Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Savoring the Joy of forgiveness

I've been thinking about Psalm 32 a lot lately.

1Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!

My sins are out of your sight, Lord, but some people are "public figures" and our sins once known are never out of the sight of other people. People remember our sins and label us as "that guy" or "that woman". David is often remembered more for Bathsheba than Goliath. It is unnerving to know that people look at me through the lens of past mistakes. 

2Yes, what joy for those
whose record the lord has cleared of guilt,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!

This is the 2nd time joy is mentioned. Father, why don't I feel that joy? At the prospect of opening up my life to more and more people, all I feel is dread. You have cleared me of guilt and brought me back to a place of honest living, but some of those who hear this news, will not clear me of guilt. My past sin will define me in their eyes. I will always be "that guy who ..."  who what? who sinned? who recovered from a great fall and ended well? Why do I want to write the end of that sentence in a negative way. Perhaps I will be remembered as the one who finished well. It doesn't matter. God says I am the one who sin is forgiven and whose transgression is put far away in the depths of the oceans.

3When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.
4Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

I love the interlude here. When I went through this experience of refusing to confess my sin, it went on and on and on. It was not over quickly. I did not move quickly from stubborn refusal to willingness to confess. It took countless days under your heavy hand, the threat of incurable cancer, tears, stubbornness, depression, thoughts of suicide and finally I broke. I had to suffer sleepless nights, nights crying myself to sleep next to my wife, hoping she wouldn't notice my sobs. It was not pleasant and it seemed to last forever.

5Finally, 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.

How many times did I confess my sins to you, Father? You who counts the hairs on my head, you know the count. Was it hundreds? thousands? Yet until I confessed to my wife and others about what I had done, there was no relief. How are confessing to you and confessing to others related? Jesus said "if you are making an offering in the temple and remember your brother has something against you, go first and reconcile with your brother, then come and make your offering." My offering of confession was useless without confessing to those I sinned against. Maybe this is the heart of the matter: I have also sinned against the church and need to make amends to them as well. Perhaps then I will experience the joy of forgiveness you promise. Or perhaps there will be another group, then another, ad nauseum.  "All my guilt is gone. Interlude." Hit the "pause" button, meditate on that. ALL my guilt - GONE. 

As I think about sharing about my past failures and sin, the horror of my sin sinks into my soul. I see myself through the eyes of others. One person told me recently "I wanted to hate you when you told me about this." What I did is hateful in her sight, as it is in your sight. As I begin to realize the horror and darkness of my sin, I hope I will also appreciate more the sacrifice of Jesus to pay for my sin. I hope that confession is part of the healing process, healing from sin and its effects on my life. If there are yet areas where sin has its dark tentacles wrapped around my heart, then perhaps this opening up to others will reveal those areas and break sin's grip. Still, sharing with these sisters of mine is a fearful prospect. 


6Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,
that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.

Wrap your mind around this: "let all the godly pray to you while there is still time". Not the ungodly, not the sinners needing repentance and confession, but the godly. The godly need to pray, to repent, to confess, to come to God. Paul said that there is judgement coming and it will start first with the house of God. Those of us who are believers need to pray. We need to repent and confess our sins to one another. Time is short. We could be swept away in typhoon river of judgment, yet there is time to repent. Today, while it is still today, do not harden your heart. (Hebrews 4). There is no time for one last indulgence, one last sin, there is only just enough time to turn around and like the prodigal, trudge back to waiting Father. 

7For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory.

Where else can I hide from my enemies? You are my hiding place. I cannot hide from my sin and my past, but I can hide from my enemies by running to you. You protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory. I wonder at this phrase. What does it mean? Will those I tell my/your story to celebrate the victory you have wrought in my life? Or will they focus only on my failure? I have to believe that at least some will celebrate the victory. Last night I shared with my men's group and they celebrated. I'm not sure how the sisters in church will respond. It doesn't matter. "There is more rejoicing in the presence of God's angels over 1 sinner who repents, than over the 99 who need no repentance." Jesus himself will do the "happy dance" in front of his angels over the sinner who repents. Do the angels wonder at this - the Son of God dancing, whooping and shouting over a sinner who turns around? How does Gabriel feel when Jesus gives him a "high five" or says to Michael the Archangel "down low"? So un deity like, so undignified - it is like an man of wealth and position waiting on his front porch, staring off in the distance, seeing the outline of a weary figure against a setting sun. Could it be? At last - the younger son returning? In a flash he is off the porch, robes flying, sandals clacking, heading up the road as fast as his feet will carry him. The servants are aghast, but finally one has the sense to say "Well, go after him!" and they also run to see what could cause the Master to act in this way. It is his son - filthy, in rags, smelling like pigs, and completely at the end of his rope, the end of his hope. "Father I have sinned" is cut short by a crushing embrace, a bath, shoes for his feet, a robe, a ring and a party.


