Wednesday, March 05, 2008

False witnesses

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

It really does hurt when you've been falsely accused. It's painful to think that someone is convinced that you did something that you didn't do. It's frustrating to be accused of a wrong you had nothing to do with. It's maddening when you seem to be able to do nothing to explain or defend yourself. All of us have experienced it. We play the accusation over and over in the DVD player in our brain. We rewind the accusatory conversation. We wonder what people think about us, haunted by the soiled reputation that we're convinced that we'll now carry around. We look for ways to justify ourselves. We search for things we can say and do to restore our reputation. It's painful to be innocent, yet unable to life with the charges that have been made against you.

Your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ was in that place, but he put himself there on purpose. Confused? Let me explain. Jesus came to earth knowing exactly what he was going to be facing. He came as an act of submission to the Father's great redemptive plan (See John 6:38.) He came with a willing spirit; willing to face the very things that we all work to avoid and find so painful when they are unavoidable. Passages like Isaiah 53 and these verses in Psalm 27 give us a window into how deep the love of Christ.

It's almost impossible to conceive that the King of Kings, the Great Creator, the Sovereign Son of God would submit to this:

He would submit to being betrayed by a close friend.
He would submit to being led away toward a wrongful trial.
He would submit to being forsaken by his closest followers.
He would submit to false accusations.
He would submit to gross injustice.
He would stand silent as he's being mocked.
He would submit to slaps on the face.
He would not defend himself against physical torture.
He would submit to a mob that would call for his death.
He would submit to the pain of a crown of thorns.
He would be willing to drag his cross to the place of his execution.
He would submit to being identified with criminals.
He would submit to nails being driven into his limbs.
He would be willing to have his Father turn his back on him.

Yes, he knew the cruelties and injustices that he would face. And he was willing. In that final moment before he faced the unthinkable, Jesus prayed something very similar to Psalm 27:12, "Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me." Or in other words, "Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes." But then he added these words of amazing submission, words that made our salvation possible, "...but not my will, but yours be done."

Jesus knew the plan. From the first moment of his life on earth, he knew that he was marching toward that moment when he would be turned over to the desire of his foes. He knew false witnesses would seal his death. He knew, but they did not. They didn't know that they weren't in charge. They didn't know that they were part of a greater plan. They had no idea that long before they were born; God had chosen to turn their moment of deceit and injustice into a moment of triumph and salvation.

He knew false witnesses were in his future; he was the Savior and he was willing.


" strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." (v.14b)

a faint dream for many
a treasured commodity
in a fallen world,
a thing so needed,
yet so easily interrupted.
The Garden was a place of
no violence in creation
no weed or thorn
no cleft between God and man
no reason to hide
no cause for fear
no need unmet
no grief to face.
Bright sun
pure love
unfettered peace
unstained beauty
man and God
worship and love.
But a voice
interrupted the rest:
strategies of death
words of deceit
actions of rebellion
fingers of blame
expulsion from the Garden
judgment and death
rest interrupted
rest shattered.
So we wait for the Lord.
His grace strengthens
His presence comforts
His promises assure
His power activates
His rule guarantees
that someday rest,
real rest
pure rest
eternal rest
will reign once more.
No violence in creation
no weed or thorn
no cleft between God and man
no reason to hide
no cause for fear
no need unmet
no grief to face
between God and man.
Yes, rest, true rest
will live again
and last forever.
So we wait for the Lord
to restore us to that place.
Bright Son
pure love
unfettered peace
unstained beauty
God and man
together forever.
Until that day,
with hearts
that are strong
and hope
that is undimmed
and joy
that embraces the future,
We wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27: A Plan for Your Life

"...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 seek him in his holy temple." (v.4b)

Now, admit it, you love you and you have a wonderful plan for your life. Somehow someway we all are too focused on our own lives. All of us get captured by what we want, what we feel, and what we have determined we need. Everyone of us is a dreamer. We've all been given the amazing capacity to envision the future and to plan toward it. A dream is imagination, coupled with desire and projected into the future. There are things that you'd love to have as part of your life. There are things that you'd like to accomplish. There are locations you'd love to experience. There are relationships you'd like to enjoy. There are situations you'd like to avoid. Every day you get up and you work toward some kind of dream.

But dreamers don't just dream their dream, they also dream to be sovereign. In some way, at some time, all of us have wished that we'd enough control over our lives to guarantee that the things we've dreamed, we'd be able to experience. We'd like to control people and situations just enough to ensure that the "good things" we've dreamed would actually come true. What does the Bible call all of this? The Bible calls it worship.

