DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Filtering by Category: Psalms

A New Year’s Plan: Consider and Act (Psalm 90)

A man went in for his annual checkup and received a phone call from his physician a couple of days later. The doctor said, "I'm afraid I have some bad news for you." "What's the news?" the man asked. "Well, you have only 48 hours to live." "That is bad news!" said the shocked patient. "I'm afraid I have even worse news," the doctor continued. "What could be worse than what you've already told me?" the patient stammered. "I've been trying to call you since yesterday."

That’s not a message that any of us want to hear, especially at the start of a new year. The first day of a new year is a day of optimism. But we all do ourselves a service if we remember that our time here is limited. All of us have a limited number of New Year’s Days. They may seem endless, but they’re not. One of the wisest things we can do at the beginning of the year is to live in light of this perspective.

If you go on Google Earth, you can see a picture of the whole earth spinning in space, as if you were looking at earth from a spaceship. Then, slowly, it finds your location, and it feels like you’re flying through space towards where you are. First you see your country, then your province, then your city, and then your street. Sometimes when you move to a new location, it’s still stuck in your old one, so you can press a button at the bottom that says “Find Me.” It will send you back in the air, shift you to your new location, and then zoom back in so you can see where you are.

What I want to do is to press the “Find Me” button in our lives today. To do this we’re going to use Psalm 90. The first day of a new year is a perfect time to think about where we are right now, and to chart a course for moving forward.

Psalm 90 is going to ask us to consider two things, and then to take two actions. That’s it. So let’s get going.

First: Consider two things.

This psalm has 17 verses. 11 of the 17 are spent getting us to consider two realities. In order to take the action prescribed in verses 12 to 17, we need to take in the realities this psalm presents us in verses 1 to 11. Before we can navigate to where we want to go, we need to understand where we are right now.

Notice that this psalm was written by Moses. It was written in the wilderness during the 40 years that Israel was wandering in the dessert. Some two or three million people left Egypt; a whole generation of people had to die as they made that 40-year trek. There would have been constant funerals. As Spurgeon said, you could track the progress of the nation by the graves they left behind. In the middle of this, Moses reflects on two realities that were true then, and they’re just as true today. It’s ironic that to find our location today, we need to turn to something written thousands of years ago. But there’s no better place to turn.

Psalm 90 wants us to find our current location by understanding two things.

First: God is eternal. Verses 1 and 2 say:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Think about this. Moses zooms out to consider time. A couple of years ago, the Art Gallery had an exhibit on King Tut and Egypt. I remember walking through the exhibit, marveling at the age of what I was seeing. Some of the exhibits are over 4,000 years old. I couldn’t help but think about Moses as he grew up in Egypt.

We think Moses is old, but back then Moses zooms out and says helps us see time from another perspective. Before Egypt, before there were any mountains, before there was even an earth, God was God. God has no beginning. He was God before the mountains were brought forth. He is God from everlasting to everlasting, with no beginning and no end. God exists from eternity and to eternity.

Not only that, but enormous periods of time are insignificant to God. Read verse 4:

For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.

This is amazing. A thousand years ago, the Normans hadn’t invaded England. Vikings were establishing small settlements in North America. A Chinese artisan invented ceramic movable type printing. It was still the middle ages. It was a vastly different time from now. Moses reminds us that a thousand years ago to God is like yesterday to us. In light of God’s eternality, a thousand years is like a day to him.

Moses wants us to grasp the eternality of God. Consider this as we begin 2012. The past year has gone fast for a lot of us. Nobody here knows what the next year is going to bring. But God stands outside of time, and a thousand years is insignificant to him. For people living in tents in Moses’ day, or for people living in homes today, God can be our dwelling place in all generations, because God never changes.

Second: Your life is short and difficult. Moses next invites us to consider our lives. In contrast to God, who is eternal, Moses says two things about our lives. First, he says that our lives are short. Verses 5 and 6 say:

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

A human life - even the longest of human lives - is insignificantly brief. It’s like a watch in the night, a flood, a dream, or some grass that sprouts in the morning and dies at night. When I lived in North Bay one summer, they had these things called shadflies that would come out. They were everywhere. You couldn’t drive your car without turning your windshield wipers on. But these shadflies live for only one day. In parts of the world, they’re called one-day flies. The psalmist says that this is a picture of our lives. Our lives are brief. God is eternal, but we’re only here for a fleeting moment, and then we’re gone.

Not only that, but Moses says that our lives are hard as well. Read verses 7 to 11. The point that Moses makes is that our lives are hard, and they’re hard for a reason. Why? Because of God’s anger. Remember why so many were dying in the wilderness. They had rebelled against God after the spies had returned from Canaan, saying that they could not enter. God said, “I, the LORD, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die” (Numbers 14:35). They were living and dying in tents in the wilderness as the consequence of sin. We’re not living in tents and dying in the wilderness, but life is still unbearably hard. We are still dealing with the results of human sin, and the mess it has made in this world. We are still dealing with God’s righteous anger against human rebellion, high treason against his reign.

So consider this today. This goes against how most of us think most of the time, which is exactly why we need to hear it. Consider these two things, and you’ll be much better for it. Consider that God is eternal, and that your life is short and hard.

Secondly, take two actions.

Nobody really wants to be told that God is eternal and that your life is short and hard, unless it’s for a reason. And in Psalm 90 it is for a reason. This psalm is meant to get us to take action. Specifically, two actions.

First: Number your days. Verses 10-12 say:

The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Andy Stanley tells the story of a man who bought 1,300 marbles on his 50th birthday. He figured that, if he lives to be 75, he would have about a 1,300 Saturdays left. So every Saturday he goes and takes a marble out of that jar and throws it out. It’s a reminder to him that time is fleeting, and that he only has a short time left.

I don’t know what you need to do, but how will you remind yourself to number your limited days? To remember that your life is short? Steve Jobs once said:

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Second: Seek God’s mercy. Read verses 13 to 17:

Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

In light of the brevity and difficulty of life, Moses asks for three things:

First, pray that God would relent in his anger. Look at verse 13. This is really a prayer for the gospel. This is a prayer that God’s anger would not be the final word, that God would not pay us as we deserve. It’s a prayer that God would show us grace. It’s a prayer that has been answered in Jesus Christ, who bore the punishment for our sins and has given us grace upon grace. If you haven’t put your trust in him and his gospel yet, then do so today. Thank God that he has already answered this prayer in Jesus Christ.

Second, pray that we would be satisfied by God. This is one of the best prayers you could ever pray. Our hearts were meant to find their ultimate delight in God. I love how John Piper puts it: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Or, as C.S. Lewis put it, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing." You’ve just come through Christmas. Christmas has all this build-up. It promises that we will find happiness in gifts and family and food. And every year we’re a tiny bit disappointed as we come out of Christmas, because as good as these things are, they’re not enough to really satisfy us. So pray this year that you will find your heart’s deepest hungers met in God, because he is the only one who can truly satisfy.

Finally, pray that God’s favor would rest upon your life. Pray that God would show you his favor in the coming year. Ask for God’s blessing on your life, that God would establish the work of your hands. Without his help, you can do nothing.

There is no better way to begin 2012 than by considering two things: that God is eternal, and that our lives are short and hard. And then there’s no better way to respond than by numbering your days and praying for God’s mercy on your life. God’s eternal, and you’re not. So make the most of your limited time, and seek God’s mercy.

A Psalm of Praise (Psalm 8)

Well, given that it’s Labour Day weekend, and that school starts in a couple of days, I thought it might be fun to start with a quiz this morning. So here it is. It’s a multiple choice question with only two options.

The question: What is worship?

A. Songs that we sing (sometimes badly) in church before the pastor gets up to preach
B. Something so powerful that, even when done by infants, is used by God to slay his foes

Which one is it? If I was honest, I’d have to say that I normally think of worship in terms of A. Worship, we think, is something we do on Sunday mornings after the announcements and before the sermon. We have worship teams and a worship budget. We’ve had worship pastors. Some weeks it goes well, other weeks we sit too close to someone who doesn’t know how to sing, and we make a note to ourselves to sit somewhere different the next week. For a lot of us, worship is this sometimes enjoyable, sometimes okay time of singing songs to praise God before the pastor gets up to speak.

Until I put up the choices, none of us would have said B. If I asked you coming in what worship is, I bet none of you would have said that worship is so powerful that even when done by the person who has the least competent worshiper packs a punch that’s big enough for God to use against his enemies. But that’s what this psalm says. Read verse 2:

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

What does that mean? “Out of the mouth of babies and infants…” Here the psalmist is talking about the age of children when they’re helpless and completely dependent on adults. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to sing with kids that age. It sounds fun until you do it. It reminds me of what one author said about primary school concerts, thinking of his music teacher:

The audience exploded into applause as our conductor and teacher, Mr. Martin, walked in. Parents regard band teachers with a combination of awe and respect, the way you might a war hero. How could any human being spend eight hours per day enduring the acoustic violence created by fifty children playing their instrument all at once?..In the hands of the untalented, a clarinet is a lethal weapon. There are states that allow the sale of automatic weapons but ban the use of clarinets at school concerts. (Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir...of Sorts)

That’s kind of what it’s like to worship with kids. You don’t do it for the quality. If someone tells you that you sound like a baby when you worship, it’s probably not a compliment.

“Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes to still the enemy and the avenger.” This means that God chooses to use the weak and pathetic worship of his people as the means of triumphing his most powerful enemies. The praise of the weakest Christian, this psalm is saying, is stronger than all the strength of God’s most powerful enemies. If we could invite the most strident atheists and line them up here, and then invite our preschoolers to come in and sing a song over here, this psalm says that the atheists wouldn’t stand a chance. The worship of God’s people, even when done poorly, is stronger than all of God’s enemies. God “brings onto the field of battle the poor and spirit against the arrogant hordes of wickedness in order to slay their intolerable pride in the dust.”

I don’t know what that does to you, but that makes me want to worship more than I do. It makes me want to worship poorly even, because it’s not the worship of the eloquent that God needs It’s worship period, even done by people like me.

And so having shown us what our worship does, the psalmist gives us big reasons why we should worship. So this morning it’s pretty simple. Worship is about the most important thing we could ever do: point one. When you worship and you’re weak, you’re still stronger than when you’re doing anything else at full strength. That’s point one. Point two: so worship. David doesn’t waste a lot of time developing theories of worship. He just says that it’s important, and then leads us in worship, giving us two really big reasons why we should worship.

So this morning: I give you permission to worship as I preach. This isn’t a lecture on worship. This is going to be a practice session. We’re going to begin and end as David does: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” That’s how David begins and ends this psalm. The LORD, our Lord, has a majestic name, not just in where he is worshiped, but in all the earth. He alone is worthy of our worship. Our ultimate purpose is to bring him praise because he is supremely worthy.

Then David gives us two reasons why we should praise God in this psalm. The first is for the staggering enormity of his creation. The second is for his surprising care for humanity. Let’s look at both.

First, praise him this morning for the staggering enormity of creation.

David may have been inspired by looking up one night into the sky and marveling at what God had created. We went camping a couple of years in a remote spot. One night in particular we went out and lay down on the beach. I’ve seen stars before, but never before like this. We lay there for over an hour and we weren’t bored for a minute. It was far better than any entertainment I can think of. When you get a glimpse of what God has created, and the beauty of what he’s done, you can’t do anything but praise him. So David writes in verses 1-4:

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Most pastors don’t have to preach a passage like this with an astrophysicist in the room, so Barth, forgive me if I make any mistakes here. David didn’t know what I’m about to tell you. He simply looked and saw the glory of God reflected in the skies. I hope you get a chance to look into the sky and do the same thing. It’s hard to do in the city, but I hope you get to do it sometime and somewhere. It’s staggering.

...If the Milky Way galaxy were the size of the entire continent of North America, our solar system would fit in a coffee cup…This vast neighborhood of our sun - in truth the size of a coffee cup - fits along with several billion other stars and their minions in the Milky Way, one of perhaps 100 billion such galaxies in the universe. To send a light-speed message to the edge of that universe would take 15 billion years. (Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?)

What’s more, none of this was hard for God. As somebody’s said, “All this vast, enduring monument to the creative power and art of God is but child’s play to the divine creator - spun off the tips of his finger without even breaking a sweat.”

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It is truly staggering. So often I lose perspective. My life and my concerns seem so huge. Then I realize that I am one of 6.8 billion people on this earth. And this earth is just a relatively tiny planet in a vast solar system. And this solar system is just a small part of our galaxy. And our galaxy is just one of 100 billion such galaxies in the universe. How could you not praise the God who created all of this, and who holds it together, and is Lord over all? So praise him! Say with David, “How majestic is your name in all the earth!”

The enormity and the beauty of God’s creation is one of the ways that he displays his glory. Francis Collins is a scientist. He headed up the Human Genome project and has all kinds of credentials. He’s a world famous scientist, but he was also an atheist. After a long period of searching, which included grilling a pastor and reading C.S. Lewis, Collins finally came to Christ after watching the beauty of creation. This is Collin's description of that life-changing encounter:

I had to make a choice. A full year had passed since I decided to believe in some sort of God, and now I was being called to account. On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains during my first trip west of the Mississippi, the majesty and beauty of God's creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ. (The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief)

David would like this, I think. Take a walk outside in a remote place, look up, and worship the God who created all of this. Look at the beauty of what he’s created all around us, and then bow down and surrender your life to him. And realize as you do this that the praise of the weakest person is stronger than the most powerful of God’s enemies. Praise him for the staggering enormity of creation. And then:

Second, praise him for his surprising care for humanity.

The explorer William Beebe wrote about what happened when he used to visit Theodore Roosevelt at his home:

... At Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt and I used to play a little game together. After an evening of talk, we would go out on the lawn and search the skies until we found the faint spot of light-mist beyond the lower left-hand corner of the Great Square of Pegasus. Then one or the other of us would recite: "That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one billion suns, each larger than our sun."

Then Roosevelt would grin and say: "Now I think we are small enough! Let's go to bed."

That’s the thought process that you go through as you grasp the enormity of what God has created. Who are we? We’re nothing. We’re small. David reflects this as he considers what God has created. Look what he writes in verses 3 and 4:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Great question. If God is to be praised for the vastness of what he has created, where does that leave us? Why would God pay any attention to what’s going on in a tiny corner of the universe? But he does. David goes on, and what he says next is basically commentary on Genesis 1:26-28, which is an account of when God created humanity. Look at what he says in verses 5 to 8:

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

Despite our size in the universe, David says, there is something utterly unique about us. If you created a continuum of every creature that’s ever been created, from bacteria all the way up to angels, we would be right next to angels. We’re not even far below, the psalmist says. Out of all that God has created, it is men and women alone who have been made in his image and crowned with glory and honor. We have a unique role within the universe. We’ve been given dominion over all that he’s made.

This summer we visited Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor General of Canada. Canada has a monarchy. We have a Queen. But the Queen does not live in Canada, so she has appointed a Governor General who represents her in Canada and acts on her behalf. When the Governor General is appointed, he or she has an audience with the Sovereign before being sworn in before being seated on a throne. That’s a pretty good picture of what the psalmist is talking about. This world is part of God’s kingdom, but God has chosen humanity to have dominion over his kingdom here on earth. We have been given his image and have been charged with the responsibility of acting on his behalf. It is an amazing thing.