8The lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will advise you and watch over you.
9Do not be like a senseless horse or mule
that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”

10Many sorrows come to the wicked,
but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the lord.
11So rejoice in the lord and be glad, all you who obey him!
Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!

The offer is renewed. "I will guide you along the best pathway for your life." You made me that offer before, but I rejected it. I thought another pathway would bring me satisfaction and happiness. It brought some sensual enjoyment, but also overwhelming sorrow, the sorrow of the wicked, the sorrow of enslavement, addiction, of being trapped and unwilling to take the only way out. The offer is renewed "I will advise you and watch over you." I accept your offer, Lord. I will not be like a senseless horse or mule. I will obey you. Surround me, as you promised with your unfailing love. I rejoice in you for you have forgiven my sin and cleansed my heart. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." Shout for joy!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

the slave Savior

I am not the right person to write this. I'm from the slave owner class, the employer caste. When it comes to this section of scripture I want to take a pass. Half of the people in Paul's world were slaves, real actual slaves. Someone else owned them. How many of the helpers working in Hong Kong are "debt slaves"?  It's not the master/slave, boss/worker class distinction that bothers me, but rather the instructions to be a "good slave". I run an employment agency for Filipino domestic helpers and every week I hear stories of them living in poor conditions, working long hours, suffering verbal abuse, not receiving enough food. We know one helper who went from 50 to 37 kilos in 6 months. Who am I to tell them "submit to your masters with all respect"?

But these are not my words. They are God's words to us.

1 Peter 2.18-25 
You who are slaves must submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.

  • Peter is not condoning slavery, nor is he condoning beating of workers who do wrong. That is the world he lived in, and he addresses the issues they faced.  In another letter Paul tells slaves to "get free if you can".
  • Peter's focus in this passage is on suffering. We need a theology of suffering. American Christians like the gospel of wealth, health and happiness, but run from suffering. Suffering is an integral part of Christian discipleship. Jesus and his apostles taught their disciples to expect and embrace suffering. Where is the lesson on suffering in most discipleship materials you buy in the West?
  •  1 Pet 2:24-25 contain some of the NT's richest teaching about the Savior and salvation. This teaching was given in a section of the letter addressed to slaves who often sufered daily at the hands of unjust masters. 
Here is a summary of Peter's instructions to slaves/employees:
  • Submit to your bosses and show respect to them:  "Submit" means to do what they ask you to do. Follow their instructions. "show respect" addresses our attitude. A good servant carries out the wishes of their boss and does so with a good, respectful attitude. 
  • Submitting and showing respect is an act of obedience to God and pleases God. 
  • Suffering for wrongdoing (doing the wrong thing or doing things wrongly) is to be expected. Suffering for doing the right things and doing them rightly is what happened to Jesus, so if it happens to us, we should not complain but trust God who will someday right all wrongs.
  • God calls us to do good, even if it means suffering, so we cannot stop obeying him. Following in the footsteps of Christ will involve suffering. 
  • Jesus' showed us how to suffer: "He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly."
  • Jesus bodily took on our sins on the cross. He physically died for our sins.
  • He died for our sins so we can be dead to sin and live for what is right.
  • His wounds, his physical dying on the cross heals us. Primarily he is speaking about healing us from the effects of sin, NOT physical healing. In fact, physical healing in a paragraph dedicated to suffering would be somewhat of a contradiction. The death of Christ does includ the eventual healing of all creation including new physical bodies (1Cor 15), but scripture does not promise physical healing in this life and those brothers and sisters who die from cancer, heart disease, etc. are not less spiritual because they didn't as some preachers would say "receive their healing". 
  • The focus of healing here is the healing of our wandering heart and soul. "By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls."
Jesus, Thank you for taking my sin, every bit of it, in your body on the cross. All my filth, my lust, my hate, my brokenness was nailed to the cross, laid on you. And not just my sin, but the sin of billions of people. That must have been far harder to bear than crucifixion. What is crucifixion compared to the blackness of our sin and then God's wrath against that sin? Horrible physical suffering and death, and terrible spiritual death. You endured this so that I could be healed from wandering, from the brokenness of my sin. You are my Shepherd, the Guardian of my soul. "All we like sheep have wandered away", but now my wandering heart has been healed. I am able, even keen to obey. And I have a Shepherd who guards me. Thank you. Honestly, without you, I feel like I will wander away again. I don't want to do that. Guard my heart, guard my soul.   Amen