You see, you and I are worshippers. This is one of the things the separates us from the rest of creation. As worshippers we're always living for something. Something is always laying claim to the affection and rulership of our hearts. There's always something that commands our dreams. There's something that we look to to give us identity, meaning and purpose, and that inner sense of well-being that everyone seeks. Now, Scripture says that there are only two choices (Romans 1:25). You're living in pursuit of the creation or the Creator. You're looking for your satisfaction and meaning in the physical created world, or you're finding it in the Lord.

What this means is that there's a war of dreams that rages in our hearts, and in the middle of the fog of this war it's so easy to get it wrong. It's so easy to think that because I have my theology in the right place, because I am biblically literate, and a functioning member of a good church, that my life is shaped by worship of the Lord. But, that may not be the case at all. On closer inspection, it may actually be the case that underneath all of those things is a life that's driven by personal success, or material things, or the respect of others, or power and control, etc. I am deeply persuaded that there's a whole lot of idolatrous Christianity out there. The most dangerous idols of all are those that fit well within the culture of external Christianity.

It's here that Psalm 27 is so helpful and convicting. What's David's dream for his life? What's his plan? Well, it sounds so spiritual as to be impractical, but it gets right to the heart of why we were created in the fist place. David says, in Old Testament language, "I want to spend my life in worship of the Lord. I want to dwell in his temple and gaze upon his beauty." The shekinah glory presence of the Lord filled the holy place of the temple, like a cloud. It was a physical picture of God dwelling with his people. David was saying, "I want to be where God is. I want to do what I was created to do."

No, David isn't some super-spiritual mystic. David gets it right. His quest is for a life that's shaped and directed by a daily worship of the Lord. David knows who he is: a creature created for worship. David knows who God is: the only "thing" in the universe that's truly worthy of worship. His dream is the best dream that you could ever dream. Far from being impractical, this dream, if lived out at street level, will bring purity and peace to your life.

What's your plan for you life? How close is your plan to the plan God had for you when he gave you life and breath? Is there, perhaps, something in your plan that competes for the place that only God should have?

May your plan for you be identical to his plan for you!

Stumbling at the Cross

"When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall." (v.2)

What is it that the Psalms look to? What's the theme that courses its way through Psalm after Psalm? What gives the Psalms their meaning and depth? The things that the Psalms point to again and again aren't things at all. No, it's a person and his name is Jesus. It's not as though some of the Psalms are Messianic. All of the Psalms point to the person and work of the Savior in some way! Psalm 27 is a powerful example.

You can't help but think of the cross when you read the words of Psalm 27:2. There was a dramatic moment in time when evil men advanced against Christ. It was a moment of jealous injustice. It seemed unthinkable that this could actually happen to the Messiah. Yet, this horrible moment wasn't outside of the sovereign plan of the God of grace. What seemed like the darkest moment in all of human history was in fact a bright and shining moment of redemptive love. What seemed like a sad moment of defeat was, in fact, a moment of eternal victory. Psalm 27 looks forward and captures what New Testament passages look back at about the cross. Here are two examples.

From Peter's first sermon in Acts 2:23-24:

"This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and
foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him
to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him
from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because
it was impossible for death to keep it's hold on him."

And Paul's words about the cross from Colossians 2:14,15

"Having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that
was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away,
nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and
authorities, he made a public spectacle of them triumphing
over them by the cross."

Doesn't Psalm 27 predict exactly what these passages look back to and say about the cross? These words, "when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall," mirror Paul's words, "he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." The cross wasn't an unexpected moment outside of the plan of God where Jesus faced temporary defeat. On the contrary, it was the ultimate moment of stumbling for the forces of darkness. In what looked like the enemy's time of triumph, he was actually being dealt his ultimate defeat. From the moment of the fall of Adam and Eve, the enemy was destined to stumble at the cross. There was no possibility that Jesus would be attacked and defeated. Peter makes it clear that the outcome had been determined before the foundations of the earth had been put in place. God had controlled the forces of nature and written the events of human history to bring the promised Messiah, the sacrificial Lamb, the hope of the world to this point. The hope of the universe rested on this moment. Yet, there was no doubt his moment of suffering would be the universe's moment of victory and freedom. This circumstance of death would be a triumph of eternal life. It was destined to be; it would not be Christ, but the enemy, who would stumble and fall.

