Friday, August 24, 2007

Psalm 27: From Your Lips to the Messiah's Ears

My son, Darnay, and I were fortunate enough to get tickets for an NBA playoff game. The local home team, the Philadelphia 76ers, was playing their rival, the Boston Celtics. I had never before and never after experienced the noise of that night. As we entered the arena, the air was already alive with anticipation. People were high-fiving one another before the game started, just because they were excited to be in the building! The volume began to crank up as the teams were being introduced and continued to build as the game progressed. The fires of enthusiasm were stroked by the closeness of the game and the historical rivalry of the two teams. By the third quarter the entire crowd was on its feet doing what could only be characterized as screaming at the top of their lungs. I tried to make an observation to Darnay, but he could not hear me, I tried again, only to have us break into laughter at the impossibility of communicating and the complete frenzy of the crowd.

I remember walking to the car and thinking about things. One, I couldn't think of another time when I had shouted so loud for so long and, two, I realized my ears were ringing from the audio stress I had just put them through.

What makes you shout? We all do it. Sometimes it is a response of complete surprise. Sometimes it is the result of sheer delight. Sometimes it is a way to get attention. Sometimes it is the reflex of fear. Sometimes it is the product of anger. Sometimes it is the anguish of disappointment. Sometimes it is verbalizing pain. Sometimes it is the welling up of a grateful heart. Who do you shout at and what do you shout for? Where do you want your shouting to go; from your lips, to whose ears? The point is that in your life there are things that make you shout and what makes you shout reveals something about what is going on in your heart.

Now, let me make what at first may seem a weird connection for you. There is a direct connection between shouting and worship. Before you think I'm crazy, let me explain my statement. Worship is a tricky word. It conjures up in our minds all kinds of formal ritualistic religious images. But worship, in its most basic biblical usage is an identity that shapes activity. You are a worshipper, that is why you worship. What does it mean to be a worshipper? It means that you are a purpose-driven or value-driven being. There is something that is always laying claim to the rulership of your heart. There is something for which you are living. There is something of value that gives shape to why you do what you do and say what you say in the situations and relationships of your daily life. There is something you look to to give you identity, meaning and purpose, and an inner sense of well-being.

Now, let me make the practical connection between shouting and worship. If I am a salesman, who lives for the affluent life that successful sales calls provide, if I get my identity from the big house and luxury car that those sales make possible, then I will shout in anger when traffic keeps me from a potential sale. I am not actually mad at the traffic, I am made because the traffic is in the way of what gives me value. I will also shout for joy when I read the email that informs me that the last call resulted in the biggest single sale of my career.

Shouting really does reveal what is important to you. If you are a parent, listen to what makes you shout. If you are a worker, listen for what makes you shout. If you are one of God's children, listen for what makes you shout. If you are married, listen for what makes you shout. Listen and consider what is really important to you. When the thing that is my true treasure in life is taken out of my hands, I will shout in dismay and when it is placed in my hands, I will shout for joy. Shouting really does reveal what has come to rule your heart.

That is what makes this part of Psalm 27 so remarkable. David says that when he makes sacrifices he shouts for joy. And in saying this, David reveals what is really important to him. It is important to him to admit who he is. Sacrifice is only necessary in the life of a sinner. So, when David says he sacrifices with shouts of joy, he is humbly embracing the reality of how deep and consistent his problem with sin actually is. You will only ever be excited with the sacrifice that brings forgiveness when you find comfort in admitting who you really are.

But there is more. David sacrifices with shouts of joy because he is utterly amazed that a righteous God, who is repulsed by his sin, would graciously make a way for him to be forgiven. Could there be a more needful and glorious reason to shout than the fact that in this broken world, populated by lost, flawed, and rebellious people, that real forgiveness is possible? What could bring you more joy than to realize that you can stand completely exposed before God, without even a hint of fear, because a sacrifice has been made that has paid your penalty and grant your forgiveness?

Without ever knowing it, when David shouted as he made his sacrifice, he was shouting to Jesus. All the sacrifices of the Old Covenant looked to that sacrifices that was to come when the Messiah, the Shepherd Lamb, would suffer cruel torture and be hung as a criminal, so that all who put there trust in Him, would be fully and completely forgiven.

