Friday, July 27, 2007

Psalm 51: Grace that Hides

It seems like the last thing you would want to pray. It seems like it would be the thing that you'd fear the most. Who would want God to "hide his face?" God "shining the light of his face" on us is a picture of acceptance and blessing. The darkest moment of suffering for Christ was when God turned his back on him in those final moments on the cross. In a horrible moment of grief Christ cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Yet, as David stands before God as a humble repenting man, he does what seems to be unthinkable; he asks God to hide his face. What is it that David is pleading with God to do?

On the other side of lust, adultery, and murder, David is filled with the sense of the enormity of his sin. The weight of what he's carrying isn't just about how he used his God-given position to take a woman who wasn't his and use her for his pleasure. The weight on him wasn't just about how he plotted the death of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband. The weight had to do with his understanding of the extent of his problem with sin. David acknowledges the fact that he came into the world with this profound moral problem (v.5). He scans his life and can't recognize a point where sin wasn't with him. But there's an even deeper awareness that sits on David's heart like a lead weight. He's come to understand that his sin was directly and personally against God. What he did, he did in the face of God. He rejected God's authority and made himself his own master. He rejected God's wisdom and acted as if he knew better. He rejected God's call and decided to do what pleased himself rather than what pleased God. In the middle of the outrageousness of his rebellion, how could David ever stand before a holy God?

This confusing request actually demonstrates that David gets it right. He understands the comprehensiveness and the directness of the rebellion of his sin.
He understands that as a sinner he can't stand in the presence of a holy God. What David doesn't understand is that when he prays for God to hide face, he's praying for the Cross. Something needs to come between God's holiness and my sin. Something needs to happen so that sinners, like David, can stand in God's presence and be completely unafraid. David couldn't have possibly known where the story of redemption is going, so he asks the only thing that makes sense to him, "Lord, won't you please hide your face from my sin, because if you don't, I'm doomed."

The Cross was what David was pleading for. The Cross provides our covering. The Cross provides our cleansing. The Cross makes it possible for God to accept us fully without compromising his holiness. The Cross allows me to be accepted, not based on what I've done, but based on what Christ has done. The Cross allows sinners to be declared righteous! Christ covers us, so that as God looks on us he sees the perfect righteousness of Christ that's been given to our account.

Isn't it amazing that the the life, death, and resurrection of Christ means that sinners no longer have to be afraid of God's face? Christ has answered David's prayer. He took the Father's rejection so that we'd be able to stand in the Father's presence and be unafraid. So we don't have to ask God to hide his face and we don't have to search for ways to hide from God. Jesus has made it possible for sinners to stand before a holy God and rest until the sin inside those sinners is no more.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Psalm 51: The Amazing Grace of Self-Knowledge

I have counseled people for many years and one of the things that has impressed me over and over again is how self-deluded people (including me) can be. It's amazing how hard it is to see ourselves with accuracy. It's been my experience over and over again that we see the other person with a fairly high degree of accuracy, but can't seem to see ourselves with the same precision. I've had angry people get quite angry when I would suggest that they were angry! I've had controlling people posit that they thought themselves to be quite serving. I've watched vengeful people seem unaware that they lived to settle the score with others. I've worked with men who are eaten with the cancer of lust, tell me that sex wasn't a big struggle for them. I've had bitter wives give me the litany of ways they thought that they were loving their husbands. I've counseled a gymnasium full of teenagers who really did think that they were wiser than the surrounding authorities. I've sat with ungracious and legalistic pastors and heard them talk of their allegiance to a theology of grace.

Why are we so deluded? The reasons are many. We make the mistake of comparing ourselves to the diluted standards of the surrounding culture; standards that fall far below God's will for us. We also make the mistake of comparing ourselves to others; always able to find someone who appears to be more sinful than we are. We spend so much time arguing for a righteousness that it leaves little time to reflect on the reality of remaining sin. Add to all of this the basic nature of sin. Sin is deceitful. It hides, it defends itself, it wears masks, it bends its shape into more acceptable forms, it points fingers of blame, and it even questions the goodness of God. Sin always first deceives the person who is sinning the sin.

