I was struck, probably by a strong dose of reality, the other day reading through this Psalm. It speaks of the entirety of forgiveness and a life lived in complete relationship with the Lord. It is a Psalm of David, but a song springing up from what event I wondered? What led to such confidence in God? What led to the outpouring of true and authentic confession and “complete honesty” as David says it in the verses below?
James Gray seems to agree with Jewish tradition that this Psalm, “Is thought to have been written after his sin with Bathsheba (you can read that in 2 Sam. 11-12). He has been brought to repentance for that sin and forgiven (David is said to have written Psalm 51 in his repentance for that sin), and now is praising God for that forgiveness, and telling what led up to it.” Christian Worker’s Commentary
Here are David’s words:
1 Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!
2 Yes, what joy for those
whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
3 When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.
4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Interlude
5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. (Selah)
6 Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,
that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
7 For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory. (Selah)
8 The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will advise you and watch over you.
9 Do not be like a senseless horse or mule
that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”
10 Many sorrows come to the wicked,
but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord.
11 So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him!
Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!
I think what struck me about this Psalm was that when God is confronted with the reality of our sin, God doesn’t react like we expect him to react. God forgives, puts it out of sight, clears our guilt, protects us from trouble, gives us victory, and refreshes us in His unfailing love.
Because of the shame and guilt of sin, perhaps what we have been taught about sin, and many other factors…we often think that we have to rationalize our sin away or spend energy trying to hide it. Just focus on our strengths and eventually the weaknesses will be untraceable. Maybe we could even spend more time taking the focus off of “me” and start helping “them” live a better life. David is not the first or last leader who fell for this one…ministers, pastors, elders, bishops, and deacons beware of this. (I am too aware of the hiddenness and secrecy of sin in the lives of our most beloved church leaders.) So, conceal it and don’t feel it in the words of “Frozen” Don’t let them in, don’t let them see…be the good person you always have to be…
Yep, and there we are frozen to God’s work and our growth because like David we are wasting away and groaning, our strength being evaporated like water in the summer heat. If you find yourself in this picture, then understand a few truths about God:
God knows we sin, and God knows the effects of our sin and that is why at an excruciating personal cost Jesus was sent to live the life we are incapable of living and die the righteous death that we could never die.
God forgives sin through Jesus, and that forgiveness is complete and absolute for those who live in gratitude of this reality (Listen to David’s thankfulness above!)
The only power sin has in our lives is the power we give to it by pretending we are perfect and not taking advantage of the avenues provided to us through repentance and confession.
Christians are not perfect people, we are people who trust God’s promises and run to God for forgiveness, protection, and unfailing love.
Churches and faith communities must reflect these things and practice deep faith in God. If you find yourself among a group of people and leaders who say, “I’m sorry” and understand the supreme reign of Jesus Christ, then count yourself blessed!
Finally, this concluding thought from the Psalm of David, and if true in his heart than how much more true for those in Christ Jesus our Lord. “So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!”
The other night I attended my daughters holiday music concert. She sang in the second grade chorus, but there were other groups including strings, band, and fifth grade chorus and choir. You know, if I’m candid with you I have to say that I have attended better concerts. Some of the performance was lackluster; notes were missed, entrances were shaky, and then there were young musicians playing stringed instruments…need I say more.
Yet, it is hard to compare unequal things even though we do it often. These kids were prepared to give it their best. They practiced and took instruments home. They learn hand motions and sign language to go along with their songs. And they were so joyful and proud of their efforts. What I liked was at the end of the concert, everyone stood up and gave the children a standing ovation. I joined in that, proud of my daughter and the kids who had put in the time and effort to do their best.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that sometimes we think we are being applauded for our performance when we are actually being applauded for our effort. I realize that if I live for the applause of God, I am sure not hoping he compares me to others that are better than I am. If I could supply him with a list of persons who I think might make good comparisons, then we could perhaps go down this path. (Like trying to establish the price of the house you’re buying by looking at the worst prices in the neighborhood!)
God, please don’t compare to Jesus, or the martyrs, or some of the saints who have sacrificed so much to follow you! But what I want to assert is that God’s applause isn’t beckoned by perfection of performance, if that was the case then he would not recognize our achievements at all. You see, even the greatest achievements of the church and God’s people are still imperfect outcomes done by an imperfect people. I do believe God recognizes effort, however, and that is why God is so pleased and happy with us. When we give God “with all of our,” then he is proud of us. The Bible says to Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. We need to practice and take the performance of this verse seriously, because Jesus prioritized it as the number one command. But even when our performance is dissonant and the wrong notes are played, it is the effort that God sees and it is the effort that God applauds.
