight. This prayer for prosperity is the result of a radically changed heart.

Why does David pray for prosperity? For one reason, the glory and delight of the Lord. When God prospers people who are no longer living for their own little kingdoms, but are living for his, the result is the furtherance of his kingdom purposes on earth, which results in his glory. Give wisdom to a man who is living for God's kingdom and he'll use that wisdom to advance God's kingdom. Give money to a man who loves God's kingdom and he'll look for ways to invest that money in kingdom causes. Give a house to a person who seeks God's kingdom and his house will be a place of hospitality, love, and ministry. David prays for prosperity, not for his glory, but for the glory of the Lord to whom his heart has now turned.

But there's more. When people are blessed by the Lord they turn to him in humble, sacrificial worship. It's in those moments when I am cogently aware of God's forgiveness and gratefully aware of his undeserved blessing that I willingly offer to him what I would have once held to tightly. God delights in the sacrifices of his people, because when they are worshipping him in this way, they are doing the thing for which they were created. When I've quit looking for satisfaction in the created world and begin to find my satisfaction in the Lord, then I'm willing to hold loosely to the things that once held me. It's here that my delight is the Lord's delight.

So is it right to pray for prosperity? It is and you should. But not for the sake of your kingdom, but for the success of his. Not for the sake of your delight, but for his. You see, when God prospers people who are living for him, they use that blessing to serve him all the more, and for this he gets glory and in this he finds great delight!