So, since sin is by its very nature deceitful, we need help in order to see ourselves with accuracy. Another way to say this is that personal spiritual insight is the result of community. We don't get it all by ourselves. We need ministry of two communities in order to see ourselves with the kind of surgical clarity with which David speaks in this Psalm. First, we need community with God. He's the ultimate opener of blind eyes. Through the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit we begin to see ourselves with accuracy and become willing to own up to what we see. But the Spirit uses instruments and this is where the second community comes in. God employs people in the task of giving sight to other people. For David, that was the prophet Nathan. With the skill of a seasoned pastor, he got inside of David's defenses and told him a story designed to engage his heart and stimulate his conscience. Through the words of this wise man and through the lens of this simple story, David's heart broke as he saw who he was and what he'd done.

There's a whole lot of people who are blindly stumbling their way through life. But their blindness is made even more powerful and dangerous by the fact they they tend to be blind to their blindness. A physically blind person is never blind to his blindness. He's immediately confronted with the fact that he's unable to see and he gives himself a whole catalog of ways of living inside the boundaries set by this profound physical deficiency. The scary reality is that one of the things that keeps spiritually blind people blind is that they're not only convinced that they see, but they're convinced that they see quite well! And so they don't seek help for their blindness. Why see help for a condition from which you're convinced you don't suffer?

So, you know whenever you encounter a person who sees him or herself with precision, clarity, and accuracy, you know for sure that grace has visited them. It's only God's grace that can enable blind eyes to see and it's only God's grace that can produce in us the willingness to accept what we've seen.

From the very first words of Psalm 51, you know you're reading the words of a man of unusual personal insight. From the beginning you know you're listening to a man who's humble and clear. People simply don't usually talk about themselves with such clear and self-indicting words. And so you know this man's been visited by a God of grace and one of his tools of grace, because sinners simply don't arrive at this kind of clarity alone.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Psalm 51: Forgiveness

If the universe wasn't ruled by a God of forgiveness, there would be no Psalm 51. It would be an act of self-destructive irrationality to stand before the One who controls it all and admit that you've willingly rebelled against his commands; but that's exactly what David does. He embraces the two realities that if understood and acted upon, will fundamentally transform your life. The narrative of redemption, that is the core content of Scripture, is the story of the interaction of these two themes. They provide the sound and smoke of the drama of life in this fallen world.

These two themes are, in fact, the major themes of every system of philosophy or religion. They come to us in two questions that somehow, someway, everyone asks. What is people's biggest most abiding problem? (Or, why do people do the things they do?) And, how will this problem ever get solved? (Or, how does lasting change in a person take place?) The thing that separates one worldview from another is that each worldview gives a different answer to each question.

By coming to God with humble words of confession, David demonstrates that he's embraced the unique answers that God (in his Word) gives to these universally asked questions. What's wrong with people? The Bible is very clear and very simple; the answer is sin. The Bible directs us to look inside of ourselves and not outside. The Bible calls us to admit that we are our greatest problem. And the Bible chronicles how sin within distorts our thoughts, desires, choices, actions, and words. But the Bible does more. It shows us how sin puts us at war with God. It demonstrates to us how sin causes us to want to be self-sovereigns and our own law givers. Scripture pictures what happens when we try to set up our own little claustrophobic kingdoms of one, rather than living for the kingdom of God. The Bible requires each of us to accept, at the most practical of levels, that we have profound moral flaws within us that we can do absolutely nothing in ourselves to solve.

