Christianity 201

September 9, 2017

“What is This You Have Done?”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re returning again to the blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The author of today’s piece is Lisa Rieck. This is another site you might want to bookmark and check back with from time to time. Click the title below to read this at source.

The Sorrow and Mercy of God

“What is this you have done?”

These words from God to Eve in Genesis 3:13 are always heart-wrenching to me when I read them. I imagine so much anguish in his voice.

Because of course God isn’t just talking about Adam’s and Eve’s one decision to eat from the one tree they were explicitly told by God, in his one command, not to eat from. This is the God of the universe speaking. A God who took exquisite delight in creating a world exactly as he wanted it. A God who was wild about these two people he had made in his image, and about their intimacy with each other and with him. A God nearly incoherent with joy regarding the eternity of beauty and goodness and rightness he could see stretching out before him.

It’s hard for most of us to imagine the glory of the world those first two chapters of Genesis describe because we’ve only ever known a world disfigured by sin. But try to picture it. Every plant vibrant with color. Every animal thriving, both on its own and in relationship to other animals. Human relationship free from blame or shame or fear or hurt or jealousy or dishonesty, with each person being fully known, fully loved, fully satisfied in the most complete way.

All of this and so, so much more was changed in a minute, in what seems like a flippant decision on Adam and Eve’s part. Of course, they could not have known what the full implications of their action would be, since they had no concept of sin or brokenness, imperfection or guilt. But God obviously did. And so, as he uttered his question, I imagine the span of history flashing before his eyes: Cain killing Abel. The Israelites enslaved in Egypt. Children sacrificed to idols. War between nations from the first civilizations to the present. John the Baptist being beheaded. Mary and Martha weeping at Lazarus’s tomb. The Black Death. Genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda and Ukraine and Germany and Guatemala. The Trail of Tears. Miscarriages and abortion. Affairs and divorce. Cancer and dementia. Families torn apart by deportation. Poverty. School shootings. Slavery. Mass incarceration. White supremacist rallies in Charlottesville. I wonder if it all rushed through his thoughts in an instant.

“What is this you have done?”

This is not to say that I think I would have chosen differently than Adam and Eve. I’m sure, had I been in their place, I too would have been persuaded that tasting the fruit, testing God’s words a bit, wouldn’t matter much. Isn’t that the way the devil always works? He tells me today that my jealousy, my bitterness, my judgment of others or my self-condemnation, my fears, my silence in the face of injustice, are not that big of a deal. He tells me that I have not contributed to racism because I did not march in Charlottesville this weekend. He keeps me dulled to the pain and far-reaching effects my sins of omission and commission have.

I imagine, though, what also flashed through God’s mind in that instant was what it would cost himself and his Son to make things right. His question was not without hope—but that hope did not cancel out or override his sorrow. Nor does it today; I believe he still suffers and grieves with us in the pain we experience from our own sin and from the sins of others, even though he has set in motion, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the redemption of all things.

Today, as on so many days, I am trying to hold those two things in tension as well—a horrified sorrow that does not end in despair, and a grounded hope that does not make light of the gravity of sin.

I’m also finding hope in ten other words from Genesis: “But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.” Amidst a world gone completely evil, where “every inclination of the thoughts of [people’s] hearts was only evil continually,” and “the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth,” God saw the (I imagine) quiet faithfulness of Noah.

Given the rampant wickedness he knew was coming, it seems like God must have been tempted to end things right away in Genesis 3. By Genesis 6, we know that his grief over the wickedness in the world was so great that he did, indeed, send the flood to destroy most of what he had made. But not all. As has happened over and over throughout the history of the world, God was merciful, seeing and saving the ones who could not be moved from their faithfulness to him, despite being surrounded by utter evil.

And that renews my faith that every seemingly small act of obedience matters. Every kind word. Every risk, in conversation or action, that helps me know someone different than me politically or ethnically or denominationally or religiously a bit better. Every dollar given away joyfully. Every “thank you” spoken, and meant. Every beautiful poem or painting created. Every act of listening that seeks to really understand. Every truth told. Every renouncement of racism. Every meal shared with every orphan and widow. Every hurt forgiven.

Most days, I feel more aware of the world’s evil than of God’s mercy, more cognizant of the fact that we have inherited the painful effects of Adam’s and Eve’s sin than of the truth that those who believe in Jesus have also received every benefit of his death and resurrection. But as Paul wrote in Romans 5, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Which means that every day, through God’s Spirit at work in us, we can choose differently than Adam and Eve did. We can—and must—choose obedience over disobedience, worship of God over worship of self, humility over pride, life over death.

