Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Psalm 73: The Old Story

"I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works." (v.28b)

In case you hadn't notice it, your Bible isn't arranged by topic. I know that this frustrates some of you. You wish that your Bible was structured like an encyclopedia which alphabetized tabs on the side of the page so you could easily find your subject of interest. But your Bible isn't organized that way and that is not because of Divine editorial error, but because of Divine intention. Your Bible is a narrative; a story. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that your Bible is a theologically annotated story; a story with God's notes. The grand, over-arching story of Scripture is meant to be the story that unpacks and makes sense of the story of your life and my life.

Your Bible is not a collection of religious stories. No, it is one story, the grand story of redemption. The Bible has one central character; God himself, specifically in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. From cover to cover the Bible is a narrative of the wondrous works of a God. Perhaps the four most important words in all of Scripture are the first four words; "In the beginning God..." You simply cannot understand yourself, your world, and the meaning and purpose of life unless you view them from the vantage point of the existence, character, and plan of God.

This grand story of the works of God that the Bible records is meant to give you:

1. IDENTITY. The only way you can properly understand who you are and what you were given life and breath to do, is when you look at yourself through the lens of the narrative of Scripture. It is only here that you will learn that you were made by God and for God; that everything you are and have comes from him and that you were made to live for something vastly bigger than yourself.

2. UNDERSTANDING: You will never know all that you need to know, in order to live as you were designed to live by human experience, research, and analysis. That is why God immediately began to talk with Adam and Eve after he created them. He knew that they were not designed with the innate ability to figure it all out on their own. So God spoke to them. In the same way, God speaks to us in his Word so that we can know and understand, and in knowing and understanding live as we were created to live.

3. COMFORT: The world in which you live can be very confusing. You see this confusion even in this Psalm, when it looks like the bad guys are winning. It often seems like the world has spun into chaos. It sometimes looks like there is little reason and purpose to the things that happen to us and around us. But the biblical narrative comforts us with another reality. The Bible story tells us that our world is not out of control, but rather, under the careful personal control of One who is the ultimate definition of everything that is good, true, wise, and loving. We can rest, not be because we understand what is happening, but because we know the One who rules it all.

4. SALVATION. Clearly, this is the ultimate reason for the Word of God. Without it we would not know how dire our situation actually is. Without it we would not know that our biggest problem does not exist somewhere outside of us. No, it exists inside of us and it is called sin. The biblical story is the world's most accurate diagnostic; telling us what is really wrong with us. And because it is the world's best diagnostic, it alone can provide us with the world's best cure. The narrative of Scripture is the narrative of redemption. It chronicles the great things God has done and is doing to rescue, forgive, and deliver us from our sin. The epicenter event of the biblical story is the cross of Jesus Christ, for it delivers to us the one thing that we desperately need, but cannot achieve ourselves; new life.

5. HOPE: The biblical story, because it is a story, has a plot. It is a story that goes somewhere. The Bible welcomes us to peer into and to listen to eternity. And as we do, we can live with the hope that what is today will not always be. There will be a day when the struggle is over. There will be a day when the sickness, sadness, and sin of this broken world will end and we will be like God and with God forever. The God, who wrote the end of the story, has guaranteed the end of the story by the raising of Jesus from the dead. The Bible says that Jesus is the "first fruit" that guarantees that we will be raised out of this fallen world as well.

Now everyday you tell stories; stories of the events of your life and the escapades of others. Sometimes these stories are funny, as you recount some human pratfall. Sometimes these stories are dramatic as you talk of the mysteries of daily life. Sometimes these stories are sad; picturing the pain and loss of life in a fallen world. Sometimes we like to tell stories that put attention on us or trump the story that someone else has just told. But, I would ask you today, do you like to tell THE story? Do you find joy in pointing to the wondrous works of your Creator, Sovereign, Savior God? Do you love to point to what he has done more than you enjoy pointing to what you have done? Do you love to help people see his works? There is only one story that imparts identity, understanding, comfort, salvation and hope. It is God's story. Has it become your favorite story; the one you can't wait to tell.

The old hymn says, "I love to tell the story of unseen things above; of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love." Do you?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Psalm 73: The Destiny Hermenuetic

"...until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I considered their end." (v.17)

There are two things that I find myself repeating over and over again:

1. No one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do.
2. Human beings do not live life based on the facts of their existence, but based on their interpretations of the facts.