Yes, you shout, if even under your breath. And, yes, your shouting reveals something about what is important to you. When has the reality of your forgiveness last caused you to shout for joy? When have you been so filled with gratitude that you wanted your joy to go from your lips to the Messiah's ears?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Psalm 27: Why Bother?

"I am confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." (v.13)

I consider
the brokenness of the world
and I think,
"Why bother?"
I look
at the corruption all around me
and I cry,
"Why bother?"
I wonder at
my inability to live with my neighbor
and I ask,
"Why bother?"
I face
my war with sin inside and outside,
and I ponder,
"Why bother?"
I look
at the problems of the culture around me
and I lament
"Why bother?"
I scan
my world, broken by disease and misuse
and in sadness say,
"Why bother?"
I consider
the statistics of violence and abuse
and I think,
"Why bother?"
I am assaulted
with the reality of endless wars between nations,
and overwhelmed say,
"Why wonder?'
I am defeated
by temptation's power
and cry,
"Why bother?"
I ponder
how good is called bad and bad good,
and frustration says,
"Why bother?"
I search
for hope like a parched man for water
but end up thinking,
"Why bother?"
I look
to myself and see weakness and want,
and my grief says,
"Why bother?"
I should live for leisure and comfort
and give into,
"Why bother?"
I should exist for the here and now,
and forgetting forever say,
"Why bother?"
I am tempted
to live for power and control
and for greater things say,
"Why bother?"
personal pleasure in the here and now
is what it's all about,
"Why bother?"
But in
exhaustion I look up and not around
and I say,
"Why bother?"
Because you are and you are good.
Why bother?
Because you dispense goodness and grace.
Why bother?
Because you bring life out of death.
Why bother?
Because you have a plan and it will be done.
Why bother?
Because I have been welcomed into your Kingdom of Life.
Why bother?
Because I am always with you.
It is true
that my eyes don't always see
and my heart isn't always confident.
It is true that darkness overwhelms me
and fear leaves me weak.
But you come near.
You remind me once again
that I can be confident
you were unwilling to say,
"Why bother?"

Monday, August 20, 2007

Psalm 27: Productive Delay

"Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord."

For years I just didn't get the biblical concept of waiting. Waiting seemed a meaningless drag, forced onto us by the fact that Someone else is in charge of the narrative that is our lives. We hope, we dream and we wait. We cry, we plead and we wait. We run, we work and we wait. We minister, we serve and we wait. We think, we study and we wait. Sometimes we wait, we wait and we wait. Such is life in the middle of God's great, big redemptive story. So, with gritted teeth and emotions that fall short of joy, we resolve ourselves to the fact that we'll have to wait. God is God and we are what can we do? We wait.

I guess my concept of waiting was along the lines of what I experience in the dentist's office. My appointment has been scheduled for 10:00 am, but I know that I won't be seen until 10:45. I'm already uptight at the time I'll waste, sitting in that office with nothing to do. The last physician's office I was in even had a sign that read, "No cell phones please!" So, you look for some way to make the mind-numbing minutes go by. But what seems to be hours, at a quick glance at your watch, proves to have been only six minutes. What happens next, all of us have done. To pass the time, we pick up magazines that we wouldn't normally ever choose to read. You know that you're a man who's been in the dentist's office for too long when you are now reading "Ladies Home Journal" and thinking that the ingredients in the recipe that you're looking at actually seem quite tasty. You're tempted to tear it out and take it home with you! You want to call your wife and say, "Dear, I've found the best recipe for chicken," when suddenly you think, "What am I doing?"

But waiting on God isn't like this at all. Waiting on God isn't about the suspension of meaning and purpose. It's part of the meaning and purpose that God has brought into my life. Waiting on God isn't to be viewed as an obstruction in the way of the plan. Waiting is an essential part of the plan. For the child of God, waiting isn't simply about what I'll receive at the end of my wait. No, waiting is much more purposeful, efficient, and practical than that. Waiting is fundamentally about what I'll become as I wait. God is using the wait to do in and through me exactly what he's promised. Through the wait he's changing me. By means of the wait he's altering the fabric of my thoughts and desires. Through the wait he's causing me to see and experience new things about him and his kingdom. And all of this sharpens me, enabling me to be a more useful tool in his redemptive hands.

