Wait! Who is Blessed?

Today’s reading is Psalm 32.

I love Psalm 32, don’t you? It’s so comforting. However, most of my life, I’ve read it in a vacuum. I love it’s message about forgiveness. I bask in it and then move on. But now that we are walking through the psalms slowly, one at a time, this psalm explodes with new meaning.

Do you recall the doorway into the psalms: Psalm 1? The entire psalter started with a beatitude. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…” It paints the picture of the person who doesn’t take counsel from the wicked, sinful, scoffers, but simply meditates in God’s Word. There are the blessed, and there are the wicked. And let’s face it, at the end of Psalm 1 there is a small part of us thinking, “Blessed is the man who has never violated God’s Law.”

While reading that first psalm, we might be able to convince ourselves we fit. We like God’s Word. We think about it a great deal. We try hard to follow it. However, having worked our way through all the psalms so far, we have been disabused of that notion. We aren’t perfect. We aren’t sinless. There have been plenty of times God’s law and will were not our meditation. There have been plenty of times we have listened to the counsel of the wicked. Where does that leave us?

Enter Psalm 32. “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a second beatitude. “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

Praise God! The blessed are not the perfect, they are the forgiven.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 32.

PODCAST!!!

Click here to take about 15 minutes to listen to the Text Talk conversation between Andrew Roberts and Edwin Crozier sparked by this post.

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Please, Forgive Me

Today’s reading is Luke 17.

Since I missed putting up a message this past Monday, I thought I’d give you a bonus weekend message and wrap up this series on Jesus’s incredibly hard teaching on forgiveness. And, apologies up front. It will be a little longer than usual.

In the earlier messages we focused on the person Jesus focused on, the person who needs to forgive. There is one draw back to that approach. It ignores the person who needs forgiveness. Perhaps I should say, the one who needs to repent. Sadly, that person is often quick to jump on the one from whom they want to receive forgiveness, twist this teaching, weaponize it, and misuse it in an attempt to actually ignore their own sin all while making the person who may be responsible to forgive look like the bad guy. With that in mind, let’s remember some foundational concepts about repentance and forgiveness. First, as I pointed out to the children in yesterday’s post, notice that Jesus uses the phrase “I repent,” not “I’m sorry.” The statement of “I repent” doesn’t mean I simply feel sorry for what I’ve done or for the consequences. It means I’m going to change my behavior. As I say, “I repent,” I should be willing to say what the behavior change is actually going to be. If I don’t actually plan to change my behavior, can’t even name the behavior that needs to be changed, and am unwilling to commit to the new behavior, then I’m not actually repenting, am I? Second,”I repent” is not a magical phrase that automatically obligates forgiveness. That is, even in Jesus’s teaching, the phrase “I repent” is predicated on actual repentance. “If he repents, forgive him.” Jesus’s follow-up statement about the person coming seven times in a day and saying “I repent” is figure of speech called synecdoche. That is, it is using one part of the process to refer to the whole process. It mentions only the spoken promise of repentance to refer to real repentance. While the person who is forgiving is not granted permission from Jesus to withhold forgiveness until repentance is proven by changed behavior throughout even that day, there are some people adept at saying “I repent” while actually demonstrating they don’t repent at all. For instance: “I’m sorry I yelled at you, honey. I won’t do that anymore. But when the house is a mess when I get home, I just can’t help myself. Why do you make me do that?” Let’s face it, that apologizer said some words of repentance (“I won’t do that anymore”), but also demonstrated that he is not repenting at all. He has actually demonstrated he doesn’t believe his action is a sin, but is the natural and only response to his wife’s action. He is actually declaring she is the one in sin. Further, he is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, saying he will change the behavior while also saying he will only change his behavior if she changes hers. That is neither an actual apology, a correct confession, or remotely real repentance. Third, when asking for forgiveness, we are asking for mercy. Mercy is never owed. In other words, when I am truly asking for forgiveness, I realize I’m asking for something I have absolutely no permission to demand. I cannot remotely view the person I’m asking as if my mere request for it obligates them to give it. Then it wouldn’t be mercy, would it? It may truly be that the person I’m asking forgiveness from is required by God to forgive me. But that is something they owe God, not something they owe me. God can demand it. He can send messengers to teach them about it. But I don’t ever get to be that messenger. I never get to demand forgiveness. I merely get to ask and hope they will respond. Until they do, I need to humbly remember my sins were the cause of this struggle not their lack of forgiveness. The moment I start acting like someone is obligated to forgive me, I’ve ceased asking for forgiveness. I have actually demonstrated I am not really repenting at all. This leads to our fourth foundational concept. I should read this passage for what it says to me, not what it says to the person on the other side of it. In other words, if I am the one who sinned, I shouldn’t take this passage as a sermon to preach to the person whom I want to forgive me. In like manner, if I am the one who is sinned against, I really shouldn’t take it as a sermon to preach against the one who sinned (remembering, of course, part of the lesson it teaches me is I need to love someone enough to rebuke them). Finally, the fifth foundational concept is that forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no consequences. For instance, God forgave David. However, the child still died, Absalom still rebelled and publicly humiliated David by going into his father’s concubines, and on the list of consequences goes. If I embezzle funds from the business my best friend and I started together, when I repent, he may forgive me. However, he is not obligated to maintain the business with me. If I commit adultery, when I repent, my wife may forgive me. However, she is not obligated to stay married to me. When some of us ask for forgiveness, what we really want is the removal of all consequences, then we want to treat the people through whom those consequences come as if they haven’t obeyed God. Granted, this can get very complex, very quickly. Each forgiver has to wrestle with what is simply natural consequences and what is continued acts of punishment. I can’t provide cut and dried rules for you on that one. But, at this point, the person being forgiven needs to remember foundational concept #3. When I’m being forgiven, I don’t get to make demands about what that looks like. I don’t get to treat others like they are obligated to forgive me in a certain way. After all, as we learned above, forgiveness is mercy. Therefore, it is never owed to me.