There is no such thing as a human being who is not an interpreter. Every human being is a theologian. In some way every person is asking and answering deeply spiritual questions. Every human being is a philosopher. Everyone seeks to understand the meaning and purpose of life. Every human being is an analyst and a researcher searching for understanding of the people, locations, and situations that they encounter every day. Every human being is an archaeologist picking through the past; looking to understand where they have been, what they have experienced, and what they have done. No one actually lives thoughtlessly. They may be unaware of their thoughts. They may not be intellectual or academic, but everyone pushes life through the sieve of the personal worldview that they have built for themselves. This worldview is authoritative and life shaping. It does not determine what we see so much as it determines how we see it.

This interpretive function is called hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. You carry around with you your own personal life hermeneutic; that is, your particular way of making sense out of life. Now let me take this one step further. Your hermeneutic is what gives sense to your behavior. Everything you do and say has underlying meaning and purpose when understood from the vantage point of your worldview. For example, if I was raised believing that a certain race of people were dangerous, it would make sense for me to be afraid of them and to do everything I could do to avoid them. If I was convinced that coffee led to cancer, then it would make sense that I would restrict my intake of coffee. The thoughts of your heart are very important because those thoughts tend to precede and determine your behavior.

Asaph's (the writer of Psalm 73) problem was not just jealousy and discouragement. No, his problem was rooted at a deeper level. Asaph's problem was a defective hermeneutic. His view of life lacked a crucial ingredient and without this ingredient he was not able to make sense out of what was going on around him. You see, he looked around and every where he looked it seemed that the bad guys were winning. The arrogant, proud, and lawless guys seemed to have all of the wealth, health, pleasure and ease. It didn't make sense. How could a just and holy God allow the bad guys to prosper and the good guys to suffer? Asaph began to wonder if it was worth it to obey God. He says in the psalm that he got so embittered that he was like a beast before God (v.22).

But Asaph was making a devastating interpretive error. His view of life was missing a piece that must be included in order to understand correctly what is and what God is doing. Asaph's view of life had no destiny to it; no eternity it was marching toward. You see, without eternity, Asaph was right. If this present physical world is all we have, then all life is about what you can experience, acquire, and enjoy in the here and now. If this life is all that there is then you would expect a good God to bless those who follow him right here, right now and curse those who mock him right here, right now. But this is not all there is. From day one the world has always been marching toward a destination. Life was never meant to be understood and lived without a final destiny in view. The only way to understand life is to understand that this (the right here world you are now living in) is not meant to be a destination, but a place of preparation for a final destination.

This means that you can't live today with a destination mentality as if this is all that is. You can't live with a destination mentality expecting to experience all of God's good things right here, right now. You can't live with a destination mentality that forgets that God will do whatever he needs to do in the here and now to assure that you will be prepared for then. You can't live with a destination mentality that allows you to envy people who have what you don't, right here, right now, but who are marching toward an eternal disaster.

You and I must live with a preparation mentality. The trials, injustices, hardships of today do two things for you and me. They remind us everyday that this is not our final destination. You can't look at the personal and societal brokenness and suffering that is all around us without remembering that the God who made this world and everything in it, this God who is the definition of everything that is good, wise, loving, and true, could not be satisfied with the world as it is. The trials of today remind us that our God has promised to one day make all things new. But there is another thing the difficulties of today do for you and me. They drive us to the end of ourselves. They drive us beyond our autonomy and self-sufficiency. They drive us beyond our own righteousness, strength, and wisdom. And in so doing, they begin to mold us into what God intends us to be doing; preparing for our final home.

So, today as you look around and it seems as though the bad guys are winning, put on your destiny glasses and look again. Grace has given you something better than they are now experiencing. Grace has given you eternity; a destination so glorious the most eloquent words on a page could not do it justice.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Psalm 73: The Wrong Guys

"For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." (v.3)

I think about it all the
It doesn't seem
It doesn't seem
I try to make the equation work
but it doesn't.
They don't give you
the time of day.
They couldn't care less
about your law.
They are proud
of their pride.
They are so arrogant
their tongues
They mock your
They scoff at your
They not only make threats,
they resort to
Their boasting is their
I usually swallow
my questions,
but I'm roaring
It makes me tired to
think about it
and it does make
my obedience
seem like a waste.
They seem to have little
They seem to seldom
But I do!
And while I suffer,
they are
fat and happy.
Then in my
it hit me; this is but
a moment
a dream
a mist
a vapour
a quick passage through
a temporary place.
This is not
my home.
This is a journey
toward home.
They think this is home
but this is not
Please guide me on
my way.
Please hold me with
your hand.
And when I am
and my heart is about to
fail and my reserves of strength are
please help me to
that they have ease and riches
I have You
and you will be my
Strength and Portion

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Psalm 73: Envy is a Window

"For I was envious of the arrogant." (v.3)

This side of heaven all of us do it and most of the time we do it without knowing that we are. It is such a natural thing for sinners to do. Perhaps every day, someplace, at some moment we want what someone else has. Everyday we are jealous for the possessions, position, or prominence of another person. There is probably never a day when we are free of envy.