There are many times I wonder why it is that study of the Bible has been a part of the life of faith, encouraged since the time I was young. You see, there was a time in our world in which many people attended the worship service came to hear the word of God read to them, to hear it explained, and then spent very little time reading on their own. It wasn’t because they were unfaithful, it was because they were illiterate. So, there was a dependence upon the church to tell the larger story of God—through the Bible—so that the people would know what to look for and do in their lives.
This is not my experience, in fact, as a young man I thought that reading the Bible was a chore. Maybe you have a hard time getting into the word of God, but I want to suggest that we are living in a shifting time for the church, because for the past 50 years or so many evangelical churches assume that their people are reading and studying on their own. This is one of the biggest difference between some of the earlier, more liturgical churches and many of the more recent, populous movements of the 18th and 19th century. The newer church groups, like the one I’m a part of, are beginning to realize that people are not choosing to read their Bibles. The scholars call it a post-literate world in which we can read, but choose to explore other forms—for us those forms are multi-media and digital.
So, there is a shift back to wanting more scripture presented in the worship service, reminding us of the story of God that we rarely engage in Monday-Friday. And while we can argue what people OUGHT to do, there is a difference in all of our lives between what ought to happen and what seems to really happen! (Am I right?!?!?)
However we engage, we need to focus on the larger story of God because it is God’s historical faithfulness that helps us in times of trouble, both individually and collectively as a church. Listen to the words of the psalmist Asaph:
1 Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock.
O God, enthroned above the cherubim,
display your radiant glory
2 to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.
Show us your mighty power.
Come to rescue us!
3 Turn us again to yourself, O God.
Make your face shine down upon us.
Only then will we be saved.
4 O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies,
how long will you be angry with our prayers?
5 You have fed us with sorrow
and made us drink tears by the bucketful.
6 You have made us the scorn of neighboring nations.
Our enemies treat us as a joke.
7 Turn us again to yourself, O God of Heaven’s Armies.
Make your face shine down upon us.
The Psalm points us to a refrain, “Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make Your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved.” This refrain speaks of the ever unfolding story of our God. “Turn us again to yourself” looks backwards at all the times God has abruptly stole our attentions away from other things. God interrupted our world and turned our heads around. God did it in Egypt, at the Sea Crossing, and by protecting his people over and over again. “Make you face shine down” focuses on the present situation in which the psalmist cries out for help. The Psalmist knows that he can ask God for help because God has acted before, but presently there is a need for confirmation of God’s presence. Then, there is a statement of faith in future deliverance…”only then will we be saved.”
For the church, of any generation, this message is one centered on Christ. Through this Christmas season we teach and focus upon the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord. We ask to know the Lord’s presence in the midst of our congregations and on a daily basis in our lives. We long for the second coming, the time of redemption and full salvation from this world. It is these verses below that Asaph wrote so many years ago to provide new meaning in our hearts today, he wrote this to God:
17 Strengthen the man you love,
the son of your choice.
18 Then we will never abandon you again.
Revive us so we can call on your name once more.
19 Turn us again to yourself, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.
Make your face shine down upon us.
Only then will we be saved.
God, tell us your story from Alpha to Omega, beginning to the end, so we can see your power, know your faithfulness, and stand in awe of your love. For today, we ask to feel your presence and know your Son Jesus because we want to be saved, we want to be his people on the day of his return. God, make us your people because we don't deserve it but your grace and mercy provides a relationship between us. Amen.
The charge above is the words in Joshua 22:25 which motivated the tribes that settled in Gilead to build an altar to the Lord God. These tribes (Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh) were afraid that their decedents would not be welcomed to worship God with the rest of Israel because they chose to settle outside the Land of Canaan. So, they built an altar. And the other tribes, the ones in Canaan were furious and surprised by this…and so it was time to talk it out. Charged of sinning against the Lord, the leaders of the accused tribes responded:
22:24 “The truth is, we have built this altar because we fear that in the future your descendants will say to ours, ‘What right do you have to worship the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 The Lord has placed the Jordan River as a barrier between our people and you people of Reuben and Gad. You have no claim to the Lord.’ So your descendants may prevent our descendants from worshiping the Lord.
Now, let’s look at this altar…
From the “Canaan” perspective it seems like a dumb idea, one that would anger God and cause division among the people. It wasn’t necessary at all and was considered a betrayal of God. The whole people of Israel was to gather for their offerings and sacrifices in the land of Canaan, and this action was a break in that fellowship.