But David's words of confession prove that David has embraced something else. He comes because he really does believe that there's hope and help to be found. He knows that admitting sin is not a death sentence. He knows that, although he can't solve his greatest problem, there's a place where the solution can be found. The only hope for sinners is forgiveness. To put it even more forcefully, the only hope for sinners is that the One who's in charge of the universe is a God of forgiveness. The bottom line is this; if God is unwilling to forgive, we're doomed. But he's willing! The story that winds its way across the pages of the Bible is a story of God's active willingness to forgive. He controls the forces of nature and directs human history to bring the universe to the point where the Final Priest, the Sacrificial Lamb, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ comes to earth, lives a perfect life, and gives himself as a sacrifice for our sins. All of this is done so that our deepest problem (sin) will find its only solution (forgiveness) without God compromising his character, his plan, or his law in any way.

The content of the Bible is the worst of news (you're a sinner) and the best of news (God is willing to forgive). It's only when you're ready to admit the worst that you then open yourself up to what's best. All of this means that you and I don't have to live in denial and avoidance. We don't have to play self-excusing logic games with ourselves. We don't have to give ourselves to systems of penance and self-atonement. We don't have to point the finger of blame at others. We don't have to perform our way into God's favor. No, we can come to him again and again just as we are, flawed, broken, and unclean and know that he'll never turn away anyone who comes to him and says, "I have sinned, won't you in your grace forgive?"

There's no sin too great, there's no act too heinous, and there's no person beyond hope. The offer is open and free. There's no requirement of age, gender, ethnicity, location, or position. God welcomes you to come. He only asks that you admit your sin and you seek what can only be found in him, forgiveness. He is able, he is willing, and with grace that we will maybe never be able to fully grasp, he says, "Come."

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears
The Bleeding Sacrifice in my behalf appears
Before the throne my surety stands my name is written on His hands

He ever lives above, for me to intercede
His all redeeming love, His precious blood to plead
His blood atoned for all our race And sprinkles now the throne of grace

Five bleeding wounds He bears, received on Calvary
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry “Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One
He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son
His Spirit answers to the blood And tells me I am born of God

My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear
With confidence I now draw nigh And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

(Arise, My Soul, Arise by Charles Wesley)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Psalm 51: Broken Bones

I must admit it, I have a low tolerance for difficulty. I am a project-oriented person, so I tend to have an agenda for every day. I know exactly what I want to accomplish and what a successful day will look like. I don't want to have to deal with interruptions or obstructions. I want the situations, locations, and people around me to willingly participate in my plan. All of this means that it's counter-intuitive for me to view difficulty as something beneficial. I've little time and tolerance for "broken bones."

My problem is that my Redeemer is the redeemer of broken bones. Maybe you're thinking, "Paul, what in the world are you talking about?" "Broken bones" is a physical metaphor for the pain of redemption. In case you've not noticed, God's work of delivering you from your addiction to self and sin and molding you into his image, isn't always a comfortable process. Sometimes, to make our crooked hearts straight, God has to break some bones. I gotta confess, I don't like broken bones.

I love the way the prophet Amos talks about this in Amos 4. It's a bit of a disconcerting passage until you wrap you brain around what the prophet is saying about why God is doing what he's doing. Listen to the "broken bones" phraseology of this passage.

"I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
and lack of bread in all your places."

"I also withheld rain from you
when there were yet three months to harvest;
I would send rain to one city
one field would have rain,
and the field on which it did not rain would wither;
so two or three cities would wander to another city
to drink water and would not be satisfied."

"I struck you with blight and mildew;
your many gardens and your vineyards,
your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured."

"I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;
I killed your young men with the sword,
and carried away your horses,
and I made the stench of your camp
go up into your nostrils."

"I overthrew some of you,
as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
and you were as a branch plucked out of the burning."

Now, you have to ask, "Why would a God of love do this to the people he says he loves?" Well, there's a phrase that's repeated after every stanza of this scary poem that's the answer to this question. Pay attention to these words, "yet you did not return to me." These acts that seem like the product of vengeful anger are actually acts of redemptive love. You see, in doing these things God is actually fulfilling his covenantal commitment to satisfy the deepest needs of his people. And what is it that they need most? The answer is simple and clear throughout all of Scripture; more than anything else they need him!