Maybe you're standing on the corner and someone drives by in a BMW and you say to yourself. "It must be nice!" Or, maybe you see someone coming out of an upscale restaurant and just for a moment you want their life. Or maybe you've just heard about you neighbor's vacation and you wonder how they pulled that off. Or perhaps it's dreaming of being your boss's boss. Or maybe its a dark moment when your mind thinks about being with another man's wife. Or it could be as mundane as wishing that you were as slim as Sally or as athletic as Josh. Or perhaps you spend too much time being a YouTube voyeur on the lives of the rich and famous. Or maybe your struggle with envy is not so well defined. Maybe it shows itself by making complaint the default language of your daily talk. Perhaps it shows itself in constant feelings of dissatisfaction. Or maybe it's revealed by irritation that bubbles below the surface all the time. It is safe to say; if you're a sinner, envy lurks around the corner all the time.

You see, envy gets right to the heart of what sin is about. 2 Corinthians 5:15 says that Jesus came so that "those who live should no longer live for themselves." The inertia of sin is inward. It causes me to shrink my world down to the size of my life. It causes me to daily worship at the altar of my wants, my needs, and my feelings. Sin puts me at the center of my existence; the one place that neither I nor any other human being should be. Sin causes me to be obsessed with what I have and don't have, with what I have in comparison to what others have, and with what I've determined I need to have in order to be happy. Sin causes love of others to be replaced with entitlement, and service of others to be replaced with demand. Sin makes me quickly impatient and easily irritated. Sin makes it easier for me to complain than it is to praise. Sin makes complaining more natural than thankfulness. Sin causes my eyes to be bigger than my stomach and my "I wants" to constantly outsize my "I haves."

Why does sin do all of this? Because the DNA of sin is selfishness. Sin is about the higher law of self. Sin puts you and me in God's position. Sin is self-focused and self-possessed. That dark day in the Garden, Adam and Eve didn't eat that forbidden fruit out of love for God and one another. No, these people, created to live for God and with others, stepped over created boundaries in an act of outrageous selfishness. We are still paying for their selfishness today! Loving God above all else means submitting all I want, all that I think I need, and all that I feel to his good, wise, loving, and holy lordship. Sin causes me to quest for lordship and imprisons me in bondage to me. I have written again and again about the redemptive implications of this, but here is one thing that you and I need to recognize and humbly accept everyday; the thing that Jesus came to rescue us from is us!

So, it is no wonder that envy is such a problem for us. But your Lord has the power to redeem your envy as well. By his grace he can help you to see what your envy reveals about your heart and your continued need of his rescuing, restoring, empowering, forgiving, and transforming grace. Here's what you need to understand. Your particular struggle with envy is a window into the real struggles of your heart. Let me explain.

1. Envy is a window on the true treasures of our heart. Oh sure, we would all like to think that we love God above all else. We all want to believe that his plan is more important to us than anything we would plan for ourselves. We would like to assume that what God promises us is more precious to us than anything we could ever set our eyes on. But envy reveals that these things are not yet completely true to us. Envy reveals that there is still a war of treasure raging in our hearts. Envy exposes the fact that the treasures of this physical, created world still have a powerful ability to seduce, tempt and side-track us. Envy tells us that we still look for satisfaction to things that do not have the organic capacity to satisfy the craving of our hearts. Who or What you envy tells you what you treasure.

2. Envy is a window on how easily and consistently we forget. We do have the amazing ability to stand in front of a closet that is bulging with clothes and say that we don't have a thing to wear. We do have the capacity to stand in front of a refrigerator filled with food and say there is nothing to eat. And we do have the ability to stand in the middle of lavish blessing and feel as if we are poor and needy. The sin of forgetfulness is one of the root sins of envy. We forget that, in God's grace, we have been given what we could not earn, achieve, or deserve. We forget that the Creator of all things and the Controller of all that is, is our Father and he is not only able to meet all our needs, he is willing to do so. Envy forgets blessing and in forgetting blessing assumes poverty and in assuming poverty gives way to hunger and this feeling of hunger tempts us to look to and long for what simply will not satisfy.

3. Envy is a window on the war within. Envy is a reminder. Envy is a warning. Envy is the sounding of an internal alarm. Envy tells you that you must not live with a peace-time mentality. Envy tells you that this is not the time to chill and relax. Envy reminds you that there really is a war that is still raging for the rulership of your heart. Envy calls you to be a humble and disciplined soldier. Envy calls you to examine your heart and interrogate your desires. Envy calls you to live watchfully and prayerfully. Envy warns you to reject assessments of arrival. To the degree that you crave what you Father has not chosen to given you, to that degree you heart is still out of step with him. The fight still goes on.

