Monday, June 14, 2010

Being Honest with God (Psalm 32) 6-13-10

            We’re going back to the Old Testament for our passage. Sometimes pulling things from the Old Testament to study can be tricky. The ancient Israelites lived in a very different setting and culture from our own; the type of person it produced might be labeled as “extreme” in all things. They were a highly passionate people, and that passion could lead them to the greatest heights of godly devotion and down into the deepest depths of uncivilized barbarism. 

            With the same mouth they could praise God in some of the most beautiful phrases ever written, and then wish deaths on their enemies that would make even a serial killer blush. That is particularly true in the Psalms, where our passage comes from tonight. The result, though, is that though they can often make us squeamish, these ancient people are easy to relate to, if we’re honest with ourselves.
And that’s what tonight’s message is about, being honest. Without further ado, let us begin…

Psalm 32

1 Blessed is he
       whose transgressions are forgiven,
       whose sins are covered.

            David starts out this psalm by telling us what the rest of it is going to be about, he will be contrasting the blessings received when you are forgiven of your sins with the ways in which a person suffers when they have not confessed and turned away from their sins. This psalm is called one of the “penitential psalms.”

            The book of Psalms is often called the prayer book of the Bible. By and large, the majority of the Psalms are directed in a sort of “prayer format” towards God. They represent the entire spectrum of human emotions. When you’re sad, there are psalms for that; when you’re happy, there are psalms for that; when you’re tired, there are psalms for that; when you’re angry at people, there are psalms for that; when you’re even angry at God, there’s a psalm for that.

            At times, the Psalms say things that, as Christians, we’re uncomfortable with. For example, one of the Psalm writers suggested that it would be better for his enemies’ children to be thrown against rocks than to continue living. Not exactly what you would call a holy desire; not an idea I think God Himself is terribly comfortable with it, but it’s there none the less.

            But, if we remember one thing, then even that Psalm can be helpful for us in our spiritual lives. What we must remember is that the Psalms, more than any other place in the Bible, are the words of ordinary human beings directed towards an extraordinary God. The God of the Bible is completely unlike any other god in all of history. The God of the Bible expects things from His people that no other god or religion expected.

            And one of those things He expects is for us to be honest with Him. He wants us to be honest about how we feel when we speak to Him. Unlike other gods in other religions, He is not satisfied when His people merely give Him lip-service, when they merely, as the Bible puts it, “acknowledge Him with their lips but their hearts are far from Him.” Now, of course, sometimes God wants us to say and do things we don’t feel like saying or doing, but that’s not the end of the deal, He’s not satisfied to leave it there.

            If we’re mad, God wants us to tell Him we’re mad, if we’re thankful, He wants us to tell Him that too. God doesn’t want us to “paper over” what we’re feeling. One of my biggest pet peeves over the years when dealing with fellow Christians, and even myself, has been when people use the phrase “I struggle with [dot dot dot,]” when often, they’re not struggling with it at all, they just do it, but they know they’re not supposed to. Whatever it is that’s going on inside of us, God wants us to tell Him; not because He doesn’t already know, He does. But, to say it is to “bring it to light” for ourselves.

            You see, the tricky part about sin is that, when we’re sinning, we start playing tricks on ourselves, somehow we manage to fool ourselves into believing we’re not doing what we are doing, or we’re fighting when we’re really giving in. The Apostle John puts it this way in his first epistle (that means letter) in the New Testament. He says:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing.
(1Jn 1:8-9)

            Now, normally I won’t bring up the way things are put in “the original Greek” of the New Testament. For those of you who don’t know, the New Testament section of the Bible, for the most part, was written in the ancient Greek used at the time of Christ. Now, I don’t know Greek very well, even though I took two years of it in college, but the way John phrases this passage has always stuck with me, even though my Greek prof, whom I love dearly, implied that I was finding meaning where there wasn’t any.

            Anyway, in the Greek, you can rearrange words in a sentence, putting them anywhere for special emphasis, because the way you use the other words will indicate what you mean. So, in this passage, John puts the “ourselves” at the front of the phrase “we deceive ourselves.” In essence, he ways “If we say that we have no sin, OURSELVES we deceive, and there is no truth in us.” This, in my own mind, emphasizes that GOD is not fooled by our denial of sin, WE are.

            Again, God does not NEED us to be honest, but He wants us to, so that we do not deceive ourselves, thus David continues:

 2 Blessed is the man
       whose sin the LORD does not count against him
       and in whose spirit is no deceit.

            It is only the person who is able to be honest about their sins, who isn’t fooled by their own words, who can confess their sins that ends up being counted innocent by God. Otherwise you’re holding your sin within you. Every single one of us knows what it’s like to feel guilty, whether it’s for small things or big things. No one is immune to it, not even David who wrote this Psalm.