But this is exactly where the rub comes in. Although our greatest personal need is to live in a life-shaping relationship with the Lord, as sinners we have hearts that are prone to wander. We very quickly forget him and begin to put some aspect of the creation in his place. We very soon forget that he's to be the center of everything we do, and we put ourselves in the center of our universe. We easily lose sight of the fact that our hearts were made for him, and also that deep sense of well-being that all of us seek can only be found in him. We rapidly forget the powerfully addicting dangers of sin and think we can step over God's boundaries without moral cost. So, God in the beauty of his redeeming love will "break our bones." He'll bring us through difficulty, want, suffering, sadness, loss, and grief in order to ensure that we are living in pursuit of the one thing that we desperately need, him.

It's time for us to embrace, teach, and encourage others with the theology of uncomfortable grace. As long as sin still lives inside of us, producing in each of us a propensity to forget and wander, God's grace will come to us in uncomfortable forms. You may be wondering where the grace of God is in your life, when actually you're getting it. But it's not the grace of release or relief, no, you're getting the uncomfortable grace of rescue, relationship, and refinement.

So, if you are God's child, resist the temptation to doubt his goodness in the middle of your stress. It's time for us to stop thinking that our difficulty is a sign of his unfaithfulness and inattention. If you are God's child and you still recognize the battle of sin within, then those difficulties are sure signs of rescuing redemptive love. God isn't withholding his grace from you. No, you're experiencing uncomfortable grace; grace that's willing to break bones in order for your heart to be true. This grace is unwilling to give up. This grace won't turn it's back. This grace won't accept the status quo. This grace won' compromise or grow cynical. God hasn't forgotten you. He's loving you with real love and he's giving you real grace. And he'll continue to do so until you're finally free of your propensity to wander away. Now that's real love!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Psalm 51: Celebrating Redemption

We should be the most celebratory community on earth. There should be a deep and abiding joy that's the back-beat of everything we do. Each of us should carry around with us a deep sense of privilege for who we've become and what we've been given in Christ. We'll spend eternity celebrating redemption, but there's something wrong if the rehearsal for destiny's celebration isn't beginning now.

It should be in our minds, it should flood our hearts, it should be constantly on our lips; we have been redeemed! Chosen out of the mass of humanity, forgiven by the sacrifice of Jesus, accepted into God's family, the Holy Spirit now living inside of us, God working to empower us against and to deliver us from sin, the great paradigmatic truths of the biblical narrative now open to us, the mutual-ministry fellowship of the body of Christ our regular experience, and a guaranteed future in God's presence and free from sin and struggle. We've been redeemed! The scope and breadth of it boggles the mind. It's almost too much for our hearts to take in. Given what we couldn't deserve, love in the middle of our rebellion, and given acceptance we could never earn. We've been redeemed! We've been redeemed! We've been redeemed!

Unlike the rest of creation, human beings are good at celebration. Last night I sat looking out an eight-floor window over the Philadelphia Art Museum and watched the annual 4th of July fireworks display. It was a fittingly celebratory end to a two week celebration of our nation's birth that Philadelphia calls, "Welcome America." Welcome indeed! Welcome to remember the beginnings of the freedoms you now enjoy. Welcome to remember the patriots who gave their hearts, minds, and lives to secure this freedom. Welcome to walk the streets and enter the buildings where American freedom took it's shape. And welcome to days of celebration with others who're reflecting, remembering, and recognizing the freedom that now shapes their daily lives. National freedom is a thing worth celebrating, as is another year of life, or the end of the harvest season, or twenty-five years of successful work. But all of these appropriate celebrations pale in comparison to the meaning and majesty of the reality of redemption that should flood the mind of every believer every day.

Hymn writers get it right as they employ the full elasticity of human language to pen songs of celebration. How about this old gospel hymn?

Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed through His infinite mercy,
His child and forever I am.