Read Psalm 27 and see your suffering Savior. Read Psalm 27 and celebrate your redemption. Read Psalm 27 and remember that in the stumbling of the enemy, your life and hope is to be found. Read Psalm 27 and be filled with deep appreciation for sovereign grace.

The enemy stumbled at the cross so that your hope would never stumble and fall. If you have hope in Christ, you have hope that's guaranteed and sure.

Psalm 27: Functional Blindness

" gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and seek him in his holy temple." (v.4b)

I would like to think
that others are blind,
but I am not.
I would like to think
that I have
clarity of vision,
a penetrating insight
that lights my way.
I am good
at recognizing
the sight problems of others.
I am skilled
at pointing out
the gaps in their vision
and the blind spots
that alter how they
and the way they
I would like to
that I have 20/20 vision,
but the evidence points
to the sad fact that
I don't.
I have the stunning ability
to look around
and not see You.
I see my
busy schedule
tasks to complete
problems to solve
people to see
demands to be met
things to repair
pressures to face
temptations to fight
pleasures to consume
things to build
things to tear down
plans to make
difficulties to survive
huge responsibilities
and short days.
I gaze at my life
every day
and again and again I fail
to see You.
It is a scary
humbling to admit.
Though this world
is filled with
Your glory,
I exist
so much of the time
glory blind.
In Your love
You created a world
that is a sight and sound
of Your magnificent
No matter from what perspective
we're looking,
no matter what vista
we're taking in,
no matter
where we're standing
and which way
we're gazing,
Your glory is visible
and evident.
Yet, again and again
I fail to see
Your beauty.
So I seek Your
one more time.
Please place Your
powerful hands
on my broken eyes
and give me sight again.
Please place your
powerful hands
on my wayward heart
and make it seek again.
Don't let me be
so blinded
with me and mine,
that I fail to see
For it's only
when my eyes
see Your
and my heart
is filled with Your
that I'll quit
and life,
where it can't be found.
So I would pray
this simple prayer,
"Please touch me by
Your grace
so that there'll never
be a day
where I haven't
gazed upon
Your beauty."

Life as a Student

"Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors." (v11)

Do you think that you've arrived? Do you tend to think that you've learned what you need to learn and now know what you need to know? Do you see yourself as having more answers than questions? Do your carry around a hunger to know? Do you want to understand more deeply and more fully? Do you have a humble, open, and seeking heart? Are you approaching life with the mentality of a student?

Here is a prayer to be taught. Do you pray this? How often? I think there's much pride of knowing and the accompanying mental lethargy in many of us. There was a time, in the early years of our faith, when we couldn't get enough. We had a voracious hunger for truth and a lively fear of falsehood. We lived with the humbling realization that there was so much that we didn't know. We loved walking through the gallery of God's wisdom, taking in the treasures there. We loved listening to fellow students who were further along the path of wisdom than us. We loved to be pointed to nuggets of wisdom that could have only come from the mouth of the Divine. We loved to study the Word of God; to examine each phrase, comparing Scripture with Scripture. We could not get enough, we were not satisfied, we were students.

But something happened along the way. Perhaps we got distracted by the physical pleasures of the created world and began to live more like tourists than students. Perhaps we got discouraged by the troubles of the world and felt our study was not helping us. Maybe we got sidetracked by our own purposes and plans and had little time left to be students. Or perhaps our hunger was blunted by assessments of arrival. Perhaps we came to think that we knew all that we needed to know.

Yet, there are two reasons that remain to pray this prayer; depth and danger. Why would I pray to be taught again and again and again by the Lord? Because his wisdom is just that deep and vast. His wisdom has no boundary. His wisdom has no bottom. His wisdom has no ceiling. If for 10,000,000 years I would sit for twenty-four hours a day at his feet and listen, I would only scratch the very surface of the wisdom that is his. If I gave every day of my life to study only the wisdom that is captured on the pages of Scripture, I could study until my very last day and not have mined all the treasures of wisdom that's there. So, once more, I pray to be taught because the wisdom of God is just that deep.