Here’s the thing that amazes David. Out of all that God has created, God is mindful of us. He does care for us. It causes David to worship, and it causes me to worship too. What an amazing God. We live on a speck of dust in all that God has created, and yet he’s chosen to crown us with glory and honor. He’s given us his image. He’s mindful of us, and he cares.

When you put this all together, it leads you to worship. When you realize that the praise of the weakest Christian is more powerful than the strength of God's most powerful enemies, it leads us to worship. When you see the vastness of what God has created - the beauty of the milky way, the knowledge of the vastness of the universe - it makes you want to worship. When you think that out of all that God has made, that he’s zeroed in on us, it makes you want to worship.

But there’s more. Hundreds of years after David wrote this psalm, God himself became a man and lived on this speck of dust. Not only was he mindful of us, not only did he care for us, but he became one of us. And out of infinite love he offered up his life for us so that we could be made right with God.

Did you know in the New Testament that this psalm is quoted many times in reference to Jesus? Here’s the reason. Verse 6 says that God has put all things under our feet. We know that because of sin, not everything is under our feet. We’re not in control of this world. We had a tornado in Goderich and then a thunderstorm a couple of couple of nights later that reminded us of that. But when Jesus became one of us, he became our forerunner, and everything is already at his feet. He’s already been crowned with glory and honor. Hebrews 2 quotes this psalm and then says:

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9)

We have not fulfilled God’s plan to put everything under our feet, but there is one who is singlehandedly fulfilling God’s plan on our behalf, and that is Jesus. I love how Dale Ralph Davis puts it:

That is the point of Hebrews 2. It says: Psalm 8 is not a pipe dream. We don’t yet see it full-blown. But we see Jesus — one man is already reigning! And that is the assurance that redeemed man, his brothers and sisters, will one day rule as well. “He has made them a kingdom, priests, to our God, and they shall reign on earth” (Rev. 5:10). How can you doubt your royal future when the Man Jesus has already begun enjoying it? The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life: Psalms 1-12

So two things: First, surrender your life to this great God. Put your trust in Jesus who has done this for you. Second, say with David:

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

A Prayer When Slandered (Psalm 7)

I would like this sermon this morning to be a practical one. I want to address a problem that all of us are going to face eventually. You may be facing it right now. The problem is slander.

Three preachers were on a fishing trip when they began to discuss various topics to pass the time. One preacher said he thought it would be nice if they confessed their biggest sins to each other and then prayed for each other. They all agreed, and the first preacher said that his biggest sin was that he liked to sit at the beach now and then and watch pretty women stroll by. The second preacher confessed that his biggest sin was that he went to the horse racing track every so often and put a small bet on a horse. Turning to the third preacher, they asked, "Brother, what is your biggest sin?" With a grin, he said, "My biggest sin is gossiping."

That’s not what I’m talking about. Gossip is a serious problem, but it’s different from slander. Sometimes people will say negative things about us. When they do, we have to admit that they’re right. In fact, sometimes they don’t know the half of it. Dealing with accurate criticism or the problem of people who repeat unsavory details of your life is a problem, but it’s not the problem I want to talk about this morning.

No, the problem I want to talk about is the problem of slander. Slander is when someone makes an untrue and unjust accusation against you. It’s a false and malicious statement that damages your reputation. The problem with slander is that you can’t address the issue they’ve raised against you. If someone says that I stole their car and I did, I can return the keys and apologize. But if someone says that I stole their car and I didn’t, then I can’t return the keys. You can’t repent for what you haven’t done. But the damage of the accusation can stick and do all kinds of damage.

Quite a while ago, two people I know well were victims of slander. Serious accusations were raised against them. These accusations were so serious that they tainted their names. Their protestations of innocence only made them look like they were unwilling to take responsibility. The accusations were investigated and found to be untrue, but not before they did tremendous damage. That is the nature of slander. It’s deadly, and it’s very difficult to know how to respond when it happens.

The psalm we’re looking at this morning deals with this very topic. We read at the top of the psalm, “A shiggaion of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning the words of Cush, a Benjamite.” We don’t know the particular situation it’s talking about, but we discover pretty quickly that David had been slandered. David even describes how damaging this is. He says in verses 1-2:

O LORD my God, in you do I take refuge;
save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,
lest like a lion they tear my soul apart,
rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.

Slander is not some benign non-issue that you should just shrug off. David says here that it’s serious. Look at the image he gives us. He doesn’t say that the slanderers are like annoying flies buzzing around his ears. No, he compares them to lions that could tear his soul apart. David is a hunted man here. He is in serious trouble.

So what should we do when we’re slandered? Buckle your seatbelts, because David shows us how to do four things.

First, lay yourself before God.

Read verses 1-5:

O LORD my God, in you do I take refuge;
save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,
lest like a lion they tear my soul apart,
rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.
O LORD my God, if I have done this,
if there is wrong in my hands,
if I have repaid my friend with evil
or plundered my enemy without cause,
let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it,
and let him trample my life to the ground
and lay my glory in the dust. Selah

David begins by laying himself out before God. He begins with full disclosure. There’s something to be said sometimes for playing your cards close to your chest. You don’t want to disclose everything to everyone. But when David is the victim of slander, he goes running to God, and he doesn’t hold anything back. He lays down his cards before God.

Look at how David begins: he says that he’s found refuge or shelter in God. Men go to ridiculous lengths to assert their independence. The ideal man, according to some, never goes to the doctor, never takes medicine, never asks directions, and never has an emotion (only allergies). When they suffer, they suffer alone and barely admit it. They certainly don’t need a refuge. David isn’t that kind of ideal man. David shows us that the ideal man is someone who recognizes that he needs a shelter, a refuge. Don’t miss that David doesn’t say, “I’m now going to take refuge in you now that I’m in trouble.” He actually says that he’s taken refuge in God before the trouble hit. We can learn from that. Don’t wait until you’re in the middle of trouble to find your refuge in God. Admit your need for God, and take refuge in him now.

Then David lays two things before God in verses 1-2. Full disclosure. First, he lays out the danger that he’s in. We’ve already seen this. David is helpless. Even having found refuge in God, he feels that he’s in real danger. He doesn’t sugarcoat the situation. He doesn’t put the best spin on it. He simply lays out the facts and his vulnerability before God.

But then David lays out a second thing before God: he lays open his heart for examination. This is one of the hardest things to do. David lays out his conscience before God. He’s examined it as best he can and, as best as he can tell, it’s clear. But he lays it before God as well and says that if the slanders are true, and if the accusations are accurate, and if he’s done wrong, then let God take the side of his accusers, and let David suffer the consequences. “He realizes that he stands under God’s gaze and knows that God will know him truly” (Dale Ralph Davis).

I was recently on the receiving end of some pretty severe criticism. It’s always difficult when this happens, because you want to learn from the criticism. As I thought about it over a few days, I realized that there were some things I could learn. But my immediate impulse was to be defensive, to withdraw into myself. David doesn’t do that. He turns to God who is his refuge. He lays out his danger before God, and then invites God to examine his heart. He shows us that when we’re slandered we can lay ourselves out before God in complete honesty, inviting him to examine the situation including our hearts.

So David begins by showing us that when slandered we can lay ourselves out before God.

Second, ask God to act.

Read verses 6-9:

Arise, O LORD, in your anger;
lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
awake for me; you have appointed a judgment.
Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered about you;
over it return on high.
The LORD judges the peoples;
judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness
and according to the integrity that is in me.
Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
and may you establish the righteous—
you who test the minds and hearts,
O righteous God!

We’re going to run into this type of prayer a few times in the psalms. Does this bother anyone? David asks God to unleash his fury upon David’s enemies. Some people say, “Well, that doesn’t sound very Christian. Why can’t David be more forgiving?” It seems unfair to ask God to rise up in anger and judge people who have wronged us.

But let’s think about this. People say, “How could a good and loving God be filled with wrath?” But at the same time we recognize that there are all kinds of good reasons to be filled with wrath. This past week you’ve read about the rioting in England. Prime Minister David Cameron came on TV and said, “Well, let’s not get angry here. Hooligans aren’t bad people.” No, he got angry. He promised to ensure that every looter was caught, brought to court, and sentenced, and that "phony human rights" concerns would not get in the way. “The whole country has been shocked by the most appalling scenes of people looting, violence, vandalizing and thieving," Cameron said at the beginning of his statement to what appeared to be a full house of parliamentarians sitting on long rows of green benches. "It is criminality pure and simple. And there is absolutely no excuse for it." That’s entirely appropriate. If he had stayed on vacation and hadn’t come back and done something about the crisis, then he wouldn’t have been doing his job. People expect him to act and respond to injustice.

That is exactly the same with God. When injustice is taking place, it would be a travesty to think that God was sitting by and doing nothing. It is entirely appropriate for God to take notice of wrong and to act, and that’s exactly what David is asking God to do. David is asking God to take note and to respond appropriately. Becky Pippert makes the point that the more that you love somebody, the more you care, the more you get angry when they’re the victim of injustice. She then says, “If I, a flawed, narcissistic, sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone’s condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being.” It’s like C.S. Lewis put it: “The absence of anger, especially the sort of anger which we call indignation, can, in my opinion, be a most alarming symptom.”

In other words, we can actually find hope in God’s anger. When you’re being battered and pursued, when it looks like people are out to get you, and you can’t do anything about it, you can find hope in the fact that God sees and that God will set things straight. N.T. Wright puts it this way:

The word judgment carries negative overtones for a good many people in our liberal and post-liberal world. We need to remind ourselves that throughout the Bible God's coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over. It causes people to shout for joy and the trees of the field to clap their hands. In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be. Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment.

So it’s entirely appropriate for us to ask God to act and to set things straight. So lay yourself out before God. Don’t play your cards close to your chest. Lay the situation out before God clearly. And then ask God to act. Say, in effect, “Are you seeing this? Do something!” Ask God to act justly to set the situation right.

Third, remind yourself of who God is.

Notice the change in verse 8. Up until now David has been speaking to God. In verses 8 to 11 he switches and talks about God as well as to God. What’s happening here? Somebody’s said it’s as if he’s seen God in his mind rise up and take action. It’s as if as David is praying that he senses God has heard, and has risen up in answer to his prayer. It just could be that David shifts his focus. He begins to focus on God.

We travelled to New York back in July. New York has to be one of my most favorite cities. You have this sense as you’re walking around what’s happening on the ground. You go through different parts of the city. In some places it’s so packed you can barely move. In other places it’s quieter and more businesslike. Wherever you are, you get the sense of what the city is like in that place, knowing that it could be very different a block over.

But then one day I went to the Top of the Rock, the top of the Rockefeller Plaza. From the 70th floor things look very different. You can see the city in a way that you can’t see from the ground.

That’s what happens in this psalm. David has been at street-level dealing with slander. Then in verses 8 to 11 he gets a very different perspective as he’s elevated, as he gets a larger picture of who God is. He says:

The LORD judges the peoples;
judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness
and according to the integrity that is in me.
Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
and may you establish the righteous—
you who test the minds and hearts,
O righteous God!
My shield is with God,
who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation every day.

See David’s focus here? His focus is on a God who judges the peoples. The picture David has is that God is sovereign over all the earth, and that nothing happens without his knowledge our outside of his control. What’s more, David sees God as one who brings an end to evil, and who establishes the righteous. He is not without emotion. He is a good, David says, who feels indignation every day.

What we really need, David shows us, is a vision of God. We need to get off the street level to where we can see the bigger picture, when we can remind ourselves of who God is and how it relates to what we’re going through. A few years ago Timothy Stoner wrote a book with a funny title: The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditations on Faith. I was so put off by the title that I almost never read it. But title, The God Who Smokes, is actually a reference to God as a consuming fire, God as one who has a holy and passionate love and anger. He writes:

God really believes that he is the most worthy, most majestic, magnificent, glorious, stunningly beautiful being in the universe. And he is fixated on the certainty that only he deserves worship – that to him alone belong honor, glory, and praise forever and forever. With red-rimmed, stinging eyes and burning hair, all we can say is – he is right. He is astonishingly beautiful, utterly majestic and perfect in the symmetries of justice and righteousness, knowledge, and wisdom. He is as hypnotically compelling as a surging forest fire and ten times as dangerous. He is out of control – ours, not his.

That’s what we need. We need to see God for who he is: the most majestic, magnificent, glorious, stunningly beautiful being in the universe. He alone is worthy of honor, glory, and praise. He is astonishingly beautiful and utterly majestic. He is right. As we get this picture of God, things will start to look very different at street level.

This plays out as David looks back at those who are slandering him. David turns from gazing upon God to the slanderers, and he says:

If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
he has bent and readied his bow;
he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
making his arrows fiery shafts.
Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
and is pregnant with mischief
and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out,
and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head,
and on his own skull his violence descends.

As David’s perspective changes, he sees the slanderers differently too. Before they looked like lions that were about to devour him. Now they look very differently. They look like victims of God’s imminent justice. They actually look kind of pathetic: like someone who falls into the whole that he dug for someone else. He lays a booby-trap but sets it off himself. It may take some time, but their evil will destroy themselves.

Years ago Paul Allen - a former youth pastor here - told me something I’ll never forget. He said, “Sin always overplays its hand.” Here’s what he meant: sometimes it looks like sin has the winning hand. But sin always gets too cocky and takes things too far. That’s exactly what David sees here. The slanderers won’t ultimately be victorious. In fact, they’ll suffer God’s judgment. Even if they don’t, they’ll do themselves in.

The thing that makes all the difference is that David gets a view of God. He lays himself before God, asks him to act, but then sees God for who he is, and it changes everything.

Finally, praise Him.

That’s the thing. Once you’ve seen God for who he is, you have to praise him. David starts this psalm in crisis, but he ends this psalm in praise. Verse 17 says:

I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness,
and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.

David doesn’t just theorize about God. He gazes on him and worships him. I know a Bible scholar who attended a meeting of academics who study the Bible. They can talk about Scripture endlessly, but only as a theory. Many of the them study Scripture, but don’t believe in God. One troubled person heard about this meeting. She was going through a hard time and wanted to speak to someone about God. If she talked to most of the people at the conference, they wouldn’t have been able to help her. But she found the Bible scholar I knew, and he was able to help. Why? Because he knew about God, but he also knew God. There's a big difference between knowing about God and actually knowing him.

That’s what David shows us here. David doesn’t just rehearse facts about God. That won’t do anything. David thinks about God, and can’t help but bow before him and worship him. He starts this psalm as a wounded man. He gets a glimpse of God. And that leads him to bow down before God. He starts this psalm with a whimper but he ends this psalm singing.

What should we do when slandered? Lay yourself before him, ask him to act, remind yourself who he is, and then praise him.

Two things this as we close.

First, I don’t know what you’re going through. But I invite you to leave street level and to glimpse God. See who he is. Don’t just look at him; worship him. Take in his beauty. Let him move you. I guarantee you that things will look different at street level once you’ve done this. Take the steps that David’s showed us in this psalm. Lay out your situation before him; ask him to act; remind yourself who God is, and then praise him.

Second, remind yourself of God’s justice. Remind yourself that God is a consuming fire. Remind yourself that God’s justice. Then look in amazement at the cross, where Jesus took the justice that we deserved. Remind yourself that God is just - but that God has satisfied his justice in Jesus for all who trust him. Throw yourself at his feet and worship him.