Redeemed, redeemed,
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed, redeemed,
His child and forever I am.

Redeemed, and so happy in Jesus,
No language my rapture can tell;
I know that the light of His presence
With me doth continually dwell.

I think of my blessèd Redeemer,
I think of Him all the day long:
I sing, for I cannot be silent;
His love is the theme of my song.

I know there’s a crown that is waiting,
In yonder bright mansion for me,
And soon, with the spirits made perfect,
At home with the Lord I shall be.

Or what Christian does not know these celebratory words?

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my dear Redeemer's praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace!

My gracious Master and my God,
assist me to proclaim
and spread through all the earth abroad
the honors of thy Name.

Jesus! the Name that charms our fears
and bids our sorrows cease;
'tis music in the sinner's ears,
'tis life and health and peace.

He speaks, and listening to his voice,
new life the dead receive;
the mournful broken hearts rejoice,
the humble poor believe.

Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb,
your loosened tongues employ;
ye blind, behold, your Savior comes;
and leap, ye lame, for joy!

Glory to God and praise and love
be now and ever given
by saints below and saints above
the Church in earth and heaven.

Or what about this contemporary song of celebration?

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Ev'ry bitter thought,
Ev'ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
"Finished!" the vict'ry cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Son of God - slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

What will you celebrate today? That raise you've been working toward? That new car you've dreamed of for two years? The local team that finally won a championship? An anniversary? A birthday? The first steps of that toddler? The lack of traffic on the way to work? The deli sandwich that was better than ever? The new shoes that you thought you'd never find? Your new iphone? If you're a human being, you're a celebrator. The question is, in all of your celebrations, do you turn again and again to celebrated the most amazing, the most magnificent, the most mind-bending thing that a human being could be chosen to experience; redemption?

You have been redeemed! You have been redeemed! You have been redeemed! Now, go out and celebrate!

"O lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise." (Psalm 51:`5)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Psalm 51: Ready, Willing and Waiting

I think I can honestly say
I am ready, willing, and waiting.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to see my sin as you see it.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to acknowledge that I am my biggest problem.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to run from wrong.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to seek your help.
Ready, willing and waiting
for my mind to be clear.
Ready, willing, and waiting
for my heart to be clean.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to acknowledge what you see.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to rest in your compassion.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to hide in your unfailing love.
I am ready, willing and waiting
to be washed by you.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to admit that I acted against you.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to prove that you are right and just.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to confess that my problem is from birth.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to examine within.
I am ready, willing, and waiting
to be whiter than snow.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to hear joy and gladness.
Ready, willing, and waiting
for brokenness to give way to joy.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to have a steadfast heart.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to celebrate your grace once more.
I am ready, willing, and waiting
to teach others your ways.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to help them turn back to you.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to have you save me from me.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to sing songs of your righteousness.
I am ready, willing, and waiting
to declare your praise.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to bring the sacrifice of a broken heart.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to see your people prosper.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to see you worshipped as is your due.
But, I am also
Ready, willing, and waiting
to be protected by your love.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to be held by your grace.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to be hidden in your mercy.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to be defended by your power.
Because I know
that I won't always be
ready, willing, and waiting.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Psalm 51: Reductionism

There's loads of knowledge to be found, but wisdom is rare commodity. Why? Because wisdom is one of sin's first casualties. Sin reduces all of us to fools. You see the empirical evidence of the foolishness of sin on almost every page of Scripture. You see foolishness in full operation in the tragic story of David and Bathsheba. This is why David says, "Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place."

You read the story of David's sin and you say to yourself, "What was he thinking? Did he really believe that he'd get away with this? Did he completely forget who he was? Did he think that God was going to stand idly by and let this happen?" But David is not some extreme case of foolishness gone wild; you see evidence of the same foolishness in each of our lives daily. The components of the foolishness of sin still corrupt and interrupt our lives again and again. People could say of us again and again, "What was he thinking? What was she thinking?"

What does foolishness look like? Here are four of its most significant aspects.