I also pray this prayer because I live in a world of danger. It's a world where the sounds of falsehood echo more loudly and repeatedly than the sounds of wisdom. Living in human culture is like sitting in a 20,000 seat arena just before the concert begins. Everyone is talking at once, a den of voices so loud and pervasive you can barely hear yourself think. Every day a thousand voices speak into my life and the vast majority of those voices have not gotten the flowers of their insight from the wisdom garden of the Lord. They tell me who I am. They tell me what life is about. They tell me how to invest my time. They tell me how to use my resources. They tell me how to conduct my relationships. They tell me what is true and untrue. They tell me what my goals should be. They tell me what the good life looks like. They tell me what I should be, and do, and want. They offer me a comprehensive system of wisdom, that's well thought through and that's attractive on many levels, but that competes with the true wisdom that can only come from God. It's so easy to be taken captive. It's so easy to have Divine wisdom corrupted by human wisdom. It's so easy to breathe in the polluted air of a culture that no longer actually thinks that God is, let alone that he is wise.

So, with a lively acknowledgment of the vastness of the depth of God's wisdom and a healthy fear of the germs of falsehood that are everywhere around me, I accept the fact that this side of eternity I live in the middle of a raging wisdom war. So, I pray for the strength, protection, direction, and encouragement that can only be found when I am a student of the Lord. Morning after morning I bow my head and humbly pray, "Lord, please teach me your way."

Monday, March 03, 2008

Psalm 27: Breathing Violence

"...for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence." (v.12)

"Breathing out violence," perhaps no two words in Scripture more dramatically capture the powerfully damaging presence of sin than these two words. Imagine a human being, who was made in the image of God, made for loving worship of the Lord and loving community with others, getting to the place where they've fallen so far from God's original intention that they actually exhale violence! You don't have to look very far to see the dramatic damage that sin does to human beings. The high rate of divorce, the violence that is present in every major city in Western culture, the scourge of physical and sexual abuse of children, and something as common as the high level of conflict that exists in all of our relationships in one form or another.

You may be thinking, "Paul, I'm not sure how it's going to help me to think about all of these terrible things." Here's what's important about these two scary words and what they depict; you and I will never understand and celebrate the magnitude of God's transforming grace until we understand the deep damage that sin does to the human heart. You see, sin isn't about human beings being basically okay and just needing a little tweaking in order to be what they were meant to be and do what they were meant to do. No, the damage of sin reaches to every area of our personhood, deeply altering what we think and what we desire.

Isn't it a stunning fact that after Adam and Eve fell, the very next generation was stained with sibling homicide! And consider what Genesis 6:5 says about the impact of sin on human culture. "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of his heart was only evil all the time." Let that divine report of the damage of sin on the human heart sink in, "that every inclination of his heart was only evil all the time!" Could the statement be any stronger? This is what sin does. Its effect is so pervasive and so comprehensive that it influences everything we do and everything we say. It causes us to think, desire, choose, say, and do things that are the polar opposite of the way we were created to function. So, we don't actually love our neighbor. No, we're jealous of him, or we see him as an obstacle in the way of what we want, or we treat him as an adversary, or we ignore him altogether. And we don't love God with our whole hearts. No, we put creation in his place. We'd rather have the temporary pleasure of physical things than the eternal satisfactions that can only be found in him. Sin causes us to place ourselves at the center of our universe. Sin causes us to be obsessed with what we feel, what we want, and what we think we need. Sin causes us to set up our own little kingdom of one, where our desire is the functional law of the land. And as little kings, we want to co-opt the people around us into the service of our kingdom purposes, and when they refuse or unwittingly get in the way of what we want we rage against them. Sometimes it's the quiet rage of bitterness. Sometimes it's the vocal rage of angry and condemning words, and sometimes it's the physical rage of actual acts of violence against another. This is what sin does to all of us.

In light of the fact that sin brings all of us to the point that we all "exhale violence" in some form at some time, it's amazing how much peace and cooperation exists in our relationships. What's the explanation for this apparent contradiction? It can be said in one word: grace. There's not a day where you and yours are not protected by the most powerful, protective, and beneficial force in the universe; the grace of God. Every situation, location, and relationship you're in every day is made livable and tolerable by his grace. In the majesty of his love, God causes his grace to restrain us, just as he causes the sun and the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust. Why does he do this? He does it because of his great love and for the sake of his own glory.

This means the every day you experience the power of his grace. Every day God keeps us all from being as wicked as we have the potential to be. And if he would for a moment withdraw his hand of grace, this world would explode into chaos and violence unlike anything any of us could conceive. You see, you only ever begin to really celebrate grace when you begin to understand how deep and pervasive the effects of sin are. As Jesus said when that woman washed his feet with her hair, "The one who has been forgiven much, loves much."

Take time to consider the ravages of sin on us all because when you do, you'll leave with a deeper appreciation of grace than you've ever had. And that appreciation won't only cause praise to come out of your mouth, but it will also change the way you live.