Friday, June 29, 2007

Psalm 51: God's Pleasure

I must admit
I am embarrassed
what gives me
It doesn't take
to make me
I get
real pleasure
a good steak
nice chocolate
a comfortable
I want the joy
cold soda
hot tea.
I want the bathroom
be empty when
I need it.
I want the streets
I drive on
be free of other
I want people
respect my opinions
validate my plans.
I want my wife
be satisfied
with me as
I am.
I want
my bills all
and plenty of money
do the pleasurable
that make me
But God
isn't like
His pleasures
aren't a sad
His desires
aren't shaped
ravenous self-focus.
in a perpetual state
His pleasures
are never
God smiles
his reason
is holy
and his purpose
He finds
great pleasure
in his glory
great joy
the repentant
from the pursuit
their own glory and
toward his.
He has
great pleasure
the success
his plan
and finds
in seeing
his children
from their pleasure
live for
by his grace
the pleasures
that give me
will be
the things that
please God.
Until then
hope is in the
that he finds
in rescuing those
have been led
by their pleasures
once more today
going to need
that rescue.
And I'll need
every day until
deepest pleasures
are nowhere to be found
the creation
and only to be found
the Creator.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Psalm 51: Righteous Judgment

" that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment." What an interesting thing for a man who's confessing sin to say! Why would David be talking about God's justice? Now, it makes sense when you have the sense to confess, to remind God of his mercy, but to stand before him and remind him of his justice is another thing all together.

Let me suggest that there are two ways that the justice of God should comfort we sinners. First, his justice means that his assessment of me is accurate. It isn't colored or slanted by prejudice or bias of any kind. It isn't shaped by any kind of hidden personal agenda. God's assessment isn't weakened by favoritism or the cynicism of previous experience. God's view of me is pure and accurate in every way. What he says about me is absolutely true. Every judgment he would make of wrong attitude, thought, desire, choice, word, or action, is valid and true.

Unlike my experience in this broken world, I don't have to fear that God will wrongly associate me with some group, or have his view of me colored by a grudge, or have his perspective on me colored by irritation or impatience. I can rest assured that God's view of me is trustworthy in every way. And because God's view of me is untainted by sin, it's clearly more reliable than any view that I'd have of myself.

Second, the way that God responds to me as Judge is right and pure as well. God's discipline of me is without personal bias. It isn't weakened by anger or impatience. His justice is never distorted because he's lost his temper or is tired of dealing with me. To add to this, since he isn't only just, but merciful, loving, and kind as well, God's justice is always restrained and tempered by these things. He's a God of mercy who meets out justice. He disciplines us in love. His kindness colors how he responds to the sins of his children.

The way that God exercises his power is without blemish. He isn't like the leaders we're used to, who use power for personal control or privilege. He isn't like a leader who has an inner circle of sycophants that he treats differently than he does everyone else. He doesn't use his power to place people in his debt or to use situations to his advantage. His justice is the benevolent justice of a holy king.

So, I can place myself in the hands of the justice of the one who sees me with accuracy and deals with me righteously. But there's even something more here. Unlike David who looked forward to the coming of his future "son," the Lord Jesus Christ, we look back on his life on our behalf. We stand before God unafraid, not because we're acceptable to him, but because his justice has been satisfied by the death of Jesus. So, God is to us both the One who's just and the One who justifies! He can forgive my rebellion and sin without compromising the purity of his justice in any way!

I don't have to manipulate God's view of me.

I don't have to run from him in fear.

I don't have to rationalize away my wrongs.

I don't have to work to shift the blame to someone else.

I don't have to put forward false pretenses.

I don't have to marshal arguments for my acceptability.

I don't have to try to buy my way into his favor.

No, I can be who I am and what I am and stand in the light of his righteousness without fear, because Jesus has taken my sin and suffered my stripes. So the One who is my Judge is also my Justifier. There is rest! There is hope!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Psalm 51: The Grace of a Clean Heart

"Create in me a clean heart." Could there be a more fundamental prayer request than this? Could there be anything more essential than this? Could there be any hope more beautiful than to believe that someday your heart and mine will be totally free from impurity of any kind? This is the most radical claim of all the claims of the Gospel. This is the epicenter of what the cross of Jesus Christ alone can produce. This is the thing that the keeping of the law could never do. Sin is a tragedy of the heart. Redemption is about the fundamental reorientation and restoration of the heart. That David would pray such a prayer not only tells you much about his own sense of need, but also tells how great his faith is in the transforming power of the grace of God.

Let's think about the theology of the heart that's behind David's request. Human beings have been made by God in two parts, the inner man and the outer man. The outer man is your physical self, your body. The body is the house you've been given for your heart. It is your "earth suit." Someday you and I will get a new suit. (Some of us are particularly relieved that this is true!) The inner man is given many names; mind, emotion, will, soul, spirit, to name a few. All of these terms are collected into one big basket term, heart. The heart is the control center of the human being. It's the center of your emotions, cognition, and desires. The heart is discussed in over 900 passages of Scripture. It's one of the Bible's most well developed themes. Essentially what the Bible says is that the heart is the steering wheel of the human being. The heart controls, shapes, and directs everything you choose, say, and do. What controls the heart will therefore exercise unavoidable control over your behavior.

What does this have to do with David's courageous request? David understands something that's fundamental to repentance. It's that sin isn't first a matter of behavior, it's first a matter of the heart. That's why Jesus said that to look at a woman and lust after her, carries the moral value of the physical act of adultery. You see, since your heart guides your actions and words, if you allow your heart to lust, it won't be long before you commit the physical act.

Or we could look at the other side of the coin. Worship is not first an activity. No, worship is first a position of the heart. It's only when my heart esteems God above everything else, that I'll serve him with my time, energy, money, and strength. Impurity of the heart is not primarily about bad thoughts or bad desires. No, impurity of the heart is really about love for something in the creation replacing love that I was only ever meant to have for the Creator. And when I love something in creation more than I love God I'll think, desire, say, and do bad things.

Now, what all of this means is that our biggest, most abiding, most life-shaping problem exists inside of us and not outside of us. What we actually need to be rescued from is us. What needs to be transformed in our lives is not so much our situation and relationships (although they need transformation as well). What really needs to be transformed are our hearts. What we need are hearts that are clean, that are single-focused in their allegiance to God and His glory. We need grace to transform what we love, what we crave, and what we serve. And what's the bright and golden promise of the cross of Jesus Christ? It's a new heart!

Here's the gorgeous message of the Gospel. Even though I've bowed again and again to an endless catalog of God replacements, even though I've loved myself more than I've loved God, even though I've rebelled against God's kingdom and sought to set up my own kingdom, God comes to me in grace and wraps arms of love around me and begins a process that will result in the total transformation of the core of my personhood, the heart. He won't rest and He won't relent until He's created in you and me a completely pure heart!

So we wake up every morning knowing that by His grace our hearts are purer than they once were, and by His grace they'll be purer than they are today. So with thankfulness for the transformation that's already taken place and with the courage of hope of the transformation that's yet to come, we wake up, look to heaven and say with David, "Create in me a clean heart."