1. The Foolishness of Self-centeredness. We were created to live for something, someone bigger than ourselves. We were designed to live with, for, and through the Lord. God is meant to be the motivation and hope of everything we do. His pleasure, his honor, and his will are the things for which we are meant to live. But the foolishness of sin really does cause us to reduce our lives down to the size and shape of our lives. Our living has no greater purpose than self-satisfaction and self-fulfillment. Does this sound harsh? Well, ask yourself, why do you ever get impatient with others, why do you ever say things you shouldn't say, why do you get discouraged with your circumstances, why do you give way to anger, or give in to self-pity? The answer is that, like me, you want your own way and when things don't go your way or people are in your way, you lash out in anger or you turn inward in discouragement. Our problem isn't just the difficulties of life in this fallen world, but the foolishness that we bring to them, that causes us to trouble our own trouble.

2. The Foolishness of Self-deception. We're all very good at making ourselves feel good about what God says is bad. We're all very skilled at recasting what we've done, so what was wrong doesn't look so wrong to us. I'll tell myself that I didn't really lash out in anger, no, I was speaking as one of God's prophets. I'll tell myself that that second look wasn't lust, I'm simply a man who enjoys beauty. I'll tell myself that I'm not craving power, I'm just exercising God-given leadership gifts. Foolishness is able to do something dangerous. It's able to look at wrong and see right. Had David been able to see himself with accuracy and if he'd been able to see his sin for what it really was, it's hard to imagine that he would have continued to travel down that pathway.

3. The Foolishness of Self-sufficiency. We all like to think of ourselves as more independently capable than we actually are. We weren't created to be independent, autonomous, or self-sufficient. We were made to live in a humble, worshipful, and loving dependency upon God and in a loving and humble inter-dependency with others. Our lives were designed to be community projects. Yet, the foolishness of sin tells us that we've got all that we need within ourselves. So we settle for relationships that never go beneath the casual. We defend ourselves when the people around us point out a weakness or a wrong. We hold our struggles within, not taking advantage of the resources that God has given us. The lie of the Garden was that Adam and Eve could be like God; independent and self-sufficient. We still tend to buy into that lie.

4. The Foolishness of Self-righteousness. Why don't we celebrate grace more? Why aren't we more amazed by the wonderful gifts that are ours as the children of God? Why don't we live with a deep sense of need, coupled with a deep sense of gratitude how each need has been met by God's grace. Well, the answer is clear. You'll never celebrate grace as much as you should when you think you're more righteous than you actually are. Grace is the plea of sinners. Mercy is hope of the wicked. Acceptance is the prayer of those who know that they could never do anything to earn it. But the foolishness of sin makes me righteous in my own eyes. When I tell my stories, I become more the hero than I ever was. I look wiser in my narratives than I could have been. In my view of my history, my choices were better than what they actually were. Often it isn't my sin that keeps me from coming to God. No, it's my righteousness that keeps me from him. Sadly I don't come to him because I don't think I need the grace that can only be found in him. I don't seek the rescue of that grace because I'm right in my own eyes.

Sin really does reduce us all to fools, but happily the story doesn't end there. The One who is the ultimate source of everything that's good, true, trustworthy, right, and wise is also a God of amazing grace. You don't get freed from your foolishness by education or experience. You don't get wisdom by research and analysis. You get wisdom by means of a relationship with the One who is Wisdom. The radical claim of the Bible is that wisdom isn't first a book, or a system, or a set of commands or principles. No, wisdom is a person and his name is Jesus Christ. When you and I are graced into acceptance with him, we're drawn into a personal relationship with Wisdom, and Wisdom begins a life-long process of freeing us from the stronghold that the foolishness of sin has on us. We're freer than we were yesterday, but we aren't yet completely free. Imagine, there will be a day when your every thought, desire, choice, action, and word will be fundamentally wise! Because of Wisdom's grace, that day is coming.