            I don’t know how many of you have ever heard of David, or read about Him; but by all accounts he is one of the “heroes” of the Bible. God even calls Him a man after His own (that is, God’s) heart. And yet, David is also one of the prime examples of a good man who falls into sin in the Old Testament. In fact, this Psalm is often read in connection with the story of David’s “big sin” in the Bible.

            It’s the story of David and Bathsheba. Now, David was the King of Israel back in Old Testament. At one point, Israel was at war with the Ammonites, one of the tribes which surrounded Israel. Normally, when the Kings of Israel went to war with someone, they would be out there with their troops fighting the battle, but on this particular occasion David, for some reason, stayed behind and sent his officers out to fight for him.

            One evening, while hanging out back at home, David went up to the roof of his palace to relax. As he’s up there, he looks over, and like a peeping tom he sees some lady taking a bath in her house. David decides that this girl is so good looking that he just has to have her for himself. So, he sends his buddy to find out who she is, his buddy comes back and says she’s Bathsheba the wife of one of David’s officers, Uriah. Well, this isn’t enough to stop David, he thinks to himself, “I’m king, I get what I want,” so he sends his buddy back to invite her over. You, of course, can probably figure out for yourselves what happened next.

            A little while later Bathsheba figures out that she’s pregnant and she sends a message to David letting him know. Of course, since Uriah is out on the front lines, David figures Uriah will know that there’s something wrong with that timeline, his wife had to have become pregnant while he was away. So, David sends for Uriah to bring him back from the frontline, he tells him “go home, rest a while, be with your wife.” But Uriah, being the good guy that he was, says “I can’t go home and be with my wife when my men are out there on the front line; that’s not fair” and instead sleeps in the guardroom of the palace until he can go back out to the front.

            So, not only is he not helping David cover up his sin, but he’s laying more guilt on David because Uriah is out there with the armies of Israel while Israel’s king, David, is at home relaxing. So, David tries again. The next night he gets Uriah drunk and thinks “surely he’ll go home now,” sends him home, and yet again Uriah sleeps in the guardroom, feeling guilty that his men are out on the front without him.

            Finally, David figures he’s not going to be able to cover this up, so instead, he tells his other officers to put Uriah in the very worst part of the battle, and when the fighting is at its worst, retreat and let Uriah be killed. Seriously? Not only was it bad enough to take the guys wife, but now he’s sending him to be murdered for doing what a good soldier should do. But that’s the way it goes down, Uriah gets killed in battle. Then, David, believing that his problems are solved, takes Bathsheba as his wife.

            But God, seeing what David had done, sent Nathan the prophet, and Nathan tells David this story, he says:

The LORD sent the prophet Nathan to David. Nathan went to 
him and said, "There were two men who lived in the same town; one was rich and the other poor. The rich man had many cattle and sheep, while the poor man had only one lamb, which he had bought. He took care of it, and it grew up in his home with his children. He would feed it some of his own food, let it drink from his cup, and hold it in his lap. The lamb was like a daughter to him. One day a visitor arrived at the rich man's home. The rich man didn't want to kill one of his own animals to fix a meal for him; instead, he took the poor man's lamb and prepared a meal for his guest." David became very angry at the rich man and said, "I swear by the living LORD that the man who did this ought to die! For having done such a cruel thing, he must pay back four times as much as he took." "You are that man," Nathan said to David. "And this is what the LORD God of Israel says:
(2Sa 12:1-7)

            And he goes on to tell him all the ways in which God was going to utterly demolish all the good things he had given him because of this sin. David, now having his sin brought to light and realizing the consequences of what he had done, repents. He’s honest about his sin and asks for God’s forgiveness, which God grants him. There’s a darker end to this tale, because David, though forgiven, still does suffer an awful consequence because of his sin, but that’s a discussion for another time, because that’s a virtual hornets nest of theological and ethical issues.

            However, knowing now what we know about David’s sin, David explains to us in the following verses how he felt during this time in which he was trying to cover up his sin:

 3 When I kept silent,
       my bones wasted away
       through my groaning all day long.

            Now, if we all know what it’s like to feel guilty, perhaps most of us know what it’s like to hold in that guilt. A lot of people, when they know they’ve done something wrong, put up this front, this exterior. They try to act like they’re hard and don’t care about what they’ve done, but very few people actually get there, very few actually get to the point where their hearts are so hardened, so calloused over, that they don’t feel guilt anymore. I’ve met a few people like that and I’ll tell you they’re the scariest people I’ve ever been around. But when it comes down to it, maybe 1 in 1000 people is truly that calloused 24/7. For most people it’s just a show because they think it makes them feel better when really, it’s eating them up inside. Even the people who are there, who really don’t have any conscience to speak of had to feel it at one point; we know what it’s like to feel empty and sad. That’s how David felt after he did what he did. He tells us:

 4 For day and night
       your hand was heavy upon me;
       my strength was sapped
       as in the heat of summer.
            He says “your hand was heavy upon me;” he’s acknowledging that his sense of guilt, what Christians call the “conviction of the Holy Spirit” was God at work in Him, drawing David to admit his guilt. It was wearing him out, he says. His strength was “sapped,” that is, drained. He couldn’t bear the weight of his guilt. But, he says:

 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
       and did not cover up my iniquity.
       I said, "I will confess
       my transgressions to the LORD "—
       and you forgave
       the guilt of my sin. 
            He admits his sin. As John said, he is no longer deceiving himself by saying he has no sin, but confesses his sin. And, again, as John said, God forgave him his sin and cleansed him from all unrighteousness. It’s only when we’re able to confess our sins that we’re able to be forgiven. Like being an addict, it’s only when we’re able to accept what we’ve done that we can begin to recover.

            And, as I’ve said before, though through the cross of Christ we are forgiven of all our sins, confession is not a once-for-all-never-have-to-worry-again sort of deal. Even if you’re forgiven, you have to continue repenting from the sins which come afterwards, as David says:

 6 Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you
       while you may be found;
       surely when the mighty waters rise,
       they will not reach him.

            Even those who are godly, even those who are called “saints” by the Bible, have to continue to confess their sins. Again, in the original Greek of 1 John 1:8 and 9, as far as I can tell, when John says “but if we confess our sins, God who is righteous and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” he’s actually using several words in a continual sense. What that means is, when he uses the word “confess,” it means “continue to confess,” and when he uses the words “forgive” and “cleanse” he means “continue to forgive” and “continue to cleanse.” So, essentially he’s saying “If we say that we have no sins, we deceive ourselves, but if we continue to confess our sins then God who is righteous and just will continue to forgive us our sins and continue to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

            So, David tells us that those who are righteous in God’s eyes must continue to reach out to Him, because they continue to depend on His love and forgiveness by faith. He says to do this “while you may be found,” implying that there will be a time, at some point in their lives perhaps, at which a person who has not reached out to God will no longer be able to do so. Either they will have become too hardened to do so, or somehow, and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to how, the opportunity will no longer be available to them.

            However, if they do reach out, then David says that even when the waters rise, that is, when everything comes flooding in against them, the waters will not reach them. They will be protected. David continues:

 7 You are my hiding place;
       you will protect me from trouble
       and surround me with songs of deliverance.
            David trusts in God’s love and protection. Like we talked about way back when I began this job, God is protecting him even when it doesn’t look like it, even when he feels like he’s been abandoned, when the flood waters are rising, God is there with him.

            After this, the Psalm changes voices, now it is God speaking back to David. He says:

 8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
       I will counsel you and watch over you.

            God not only will protect those who trust him from their true enemies, but He will guide them in the right way, in ways that do not bring the “natural consequences” of sin. The Bible often refers to God’s direction as wisdom, a topic I hope to cover at some point when we have the opportunity to talk about the Book of Proverbs. God continues:

 9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
       which have no understanding
       but must be controlled by bit and bridle
       or they will not come to you.

            He says, “Don’t like you’ve been. Listen to me when I call to you, don’t wait until I threaten you with punishment and consequences to do what is right, but do what is right when I tell you to do it.” So often we wait until God threatens us with things like Hell and other punishments before we ever listen to Him, we’re like little children who won’t listen to our parents until they threaten to spank us. God wants us to trust Him, and if we trust Him, then we trust that His way is the best way, and our way is usually the wrong way. God calls us to trust Him by following Him, follow His directions.

 10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
       but the LORD's unfailing love
       surrounds the man who trusts in him.

            “Many are the woes of the wicked.” What do you think that means? Are their woes limited to the punishments which God sometimes has to hold over them? Or do their actions, their sins, have natural consequences. Sins and wickedness, in a sense, are anything which goes against the way God has established life to be. When we sin, it’s kind of like trying to use a bike to get on the interstate, it goes against what a bike was meant to do; and as a consequence you’re likely to get smashed by a car.

            That’s what life is like when you embrace sin and live a life that goes against God. God built life, and when you use it the wrong way, it breaks down. When you chase after sinful things that look good, you end up losing or killing the things that really are good. You end up putting things in the way of the good blessings God intends to give you, or has already given you.

            But when you follow God’s direction, while life might not be a bed of roses, it’s certainly a lot better. Life with God is the best of all possible good blessings. All other things pale by comparison. Thus David tells us to:

 11 Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous;
       sing, all you who are upright in heart

1 comment:

  1. This was an awesome, down to earth message!