A Prayer for Dealing With Sin and Guilt (Psalm 6)

We all struggle with sin. There’s an old term that I can relate to: besetting sin. To beset means to harass, to constantly trouble or attack. So a besetting sin is one a sin that continually trips us up and troubles us and leaves us feeling defeated. As somebody has written:

In the life of every individual, there is a "besetting" sin that can tower like a mountain between the individual and God. This is "the sin which doth so easily beset us", and it differs according to the person. What is a besetting sin to one person may not trouble another at all. Sometimes this sin, or persistently assailing evil, is quite obvious to others, while in other cases it is hidden in the heart and known only to the individual and God. In either case, it is perplexing and harassing, and, if allowed to linger and grow, it may end in tragic moral failure. Practically every believer wrestles with an habitually assaulting sin, even those whose service to Christ is of outstanding quality.

I don’t know what your besetting sin is. But I know how it feels to feel defeated and guilty and full of shame as a result of sin. I came across this description of what it feels like. It’s written by people who struggle with pornography, although I think the same words could be written by those who struggle with other sins. In his book Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free, Tim Chester shares the following quotes from men who have struggled with the guilt and condemnation that comes from viewing pornography:

"It's made me want to hide from God .... It makes me doubt my salvation, and then the depression comes and with the depression comes temptation to sin again."

"I feel crap about myself. I don't feel worthy to serve God. And I don't believe I can break the habit."

"I feel dirty and unable to approach God after looking at porn .... So often I feel unable to come to him in repentance, even though I know my sin is already dealt with."

"I couldn't talk with God about my problems. My picture of him was that he would accept me if and when I had 'scrubbed up' enough."

So here’s the question. What do you do when you’re at this point of having failed God again? What do you do when you want to hide from God in shame, doubt your salvation? When you feel like crap and that you can’t approach him because of your guilt?

In this psalm, David shows us what we can do. When you’ve sinned, he says, get honest with God, plead with God and then rest in his forgiveness.

First, David teaches us, get honest with God.

David writes in verses 1-3:

O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O LORD—how long?

This psalm has traditionally been classified as one of seven penitential psalms found in the Psalter. A penitential psalm is one in which the psalmist confesses sin, expresses sorrow for that sin, describes the effects of guilt, and requests and celebrates God’s forgiveness. Don’t forget that the psalms are not just private correspondence between the psalmist and God. They’re placed here to teach us how to pray when we are in the same situation as the psalmist. So the implication is that we need to be taught what to do when we sin. The assumption is that we’re going to need this. There are times that we’re going to be caught in sin.

Ed Stetzer, a pastor and researcher in the States, writes of the time that his family moved from New York City to Florida. They lived in a house that grandfather owned. Because the house was in a rural area, it wasn’t serviced by the city sewer system. That meant it had a septic tank. The septic tank system worked fine most of the time, but occasionally there were problems. On such an occasion, Stetzer’s grandfather would do what any old and wise man would do. He asked Stetzer to meet him in the yard. He’d bring a metal bar to pry open the lid, and he’d bring a shovel to pry out whatever was stuck in there. One day his grandpa thought it would be funny to act like he was going to push him into the septic tank. And it was funny, at least until he lost his balance. Before he knew it, he was standing knee deep in sewage. That’s a pretty good picture of the situation that David’s in as he writes this psalm. So how do you pray to God from the middle of the septic tank?

Well, David does three things. First, he’s honest about his situation. He asks God not to rebuke him in anger or discipline him in wrath. Notice that David doesn’t deny that he deserves a rebuke and discipline. Clearly he does. David tacitly admits that he’s sinned against God and that he’s the septic tank, so to speak, because he put himself there. He shows us that we don’t have to clean ourselves up before we approach God. We can pray to him even when we’re in the middle of the septic tank of our sin.

Second, David is also honest about what he’s feeling. He talks about being frail and weak. He says that his bones are shaking. He’s terrified and wants to know how long his suffering will continue. His soul is troubled. David is not doing well here. He’s dealing with the effects and consequences of sin. Some people think that he’s literally sick here. I think he’s describing the anguish of his guilt in very dramatic terms. Psychologists talk about the negative effects of guilt. We know this. David is experiencing God’s displeasure and the shame and guilt that come from sin, and he’s honest with God about what it feels like. It’s like what one person’s said about sin: “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you're willing to pay” (Steve Farrar).

But then notice that David asks God for mercy. He asks God not to rebuke him in anger; not to discipline him in wrath. Notice what David doesn’t say. He doesn’t ask God not to rebuke or discipline him. Spurgeon writes:

The Psalmist is very conscious that he deserves to be rebuked, and he feels, moreover, that the rebuke in some form or other must come upon him, if not for condemnation, yet for conviction and sanctification...He does not ask that the rebuke may be totally withheld, for he might thus lose a blessing in disguise; but, “Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger.”...So may we pray that the chastisements of our gracious God, if they may not be entirely removed, may at least be sweetened by the consciousness that they are “not in anger, but in his dear covenant love.”

Now listen. Some of us are struggling with guilt. We are in the middle of the septic tank. David shows us that we can approach God even when we’re dealing with the crushing effects of sin. We can cry out to God even when we’re experiencing all the guilt and shame of our failure. This is so important because when we’re in this state, the last thing we want to do is to come to God. We want to hide from him, like Adam and Eve did, because we’re ashamed. When you’ve sinned, David teaches us, the first thing to do is to get honest with God. But that’s not all.

Second, plead with God.

Some of you have kids who do this all the time. Sometimes I think that kids show signs of becoming great case lawyers in the future. You know that if a child wants something, they will come up with arguments and then present those arguments with great force before his or her parents. Did you know that this is what we are to do with God? David is caught in the middle of sin. But he doesn’t hide from God. He’s honest with God. But then he pleads with God. Again, let me quote Spurgeon:

The ancient saints were given...to ordering their cause before God. As a petitioner coming into court does not come there without thought to state his case on the spur of the moment, but enters into the audience chamber with his suit well prepared, having also learned how he ought to behave himself in the presence of the great one to whom he is appealing, so it is well to approach the seat of the King of Kings as much as possible with premeditation and preparation, knowing what we are about, where we are standing, and what it is which we desire to obtain...The best prayers I have ever heard in our prayer meetings have been those which have been fullest of argument. Sometimes my soul has been fairly melted down where I have listened to the brethren who have come before God feeling the mercy to be really needed, and that they must have it, for they first pleaded with God to give it for this reason, and then for a second, and then for a third and then for a fourth and a fifth until they have awakened the fervency of the entire assembly.

We need to learn how to do this, especially when we are dealing with sin and guilt. David pleads with God using three arguments here.

First, he pleads on the basis of God’s character. In verse 4 he says, “Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.” The word for “steadfast love” is one of my favorite words in the entire Bible. It means God’s unchanging covenant love. It’s a devoted love that promises to never let go no matter what happens. David doesn’t build an argument on his own character; he builds an argument based on God’s unchanging character and his covenant promise of love. God delights when we do this, when we plead with him based on who he is and what he has promised to do.

Second, he pleads with God on the basis of the praise that he wants to bring God. This is interesting. In verse 5 he says, “For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?” David is not giving a full-blown theology of the afterlife here. What he’s saying is that while he is alive, he lives to praise God. But when he’s dead he will no longer be able to do this. Graveyards are quiet places. David wants the opportunity to praise God’s name. By the way, this gives us a hint as to one of the main reasons we live: to bring praise to God. God delights in being exalted. David pleads on the basis that his restoration would allow him to continue to live and to praise his great God.

Finally, he pleads on the basis of his suffering. David says in verses 6-7:

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.

What is this? Is this just complaining and whining? Somebody journaled through the psalms and wrote, “What is it with these psalmists anyway? They’re such a bunch of whiners!” Well, it can seem that way, but David is doing more than whining here. He’s again making an assumption about God’s character. The assumption is that God cares about what David is experiencing, even if it is a result of his sin. He’s presuming on God’s compassion and care for his people.

He is making an assumption about the mercy of God. He is assuming that all of this really matters to God and that Yahweh will be touched with pity over his condition. He assumes that our misery arouses God’s mercy, touches God’s heart. A prayer like this assumes that the Father is like Jesus - always going around being moved with compassion.

So David teaches us that when you’ve sinned, get honest with God, and then plead with God. Argue with him. Lay hold of God’s character and reputation and his care for you, and then build on that. Use arguments in prayer. Make a case to God based on who he is and what he’s promised. Because we know what Christ has done for us, plead based on Christ having paid the penalty in full for your sin at the cross. Trust that he is interceding for you as well.

When you’ve sinned, get honest, and then plead your case. But there’s one more thing.

Third, having done all of this, rest in his forgiveness.

I love how David ends this. Listen to what he says in verses 8-10:

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
The LORD has heard my plea;
the LORD accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.

Some churches regularly hold a time of confession as part of their worship services. Together the congregation confesses sin to God. For instance:

Dear friends in Christ, here in the presence of Almighty God, let us kneel in silence, and with penitent and obedient hearts confess our sins, so that we may obtain forgiveness by his infinite goodness and mercy.

There has never been a time when I’ve lacked things to confess at that moment. After a time of confession, the officiant then stands up and says something like this:

Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through the Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.

I need that. I need not just the confession but the assurance that God has heard my confession and forgiven my sins, and that I’m cleansed and ready to go.

That’s what happens in this psalm. Having come to God, acknowledged his sin, and pleaded his case, David know shows us the assurance that we can have. Prayer lays hold of God and his forgiveness so that we receive the mercy that we need. David says, “The LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.”

Today you can come to God and get real about your situation. You don’t have to hide from him. You can tell him exactly what you’ve done and how it’s made you feel. You can then plead with him based on his character and his promises. And then you can leave this morning knowing that God has heard your prayer and has pardoned your sin.

But then you can also deal with your enemies. David has some enemies in mind here who aren’t letting him forget his sins. But we can also deal with Satan, the accuser, who tries to unsettle us and rob us of our assurance and peace in the gospel. In his book By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, Sinclair Ferguson identifies four major "fiery darts" Satan uses to unsettle believers:

Fiery Dart 1: "God is against you," Satan says. "He is not really for you. How can you believe he is for you when you see the things that are happening in your life?"

Fiery Dart 2: "I have accusations I will bring against you because of your sins," Satan argues. "What can you say in defense? Nothing."

Fiery Dart 3: "You can say you are forgiven, but there is a payback day coming—a condemnation day," Satan insinuates. "How will you defend yourself then?"

Fiery Dart 4: "Given your track record, what hope is there that you will persevere to the end?" Satan asks.

But we can respond, “Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.”

Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, writes of an encounter he had with Satan.

Satan, either in reality or in a dream, appeared in the depth of the night, and addressed him in the following terms: "Luther, how dare you to pretend to be a reformer of the Church? Luther, let your memory do its duty - let your conscience do its duty: you have committed this sin - you have been guilty of that sin; you have omitted this duty, and you have neglected that duty: let your reform begin in your own bosom. How dare you attempt to be a reformer of the Church?

Luther, with the self-possession and magnanimity by which he was characterized, (whether it was a dream or reality, he himself professes not to decide,) said to Satan - "Take up the slate that lies on the table, and write down all the sins with which you have now charged me; and if there be any additional, append them, too." Satan, rejoiced to have the opportunity of accusing, just as our blessed Lord is rejoiced to have the opportunity of advocating, took up a pencil, and wrote a long and painful roll of the real or imputed sins of Luther.

Luther said, "Have you written the whole?" Satan answered, "Yes, and a black and dark catalogue it is, and sufficient to deter you from making any attempt to reform others, till you have first purified and reformed yourself." Luther said, "Take up the slate and write as I shall dictate to you. My sins are many; my transgressions in the sight of an infinitely holy God, are countless as the hairs of my head: in me there dwelleth no good thing; but, Satan, after the last sin you have recorded, write the announcement which I shall repeat from 1 John 1:7,"The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin." Luther in that text had peace; and Satan, knowing the source of his peace, had no more advantage against him. (Rev. John Cumming, 1854)

A hymn puts it this way: “Well may the accuser roar, of sins that I have done; I know them all and thousands more, Jehovah knoweth none!” When you’ve sinned, get honest with God, plead with God and then rest in his forgiveness.

We started out this morning talking about the shame and weight of sin, of how people feel when they’re caught in besetting sin. I gave the example of people who said:

"It's made me want to hide from God .... It makes me doubt my salvation, and then the depression comes and with the depression comes temptation to sin again."

"I feel crap about myself. I don't feel worthy to serve God. And I don't believe I can break the habit."

"I feel dirty and unable to approach God after looking at porn .... So often I feel unable to come to him in repentance, even though I know my sin is already dealt with."

"I couldn't talk with God about my problems. My picture of him was that he would accept me if and when I had 'scrubbed up' enough."

Without condoning the sin of viewing porn, Tim Chester offers the following words of hope to people who are struggling with pornography, and for all of us who are struggling with any sin:

Jesus lived God's welcome to sinners. He embodied God's mercy. He was known as the friend of sinners. The religious people didn't like it, because it turned their proud systems of self-righteousness upside down. But Jesus sat down to eat with prostitutes, adulterers, and porn addicts .... On the cross, God treated Christ as a porn user .... [Paraphrasing 2 Corinthians 5:21], "God made Jesus, who never looked with lust, to be a porn addict for us, so that in him we might become sexually pure."

Or, to put it differently, using the words of the guy who fell in the septic tank and who was standing neck-deep in sewage:

I am forever thankful the waste wasn’t any deeper that day. I could easily have been submerged rather than knee deep. But consider Christ, who was not knee deep and not even submerged, but who actually ingested the sin of mankind. (Ed Stetzer)

Because of Christ and what he’s done, we can stand before God and know that he’s heard our prayer. When you’ve sinned, get honest with God, plead with God and then rest in his forgiveness.

A Prayer for Tight Spots (Psalm 4)

We’re spending some time this summer going through some of the early psalms. Today we come to Psalm 4, and I’m going to call this one a psalm for tight spots. The reason why is because of what David says in the first verse of this psalm: “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” The middle phrase in this verse, “You have given me relief when I was in distress,” could literally be translated, “In a tight corner, you have made room for me.” We don’t know what situation David was facing when he wrote this psalm, but we do know that he was in a tight spot. In fact, it’s almost better that we don’t know what situation David was facing. In a way it doesn’t matter. This is a psalm for any of us who are finding ourselves in a tight spot of some kind.

You know what a tight spot is. I’ve driven through some tight spots recently. Have you ever driven through a narrow space, watching your side-view mirrors so that you don’t lose them? You know what it’s like to be in a tight spot. Maybe you’ve been stuck at some point in your life. You thought you could wedge your body through a space that turned out to be a little too small. Well, then, you’ve also been in a tight spot. I picture someone walking through a narrow rock formation that’s hardly big enough to squeeze through. There’s no room to maneuver or turn. There’s nowhere to go. I hate the feeling of being constricted and squeezed. But that’s exactly the situation that David faces as he writes this psalm.

Some of you know exactly what David is talking about. It could be that right now you’re in a tight spot in your life. I don’t know what that tight spot is, but you feel hemmed in and trapped. You don’t have a lot of options for getting out. You feel constricted, restricted, closed in, with nowhere to turn. You love the picture of being given room to move, as David says in this psalm.

So the question is: what do we do when we find ourselves in a tight spot? What do we do when we’re hemmed in with nowhere to turn and nowhere to go? David teaches us how to respond in this psalm. How do we respond when we’re in a tight spot? With confidence, honesty, and peace, he says. Let’s look at each one.

First, when you’re in a tight spot, respond with confidence to God.