Waiting on God is restorative. It's one of the tools God uses to remake us into what we were designed to be in the beginning. Yet, I don't like to wait and I still struggle to wait well. How about you? The next time God calls you wait, don't let your mind go to the dentist's office. Picture in your mind the nimble and skilled fingers of a potter, who's putting pressure on the clay right where it's needed, so that it will take on the beauty that is it's potential. And with this picture in mind, give thanks for the very moment that would have once have driven you crazy.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Psalm 27: Hearts at Rest

"Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear..."

I would like to say
my heart is at rest,
but I can't.
I would like to think
I always rest in God's care,
but I don't.
I would love to declare
my faith is unwavering,
but it isn't.
I wish it was a fact
fear is a thing of my past,
but it simply isn't.
It would be nice to know
trust's struggle is over,
but it isn't.
I wish I never wanted
to be
my own sovereign,
but I do.
I want to have unbroken rest
the hand of God's love,
but I don't.
I long to face difficulty
question or doubt,
but I don't.
I do not want to
my Father's love,
but I do.
I wish I never questioned
Lord's good plan,
but I do.
The struggle is better
it once was,
but not done.
My rest is more consistent
it used to be,
but not complete.
My heart enjoys a greater ease
in earlier days of faith,
but unrest comes.
I have lived with you
seen your care,
but questions come.
I have seen you do
I could not have conceived,
but still doubt.
I have been in awe
the provisions of your grace,
but anxiety comes.
I have submitted myself
your will and way,
but still rebel.
So with rest in your forgiveness
confidence in your power,
I come.
With a needy heart
craves your help,
I pray:
"Help me Father today
let go of my need,
to always understand.
Enable me to live in rest
I don't know before
what will happen.
Help me to have a restful heart
opposition is great,
and all I have is you."

Monday, August 13, 2007

Psalm 27 and Everyday Life

1 The LORD is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evil men advance against me
to devour my flesh,
when my enemies and my foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.

3 Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then will I be confident.

4 One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.

5 For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock.

6 Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the LORD.

7 Hear my voice when I call, O LORD;
be merciful to me and answer me.

8 My heart says of you, "Seek his face!"
Your face, LORD, I will seek.

9 Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
O God my Savior.

10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will receive me.

11 Teach me your way, O LORD;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.

12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing out violence.

13 I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.

14 Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.

Psalm 27 really is an amazing psalm. There are moments when it soars with the thoughts of what it means to be a child of the Lord. There are places where it reaches into the harshest realities of life in a very broken world. There are times when this psalm is a scalpel, cutting through the layers and exposing the heart. It is a psalm of worship, commitment, trouble, beauty, and patience. There's a way in which Psalm 27 is a biblical worldview done as a podcast. There simply is much more there than you think there is after your first reading.

So, like I did with Psalm 51, I'm going to spend some months camping on Psalm 27.

I had a friend who had quite a large rose garden. He was very dedicated to doing all the daily tasks that were necessary to keep his roses healthy. But it hit him one day that he'd taken no time to actually enjoy the roses that he was so zealous to tend. So, one afternoon he did just that. He sat down in front of one of his rose bushes for three hours. As he sat, he began to see, smell, and hear things that he wouldn't have experienced any other way. Contrary to what you may think, the time didn't drag on. He was enthralled by the created glory that he was taking in. And as he sat there, he began to realize why those bushes were worth the commitment and the effort that he'd been investing. But there's more; after his three-hour gaze of that one bush, he would never, could never, look at roses as he once did. That afternoon he saw, really saw, what a rose was about and new sight had changed him.

So, I'm inviting you to sit down with me in front of Psalm 27. I'm inviting you to keep your eyes focused and your ears tuned. I'm inviting you to open your heart to what you may have been too busy to see. I'm inviting you to "gaze upon the beauty of the Lord." And I would imagine that if you are willing to do that, like my friend, somehow, someway, you'll get up a changed person.