And when we fail, as we will—when I fail—I can and must refuse to blame someone else, like Adam and Eve did, and refuse to listen to Satan’s lie that my own seemingly small sin is not that big of a deal. Each time I rebel against God, my work is to hear his question to Eve in my head, ringed with the sorrow of a Creator watching the destruction of the world he created to be good and beautiful. I must be willing to look straight at, to name, to reflect on and lament the ways my particular sin has contributed to that destruction, hurting others and myself and perpetuating the broader sinful structures and systems of our world.

Because though God’s question came from grief over the death that had entered and would continue to enter the world, even this weekend, even today, it can lead us to life if we let it move us, next time, to choose faithfulness. To receive God’s forgiveness, and then show forgiveness to others. To take every opportunity to be kind. To work for justice for all, even when it means giving up some of our own power and privilege. To live in genuine relationship with others. And, in the face of every evil, to choose obedience to the God who grieves with us, grieves over us, and still chooses mercy. Over and over and over again.

August 9, 2012

Seven Penitential Psalms

Most of us are familiar with Psalm 51, David’s prayer of repentance following his affair with Bathsheba. But we’re less familiar with the idea that there are actually seven ‘penitential’ psalms: 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143; although Psalm 102 does not contain a specific confession of sin.  Here are the seven, each from a different translation, with key verses underlined:

Psalm 6

New International Version (NIV)

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?

Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
Among the dead no one proclaims your name.
Who praises you from the grave?

I am worn out from my groaning.

All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.

Away from me, all you who do evil,
for the Lord has heard my weeping.
The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish;
they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.

Psalm 32

Contemporary English Version (CEV)

Our God, you bless everyone
whose sins you forgive
and wipe away.
You bless them by saying,
“You told me your sins,
without trying to hide them,
and now I forgive you.”

Before I confessed my sins,
my bones felt limp,
and I groaned all day long.
Night and day your hand
weighed heavily on me,
and my strength was gone
as in the summer heat.

So I confessed my sins
and told them all to you.
I said, “I’ll tell the Lord
each one of my sins.”
Then you forgave me
and took away my guilt.

We worship you, Lord,
and we should always pray
whenever we find out
that we have sinned.
Then we won’t be swept away
by a raging flood.
You are my hiding place!
You protect me from trouble,
and you put songs in my heart
because you have saved me.

You said to me,
“I will point out the road
that you should follow.
I will be your teacher
and watch over you.
Don’t be stupid
like horses and mules
that must be led with ropes
to make them obey.”

10 All kinds of troubles
will strike the wicked,
but your kindness shields those
who trust you, Lord.
11 And so your good people
should celebrate and shout.

Psalm 38

GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)

A psalm by David; to be kept in mind.

  O Lord, do not angrily punish me
or discipline me in your wrath.
        Your arrows have struck me.
Your hand has struck me hard.
No healthy spot is left on my body
because of your rage.
There is no peace in my bones
because of my sin.

My guilt has overwhelmed me.
    Like a heavy load, it is more than I can bear.
My wounds smell rotten.
They fester because of my stupidity.
I am bent over and bowed down very low.
All day I walk around in mourning.
My insides are filled with burning pain,
and no healthy spot is left on my body.
I am numb and completely devastated.
I roar because my heart’s in turmoil.
You know all my desires, O Lord,
    and my groaning has not been hidden from you.
10 My heart is pounding.
I have lost my strength.
Even the light of my eyes has left me.

11 My loved ones and my friends keep their distance
and my relatives stand far away because of my sickness.
12 Those who seek my life lay traps for me.
Those who are out to harm me talk about ruining me.
All day long they think of ways to deceive me.
13 But I am like a person who cannot hear
and like a person who cannot speak.
14 I am like one who cannot hear
and who can offer no arguments.

15 But I wait with hope for you, O Lord.
You will answer, O Lord, my God.
16 I said, “Do not let them gloat over me.
When my foot slips,
do not let them promote themselves at my expense.”
17 I am ready to fall.
I am continually aware of my pain.
18 I confess my guilt.
My sin troubles me.

19 My mortal enemies are growing stronger.
Many hate me for no reason.
20 They pay me back with evil instead of good,
and they accuse me because I try to do what is good.