Confidence is almost too tame a word to describe verse 1. You could call it gutsy confidence. You can call it audaciousness or boldness. Whatever you call it, David is incredibly bold in addressing God as he faces his tight spot. Read what he says:

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
(Psalm 4:1)

What I find amazing about this verse is how David approaches God. He comes with a bold confidence in God. He’s bold in approaching God. He basically says, “Listen up! Hear me!” He demands an active response from God. He does not come as someone who is unsure of God. He comes with a bold expectation that God will hear and respond.

There are two concepts here. One is the expectation that God is willing to hear David’s prayers. David has no doubt that even when he’s in this tight spot that God can and should turn his ear and listen. Bill Hybels, a pastor near Chicago, talks about his father who was a very busy man. He traveled all over the world. To get through to him, you had to go through his staff first. But he had a private number that rang the phone right on his desk without having to go through any intermediary. Only a few select people, including his children, had that number. He still remembers the number to this day: 345-5366. No matter how busy he was, they could call him any time on that direct line.

Hybels says, “No one's voice sounds sweeter to God than your voice. ‘Hello, Father.’ There's nothing going on in the cosmos that would keep him from directing his full attention to your conversation or your request.” David got that. David had an bold expectation that God would hear him. He had the audacity to say, “Listen up, God!” and to expect that God would actually listen.

But there’s more. There’s also a confidence that God would not only listen but answer. He approaches the God who has made space for him in tight spots before and prays, “Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” You know that there’s a type of listening that seems sympathetic but is anything but. If you tell me your problems this morning, I can nod and say “uh huh” as you speak. You might walk away thinking that I’m a great listener. That’s important, but I really haven’t helped you. David is approaching God. He definitely expects God to be a good listener, but he’s looking for more. He expects God to answer his prayer, to come through again and help him out of this tight spot. David has a bold confidence in God, that God would listen and that God would answer his prayer.

Tim Keller tells the story of Alexander the Great, who supposedly had a leading general whose daughter was getting married. Alexander the Great said that he'd be happy to contribute to the wedding. He said that he knew it would be expensive, so just ask for something. The general wrote out out a request for an enormous sum, a ridiculous sum. When Alexander's treasurer saw it, he brought it to Alexander and said, "I'm sure you're going to be cutting this man's head off now for what he's done. The audacity of asking for something like this! Who does he think you are?" Alexander said, "Give it to him. By such an outlandish request, he shows that he believes that I am both rich and generous." He was flattered by it.

God desires prayer that is bold, even shameless, in coming to him. When you read the prayers of the Bible, they're bold. They argue with God. Jesus talked about it as asking, seeking, and knocking. N.T. Wright says:

[Jesus] is encouraging a kind of holy boldness, a sharp knocking on the door, an insistent asking, a search that refuses to give up. That's what our prayer should be like. This isn't just a routine or formal praying, going through the motions as a daily or weekly task. There is a battle going on, a fight with the powers of darkness, and those who have glimpsed the light are called to struggle in prayer...

That’s the first thing we see in this psalm. Are you in a tight spot? The way to respond is first to come to God with a bold confidence and expectation that he will hear you and answer your prayer. Don’t come passively. Come boldly and expect God to hear you.

But that’s not all:

Second, respond with honesty to those who are in error.

So here’s the thing that I’ve discovered: most tight spots have to do with people. David begins by talking to God, but in this psalm he also turns his attention to the people who seem to be causing him grief. So he says in verses 2-5:

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
the LORD hears when I call to him.
Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the LORD.

This is kind of unusual. Many of us are used to psalms in which the psalmist speaks to God. You may not have realized that sometimes the psalmist speaks to others besides God in the psalms as well. By the way, the songs we sing in our corporate worship should do the same. It’s entirely appropriate to sing to God, but there’s also a time in which we should sing to each other. Paul called this “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19). There’s a place for singing to God; there’s also a big place for addressing each other in the songs we sing, and in the psalms.

So what people does David address? In verse 2 he says “O men.” The word that David used seems to refer to those of elevated social rank. So whatever situation David is facing, he’s not just talking to ordinary Joe. He’s talking to people who are in positions of influence and power.

And what does he say? Three things. First, he tells them off in verse 2. “O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?” “How long?” implies that David is running out of patience. They’re dragging his name and reputation through the mud, and David has had enough. But then he indicts them. He doesn’t just focus on the damage they’re doing to his name and reputation. He charges them with loving vain words and seeking after lies. They’re delusional. They love what is empty and worthless. They don’t just engage in worthless activity; they actually hate it. There is a time to look at someone and to tell them that what they’re doing is harmful and empty. David has no problem doing this in this psalm.

Second, he reminds them that God responds to the faithful. Remember that David’s name is being dragged through the mud. His honor has been turned to shame. It probably looks like everyone has abandoned him. But David reminds his enemies that God has not turned his back. He says, “But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.” You may have heard about a couple driving down the street in Vancouver. They look to the side of the road and see a couple of hitchhikers. The guy is dressed like Bono of U2. They pull over, and sure enough it is Bono and his assistant. Turns out, he and his assistant had gone out for a walk when it started to rain, just before they happened upon them. Bono and his assistant sat in the back with the couple’s dog. Bono isn’t accustomed to sticking out his thumb at the side of the road, but no matter where he is he’s still Bono. Nothing’s changed even if he’s stuck on the side of the road.

Contrast this with a story from a couple of hundred years ago. Thomas Jefferson went to a Baltimore hotel to ask for accommodation. He was in working clothes and splattered with mud. The proprietor looked him over and said, “We have no room for you, sir.” Jefferson left. A friend soon came in and told the proprietor that he had just turned away Thomas Jefferson, the Vice President of the United States and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He thought he was dealing with a dirty farmer. But just because someone thought he was a dirty farmer didn’t change who he really was. “The weapon against slander is to remember how God regards you, to hold on to what he has said about you...Those who despise us may regard us as a step above scum but that does not alter the fact that we are covenant ones whom Yahweh has set apart for himself” (Dale Ralph Davis).

So David says to them, in essence, that he might not look like much to them. He may look like a hitchhiker on the side of the road, or like a dirty farmer. But God knows who he is. He is God’s. God has set him apart for himself. God hears his prayer.

But finally, David calls for repentance from his enemies. Verse 4 says, “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.” It’s actually hard to translate the first part of verse 4. “Be angry” is actually “Tremble with fear.” I know this is hard to believe, but one time I got in trouble in school and was sent down to the principle’s office. I don’t remember trembling with fear in the school playground, but as I got closer to the principle’s office I became a little more concerned. Here David hauls them into God’s office and says that they should tremble with fear and stop sinning. They’re in an untenable position rebelling against God. He tells them to ponder their situation on their bed, to get right with God, and to offer right sacrifices to God, and to trust him.

So David does three things here as he speaks to his enemies. He indicts them. He reminds them (and himself) that God hasn’t abandoned him; God knows him no matter what they think. And he calls them to realize they’re in deep weeds, and to get right with God.

Canadian humor writer Phil Callaway recently accepted the challenge to live for a year without telling a lie or fudging the truth. He chronicles his journey in his new book called To Be Perfectly Honest: One Man's Year of Almost Living Truthfully Could Change Your Life. No Lie.. He says:

I've always avoided confrontation. I golfed with a man for years whose marriage was falling apart and I didn't once summon the nerve to say, "Hey, what's happening?" Some of us are terrified of offending others, but I don't know one single leader who can't point to someone who offended them with the truth about themselves. It can be transforming.

In his Focus on the Family magazine article entitled "The Problem with Nice Guys," Paul Coughlin insists Christians must avoid passive and aggressive extremes, opting instead for assertiveness. He offers the following example from pop culture to illustrate what Christian assertiveness looks like: “Three major personality types are found among the judges of the popular reality TV show American Idol. Passive Paula Abdul is gracious but not always truthful. Aggressive Simon Cowell is truthful but rarely gracious. Assertive Randy Jackson is often truthful and gracious. Be like Randy.”

When you’re in a tight spot, there may come a time for you to be honest with the people in your life who are problems. One of the best things we can do sometimes is to go to others and call them on their behavior; remind them of who we are in God; and call them to repentance. That’s what David does in this psalm. He’s in a tight spot, so he responds in confidence to a God who hears him, but then he also responds in honesty to the people around him.

Finally, when you’re in a tight spot, having spoken to God and others, find your peace in God.

David’s already reminded us of who he is in God. He finishes this psalm by contrasting two ways of relating to God. Read verses 6 to 8 with me:

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

There are two ways of relating to God. The first way is dependent on circumstances. People say, “Who will show us some good?” There’s maybe a bit of crass pragmatism here. “What’s in it for me?” This way of relating to God is highly circumstantial. When things are good, then God is good. When things are bad, then things aren’t so good with God. This type of relationship depends on good times, when “grain and wine abound.” We’ve all been here, haven’t we?

But there’s a different way of relating to God. This way of relating to God doesn’t depend on circumstances. David says “You have put more joy in my heart than when they have their grain and wine abound.” He then says he’s able to go to bed at night and sleep well despite all the problems. Why? The end of verse 8 explains why: “for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” David ultimately finds his safety in God. This is enough for him. He has a deep peace despite the circumstances. Ravi Zacharias said, “Faith is confidence in the person of Jesus Christ and in his power, so that even when his power does not serve my end, my confidence in him remains because of who he is.”

One of the most moving examples of this for me is the story of Nicholas Ridley. He was a British clergyman caught in controversy in England in the 1550s. The was scheduled to be burned at the stake in Oxford for his faith. The night before his execution his brother offered to stay with him in his last hours. But Ridley refused. He said he was going to bed, and that he was going to sleep as soundly that night as he ever did in his life. That’s exactly what David says in verse 8: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Three applications for us this morning.

One: please realize who you are in Jesus Christ. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then you can have the same confidence that David enjoyed no matter what circumstances you face. You can know that God has set you apart for himself; that God hears you when you call him. This will enable you to know for sure who God is even in the middle of horrible circumstances. You may want to even post some of this psalm where you can see it this week to remind you of who you are in Christ; to know that you’ve been purchased by his blood; that he has set you apart and that he cares about you. If you don’t know God through Jesus Christ, then I encourage you to pursue this. Make this a priority in your life. God invites you to come into a relationship with him. He’s sent his Son to provide the way for this to be possible. Pursue God as he pursues you. I’d love to talk to you about this if you’re interested.

Second: God may be calling some of you to a new level of honesty. It may be that you need to speak to some people in your life as David did in this psalm. Tell them the truth about what they’re doing and how this relates to God. You need to work through how to do this. I’m not saying to get all preachy. You can figure it out. But some of us are too scared to really speak honestly to others. David shows us that we can, and sometimes we should.

Finally, this morning, come to God boldly with whatever you’re facing. He wants to hear from you. And take confidence from the fact that he does, and then sleep well tonight knowing that God makes you dwell in safety no matter what’s going on around you.

How do we respond when we’re in a tight spot? With confidence in God, honesty to others, and then peace.

A Prayer When Facing Enemies (Psalm 3)

This morning I want you to take a moment and to think of the darkest moment you’ve ever experienced in your life. This isn’t something that I ask you to do lightly. For some of us it’s very painful to even think about. Some examples:

  • a period of depression
  • the end of a relationship with someone - a spouse, a parent, a close friend
  • the loss of a job
  • a financial crisis
  • the death of someone close to you
  • a betrayal
  • the news that someone close to you is going through a crisis of their own - a divorce, a depression, or a significant health crisis

Now let me ask you: how many songs did you have to sing during this period of crisis? I’ve noticed that there are some songs that you can sing in some periods of crisis. I actually have some songs in my iTunes library that are perfect for almost any kind of mood. There are good breakup songs, good angry songs, good sad songs. There are hymns that bring us comfort. Sometimes there is a song that we can sing that can be a big help to us when we’re going through a crisis.

But sometimes there aren’t songs that can do justice to the depth and severity of a crisis. This is especially true in church. If you flip through our hymnbook, or go online to read the lyrics to many of the songs we sing, you will find songs on almost any topic, but you won’t find many that give voice to hearts that are in severe pain. This is a problem, because we need songs that we can sing when we’re in crisis. We need songs and words that give voice to our pain, especially in the darkest moments of our lives.

That’s where the Psalms come in. We have all kinds of psalms in the Bible. We have psalms of praise and thanksgiving that point to who God is and the wonderful things that he’s done. But that isn’t all of life. “Life is not all cool breezes and beautiful birds” (George Guthrie). So there are other kinds of psalms, including the psalm we’re looking at this morning. It’s a psalm of lament. David Howard, a professor of Old Testament, says:

Laments are the psalms where David or the other psalmists are pouring out their hearts to God, being honest about the fact that life, at time, stinks! The psalmist has just experienced some trouble, sickness, or the persecution of enemies. He may have some people who hate him. I think the church is greatly impoverished because we don’t mine the lament psalms for truths that are there and the way they can open up new avenues of approaching God in times of great stress and sadness in our lives.

So let’s look at this psalm of lament, because you’re going to need it. You may not need it today, but you’re going to need it soon enough. I want to set up this psalm for you before we look at exactly what David says in this psalm as he goes through a very difficult period in his life.

So here’s a little bit about this psalm. I’ve mentioned that Psalm 1 and 2 are kind of gateway psalms. They set up the rest of the collection of psalms for us. Psalm 1 asks us to examine our lives to make sure that we’re part of the congregation of the righteous. Psalm 2 gives us a macro view of what’s going on in the world, and what God is doing about it. Now we get past the gateway and right into the psalms, and notice what happens. I love what Dale Ralph Davis has written:

You first go through the double doors of the Psalter - Psalms 1 tells you to settle your commitment and Psalm 2 to get a clear view of the kingdom. Then what? You walk into trouble (Psalm 3).

That tells you something, doesn’t it? It doesn’t take very long in the psalms or in life before we find ourselves neck-deep in trouble. That’s the nature of the world, and the psalms are very honest about it.

If you look at the top of the psalm, you find that this is one of 14 psalms that are directly linked to an event in David’s life. It says: “A psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.” A little bit of background: 2 Samuel 15 and 16 tells of the time when David’s own son rose up against him and stole his father’s throne. Absalom became immensely more popular than David, and David had to flee for his life. David’s trusted counselor turned against him. He was brutally mocked and everything was taken away from him. It’s hard to picture a worse moment in David’s life. Not only did he lose everything, but his own son betrayed him. 2 Samuel 15:12 says, “And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.”

This is why this is important to us. This psalm gives us a model for how we can pray to God when we are going through the darkest moments of our lives. In this psalm, David is going to give voice to his desperate situation. Then he’s going to show us two things that we can turn to to help us in our darkest moments.

David shows us how to give voice to our suffering.

In verses 1 to 2, David describes his situation honestly to God. He doesn’t pretend that things are okay. There’s no need to pretend with God, by the way. God isn’t dishonored by our honest admission that things aren’t okay. Sometimes Christians have the crazy idea that we have to pretend with God. The psalms teach us the importance of being brutally honest with God about the situation we’re facing. They teach us that it’s okay to come before God and to be honest about our struggles.

Listen to what David writes:

O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God. Selah

So here’s the brutal situation David faces: an abundance of enemies who are rising up against him. Not only does he have a bunch of enemies, but they say that God has no interest in saving him. Remember that this is God’s anointed king. They are saying that God has turned his back on David. You can see why they said this. It sure looked like it. God had anointed David as king, but now it looked as if God had turned his back on David, and the enemies against him were accumulating. They’re moving in for the kill, and they believe that God has abandoned him.