Now, maybe after reading this you're thinking, "Wow, Paul, that was really discouraging!" Here's what you and I need to remember. Our Savior walked on this earth where the war of envy rages, but he was envy free. Why? Not because he had it all, but because he was willing to forsake it all for you and for me. Think about this; rather than wanting all that was his right as God, Jesus was willing to forsake it all so that the battle for our hearts could and would be finally won. He walked away from glories our minds are to small to conceive in order to deliver to us these glories that our minds are to small to conceive. He was not propelled by envy. No he was propelled by love and that love is the most powerful reason for hope in the universe. So, we can affirm the struggle. We can confess when envy yanks us off his pathway. And we can know for sure that there will be a day when envy is no more and we will live forever in the kingdom of his love, fully and completely satisfied.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Psalm 73: To Good to be True?

"Truly God is good to Israel..." (v.1)

I don't think we have categories that get at what these words are saying. The words roll off your tongue so easily your mind barely has time to consider their content. The words are so familiar and mundane they barely draw interest out of us, let alone awe. At breakfast you'll say something like, "Wow, this cereal is good!" Or, "We had a good time at the park." Or, "Let me tell you where to get a good cup of coffee." Or, Sam is really a good husband." So maybe when we read that God is good what is supposed to happen inside of us doesn't happen.

When you read the words, "God is good," your heart should be filled with wonder, amazement, gratitude, humility, and love. Or to capture what our response should be in one word; AWE. Now, this is where the problem lies. I am convinced that many of us live day after day without any awe whatsoever. We live days, maybe even weeks, without wonder and amazement. We walk through the situations and locations of our daily lives without an overwhelming sense of gratitude. We don't notice the glory display that is all around us that points us to the one glory that is truly glorious; the glory of God. No, we see:
a busy schedule,
dirty dishes,
bills to be paid,
competitive children who are fighting once again,
the mean neighbor,
the hard boss,
too much traffic,
laundry that is piling up,
the car that needs repair,
the movie we have to see,
the blogs we can't live without,
the cool restaurant we can't wait to visit,
the vacation around the corner,
the relative who is mad once again,
the championship season,
the garage that is too full to house the car anymore,
the problems at church,
the weight we didn't mean to gain,
the dreams that are slipping through our fingers...

For sinners, the road between awe and complaining is very short. You and I were created to live our lives in the shadow of awe. Every word we speak, every action we take, every decision we make, and every desire we entertain was meant to be colored by awe. We were meant to live with eyes gazing upward and outward. We were meant to live with hearts that are searching, and hungry and being satisfied. Bad things happen when human beings lose their sense of awe. Bad things happen when we have no wonder inside of us. Bad things happen when we are no longer amazed. Bad things happen when we look around and nothing impresses us anymore.

When sin takes awe away from you, that sense of divine wonder that is meant to shape every person's life, you look for ways to fill the void. Now think about it, if you are not getting your wonderment vertically, that is, from the Creator, then you will look for it somewhere in the creation. You will be shopping for the buzz of wonder where it simply is not to be found. Your friends and family cannot give you the awe you seek. That new restaurant will blow you away, but it won't introduce you to the heart satisfying wonder of God. That new car will make you happy for a while, but it has not the capacity whatsoever to fill your soul with glory. The Psalmist here gets at the dilemma in a single word, "good." You're looking for "good," pure, unadulterated, imperishable, unending, and unfailing good; because you're wired that way. You're looking for the kind of good that can lift you out of your boredom and quiet your longings. And that good is only to be found one place; God. God is good in every possible way. He is good in righteousness. He is good in power. He is good in grace. He is good in his faithfulness. He is good in mercy. He is good in holiness. He is good in justice. He is good in his rule. All his words are good and true. All his actions are good and right. When he is angry he is good. When he preserves life, he is good. When he takes life he is good. When his words are hard, they are good. When his words are gentle, they are good. His promises are good. His provisions are good. His plan is good. In all of the universe, you can only say this about God; he is good all the time and in every way.

Nothing in creation is like him. Everything around us is flawed in some way. And even before the fall, no glory in creation compared to the glory of the Creator. But sin makes us blind to the glory of God and because we are blind, it causes us to live without awe.

No, it is not too good to be true. There really is a God who is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, who is the sum and definition of all that is good, true, and loving. He is not only good, but he places his goodness on us! Not because we deserve it in any way, but simply because he is good, gracious, loving, and kind.

Think about it. The One who is the sum and definition of all that is truly good has placed his goodness people like you and me. Now that's a reason for AWE! And remember that is good news that is not to good to be true!