21 Do not abandon me, O Lord.
O my God, do not be so distant from me.
22 Come quickly to help me, O Lord, my savior.

Psalm 51

The Message (MSG)

Psalm 51

1-3Generous in love—God, give grace! Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
Scrub away my guilt,
soak out my sins in your laundry.
I know how bad I’ve been;
my sins are staring me down.

4-6 You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
      it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
You have all the facts before you;
whatever you decide about me is fair.
I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
in the wrong since before I was born.
What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.

7-15 Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
      give me a clean bill of health.
   God, make a fresh start in me,
      shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.

16-17 Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love
don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.

18-19 Make Zion the place you delight in,
repair Jerusalem’s broken-down walls.
Then you’ll get real worship from us,
acts of worship small and large,
Including all the bulls
they can heave onto your altar!

Psalm 102

New Living Translation (NLT)

1 Lord, hear my prayer!
    Listen to my plea!
2 Don’t turn away from me
    in my time of distress.
Bend down to listen,
and answer me quickly when I call to you.
For my days disappear like smoke,
and my bones burn like red-hot coals.
My heart is sick, withered like grass,
and I have lost my appetite.
Because of my groaning,
I am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like an owl in the desert,
like a little owl in a far-off wilderness.
I lie awake,
lonely as a solitary bird on the roof.
My enemies taunt me day after day.
They mock and curse me.
I eat ashes for food.
My tears run down into my drink
10 because of your anger and wrath.
For you have picked me up and thrown me out.
11 My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows.
I am withering away like grass.

12 But you, O Lord, will sit on your throne forever.
Your fame will endure to every generation.
13 You will arise and have mercy on Jerusalem—
and now is the time to pity her,
now is the time you promised to help.
14 For your people love every stone in her walls
and cherish even the dust in her streets.
15 Then the nations will tremble before the Lord.
The kings of the earth will tremble before his glory.
16 For the Lord will rebuild Jerusalem.
He will appear in his glory.
17 He will listen to the prayers of the destitute.
He will not reject their pleas.

18 Let this be recorded for future generations,
so that a people not yet born will praise the Lord.
19 Tell them the Lord looked down
from his heavenly sanctuary.
He looked down to earth from heaven
20     to hear the groans of the prisoners,
to release those condemned to die.
21 And so the Lord’s fame will be celebrated in Zion,
his praises in Jerusalem,
22 when multitudes gather together
and kingdoms come to worship the Lord.

23 He broke my strength in midlife,
cutting short my days.
24 But I cried to him, “O my God, who lives forever,
don’t take my life while I am so young!
25 Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth
and made the heavens with your hands.
26 They will perish, but you remain forever;
they will wear out like old clothing.
You will change them like a garment
and discard them.
27 But you are always the same;
you will live forever.
28 The children of your people
will live in security.
Their children’s children
will thrive in your presence.”

Psalm 130

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

  Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord.

Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplications.
If You, Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait,
And in His word do I hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than the watchmen for the morning;
Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He will redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.

Psalm 143

New Century Version (NCV)

 1 Lord, hear my prayer;
       listen to my cry for mercy.
    Answer me
       because you are loyal and good.
 2 Don’t judge me, your servant,
       because no one alive is right before you.
 3 My enemies are chasing me;
       they crushed me to the ground.
    They made me live in darkness
       like those long dead.
 4 I am afraid;
       my courage is gone.

 5 I remember what happened long ago;
       I consider everything you have done.
       I think about all you have made.
 6 I lift my hands to you in prayer.
       As a dry land needs rain, I thirst for you.
                         Selah

  7 Lord, answer me quickly,
       because I am getting weak.
    Don’t turn away from me,
       or I will be like those who are dead.
 8 Tell me in the morning about your love,
       because I trust you.
    Show me what I should do,
       because my prayers go up to you.
 9 Lord, save me from my enemies;
       I hide in you.
 10 Teach me to do what you want,
       because you are my God.
    Let your good Spirit
       lead me on level ground.

 11 Lord, let me live
       so people will praise you.
    In your goodness
       save me from my troubles.
 12 In your love defeat my enemies.
       Destroy all those who trouble me,
       because I am your servant.

 

March 22, 2011

Behind God’s Back

This is from Jerry Bridges Holiness devotional (p. 94) and is also a selection from his book, The Discipline of Grace.