We need to see what David does here. For all intents it looks like God has abandoned David. But David turns directly to the God who supposedly has abandoned him. He doesn’t gloss over his troubles. He pours out his heart to God. “Prayer is the way we slog our way through troubles” (Dale Ralph Davis).

Here is one of the most important lessons from the Psalms. Philip Yancey writes of a Catholic sister who counsels troubled women. They’re displaced homemakers, abused wives, women returning from college after years away. They’re going through anger and hurt. Some spiritual counselors tell them, “Bear it up; keep smiling; suffering makes you strong.” But not the psalms. The Psalms teach them how to express the rage that some try to repress.

They do not rationalize anger away or give abstract advice about pain; rather, they express emotions vividly and loudly, directing their feelings primarily about God. The 150 psalms present a mosaic of spiritual therapy in the process. Doubt, paranoia, giddiness, meanness, delight, hatred, joy, praise, vengefulness, betrayal - you find it all in the Psalms. Such stewing of emotions, which I once saw as hopeless disarray, I now see as a sign of health. From Psalms I have learned that I can rightfully bring to God whatever I feel about him. I need not paper over my own failures and try to clean up my own rottenness; far better to bring those weaknesses to God, who alone has the power to heal. (The Bible Jesus Read)

David shows us in this psalm, as he does in many others, how to give voice to our suffering. He honestly describes in verses 1 to 2 that he has a growing number of enemies, and that it looks to almost everyone that God has turned his back. David teaches us that we can be honest with God about the troubles that we’re facing.

But then David shows us that there are two things about God that we can rely on even in the middle of our suffering.

The first thing about God we need to know in the middle of suffering is that God has not abandoned us.

Do you remember the way that David’s enemies saw things? “There is no salvation for him in God,” they said in verse 2. Well, David knows otherwise. David knew better than to think that God had abandoned him. He says in verses 3-6:

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.

Here David demonstrates something that we need to do if we’re going to survive our problems. The person who put it best is Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure:

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you…The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself…You must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world..That is the essence of the treatment in a nutshell.

That’s exactly what David does. We have emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. We don’t have direct control over our emotions, but we do have control over our thoughts and behaviors. What David does here is to honestly acknowledge his emotions, but then to begin to work on what he knows to be true. He reminds himself of God. Specifically, he reminds himself about four things about God and his character.

God protects. David says, “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me.” A shield is a defensive weapon. If you have a shield, you’re able to deflect the attacks of the enemy. Soldiers would hold a small round shield, big enough to provide protection but small enough to allow movement. But David goes even further. He says that the LORD is a shield about him, not just in front of him, but all around him. David says that God is his complete protection. When we’re under attack, we can remind ourselves that God is our protection. He is our shield.

God is enough. David says that God is his “glory”. What does it mean that God is his glory? David was king. Kings had a glory that nobody else had. They had public dignity, recognition, honor. But now David was on the run, and he had lost his glory. Actually, David says, he hadn’t. He had temporarily lost almost everything, but he never lost his glory, because God, David says, is his glory. We all get meaning from something in life. You can lose your career. You can lose popularity and acclaim. If you get glory from anything other than God, you can and will lose your glory. David says that God is his glory. He’s lost the glory of his kingdom to Absalom, but he has all the glory that he needs in God himself.

God restores. David says that God is the “lifter of his head”. You don’t need this one explained. You know what it means to hang your head. In war, those who were conquered would lay on the ground while the conquerers put a foot on their necks. David says that God has lifted his head again. God has a way of restoring his people even in the middle of impossible situations.

Finally, God is accessible. God answers from his holy hill. David had fled Jerusalem. He’d left the site of the tabernacle. He couldn’t go there to pray and to ask God for help. But David says that his prayers get to God’s holy hill just fine even though he can’t be there. God hears prayers even when we’re nowhere near church. God is accessible no matter where we are.

This is a picture of God that can help us in the middle of life’s difficulties. God protects. God is enough even when we lose everything. God restores. And God is accessible. He’s present to help no matter where we are or what we’re going through.

What’s significant is what happened to David as he remembered all of this. Read verses 5 and 6 again.

I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.

Nothing had changed in this situation. Absalom was still out to get him. He was still surrounded by enemies. They still thought they had him beat. David was still in the middle of a huge mess. But in the middle of that mess David said, “I know my God.” We can experience the same thing. We can continue in the middle of our mess and still look at thousands of our enemies and sleep well at night because we know who God is, and that he is in control. David reminds us that God has not abandoned us in the middle of the mess, and that makes all the difference.

There’s one more thing:

The second thing about God we need to know in the middle of suffering is that God will set things right.

Do you know the problem when enemies rise up against us? It often looks like they’re getting away with it. As David wrote this psalm, Absalom was still increasing in popularity. It still looked bad for David. If you asked David for his plan for how we was going to get his kingdom back, he didn’t have a plan. It often looks like this. Someone steals from us; we don’t have a hope of getting that money back. Someone slanders us; they will probably never apologize. Someone betrays us; they often seem to get away with it.

But David sees past the immediate. Look at what he says in verses 7 and 8:

Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
your blessing be on your people! Selah

This sounds harsh at first. But it’s so important that we need to pay careful attention to this. Do you know what happens when there’s no justice, when nobody puts a stop to evil? People take things into their own hands. Vigilante justice. The only way that this is prevented is if we know that there is justice, and that evil will be stopped, and those perpetrating the evil will be held accountable.

Here David says that he knows he doesn’t have to take things into his own hand. Why? Because he knows that God will look after it. David knows that God will take care of all of David’s enemies. Because of this, David is free from having to take matters into his own hands. He leaves the vengeance to God.

One website says this about those who wrong you:

1. Get mad....then get even. It's justice, plain and simple.

2. Revenge is healthy. Don't listen to those mealymouths who tell you otherwise. You're teaching people to behave better. At the same time you're getting icky poisonous feelings out of your system once and for all. What could be healthier?

4. Revenge is excellent self-therapy. It's far cheaper than a therapist and much healthier than pigging out on a box of donuts.

6. Always aim your revenge where it hurts the most. Go right for the jugular.

7. Let your creativity blossom. Don't go for cliches like slashing tires. Yawn. Be original. Enjoy yourself. Give your mark an experience they'll never ever forget.

9. If you have to do something you're not proud of, be sure to cover your tracks well.

David wouldn’t approve of this list, and the Bible doesn’t either. Paul writes in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Do you see that? The reason we don’t have to get revenge is because God will repay. As someone’s said it, “A soft view on hell makes hard people.” When Bonhoeffer was imprisoned by the Nazis, and shortly before he was hung, someone asked him how it was possible to feel love for such evil people. Bonhoeffer replied, “It is only when God’s wrath and vengeance are hanging as grim realities over the heads of one’s enemies that something of what it means to love and forgive them can touch our hearts.”

Let’s review. We need songs that give voice to our troubles. The psalms help us learn that we can be honest with God even in the middle of our difficulties. This is so important. We need to learn the lessons of these psalms.

This morning you’re invited to come to God just as you are, and to lay out what you’re going through before him. God can handle your honesty. But also gave the courage to preach to yourself. Remind yourself of who God is. Most of all, remind yourself of who you are in Christ. You have a Savior who died to save you, to make you right with God. Remind you that if you have trusted in Christ, you’ve been adopted. You are now God’s own child. You never have to worry about God abandoning you. He has said that he will never leave you and forsake you.

Then see that God is a God who judges. You don’t have to judge your enemies, because God will do a better job of judging evil then we ever could. But look to the cross and see that this is where perfect justice and mercy meet, where God repays evil, but where forgiveness is extended to all those who want it.

When facing crisis, turn to God who has your back and who saves you from your enemies. Let’s pray.

The World That’s Been Promised to the King (Psalm 2)

I don’t know how you got to church today. Some of you drove. Some of you took transit. Some of you walked. I bet nobody arrived here today the way that Ian Morgan Cron arrived to church one day when he was a child. A friend had given his family an old rusty car that could comfortably hold two people. One day they piled seven people into the car on the way to church. As they were driving up a steep hill, hoping they could make it all the way to the top, tragedy struck.

...The seven of us were a nanosecond away from cheering when there was a loud thump, followed by my father yelling...My father’s seat had fallen through the rusted bottom of the car. It was dragging along the pavement, shooting sparks up into the wells of the backseat, threatening to light our socks on fire. My father’s rear end was inches from the ground. The collapse of the seat had shot his legs upward, so that his kneecaps now nearly touched his face, and he was holding down his black bowler lest it be damaged. He looked like a fat kid shoved butt first into a wastepaper basket.

“Pull over, Anne! Pull over!” he demanded...

“Jack, hold on,” she said to my father...

At the bottom of the hill, my mother careened right. An eighth of a mile later, we lurched up in front of the church, more or less in one piece...The seven of us, sweaty and shaken, slowly began peeling ourselves out of the smoking vehicle. It took my brothers several attempts to pull my father out of the car as bemused parishioners gawked and snickered. (Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me)

Nobody arrived to church quite that way, but it sometimes feels like it. Sometimes it feels like we barely make it here, and when we do, our dignity is more or less gone. That’s one of the reasons we’re looking at the Psalms this summer. Psalms teach us how we can have faith in the middle of the mess of life.

Today we come to Psalm 2, the second gateway psalm. If you were here a couple of weeks ago you’ll remember that I said that Psalm 1 is a gateway psalm. There are two checkpoints, so to speak, at the beginning of the psalms.

Psalm 1 deals with the most urgent personal matter: you must know that you’re part of the congregation of the righteous. You need to know where you’re going and what you’re doing. Before you go any further, you need to get this settled. It’s the only way that you’re going to flourish and live well, Psalm 1 says. Psalm 1 takes the camera lens and zooms into your life and asks you to take a close look.

Now we get to Psalm 2. Psalm 2 says that you need to get a big view of things. If you’re to have faith in this messy world, then you need to know where history is going. You must see the whole show; you must understand what God is doing. Psalm 2 zooms back out and gives us a wide-angle view of what’s going on in the world.

We need both psalms. To live well and faithfully, we need to settle the matter of our relationship with God. We need to come to faith in Jesus Christ. But then we also need to see the big picture of what God is doing. I love how Alasdair MacIntyre put it: “I can only answer the question, ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’” Psalm 2 helps us see the big story so we can make sense of our places in that bigger story. It’s an important psalm; it’s the psalm that’s quoted most often in the New Testament.

So here’s what this psalm is going to do. It’s going to give us a macro view of the world, and it’s going to answer four questions:

  • What’s wrong with the world?
  • How does God respond?
  • Whom does he send?
  • What should we do?

First question: What’s wrong with this world?

Psalm 2:1-3 says:

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”

As we speak, rebels are advancing their front lines as they get closer to Tripoli, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's stronghold. A multinational force is assisting with airstrikes and a naval blockade. They’ve created a no-fly zone so that Gaddafi can’t attack the rebel forces. Gaddafi has vowed to "die a martyr" if necessary in his fight against rebels and external forces. You could say that the whole world has risen up against Gaddafi. A State Department official has said, “The guy is getting increasingly lonely, increasingly isolated. His days are numbered. We are confident that his days are numbered.” It’s a war zone, with the whole world rebelling against the reign of this despot.

Psalm 2 presents us with this kind of picture. The whole world is united in rebellion, except not against a despot like Gaddafi, but against God. The psalmist knew that God had promised to bless the world through Israel. Their God, Yahweh, was not some tribal god, but God of all the earth, and God’s purposes for Israel and Israel’s king were global. There’s only one problem. Not everyone was excited about this plan. Psalm 2 pictures a gathering of the world’s most powerful leaders. They’ve decided they’ve had enough. They’re taking their stand (v.2) which is a phrase that means they’re preparing for battle. They want nothing to do with Yahweh or the nation of Israel. They are in open rebellion against God and his people. To rebel against God’s king is to rebel against God himself.

So this presents a very real problem. This psalm pulls back the curtain and shows us a world that’s in open rebellion against God. You just have to look around to see that this is a very accurate description of what’s going on today, thousands of years after this psalm was written. Things haven’t changed. It’s true at a micro level, and it’s also true at a macro level. Ever since Genesis 3 we’ve been chafing at God’s rule over this world and doing everything we can to live as if we’re in charge.

In fact, some contemporary philosophers have admitted that this is at least part of the reason why they’re not so excited about God. Thomas Nagel, an atheist who authored a popular introduction to philosophy titled What Does It All Mean? wrote: "I want atheism to be true ... It isn't just that I don't believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I'm right about my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that." The 20th-century ethics philosopher Mortimer Adler (who was baptized quietly at age 81) confessed to rejecting religious commitment for most of his life because it "would require a radical change in my way of life, a basic alteration in the direction of my day-to-day choices as well as in the ultimate objectives to be sought or hoped for.” You could repeat this over and over. This world is set in opposition to God’s rule. We want nothing to do with God. We would much rather be in charge ourselves.

By the way, this is one reason why sin is so serious. We sometimes think, “What’s the big deal about one little sin?” The reason sin is so serious is because it’s not just a sin - a lie or a thought. Every sin is an act of treason against God. It’s shaking our fist at God and saying, “I choose to rebel against you and your rule. I will do it my way, thanks.” John MacArthur puts it this way: Every sin is “an act of treason against the Sovereign lawgiver and judge of the universe.”

This helps us understand what’s wrong with us and with the world. What’s wrong with us? We have treasonous hearts. We are natural-born rebels against God and his rule, every one of us. What’s wrong with this world? We live in a world in which the nations rage and the people plot against God. We live in the middle of a war zone.

That’s what’s wrong with the world. The world is in open rebellion against God and his rule. It’s also what’s wrong with us. We are rebels ourselves. So here’s the second question.

Second question: How does God respond?

In verses 4-5 we see God’s response to this open rebellion against him:

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury...

So how does God respond to this situation? What is God doing about this problem of the world rebelling against him? If you want to get personal, what is he doing about us? We’re rebels too, so what’s God doing?

Verse 4 gives us God’s response: God laughs.

You get the picture? God is not fazed! The mighty politicians, the dictators in their military fatigues, the terrorists with their bomb loads strapped to their backs - God is unimpressed. If you have imbibed a western sentimental view of God as the great soupy softie in the sky, then you will not understand this picture of verse 4. In fact, it will likely ‘offend’ you. But the psalm implies that nations may strut out their nuclear bombs - it only convulses the Almighty in laughter! To think that a few swaggering sovereigns could destroy God’s kingdom with such trifles! After you hear the kings in verse 3, you need to see this picture of the laughing God in verse 4, in order to get re-focused on the truth. (David Ralph Davis)

By the way, this gives me tremendous comfort. God is not wringing his hands in heaven trying to figure out what to do. He’s not sweating it out on the other side of the cosmic chessboard trying to avoid a checkmate. He’s firmly in control. He laughs at our attempts to rebel against him. He is not fazed by this world’s rebellion against him. He is very much in control.

But then there is a second response, in verses 5 and 6. God speaks against them in wrath; he terrifies them in his fury. This is a far scarier picture. I read an interview this past week with pastor and author Francis Chan. He just came out with a book called Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We Made Up. He’s studied Scripture to really see what it says about God’s judgment. He said this about what Jesus taught about judgment:

As I reread the Gospel passages, Jesus' words are much harsher than I remember. There's a tone in some of the things that he said that are really difficult to stomach, and he says things in a way that I would not have.