From the “Gilead" perspective it seemed like a necessary reminder that God had approved these tribes and their desire to settle in this area. They were full participants in the nation of Israel and had full access to God, yet the fear of this access being severed caused them to be creative in preserving their special relationship with God. Thus, they built their own altar as a symbol of their claim to the Lord; especially if some time in the future they face disapproval.
For the tribes in Gilead, the allotment of land on the other side of the Jordan river was a distinctive part of their “witness” or story. And they acted accordingly to not just remember it, but preserve it for future generations both in and out of the tribes.
I have heard the idea that Christianity has tribes, and that we must learn to fellowship and love each other and our distinctive witness to the goodness of God. I think that some tribes in our Christian people seem to find some sort of pleasure in telling others that they “Have No Claim to the Lord.” Yet, a student of church history cannot only be aware of the ways God worked in the different tribes, but can also appreciate their distinctive witness to the Lord’s goodness.
I currently reside in the land of Churches of Christ, and I really like my tribe, but I am also aware that my tribe doesn’t make up the entirety of the people of God. We have a particular witness, and we have a contribution to make to the larger people. However, I pray that we will not be a tribe that charges others with “no claim” and we will work with each of our sister tribes to seek understanding and come to see their “strange altars” as their unique story. We might disagree with he altar, but may we never cut off people from worship of the Lord, the Lord is fully capable of doing that without our help!
Sometimes we come across something in the Bible that just stuns us, like the story of Achan in Joshua 6-7. This guy was an Israelite’s Israelite; from the tribe of Judah, plenty of livestock and a family. The way the Bible describes him is basically saying that he had it all. However, that didn’t really stop him from making a fatal error. You see, the Israelites were told to keep nothing from the city of Jericho…But Achan disobeyed the orders. Chapter 7 starts off by reporting:
1 But Israel violated the instructions about the things set apart for the Lord. A man named Achan had stolen some of these dedicated things, so the Lord was very angry with the Israelites. Achan was the son of Carmi, a descendant of Zimri son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah.
Israel goes to battle against another city, Ai, and they lose; in fact, they are slaughtered by this smaller and less intimidating city. The problem? Achan is the problem. So, Joshua finds out about it and calls Achan out, asking him to tell the truth:
20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. 21 Among the plunder I saw a beautiful robe from Babylon, 200 silver coins, and a bar of gold weighing more than a pound. I wanted them so much that I took them. They are hidden in the ground beneath my tent, with the silver buried deeper than the rest.”
Achan had buried them…and in a fitting but weird response, Israel is now going to bury Achan and his family to respond to the Lord’s anger…
24 Then Joshua and all the Israelites took Achan, the silver, the robe, the bar of gold, his sons, daughters, cattle, donkeys, sheep, goats, tent, and everything he had, and they brought them to the valley of Achor. 25 Then Joshua said to Achan, “Why have you brought trouble on us? The Lord will now bring trouble on you.” And all the Israelites stoned Achan and his family and burned their bodies. 26 They piled a great heap of stones over Achan, which remains to this day. That is why the place has been called the Valley of Trouble ever since. So the Lord was no longer angry.
It was simple really, don’t bring anything back from a city that was known for its corruption and injustice. God wanted nothing to do with it and God wanted his people to have nothing to do with it. The one person rescued from the fall of Jericho was Rahab, a prostitute of the city who had faith in God and hid the spies. She risked her life to be saved, but what life did she really have in Jericho anyway? She (and her family with her) was the only person or thing worth saving from that city, God had made that clear.
So often we ask why God would do such horrific things. I mean, to destroy a family like this. Why does God react harshly? Is this fair? The questions can be asked and should be asked, but what about trusting God? What about obedience, contentment, and community? Achan’s issue wasn’t a robe, some silver, and a gold bar. Achan forgot the giver of everything he had; Achan was from the tribe of Judah, a rich man, a family man, and he “wanted them so much that he took them.” WHY? What good did he think they would do buried in the ground?
Here’s the problem, I see myself in Achan. What’s the back-up plan if this all fails? Can I really trust God? I lose sight of all God has given me because my focus is on more stuff. And the truth is, if I’m honest, that in the midst of my rebellion and sin, my family, community, and friends are in one way or another “destroyed.” Maybe not by stoning like in this story, but those I love are destroyed because my discontentment breaks relationships, hinders faith development, and kills authentic community. To end in a somewhat meaningful pun: when I find that I am Achan, may the pain of my sin trigger my repentance and return to trusting God.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.