I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake.  Is. 43:25

God uses several metaphors and colorful expressions to assure us that our sins have been literally carried away by our Lord Jesus Christ.  One of them is in Psalm 103:12: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us”  (NIV).  Here was an infinite distance as great as human vocabulary could express.

Jesus not only bore our sins on the cross, He carried them away an infinite distance.  He removed them from the presence of God and from us forever.  They can no longer bar our access to God’s holy presence.  Now “we have confidence” – or “boldness” as the King James Version more strikingly puts it – to enter God’s presence.  (Hebrews 10:19)

Reinforcing this message is Isaiah 38:17, where King Hezekiah said to God, “You have cast all my sins behind your back.”  When something’s behind your back, you can’t see it anymore.  It’s out of sight.  This is how He has completely dealt with our sin and put it away.

There’s an emphatic ring to Hezekiah’s words.  They suggest a deliberate, decisive action on God’s part.  God Himself has cast our sins behind His back and He is not hesitant or reluctant in doing this.  He has taken the initiative and He did so joyfully and gladly.  God takes pleasure in putting our sins behind his back because He takes pleasure in the work of His Son.

Do we believe this?  Do we believe the testimony of Scripture, or do we believe our guilty feelings?  Only to the extent we believe God has indeed put our sins behind His back will we be motivated and enabled to effectively deal with those sins in our daily lives.

October 23, 2010

Coming to the Realization of Your Guilt Before God

This week in Canada, the top news story all week has been the trial of Russell Williams, a former colonel in the Canadian armed forces, who was in charge of the CFB Trenton , one of the largest bases, and was convicted of the murder of two young women and over eighty “fetish” break and enter crimes. The account of his actions has been unlike anything seen on television or reported in newspapers here, and we’re told that the media spared us many of the pictures and narrative details.

In the middle of the week, I was a few minutes late in turning on the evening National news and figured that the short report I was seeing would end, only to realize that the CBC network had suspended regular news in order to bring coverage of the release of the video of Williams’ confession. (Here in Canada, the network news comes after prime time, so this would be like your 6:30 PM newscasts in the U.S.)

The entire video runs about 9.5 hours; and the report fast-forwarded through it until about the 4.5 hour mark where Williams realizes that his guilt has been established. There is a very long interrogation period leading up to that point, and knowing how the story ends, you see the strain on Williams as he realizes there is no escape; his guilt is a foregone conclusion. The interrogator is very skillful in bringing Williams from thinking he is just being brought in for background information to the realization that his criminal actions are, in the minds of the police, an established fact.

It’s video unlike anything else we’ve ever seen before.

If you’ve ever been involved in leading a person into that process we sometimes call ‘crossing the line of faith,’ you know that there are various steps a person needs to go through in order to have the fullest understanding of both our part and Christ’s part in the salvation of men and women. One of the more simplistic devices — and I’ve dealt the danger of devices just a few days ago at Thinking Out Loud — is called “The ABCs of Salvation.” Acknowledge, Believe, Confess.

Step one is acknowledging your sin and guilt as seen through the eye of a holy God. Those of us who have already crossed the line of faith often don’t think twice about this, but for those outside the fold, this is actually a fairly big step, because many see themselves as fairly good people.

I wondered this week how people in the broader marketplace would fare if they were brought into a room with a “spiritual interrogator” not fully thinking that their guilt had been established, and how they would move through the process from innocence (think Adam and Eve just after they ate the fruit and nothing bad happened) to concern (think Adam and Eve covering themselves, even though nobody had ever suggested the idea of clothing) to being face to face with God (think Adam and Eve not responding at all once they are found out).

This is not an easy process. It was agonizing to watch the once giant of the Canadian military realizing the game was up.

Genesis 3:9 (NIV) But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

God wasn’t playing hide-and-seek and asking Adam for his physical location; he was asking him where he was in relationship to Himself.

It’s possible that the difficulty we experience in ‘making progress’ in terms of ‘reaching’ our neighbors and friends and coworkers with an understanding of the Christian message of redemption is that they can’t bring themselves to the place where they admit their guilt. But as in the case of the televised confession this week, the evidence has been weighed and the guilt has already been established.

All have sinned and missed the mark of God’s glorious standard.

Romans 3: 21-24 (The Message) But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:22-23 (The Message) Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

Williams will not get a pardon for his crimes. But today, everyone can receive forgiveness and grace from a God of mercy.