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.