It makes such sense that a repentant man (David) would reflect on his need of wisdom. Sin, in reducing us to fools, causes us to do foolish things, even though we think we're wise. And for this we need more than information, education, and experience. We need exactly what we find in Christ; grace. Wisdom is the product of grace, there is simply nowhere else it can be found.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Psalm 51: Sacrifices

if I give you
some of my time.
if I give you
some of my strength.
if I give you
some of my things.
if I give you
some of my thoughts.
if I give you
some of my success.
if I give you
some of my relationships.
these sacrifices
will bring you delight.
these offerings
will bring you joy.
I'm quite willing
to give a tithe
I'm quite willing
to interrupt
my schedule.
I'm quite willing
to volunteer
to serve.
I'm quite willing
to do
my part.
But I get the sense
that you're not satisfied
with a piece of me.
I get the sense
that momentary giving
momentary service
momentary sacrifice
momentary ministry
the momentary turning
of my heart to you
will not satisfy you.
But I must admit
that I'm afraid
of what you require.
I'm afraid of a
broken spirit.
I'm afraid of a
contrite heart.
I'm afraid to be
crushed by your grace.
So I try to
distract you
with my service
distract you
with my time
distract you
with my money.
Deep inside
I know what you want.
Deep inside
I'm sure of what you require.
I'm afraid
because I want to hold onto
my heart.
I want
to give it to other things.
I want to
pursue pleasures
outside of you.
I'm afraid
to give you
what would satisfy you.
I'm afraid of a
broken heart.
So I regularly offend you
with empty offerings
and vacuous praise.
to my own destruction
that you'll be satisfied.

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:17)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Psalm 51: Appealing to God's Glory

You're always in a safe place when you're appealing to God's glory. This is exactly what David does in Psalm 51:18,19; "In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build the walls of Jerusalem." Why? "Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar." David is essentially saying, "God bless your people because if you do, they'll live for your glory." This is what all truly biblical prayer will do. Now, we often reduce prayer to a laundry list of self-focused needs in which we ask God to exercise his power for the sake of our comfort or for the purpose of self-glory. You know the requests:

God give me wisdom at work (so I can make more money and acquire more power).

God alleviate my financial woes (so I have more money to spend on the pleasure and possessions that will make me happy).

God help my daughter to be more respectful (so that my evenings will be more peaceful so I can get the things done that I want to get done).

God work in the life of my husband (so I can finally experience the marriage of my dreams).

God give me a better relationship with my neighbor (so he will like me enough to make his dog quit trampling my flower beds).

God please heal my body (so that I can do the physical things that I love to do).

So much of our prayer has nothing to do with the glory of God. Regrettably, in much of our prayer we're actually asking God to endorse our pursuit of a whole catalog of self-focused false glories. For God to be willing to do that would not only mean a denial of who he is, but it will also mean our destruction.

But perhaps you're thinking, "Paul, it doesn't seem loving for God to be so focused on his own glory. How does it help me to have God's zeal for his own glory be greater than his zeal for anything else?" This is a very good question and worthy of an answer.

First, don't fall into evaluating the character of God as you'd evaluate the character of a human being. God is not a man and cannot be judged by the standards that he's set for human beings. For a human to be obsessed by his own glory would be a horrendous spirit of pride and self-aggrandizement. But not so with God. He's a being of a different kind. He's in a position unparalleled in the universe. To judge God by the laws he's set for people is like judging a poodle by goldfish standards. They are different kinds of creatures. The goldfish was designed to live under water. If you attempt to apply that standard to your poodle, it will drown quickly!