Monday’s reading is Luke 18.

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God Hears

Today’s reading is Luke 1.

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.” Which prayer? When was it offered? The more I think about these questions, the more I consider two possibilities. Both possibilities teach us great lessons about prayer. The first is Zechariah had prayed for so long to have a child it had become a habit. Even at the point when he really no longer thought it was possible, he kept praying. Don’t be so quick to throw Zechariah under the bus if he had made this request so long it had almost become rote. Remember, despite being told no for years and year and years, he was still praying. And though it didn’t happen on Zechariah’s time table, God had heard the praying. Wow! OR (and this is what I think is more likely), Zechariah had prayed and prayed and prayed in the past, but he finally got to the point he believed God had said, “No.” That must have been painful. Though he was no longer praying that particular prayer, he kept faithfully serving the Lord. Now, years later, when the prayer is a distant memory to Zechariah, the angel proclaims, “Your prayer has been heard.” How long had Zechariah waited to hear those words? Long enough that he could hardly believe it or even how it could be fulfilled. Again, it didn’t happen on Zechariah’s time table, but God had heard. Please, don’t misunderstand the point. The lesson from Zechariah is not if you pray, eventually God will do what you ask even if it isn’t on your time table. We have to understand that sometimes the answer is simply, “No.” The lesson is God hears. Our praying is never in vain. When it is for God’s greatest glory and our greatest good, God will respond. Even if it has been years since we’ve actually prayed the prayer, God heard and remembers. Even if we’ve prayed it so long we are struggling with our faith in it, God hears and takes note. I’m so glad you are reading your Bible today, please don’t forget to pray. God hears.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 1.

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They Wish to see Jesus

Today’s reading is John 12.

Alright. I admit it. I have yet to hear a good explanation of why the Holy Spirit had John include this bit about the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus. I’m sure there is some contextual point that a great scholar could pull out and explain. However, I do think it shows the place of the disciple. These Greeks hadn’t come to see Philip. They hadn’t come to see Andrew. They hadn’t come to see any of the disciples. They had come to see Jesus. What is the disciple’s role, to show people Jesus. That is still our role. I have to especially remember that when I’m preaching. People aren’t coming to see me. They are coming to see Jesus. If too much of me gets in the way, I’m clouding the proper view. The same is true for everyone. We are disciples. What we are doing isn’t about us, it is about Jesus. Let’s make sure we are showing people Jesus today.

Tomorrow’s reading is John 13.

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Confess & Conform

Today’s reading is Titus 1.

I almost hate to use the word “conform” because there are so many negative connotations to “conformity” in today’s thinking. However, whether we will admit it or not, we all conform to something. We all fill some mold, whether we conform to Christ or to sin, we conform to something. And Paul warns us. There are plenty who confess Jesus, but refuse to conform to Him. They know the right words to say, but they deny those words by their actions. These, Paul declares, are “detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” In other words, even what seemingly “good” things they do are not actually good. Their “good” works are defiled by their conformity to sin. We must not only talk the talk, we must walk our talk. Certainly, we will all fail. We will all stumble and fall as we walk. But our confession of Christ is supposed to change our lives to conform to Christ. If our confession doesn’t produce greater conformity, our confession is useless. Confess today, certainly. But let your confession lead to Christlike conformity.

Tomorrow’s reading is Titus 2

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Rejoice

Today’s reading is Acts 8.

Can you imagine being the Ethiopian eunuch? Clearly, he is devoted to Yahweh. He travels thousands of miles to make the Jerusalem pilgrimage. However, according to the Law, he actually isn’t allowed to be a citizen of the kingdom (see Deuteronomy 23:1). No wonder when Philip shares the good news of Christ’s kingdom with him, he questions, “What hinders me?” Philip’s answer really is, “Nothing!” He enters the water, is immersed for the remission of his sins, and then goes on his way rejoicing. He wasn’t allowed in the assembly of the Jews, but he is now part of the assembly of Jesus. Here’s the cool thing. In reality, we are all in the same boat as that eunuch. According to the law, we really don’t get to be part of the kingdom. We are sinners. The law condemns us. However, that doesn’t hinder us from being part of Christ’s kingdom. Let us surrender to His gospel, confess Him as Lord and being buried with Him in water immersion for the remission of our sins. Then let us rejoice. There are no second-class citizens of Christ’s kingdom/ Praise the Lord!

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 9.

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In Secret

Today’s reading is Matthew 6.

It is interesting to me how backwards I get it sometimes. In the Bible, I’m told to expose my sins and confess them to others. But then I’m told not to expose my righteous acts of spirituality and service. I always want to do the exact opposite. I want to keep my sins secret and shout my good works from the roof top. This is the problem I often have. I want to be seen by others and be seen as better than others. But I’m not. I’m a sinner who needs Jesus just like everyone else. That is why I’m thankful Jesus came. And that is why I’m thankful to tell others about Him. How about you?

Tomorrow’s reading is Matthew 7.

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