Because we in America read certain passages over and over to the neglect of others, we start to believe that Jesus had a friendly tone all the time. And that there isn't any wrath or anger or judgment. When you read it all like you are reading it for the first time, you walk away going, "Wow, he was pretty hardcore."

Here's what I had to repent of: I had felt the need to soften a lot of Jesus' statements, because in my arrogance I think, "Okay Jesus, I'm not going to say that like that. Trust me, people will like you more and be more willing to accept you if I say it like this." Obviously I've never said that to God. But that's the attitude I've taken, and it made me sick. Who in the heck do I think I am? To think that I can make God more palatable or attractive if I try and change the tone in which he says some things. I know people say, "Well it's just cultural this or that." That's garbage. People back then had a much deeper reverence for God than we do. Especially the religious community. Yet it's to those people whom he speaks so harshly.

What in the world would he say to us today? I don't think it'd be a softer message. I had to come before God and say, "Lord I feel sick." And I confessed to Mark [Beuving, who edited the book] and Preston [Sprinkle, the coauthor] as we were working on the book, "I confess to you guys, I confess to the church, I know I have backed away from certain things because of my arrogance. I thought I could attract more people to Jesus by hiding certain things about him." I had to confess my arrogance.

Let’s avoid this mistake - one that I’ve made as well. Let’s let God speak for himself. Psalm 2:5 says, “Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury...” We do not want to be on the receiving end of God’s wrath and fury. The Bible has plenty to say about this topic right from the beginning. To rebel against God is to incite his wrath and fury.

This creates a big problem for us as well, by the way. When Paul wrote to the Romans, he spent the first three chapters establishing one point: every single person, regardless of religious background (Jew or Gentile), is under the judgement of God. We are all rebels. Both Jews and Greeks, he writes, are under sin, and therefore under judgment. This is a serious problem because God will “he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury.”

But there’s more. We’ve seen what’s wrong with the world: it’s in rebellion against God. We’ve seen God’s response: God laughs, and he is angry.

Third question: Whom does he send?

Look at verses 6-9. Verse 6 is God speaking:

“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

Verses 7 to 9 the King speaks at his coronation:

I will tell of the decree:

The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”

Now, you need to understand that this psalm could have ended in verse 5 with God’s wrath and fury. That would be a pretty depressing way to end the psalm. In fact, that’s the way that things ended up with the angels who rebelled against God. God laughed at their rebellion and judged them. End of story. That’s how it could have ended with us as well.

But God responds to the world’s rebellion against him by installing a King. Verse 6 speaks of the Davidic kingdom, one that will rule from Zion. Verses 7 to 9 describe this King’s reign in three ways:

  • It’s legitimate - The King is God’s own Son. In 2 Samuel 7:14, God promised to raise up David’s offspring, and he told David, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” A king has legitimacy because of the bloodlines. Here this psalm says that the promised King will have every right to rule because he is God’s own Son.
  • It’s worldwide - Verse 8 says, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” Zion then was a puny 11 acres of real estate on the southern edge of Jerusalem. 11 acres isn’t very big. Zion was a “tiny, banana-shaped hill in a provincial backwater called Judah” (Dale Ralph Davis). But God says that the King who reigns in Zion will rule over the whole world. It will be an international, worldwide kingdom.
  • It’s forceful - Verse 9 says, “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.” This rule, God says, will be a forceful one. Because this Kingdom is present in a world that’s in open rebellion against God, this rule must be a powerful one.

God responds to this rebellion with laughter and wrath. But he also responds by appointing a King with worldwide sway and overwhelming force. That is what is happening in this world. It is what God is doing in this world.

Who is this King? On one level, it’s those descendants of David who sat on the royal throne in Jerusalem. But their kingdom ended long ago. The nations of Israel and Judah were conquered and exiled. If you go to Jerusalem today, you will not find a descendent of David sitting on the throne.

I mentioned earlier on that Psalm 2 is the psalm that is quoted most often in the New Testament. There’s a reason. This psalm points to a greater King. In Mark 1:11, God said to Jesus at the start of his ministry, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” In Hebrews 1:5 we read that this psalm ultimately applies to Jesus. In Acts 4, as the early Christians faced persecution, they quoted this psalm as a description of the rebellion against God in the context of a King with worldwide sway and overwhelming force.

Jesus is the King to whom this psalm ultimately points. This is the big picture of the world: it is in open rebellion against God. God is responding with laughter and anger. But he also responds by sending his Son Jesus as King of the world, one who rules the entire world with overwhelming force. His is a Kingdom that will never end. The world -this rebellious world - has been promised to a King.

One last question: What should we do?

Verses 10 to 12 say:

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

It’s so important to see the ending to this psalm. God has given us a bird’s-eye view of history this morning. This is the history of the world in 12 verses. But it’s not meant to be just a history lesson. This psalm ends with an invitation. The psalmist ends by speaking to the kings and rulers described in verse 2. They’re given an opportunity for mercy. He calls on them to recognize reality and to be wise, to come to their senses. They’re invited to kiss the Son. Kissing is a sign of homage. They’re invited to become servants and to submit to the reign of this king, to totally and completely submit to him.

The choice is clear for rebels. Verse 12 couldn’t make it any clearer. Submit to him. Pay homage to him. If you do, it says at the end of verse 12, you’ll be blessed as you take refuge in him. I love how verses 11 puts it: rejoice with trembling. There’s a sense of joy in submitting to the King, but it’s a joy tempered with a holy fear of God. That’s the first choice. Or: refuse to submit. Continue as a rebel. If you do, his wrath will be kindled. You will face the wrath and fury we read about in verse 5. We’ll be broken with the rod of iron and be dashed in pieces, as verse 9 says. Those are the only two options.

That’s the message of this psalm. The totality of this world can be summed up in a sentence: The whole world has been promised to the Messiah. Live accordingly.

How do we live accordingly?

Two things.

One: You need to take the invitation of this psalm very seriously. The message is one of warning: you are a rebel, and Jesus, the King, will deal with rebels. But there’s an invitation to submit to Jesus. The invitation is one that stands. Jesus in mercy offers forgiveness and mercy to all who want to find refuge in him. There’s a warning and an invitation in this psalm. Take the invitation while the King still offers his mercy. Jesus is the King who dies to extend mercy to rebels; receive mercy while he still offers it freely.

Two: We live in the middle of rebel activity. When you live in the middle of rebels, you begin to think that things are looking pretty bad for the other side. We need to see from this psalm that God is very much in control. I think this psalm was written, at least in part, to let God’s people know that God is in control. All is well with this world. We can go to sleep at night knowing that this world has been promised to the King, and he is in control.

I told you how Ian Morgan Cron arrived at church with his father. Sometimes it seems we arrive here in pretty much the same condition: crammed in way too tight, falling, so to speak, through the bottom of the car. That’s life. But we come this morning to Psalm 2 this morning, and it tells us that this rebel world has been promised to the King, so live accordingly. Submit to the King, and rest well knowing that his reign is sure. Let’s pray.

The Congregation of the Righteous (Psalm 1)

This morning we’re beginning a fairly brief look at a small portion of Scripture that’s widely appreciated, but I’ve never done much preaching on it. Over the summer, I’m going to be looking at some of the psalms. In particular, I’ll be looking with you at the first few psalms. We’ll probably only have time to look at the first seven or eight if all goes well.

One of the reasons I want to look at the psalms with you is because they’re so important. Abraham Lincoln said of the Psalms: “They are the best. I find something in them for every day of the year.” Martin Luther called it “the Bible in miniature.” It’s the Bible’s longest book. It’s more quoted in the New Testament than any other Old Testament book. It’s probably the most popular book in the Old Testament, if not the whole Bible.

But that’s not the only reason I want to look at them with you. Most of the Bible contains teaching about God, or words of God to us. The Psalms are primarily human words to God or about God, rather than God’s words for us. However, they are also God’s word to us. Psalms provide a model for us. They teach us how to praise God, how to relate honestly to him, and how to reflect on what he has done for us. They invite us to enter into the experience of the psalmist. They address the mind through the heart. They cover every sort of experience and emotion we could have: praise, thanksgiving, but also doubt, depression and despair. It’s an incredibly valuable part of the Bible that helps us understand how we can encounter God in the middle of the mess of life. We need to know how to relate to God not just in the good times, but in every type of circumstance. The Psalms are going to help us with this.

Today, in particular, I want to look at Psalm 1. It’s hard to know where to begin with the Psalms because there are 150 of them. You could even break the Psalms down into sections. For instance, there are five books within the book of Psalms. Book one is considered to be Psalms 1 to 41. They’re all on different kinds of topics and themes. You could begin anywhere.

It’s important, though, for us to look at Psalm 1 first, because Psalm 1 is kind of a gateway to the rest of the Psalms. It’s not just randomly selected as Psalm 1; it’s put first because it’s a great introduction to everything that follows. In fact, if you were to open a handwritten medieval manuscript of the Psalms, chances are that you would discover this psalm - the first - written in ink without any number. It’s meant to be an introduction to the whole Psalter rather than just another psalm.

If you go to the airport, you can hang out anywhere you’d like in the concourses. But eventually you will reach a checkpoint. To go any further, you need to have pass through. They check your documentation and make sure that you belong on the other side of that gate. You either have to be traveling, or you need to be an employee of the airport. That’s what the psalmist is doing here. You are invited to join the psalmist on the other side of Psalm 1. But before you get there, you need to pass through the checkpoint here. The psalmist raises a matter of supreme importance. He wants to be as clear as possible before we go any further.

Here’s the message that he’s going to give us in this first psalm: Nothing is more important than belonging to the congregation of the righteous. Before you can talk about the Lord as your shepherd (Psalm 23), or about forgiveness (Psalm 51), worship (Psalm 100), or the mercies of God (Psalm 103), you need to start here. You need to make sure that you belong to the congregation of the righteous.

And to make his point, the psalmist is going to answer three implied questions in this psalm. So remember his point: Nothing is more important than belonging to the congregation of the righteous. Here are the implied questions he’s going to answer. One: what does it look like to belong to the congregation of the righteous? Two: what are the results of living this way? Three: what is the final destiny of those who live in the congregation of the righteous?

First question: What does it look like to belong to the congregation of the righteous?

Psalm 1:1-2 says:

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

So here we begin with a description of what it looks like to belong to the congregation of the righteous. I want you to notice three things about this description.

The first is the very first word of the psalm: blessed. It’s one of those words you hear mainly in church or when someone sneezes. Part of the problem when you hear a word like blessed is that you don’t really know if it’s something that you want for yourself. We have a church near our house, and sometimes you see men and women wearing black robes walking around the neighborhood. Is that what it means to be blessed - to live in a church and wear black robes all day? It reminds me of the cartoon. Someone asks a man, “Are you a pastor?” and he replies, “No, I just look this way because I’m not feeling well today.” That’s the very thing that most of us would like to avoid. We’re really not sure that we want to be blessed, so right away we’re kind of wondering whether this is a good thing or not.

But we need to understand that this isn’t what the word blessed means here. The word really could be translated, “Oh, the happiness…” It’s about the joy that comes from God-given security and prosperity. It’s happiness that comes from well-being and rightness. He is the man or woman who enjoys God’s blessing. The Psalmist is saying that there is a path to happiness that is unique and that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s found in belonging to the congregation of the righteous, of knowing God’s smile upon your life. When you have this blessedness, you don’t need to go looking anywhere else. You have God’s smile; that is enough. So that’s the first thing you notice here. Joining the congregation of the righteous isn’t sentencing yourself to misery; it’s actually the path to true happiness.

Nobody’s captured this better, by the way, than John Piper. He’s coined a term: “Christian hedonist.” A hedonist is someone who pursues pleasure. You may be surprised by this, but Piper argues that we all should be pleasure-seekers. The only thing is, we need to realize that the true path to pleasure-seeking is to join the congregation of the righteous and to seek the blessing that comes from God. As the philosopher Blaise Pascal put it:

There once was in man a true happiness of which now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these all are inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God himself.

So the psalmist is going to describe to us the path to true happiness, to true satisfaction and joy. Someone’s said, “The psalmist saith more to the point about true happiness in this short Psalm than any one of the philosophers, or all of them put together; they did but beat the bush, God hath here put the bird into our hand” (John Trapp).

Then notice the negative picture of what those in the congregation of the righteous do not do. They don’t walk in the counsel of the wicked; they don’t stand in the way of sinners; they don’t sit in the seat of scoffers. In other words, the righteous person is different. Many of us, I’m sure, watched the Stanley Cup finals a couple of weeks ago. You noticed the same thing that I did: the teams generally played better on their own ice than they did in the other team’s rink. A 2011 Sports Illustrated article found:

Home field advantage is no myth. Indisputably, it exists …. Across all sports and at all levels, from Japanese baseball to Brazilian soccer to the NFL, the team hosting a game wins more often than not.

You may be surprised why this is true. It’s not just the impact on team performance. The article says it’s the influence of the crowd on the referees:

Officials' bias is the most significant contribution to home field advantage. In short, the refs don't like to get booed. So when the game gets close, they call fewer fouls or penalties against the home team; or they call more strikes against visiting batters. Larger and louder fans really do influence the calls from the officials. The refs naturally (and often unconsciously) respond to the pressure from the crowd. Then they try to please the angry fans and make the calls that will lessen the pain of crowd disapproval. In the end, the refs' people-pleasing response can have an impact on the final result of the game.

Do you notice that? It’s not the cheers of the home crowd that makes a team do better. It’s the boos of the crowd that make a refs afraid to make a bad call. The psalmist notices the same thing. He says that the more we play on the other team’s ice, the worse it’s going to go for us. It’s usually a subtle thing. The more we’re taking our cues from people who don’t know and love God, the more we’ll be playing so that we don’t here their boos. It’s not usually an obvious thing. As Dale Ralph Davis says:

It may come in a rather bump-a-long fashion from teachers or friends or family - our spouses; it simply suggests that if you don’t think this way, you will not be thought sharp; if you don’t act this way, you will not be ‘cool’; if you don’t laugh at what we mock, we don’t want any part of you. Verse 1 is not merely description but warning, a sort of Old Testament Romans 12:2: ‘Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould’ (Phillips).

It reminds me of the 106-year-old who was asked what she likes about her age. She replied: no peer pressure. The psalmist acknowledges that we’re all taking our cues from somewhere; he says that if you’re part of the congregation of the righteous, you’re not taking your cues from people who aren’t living for God.

So where are you taking your cues if you belong to the congregation of the righteous? The cue is actually from delight, in verse 3. This is important. It’s not a grin-and-bear-it type of approach. It’s again a delight. You know what it’s like to choose something not out of willpower but delight. I was out the other night with a friend. I hadn’t seen Charlene all day. As I dropped him off, he invited me to come into his house for a while. I had two alternatives: to visit with my friend, which would have been an ok thing to do; or to go home and see my wife and kids, which would have been an awesome thing to do. I made the choice that gave me the most joy: I said thanks, but I’d better get going. I didn’t do it out of obligation; I did it out of joy. That’s what the psalmist is saying here.

What leads him to renounce all the ‘appeals’ of verse 1? To turn and walk away from it all? The pursuit of pleasure! He does it because he cares more for his pleasure than for his pressures! ‘But his delight…’ Note that last word. You are going to take your signals from somewhere, and he takes his from the torah of Yahweh rather than from the counsel of the wicked. (Dale Ralph Davis)

That’s what it means. To belong to the congregation of the righteous involves finding delight and joy in God’s Word. It’s not an obligation; it’s a continual source of delight. It’s a regular and consistent part of our life: we meditate on it day and night. J.I. Packer defines meditation:

Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, thinking over, dwelling on, and applying to oneself the various things one knows about the works and ways and purpose and promises of God.

