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!