So, it is right, good, and beneficial for God to find his greatest pleasure in his own glory simply because he is God. It's important for you to understand the logic of what you have just read. If God were to deny his own glory, he would by that act cease to be God. To be God, he must be above and beyond every created thing. Willingness to subjugate himself to anything other than himself would cause him to no longer be Lord over all. God's zeal for his glory really is the hope of the universe. You see, the hope of everything that's been created is that the pure, holy, wise and good plan of God would finally and ultimately win. This is the only way in which all that's been broken by sin will someday be restored. If God would forsake his glory (and therefore, his glorious purposes) all of his promises would have less value than the paper on which they were printed and the hopes for salvation of every sinner would be dashed. You see, in delighting in his own glory, calling us to live for his glory, and enabling us to do so, God frees us from our self-destructive addiction to self-glory and the endless catalog of false glories that comes with it.

So, God's unshakable commitment to his own glory is the most loving thing he could ever do for us. It's what redeems us from us and breaks our bondage to all the things in life that we wrongly think will give us life, but only lead to emptiness and ultimately death.

So when you pray, appeal to God's glory as David did. When you do this you're not only submitting your heart to God, but you're asking him to love you with the kind of liberating love that only he can give you. Each time you pray this way you celebrate your freedom as a child of God, and you grow in your ability to recognize the difference between GLORY and glory.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Psalm 51: Sermon on the Mount (vs.6, 10)

Confession results in deeper personal insight. Further confession leads to greater insight. This is one of the graces of confession. You see this spiritual dynamic operating in the life of David in Psalm 51. This man, who was so completely blinded by his own lust, that he wasn't only able to use his God-given position of political power to take another man's wife, but also able to put a contract out on her husband and have him killed, is now not only able to see his behavioral wrongs, but the heart behind them as well. Whenever anyone is able to see himself with this level of clarity, you know that God's grace is operating in his life.

Hear David's words, "Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place." David is recognizing a new awareness. He is acknowledging a new sightedness. He understands what God is working on.

You and I will only ever be holy by God's definition, if we put the moral fences where God puts them. We tend to put the fences at the boundary of behavior. For example, rather than telling our children the importance of a respectful heart and the issues of heart that cause us to not respect others as we should, we instruct our children to use titles of respect when they're relating to others. Now there's nothing wrong with this as far as it goes. The problem is that enforcing certain behaviors won't create a spirit of respectfulness. A child, who's mad at his teacher for an assignment she's given may say, "Whatever you say Mrs. Smith!" in a tone that's anything but respectful. The teacher immediately knows that the child has used a title of respect to tell her that he doesn't respect her at all, but to tell her that in a way that won't get him into trouble!

This is where Christ's teaching, from the "Sermon on the Mount," is so helpful. Christ draws the fences in much closer. He calls for us to fence our hearts because he knows that it's only when we fence the heart that we'll willingly and successfully stay inside God-appointed behavioral fences. So he says, "You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27, 28)

Consider the importance of what Christ does here. He isn't adding to the Seventh Commandment. No, he's interpreting it for us. He's telling us what the intention and extent of the command has always been. The commandments all address fundamental issues of the heart, or as David says, "the inmost place." The commandments not only depict God's claim over our behavior, but more fundamentally God's ownership over our hearts. But there's something else of importance here. God knows what lust lusts for. Lust doesn't lust for more lust. Lust lusts for the physical experience of the thing that's the object of the lust. A heart controlled by sexual lust won't be satisfied with better and more graphic fantasies. No, a lustful heart craves the actual experience and will only be satisfied when it's actually experienced the thing for which it lusts. This is why it never works to put the fences at the boundary of behavior. Even if I've placed clear fences there, I'll cut through them or climb over them if I haven't first fenced my heart.

Now again David speaks for all of us and his words are so echoed by Christ that it almost appears as if Christ was thinking of David and Bathsheba when he spoke these words.

Have you fenced your heart? Have you tried to stay inside of behavioral boundaries only to have climbed over them again and again? Go and read the wisdom of the "Sermon on the Mount" (found in Matthew 5-7) and ask God to "teach you wisdom in the inmost place." By God's grace, determine to fight the battle of thought and desire, knowing full well that it's only when you win this battle that you can be successful in the battle of behavior. And rest assured that when you fight this battle you aren't fighting alone, but your Lord wages war on your behalf.