It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communication with God.

Its purpose is to clear one's mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let his truth make its full and proper impact on one's mind and heart.

It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself.

It is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God's power and grace.

That’s what we do when we belong to the congregation of the righteous. We find our happiness in God; we take our cues from him and from his Word rather than from the wicked; we continually apply his Word to all of our lives.

Second question: What are the results?

What does it look like when we do this? Verses 3-4 say:

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

You know that the best way to communicate something is often through a picture. You can describe something, but it helps to see it. Here the psalmist gives us two pictures. The first picture is of those who belong to the congregation of the righteous. The second picture is of those who belong to the congregation of the wicked.

First: what does it look like to belong to the congregation of the righteous? When the psalmist wrote this, people knew how hard it was to grow a tree. The climate in Israel was dry. The only way that something like a tree could thrive is if it had a constant supply of water. Vegetation flourished around natural streams or canals. So he gives us a picture here of a tree that’s planted close to the banks of a river. The roots reach down and draw nourishment from the water. That is a great picture, the psalmist says, of the person who belongs to the congregation of the righteous. He or she is like that tree, drawing nourishment from God himself. You could capture the picture here in two words: stability and vitality. Stability, because the tree is planted securely. It’s healthy and it’s not going anywhere. We live in an old neighborhood. Some of the trees were there before any houses were around, and some of those trees are probably going to be there after the houses are torn down. That’s stability. But there’s also vitality: fruitfulness, leaves that don’t wither; prosperity. The psalmist says that those in the congregation of the righteous have a stability and a vitality that you can’t find anywhere else.

It’s a contrast, by the way, to what the life of the wicked looks like. The picture there is of chaff. If you had some grain back then, you’d want to separate the lightweight and useless chaff - the husk of grain. You’d put the what on the floor. Horses would tread on it and separate the grain from the husks. You’d then take a fork or shovel and throw the grain into the air. The grain is heavier, so it would fall to the ground. The useless chaff would be blown away with the wind. The psalmist says that this is what it’s like to belong to the congregation of the wicked. If you are part of the wicked, then you’re not characterized by stability and vitality. You’re characterized instead by dry, dusty, windblown impermanence. You could use the words rootlessness and ruin.

You don’t always see this. Sometimes it doesn’t look this way. This, of course, doesn’t mean that those in the congregation of the righteous never have problems. They do. But it means that there’s a stability and vitality in the lives of those who have found their joy in God that you can’t find anywhere else. It reminds me of the book of Ecclesiastes, which we studied earlier this year. Apart from God, there’s impermanence. I can take you to believers who are in their 70s and 80s - some of them are here - and who have been through very trying times, but they are stable and vital because their roots have stayed connected to the source of nourishment that has sustained them their entire lives.

That’s what it looks like to belong to the congregation of the righteous: to take our cues from God rather than the wicked, and to delight in his Word. And that’s what the results are: stability and vitality. There’s one more question.

Third question: What is their destiny?

You may have heard that they came out with a study this week. Harvard University researchers found that the type of foods we choose to eat may have a bigger impact on weight control than portion sizes. They found that if you eat certain types of foods, even in small quantities, you will gain weight over time. For instance, for every additional daily serving of potatoes people ate, they gained more than 1 1/4 pounds over a four-year period. There is a trajectory to these things. Over time, you will see that present decisions lead to long-term results.

Here’s what we see in this passage. There are long-term implications to whether you are part of the congregation of the righteous, or whether you join the wicked. Verses 5 and 6 say:

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

This is why this psalm is so serious. This is not some game we are playing. The psalm asks us to consider what we will do when the end comes.

As you know, William and Kate are in Canada this week. There are all kinds of preparations to get ready for them. You can bet that a host of people right now are working hard to get everything ready so that when the moment comes, every event will be ready.

The psalmist says that some will not be ready for the time when the judgment comes. It’s a scary picture for the wicked. They will have no justification (they won’t stand); they won’t have any communion with those who are righteous; nor will they remain (they will perish). In contrast, God knows the way of the righteous. This is ongoing. It doesn’t mean that God just has some knowledge of the righteous. He continues to know them; he sees every step they take, every twist and turn. It means that God is intimately and personally concerned with the steps that they take.

That is why the psalmist begins here. There is nothing more important than understanding that before you can enter into the rest of the psalter, you know where you stand. There are really only two ways to live. There’s no middle ground. You can choose to be blessed by taking your cues from God and delighting in him; if so you’ll have stability and vitality, and God will know you. Or you can choose the path of the wicked, which is choosing rootlessness and death and judgment. It’s that stark. That’s where the psalms begin.

So let’s close here by asking you to examine your life. There’s nothing more important. Nothing is more important than belonging to the congregation of the righteous. But then I want to remind you that in all of history there has only ever been one person who has met the ideal of the godly person represented in the psalm. This is good news for us. The reality is that the best among us falls short. The good news is that we have a Savior who can transform us into the type of people we read about in this psalm. He is able to take us regardless of our past and forgive us of our sins, and transform us so that we can be people who delight in God’s Word and who are planted like these trees. I invite you this morning to join the congregation of the righteous - to discover the joy that comes as we enter into the psalter. Nothing, the psalmist says, is more important than belonging to the congregation of the righteous.

A Community That Confesses (Psalm 32)

We’re looking at the topic of relationships this month and next. Relationships are rewarding, but they’re also incredibly challenging. It seems that everywhere we look, other people’s issues are in our face. We deal with other people’s anger and gossip. We deal sometimes with well-meaning people with the best of intentions, but who let us down. If you live in relationship with others for any amount of time you begin to understand that you’re dealing with other people’s junk, and all of this can make it hard to have any type of relationship.

But this morning I want to consider another possibility: what if the problem is you? What do you do when you are confronted with your own failure? We’re very well equipped to spot the issues in other people. But sometimes admitting that we have a problem, that we have sinned, is very difficult - even when we’re admitting this to only ourselves.

A man decided to attend a treatment group for alcoholics. Early on in the treatment program they had to sit in a circle with a leader and tell the truth to themselves, and to the other people in the group, about the extent of their drinking.

So they went around the circle and they all told the truth, except for one business guy named Max. When it came time for him to reveal the extent of his drinking, he said, “I never really drank that much.”

They said, “Max, you're in an alcoholic treatment center for a month. You weren't sipping cokes. Tell the truth to yourself. Admit it.” He said, “I'm being honest with you. I've never really had all that much to drink.”

The leader of the group had information on Max. He phoned the bartender close to Max’s office, who confirmed that Max drank like a fish. He called Max’s wife. Listen to what happened:

The wife describes this to the group, and Max falls off his chair and starts convulsing on the ground. He just couldn't bear telling himself the truth about what he had done. He couldn't face it. He was going to live the rest of his life in some fantasy world of denial about what he had done.

You may not have an alcohol problem, but every one of us is going to reach the point at which we’re confronted with our sins and failures. What do we do when the problem is us? What do we do when we’re caught red-handed, when it’s clear to us that we’ve sinned?

This morning, the psalm that we read is going to help us answer this question. And we’re going to see that the psalmist David describes the normal way that we handle our sins and failures, before he describes for us the wise way to handle them. And then, finally, he’s going to tell us what difference this can make not just individually, but in our community as well.

So first, what is the normal way that we handle our sins and failures?

In Psalm 32:1-2, David introduces us to the subject of this psalm:

Blessed are those
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed are those

whose sin the LORD does not count against them

and in whose spirit is no deceit.

So the subject is sin, in particular how we handle our own sins. What’s interesting is that David uses three words to describe sin: transgression, which is rebellion against God; sin, which is a more general term; and iniquity, which is about distortion, criminality, or the absence of respect for the divine will. David is not intending to give us a study of the different types of sin, but just by what he writes he’s showing us the fullness of the many different types of sin. Sin is multifaceted, and David is dealing with with the question of how we handle sin of any type. How can we be happy - which we all want - when we have to deal with the reality of sin in our lives?

David begins by describing the normal way that we handle our sins and failures in verses 3-4:

When I kept silent,

my bones wasted away

through my groaning all day long.
For day and night

your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped

as in the heat of summer.

Notice what David says here: “When I kept silent...” David knows that the default way that we deal with our own sins of any kind is to minimize and deny and keep silent about what happened. It’s like the cartoon I saw this week:

Pearls Before Swine

“I’m going to start apologizing to all the people I’ve insulted by telling them, ‘I’m sorry you were offended.’”

“Is that a real apology?”

“No. That’s what’s so great. It allows me to retain the impact of the original insult while tacking on the implied bonus insult of, ‘You are an overwhelming ninny.’”

“But that’s kinda rude cause it’s sorta saying the guy is too dumb to realize that.”

“I’m sorry that you were offended.”

“Apology accepted.”

The problem is that many of us react to our sin by minimizing what we’ve done and keeping silent about what’s happened, or passing on the blame to others. We don’t just do this with others; we do this with God. And look at the results: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”

We don’t know what particular sin David is talking about here. It could have been his adultery with Bathsheba, and the resulting coverup which led to murder. We simply don’t know. We do know that hidden sin leads to agony. If you look at what David describes you see:

  • A physical destruction. “My bones wasted away. . .”
  • A conscience that plagues us daily. “Through my groaning all day long. . .”
  • A sense of God’s fatherly displeasure. “Your hand was heavy upon me. . .”
  • Depression of the spirit. “My strength was sapped as in the heat of summer . . .”

One commentator writes:

Those who have experienced bouts of depression probably recognize the symptoms here. An interior darkness opens up that threatens to swallow the sufferer. A normally energetic person can be reduced to inactivity - feeling almost drugged and unable to lift a finger to move...

It is interesting that the suffering appears less as the result of a divine assault than the outworking of the psalmists’ own repressed guilt. This is perhaps too modern an interpretation, but one with which many moderns are thoroughly familiar. The destructive effects of repressed and unexpressed emotions and anxieties can be powerfully experienced in physical pain and psychological disintegration. (Gerald Wilson)

There have been a number of movies about this lately. Get Low is about a mysterious hermit who hires a funeral director to carry out a “funeral party” for him. He wants the memorial service is to be held before he’s actually dead, in order that he would be there to hear all the stories folks would tell about him. It turns out that there’s a reason that this man is a hermit. Something happened many years ago, a secret, an unconfessed sin, and it’s caused him to punish himself and live as a hermit for forty years. He doesn’t know what to do with the guilt. As one theologian said after watching the movie:

I was jarred by the guilt that throbbed through the whole of it....The film portrays something the Christian Scriptures insist to be true. Guilt isn’t something society foists upon us. There’s something primal, something real, in the guilty conscience.

The apostolic preaching confirms what human experience already affirms, a moral law is embedded in the human conscience. The conscience is not simply a kind of internal prompt for good behavior. It is instead a foretaste of judgment, of the Day when every secret is unearthed...Get Low portrays where we all are, apart from Christ.

This is how we normally respond to our sin: with silence. And it’s deadly. Unconfessed sin makes us fugitives. We become fugitives from God, from the person we’ve sinned against, from ourselves. No wonder that it leads to such physical and spiritual torment!

Well, what’s the alternative?

What is the right way to respond when it’s clear we need forgiveness? Look at what David says in verse 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.

What are we going to do when we sin? David says that the right thing to do, the wise thing to do, is to confess the sin. David says he acknowledged it. He didn’t cover up or minimize it. He confessed his transgressions to the Lord, and the Lord forgave the guilt of his sin. The word “forgave” in verse 5 can literally be translated “lifted away.” It’s the beautiful image of removing the terrible crushing weight of guilt like a boulder. It’s immediate, and it’s freeing, and it’s full.

As Ken Sande writes:

As God opens your eyes to see how you have sinned against others, he simultaneously offers you a way to find freedom from your past wrongs. It is called confession. Many people have never experienced this freedom because they have never learned how to confess their wrongs honestly and unconditionally. Instead, they use words like these: “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” “Let’s just forget the past.” “I suppose I could have done a better job.” “I guess it’s not all your fault.” These token statements rarely trigger genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. If you really want to make peace, ask God to help you breathe grace by humbly and thoroughly admitting your wrongs. One way to do this is to use the Seven A’s.

  1. Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)
  3. Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
  4. Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  5. Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
  6. Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
  7. Ask for forgiveness

When we confess our sins, we can know that God takes away the weight of sin. At the cross, Jesus himself bore our sins. He took responsibility for our sin, lifting up the crushing stone of guilt that pinned us down, giving us joy and the “glories freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

That’s why you notice that this psalm is a joyful one. People think that repentance has to be sad. The only sad part in this psalm is when David didn’t repent. Once he repents, he’s full of joy. That’s why we can talk about joyful repentance. “Repentance increases joy. It’s not traumatic; it’s joyful and it’s healing” (Tim Keller). When you sin, choose joyful confession over deadly silence.

Notice one more thing with me this morning.

This isn’t just a lesson for us as individuals; this is a lesson for us as a community.

Do you notice what David says in verse 6?

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you

while you may be found;

surely the rising of the mighty waters

will not reach them.

Do you see what David is doing here? He’s turning to God’s people and saying, “Let’s all become repenters together.” David isn’t just happy repenting by himself. He envisions a community that never covers over sin, that quickly and joyfully turns to God in repentance.

He goes even further in verse 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.

David is essentially saying, “Okay, ignore me if you’d like. Keep silent and minimize your sins. It’s your choice, if you enjoy being like a stubborn mule.” Or, David is saying, we can be a community that regularly and joyfully engages in confession, not cover-up. We can be a community that, when we sin, chooses joyful confession over deadly silence and cover-up.

Can you imagine what could happen in our relationships and in our church if we did this? In 1935, Blasio Kugosi, a schoolteacher in Rwanda, Central Africa, was deeply discouraged by the lack of life in the church and the powerlessness of his own experience. He followed the example of the first Christians and closed himself in for a week of prayer and fasting in his little cottage. He emerged a changed man. He confessed his sins to those he had wronged, including his wife and children. He proclaimed the gospel in the school where he taught, and revival broke out there, resulting in students and teachers being saved. They were called abaka, meaning “people on fire.”

Shortly after that, Blasio was invited to Uganda to share with the Anglican Church there. As he called the leaders to repentance, the fire of the Spirit descended again on the place, with similar results as in Rwanda. Several days later, Blasio died of fever. His ministry lasted only a few weeks, but the revival fires sparked through his ministry swept throughout East Africa and continue to the present. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been transformed over the decades through this mighty East African revival. It all began with a discouraged Christian choosing joyful confession over deadly silence and cover-up.

Like a Weaned Child (Psalm 131)

One night a few weeks ago we attended an off-Broadway show in New York City. We came out and walked a few blocks to Times Square. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in Times Square at night, but if you haven’t, it’s like the Yonge-Dundas Square on steroids. Lights, lots of them, constantly changing and coming at you from every direction. People everywhere you look. Noise, not any one noise but just noise from traffic, people, music. We stood for a few minutes taking it all in. I loved it.

The week before we had spent a week on a lake in Wisconsin. There weren’t any lights there at night, except for the light from the moon. No noise, no people. Just stillness.

Now we’re at a critical weekend in our year in which we’re at the transition point between two very different worlds. I don’t know what your summer has been like, but I imagine you’ve had a little quiet and rest, a bit of a slower pace. This week we’re entering the Fall: kids and teachers going back to school, people returning from vacations, and so on. Life is going to go from a decent 60 kilometers an hour to 110, and you’re still going to have people passing you.

So this morning, before we go there, I want to look at an important psalm that’s meant a lot to me these past three months. If we pay attention to it, it’s going to tell us how our hearts can find something we desperately need that will lead to a soul that’s found its rest in the midst of the craziness, and even more importantly, a heart that worships God and invites others to worship him too.

A Negative Cameo

Psalm 131 was written by King David. You’ll notice that it’s called “A Song of Ascent.” Psalms 120-134 are all called Songs of Ascent. They were written to be sung by pilgrims as they journeyed to Jerusalem for the festivals three times a year. They’re songs that prepare us to worship.

In this psalm David gives us a negative cameo of someone who can’t really worship God, before he gives us a positive one. The negative cameo is found in verse 1. David gives us some qualities of character that he does not have. Listen again to verse 1:

My heart is not proud, LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.

So here’s a negative picture. David is giving us a picture of himself, and he says that there are two negative qualities that he avoids as he comes to God in worship.

The first is pride. He says, “My heart is not proud...my eyes are not haughty.” Can’t you just see the picture that David is painting in contrast to himself? Someone who not only has a proud heart, but who struts around and peers down at you from his elevated state. Here’s what it looks like to not be a person who hasn’t found rest in God and who isn’t able to worship: think lots about yourself, and very highly of yourself as well.

Let me give you the best definition of pride I’ve been able to find. “Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon him” (C.J. Mahaney). What I love about this definition is that it makes sense of why pride is so antithetical to worship. Pride is all about self-glorification. Pride is about worship, but not the worship of God - it’s about the worship of self. When we are proud we are essentially robbing God of his rightful glory and seeking to glorify ourselves. We’re depriving God of something that he alone is worthy to receive. It’s like if I sang, “In my life, Darryl, be glorified, be glorified.”

The problem, of course, is that all of us are proud. It is part of our sin nature to suffer from pride. This is a serious problem. In fact, pastor and theologian John Stott says that pride is “more than the first of the seven deadly sins; it is itself the essence of all sin.” Proverbs says that pride is number one on the list of things God hates (Proverbs 6:16-17). Theologian Jonathan Edwards called pride “the worst viper that is in the heart” and “the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ.” He ranked pride as the most difficult sin to root out, and “the most hidden, secret, and deceitful of all lusts.”

This is related to the second negative quality that David mentions: a refusal to understand our limits. David says, “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”

In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom tells of an event that took place when she was 10 or 12 years old as she traveled with her father on a train from Amsterdam to Haarlem. She had stumbled upon a poem that had the words "sex sin" among its lines:

And so, seated next to Father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, "Father, what is sex sin?"

He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but, to my surprise, he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.

"Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?" he asked.

I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.

"It's too heavy," I said.

"Yes," he said. "And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It's the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you."

And I was satisfied. More than satisfied—wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions; for now, I was content to leave them in my father's keeping.

What David is saying is that we need to stop trying to pick up the suitcases that are too heavy for us. Many of us are trying to lift God-sized issues in our own lives. No wonder we’re tired.

On the positive side, David is saying that he’s learned to begin seeking God’s glory rather than his own, and then to recognize his own limits - that God was able to handle things that are far beyond his limits. If you and I are going to have what David describes in this passage, we also need to root out the pride in our own hearts, seeking God’s glory instead of our own. We’ll also have to learn to stop trying to handle the issues in our lives that are God-sized issues. We’ll understand our limits and turn to God who is limitless.

A Positive Cameo

So David gives us this negative picture. He says that he’s learning not to pursue his own glory, and he’s learning that some things are beyond his pay grade. God is God and he isn’t. But then he gives us a positive picture. Verse 2 says:

But I have calmed myself

and quieted my ambitions.

I am like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child I am content.

This verse gives me hope. Up until now we could have thought that maybe David just doesn’t struggle with pride or that he naturally knows his limits. In this verse we learn that David has taken specific steps to develop more positive qualities. As one person puts it, “The soul...was by deliberate action reduced to a calm, gentle, submissive, patient, and contented state.”

In other words, David had to struggle with himself. If we don’t take deliberate action, we’ll default to pride and we’ll attempt to carry those issues that are too big for us.

David says, “I have calmed myself and quieted my ambitions.” The ESV puts it this way: “But I have calmed and quieted my soul.” We all know what it’s like to have souls that are agitated and churning. When we’re pursuing self-glorification and trying to handle God-sized issues on our own, we’re not going to have calm souls. David has found a way to deal with an anxious heart and to calm it, even when he’s surrounded by situations that could easily overwhelm him.

Then he gives us a picture that captures what he’s talking about. “I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.”

There’s a big difference between an unweaned child and a weaned child. Both may sit on mom’s lap. One is thinking about lunch. A child who’s still nursing will not naturally decide, “You know what, I’m old enough and probably should stop this nursing thing.” In a sense, that child is there for what he or she can get from mom, and will let you know about it if there are any problems.

But picture a young child who’s been weaned. She sits on her mother’s lap. She’s been through the battle and is now there not for food, but for the simple joy of being in relationship. Her soul is calm and quieted as she lies against her mother’s breast. The world may be going crazy, but she’s okay as long as she lies there. There’s a deep sense of peace, tranquility, and contentment. She can lie there contentedly without fretting or craving the breast. She’s content even in the absence of what she was considered indispensable. David offers this as a picture of what it looks like to find rest in God.

Hundreds of years later, Jesus said something similar. His disciples came and asked him, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Listen to what he said:

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes a humble place—becoming like this child—is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4)

There it is. Jesus himself tells us the same thing. If we are going to enter the kingdom of heaven, we’ve got to become like weaned children - humble and dependent. It means that there’s no place for spiritual self-sufficiency. This is true in every area of our lives, but it's got to be true spiritually. We don't come depending on what we've done so we can have relationship with God. We come as children in complete dependence on what Christ has done to bring us into relationship with God.

Do you realize who’s talking in this psalm? David is the greatest king in Israel’s history. He’s called a man after God’s own heart. He’s written more of the Bible than any other person. Yet as far as God is concerned, he comes the same way as everyone else. You don’t ever graduate from coming as a child in God’s kingdom. You never get past coming to him with empty hands.

You never get beyond this. It’s like the famous theologian who was asked how he would summarize the essence of the millions of words he had published on theology. He replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” You never move beyond this childlike rest in God. True worship comes from cultivating a life that’s found its rest in God.

Invitation

The psalm closes with this invitation:

Israel, put your hope in the LORD

both now and forevermore.

It’s like David is saying that out of his rest, out of his humble confidence in God, he’s able to invite others to put their hope in the Lord. When we cultivate lives that have found rest in God, we will likewise be able to invite others into this as well. Our lives will be an invitation to others to experience the same type of rest that we’re experiencing ourselves.

This psalm has been very meaningful for me these past few months during my sabbatical. I stepped out of my normal role as pastor. I was reminded again that pastors come to God just like everyone else does - like children. During my sabbatical I was reminded of my propensity to be concerned for my own glory, and to try to carry issues that belong to God. I was able to discover again the joy of cultivating a soul that’s found its rest in God.

The same invitation is provided to you as well. You have nothing to prove to God. You can come with empty hands, because everything was provided for you at Calvary. When you see what Jesus accomplished in dying in our place, taking the judgment that belonged to us, we’ll be able to find our true rest in God.

Tell to the Coming Generation (Psalm 78)

A couple of weeks ago I went to my family doctor for what they call the annual physical. I don't know why they call it annual, because nobody I know goes every year. If you're like me you avoid that thing as long as you can, and when you go you go reluctantly. You know what's coming. You're going to get poked and prodded and examined. The doctor is going to ask you uncomfortable questions, and give you advice you probably don't want to hear. I would probably go get a physical more often if they told me to cut down on my vegetables and to start eating more cookies.

In any case, they asked me about my family history. They wanted to know about the medical history of my parents and brothers and sister. The reason is that a lot of our health is a matter of genetics. The 23 chromosomes you received from your mother and the 23 chromosomes you received from your father combined to make you who you are, and doctors like to know what you inherited so that they know what you're passing on to your children.

The psalm we just read is not concerned with your DNA. But it is concerned with what you and I are passing to our children. Verses 1 to 3 are kind of like the receptionist from the doctor who keeps calling to say it's time for an appointment. They are trying to get our attention so that we listen to what this psalm has to say.

My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will teach you lessons from the past-
things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.

The psalmist is saying, "Listen up! This is going to be really important. You need to pay attention to this."

Verses 2 to 4 tell us what the psalmist wants to talk about. The psalmist is concerned that we learn "lessons from the past." Verse 4 says:

We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
his power, and the wonders he has done.

Verses 6 and 8 continue this theme:

so the next generation would know them,

even the children yet to be born,

and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God

and would not forget his deeds

but would keep his commands.
They would not be like their ancestors-

a stubborn and rebellious generation,

whose hearts were not loyal to God,

whose spirits were not faithful to him.

What is the psalmist saying? I believe he's saying three things that we desperately need to hear. One: about our responsibility. Two: about our failure. Three: about the hope we can have despite our failure.

First: We have a responsibility not just to our generation, but to future generations.

Over and over in this passage the psalmist reminds us that we have a responsibility that extends beyond ourselves to the next generation.

So:

  • verse 4 - "we will tell the next generation"
  • verse 5 - "he commanded our ancestors to teach their children"
  • verse 6 - "so the next generation would know them"
  • again in verse 6 - "and they in turn would tell their children"

Last week, Robin shared with us that we have 50,000 people living within two miles of this church. He reminded us of the staggering responsibility we have as a church for sharing the gospel with these people. These are people in our community who are not in relationship with God, and who have not heard the gospel. Feel the weight of this. We've been placed in this community with the charge to make disciples, to take the gospel to people in our community.

The psalmist reminds us that our responsibility is not just to the people who live around us. There are generations yet to come: our children, our grandchildren. We need to tell them about "the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD" because we want them to put their trust in God. And we want to tell people in this community about the Lord not only because we went them to trust the Lord, but because they will have children and grandchildren. We want people in our community to trust the LORD, knowing that they will be changed, and God-willing their children will change, and their grandchildren, and so on.

There was a man named George McCluskey. When McCluskey married and started a family, he decided to invest one hour a day in prayer, because he wanted his kids to follow Christ. After a time, he expanded his prayers to include his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Every day between 11 a.m. and noon, he prayed for the next three generations.

As the years went by, his two daughters committed their lives to Christ and married men who went into full-time ministry. The two couples produced four girls and one boy. Each of the girls married a minister, and the boy became a pastor.

The first two children of the next generation were boys. One became a minister; the other became a psychologist and author - James Dobson.

We have a responsibility to the 50,000 people around us. But we also have a responsibility for future generations.

We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
(Psalm 78:4)

That's what the psalmist is saying. We have a responsibility for the next generation. But he's also telling us something else:

Second: We have failed.

Now, I've heard some people talk about their pasts. Every time I hear their stories, their life has been even more dramatic. The obstacles they faced get bigger, and their victories greater. I would love to be able to tell stories about great exploits, of how well we have lived and served.

But that's not what the psalmist says in this psalm. He says that we have a message, and the message is one of our failure, and God's grace. Verses 7 and 8 give us the burden of this psalm, both positively and negatively:

Then they would put their trust in God

and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
They would not be like their ancestors-

a stubborn and rebellious generation,

whose hearts were not loyal to God,

whose spirits were not faithful to him.

The psalmist charges us to fulfill our responsibility to the next generation. He then holds up the past as a mirror so that we can see ourselves, and he says: history must not repeat itself. He's relentless in making his point. From verses 9 to 64 he recounts failure after failure on the part of Israel.

  • In verses 9 to 16, he says they turned back in the day of battle, forgetting all that God had done in delivering them from Egypt. They could talk about God's power in the past, but it made no difference in the present. They were cowards despite God's power.
  • In verses 17 to 31, he says they sinned even more in the wilderness. The more God gave, the less they appreciated it. They murmured and complained. They failed time after time despite God's miraculous provision.
  • In verses 32 to 39, it looks like they finally repent, but their repentance is only skin deep. God disciplined them, and they repented for a while. But it was all a lie. Yet God showed compassion and restraint despite their disobedience.
  • In verses 40 to 53, the psalmist emphasizes, again, their continual ingratitude for the deliverance God had provided for them. "How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness...Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel" (Psalm 78:40-41)
  • Finally, in verses 54 to 64, he says they were ungrateful for the promised land.

There you have the entire history of Israel up until that point. Over and over again: they sinned, they rebelled, they forgot.

Don't forget that this is a psalm. This is Israel's songbook. I don't think we have any songs like this today. Maybe we should. Why would Israel sing a song reminding itself of all of its failures, and of God's patience?

I think it's because the psalmist wants us to examine ourselves, and to remind ourselves that we're in danger of repeating history. We're supposed to learn from the past and to remind ourselves that we have a pretty good track record of blowing it. This is also a reminder that our strength is not in ourselves, and our story is certainly not about how great we are. There is a hero in the story, and it's not us. It's God, who extends grace over and over.

Most of all, this psalm is part of worship to call us to something better. Don't let history repeat itself. Let's not make the same mistakes. Repent. Remember. Respond in gratitude to the deliverance God has given you. Do so for the sake of the next generation.

This is an especially timely message for us after last week. In a sense, we've had our history recounted for us. We've been reminded of our strengths, but we've also been confronted with some things for which we need to repent. The psalmist is saying: don't let the future be like the past. Don't repeat all the mistakes you've already made.

So, the psalmist says, realize that we have a responsibility to the next generation. And realize that we have a track record of failure. Learn from the mistakes from the past. But the psalmist has one more thing he'd like to tell us:

Finally, he tells us where we can get hope despite our failure.

If you're gotten this far in the psalm, you're looking for some hope. It's been kind of gloomy. It's like getting in trouble with a teacher at school, and having that teacher list all the times you've failed, all the times you've talked in class, all the times you've blown it, and then hearing, "Now tomorrow's a new day." Even if you want to do better, you know that it's not looking good. In class the next day you're probably going to repeat the same patterns you've been repeating for years.

Up until the end of this psalm we're not left with a lot of hope. But in verses 65 to 72 there's a new beginning. God wakes up as from sleep. He beats back his enemies. He chooses Mount Zion, which is in enemy hands, and captures it and reigns there. And then he gives them their greatest king, king David, who "shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them" (Psalm 78:72). All of this is undeserved, completely by grace. Their record is nothing but shame, but God emerges as their last and best hope.

Now we know it doesn't end there. Even after David, Israel persists in its sin. Eventually a new and better King arrives. The chosen tribe mentioned in verse 68 refused its rightful King, and did so in the chosen city. Yet God more than kept his promise. We have a King who is evidence of God's continuing grace, and who is evidence that God has not given up on his people. Where we have failed, he has obeyed. The King who came lived perfectly. He took our sins to the cross. He rose again triumphantly from the grave to give us new life. He reigns at the right hand of God, and offers eternal life to all who trust in his name.

For the sake of this generation and the next one, it's time. It's time to repent of the sins of the past, and to not let history repeat itself. It's time to renew our hope in Him despite repeated failure. This is going to take all of us. It's time to tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord.