Saturday, July 29, 2017

Psalm 32 - the Blessedness of Forgiveness

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity;  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him.  You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;  I will counsel you with my eye upon you.  Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.

Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.  Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

The smell of a county garbage dump in the summertime can be almost UNBEARABLE.  

After receiving hundreds of complaints, officials in one community installed high-pressured deodorant cannons in an effort to mask the smell. These cannons would spray several gallons of fragrance per minute all around the mounds of decaying garbage.

But no matter how many gallons of deodorant they sprayed, the problem wouldn’t go away until the dump --- was closed.

In many ways, that’s how it is with SIN in our lives.

We may THINK we are successful HIDING our sin from friends and family.  But no matter how clever we are, we cannot hide from God.  

And BEYOND that, no amount of spiritual acrobatics can alleviate the shame we feel or restore the peace we’ve lost because of our sin.  The Holy Spirit is INSIDE us - and ONE of His jobs is to convict us when we sin. We shouldn't be surprised, then, when sin makes us, well, MISERABLE.

King David understood this.  He had tried to cover his sin… and for nearly a year, he did a pretty good job keeping his scandal out of the headlines.  But he couldn’t hide from God.  And like the relentless power of waves crashing on a beach,  sin eroded his peace and joy.

When God confronted David with his sin, all his deceit, all his guilt burst into a river of hot tears on his cheeks.  It almost seems like he was HOPING God would confront him about it.  Psalm 51 was born out of his time of brokenness before God.  Unable to withstand conviction any longer, David uncovered his sin and God forgave and restored him.

In that passage, Psalm 51, David made a promise: “If you will forgive me and restore me, I will teach transgressors Your ways.” THIS psalm, Psalm 32, makes good on that promise.  

I guess you could say these two psalms are sisters reflecting on the same bitter event – one written BEFORE his restoration… the OTHER, after it.

In an effort to teach sinners the way BACK to God, he offers four points…
1.  First, consider the Penalty we face when sin is concealed.  

In verse 3 he says, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah.”

David had always been a HEALTHY man, vibrant and full of life – a warrior - the kind of physical specimen that set him above his peers.  But because he tried to hide his sins from the eyes of the Lord, his guilt sapped every bit of strength he had.  He says, “my bones wasted away.”  He felt OLD – EXHAUSTED.

That’s the thing about sin - the pain created is more than just spiritual – but emotional and physical too.  You don’t believe me?? Look at what alcohol and drugs do to a person – how their sin literally transforms their appearance.

Sexual sins impact us too – mentally, emotionally, and physically.  It's the same with Greed and gluttony too.

David felt the physical toll of his sin.

He had always been a HAPPY man, one whose joy was infectious…a leader of worship…the kind of man others aspire to be – but the moment he sinned his happiness was replaced by tears of guilt he describes as “groaning all day long.”

David had always been a HEARTY man – attractive, whimsical, but not anymore.  He’s miserable.  Though still on the throne, he is a shell of his former self.  What he thought would make him BETTER, had only made him BITTER.

You see??  It’s always that way when we have something WEIGHING on our conscience.

We think we have it hidden.  We think we can keep our sin in a neat little package tucked out of sight in the closet of our minds.  But it doesn’t work that way.  Sin had stretched its tentacles around David’s heart and was choking the life out of him.
Maybe YOU can identify with David.  The thing you thought would make you completehappyfulfilled, has only made those things IMPOSSIBLE to attain.  Until you come clean with God, you will continue to pay the price for your sin.

2.  But not only do we see the Penalty we face when sin is concealed, we THEN see the Pardon we find when sin is confessed.  

Look at verse 5, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity;  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.”

To put it simply ⇒ When David confessed his sin, his Judge PARDONED him.  His guilty verdict was set aside - his record expunged.  

If you are in prison, pardon is what you pray for.

Such was the story of Harold Morris… a young man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Morris was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.

Unbeknownst to him, his friends went into a convenience store for drinks, robbed the clerk at gunpoint and shot him when the cash was handed over.

Morris, the driver of the car, was framed for murder and sentenced to life in prison.

For years, Morris pleaded with lawyers and judges, exhausted every appeal, told anyone who would listen that he was not guilty – but like MOST convicts who claim innocence, no one believed him.

While in prison, something happened to Morris that forever changed his life.  Someone shared the gospel with him, and for the very first time, he felt clean and, though STILL in prison, he was FREE.

He took correspondence courses and studied the Bible with an insatiable appetite. He began to witness to and win his prison-mates to the Lord.

9 years after his imprisonment, the governor of the state of Georgia reviewed his case and pardoned Morris - restoring all of his rights as a citizen.

Afterwards, Morris traveled the country sharing his testimony to thousands of young people of how he had been TWICE - pardoned. ONCE by the Governor, the OTHER by God.

Unlike Morris, however, David WAS guilty of his crimes.  There was no one to blame – no excuse or justification he could offer.  In his lust he destroyed a good man’s life.  And now he stands guilty before a just God.  

He had NO RIGHT to expect mercy, much less pardon, but he nonetheless flung himself at the feet of his Judge and begged God to set his guilty verdict aside.

And He DID!

Before you harshly criticize David, understand, Pardon is OUR only hope too!  ALL of us are guilty sinners before a holy God.  We have NO RIGHT to expect anything but judgment from Him.  But David shows us from experience that those who come clean with God - WILL BE pardoned!  

As Isaiah the prophet explains, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and HE will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for HE will ABUNDANTLY pardon!

3.  But not only do we see the Penalty we face when sin is concealed, and the Pardon we find when sin is confessed, in vv. 1 and 2 we see the Pleasure we Feel when sin is Cleansed.  

David says, “Blessed (he uses that word TWICE) is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

David begins his psalm with worship; and why not, for his sins had been forgiven!  His crimes were covered by the blood.  The Lord no longer held him guilty.  The burden had been lifted.  The stain - removed.  His debt - paid!

THAT FACT ALONE - merits our highest praise, amen??

I realize the Christian life ISN’T about feelings… but there isn’t any BETTER feeling in the world than to be forgiven!  To walk down the aisle to an altar… to kneel down a sinner and stand up a saint!  Friend, you can’t put a price on that!!

David shouts “Blessed” is that man!

It comes from a Hebrew word that means, “Oh the happiness of the man!”  He is describing unmitigated joy!  Like the thrill of falling in love or the feeling that comes over a young mother as she holds her newborn baby – David’s joy washed over his soul as he thought about the unfailing grace of His God!

There isn’t a better experience this side of heaven!

Don’t misunderstand me --- there’s pleasure in sin TOO.  Anyone who denies that isn’t telling you the truth, because God’s Word SAYS there is. THAT pleasure, however, is short-lived.  When David came to his senses and saw the calamity, the death, and the guilt that always follow on the heels of sin, he knew first hand that the pleasure of sin doesn’t last.
BUT when he confessed his sins, the joy he felt at that moment was better than anything he could find in this world.

4.  But wait!  There’s one more point in vv. 6 and 7, and that is the Path we Follow when sin is Conquered.  Listen to it:

“Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him.  You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah”

It’s ONE THING to confess your sin, it’s ANOTHER THING to LEAVE that old life behind and go forward committed to honor the Lord.  Unless sin is conquered, you will fall into the rut of so many who pass through the doors of church – Who make a decision for Jesus on Sunday, but on Monday they walk right back into a life of sin.  

People who refuse to do the things they know they ought to do, mark it down – it won’t be long and they will fall right back into the sin they promised to leave.

How can we overcome sin?? David tells us 4 things we need in this passage:

  • First, we need the power of prayer. He says, Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;

Sin is too big a problem for you to handle alone.  Don’t think you are too smart to be deceived, too strong to fall.  It was that kind of thinking that got you into this mess to start with.  You need the strength that only comes from the power of prayer.

  • Then he speaks of the power of position when he says to God, “You are my hiding place.”  David found refuge in the Rock of Ages… safe from the storm - near the heart of God.  When you find yourself tempted to sin, getting closer to God is always the answer.

  • After the power of prayer and position, David speaks of the Power of Peace when he says, “You preserve me from trouble.”  The Christian life is not a trouble-free life.  But in spite of life’s storms, the Christian has the peace of God.

  • And finally, to conquer sin, David had to lay hold of the power of Praise.  He says, “you surround me with shouts of deliverance.”  

There is something particularly comforting in the songs of the faith.  How many times have we found our hearts lifted by the music of the church?  How many times has our soul rejoiced when we heard some chorus that was like a lifeline to us?  Though grumbling and complaining are powerful DISablers, PRAISE will refresh the soul EVERY time!

Look at Paul and Silas in prison with their backs torn to shreds by a Roman whip - their hands and feet chained to the floor of a dungeon.  But those two precious men of God weren’t bitter – no, they began to sing songs in the night in spite of their troubles and the Spirit of God was so thick in that place that when the walls fell down around them, no one tried to flee - they were captives of the Holy Spirit.

David was surrounded by songs of deliverance… are you??

Christians are not immune to failure – some of the strongest people you have ever met are people who know what it is to fall.  David, a man after God’s own heart, a warrior, a hero of the faith, was a man who knew what it was to see his testimony destroyed in a moment of weakness.

So today, like an expert in human behavior, he shows us how to return, by sharing…
  • the Penalty we Face when sin is Concealed
  • the Pardon we Find when sin is Confessed
  • the Pleasure we Feel when sin is Cleansed
  • and the Path we Follow when sin is Conquered

Do you need God’s help today?  

Maybe you have made some decisions that have led to disappointment and brokenness…

  • your joy is gone.
  • You feel shame
  • You don’t see anything good on your horizon.  

Friend, I’m glad to tell you that my God will forgive you, empower you, will make of you a trophy of His grace.  But you’ve gotta do like David… and come clean.

Will you do that this right now???

Friday, July 14, 2017

2 Kings 5:1-19 - Uncomfortable Truth

2 Kings 5:1-19 - Uncomfortable Truth

There were two brothers, well known in the community for their sinful ways.  They were mean.  They were trouble-makers.  They were the scourge of their small town.
One day, one of the brothers died.
The surviving brother wanted to give him a really nice Christian funeral.  So he called the funeral home and bought the very best.  THEN he called the preacher in town and made him an offer he could not refuse.  He said, “I will give you $10,000 to put that new roof on the church IF, you will give the eulogy for my brother and call him ‘a saint.’”
To everyone’s surprise - the normally principled-preacher agreed?!?
The whole town turned out for the funeral… not out of grief, but out of curiousity – “What would the preacher possibly say?”  

He began… “The man you see in the casket today was a vile and wicked sinner.  He was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, and a reprobate.  He destroyed the lives and fortunes of countless people in this town… many of whom are here today.  He was, by all accounts, a dirty rotten scoundrel…
BUT - compared to his brother - he was a saint!”

There is a Russian proverb that goes like this:  

“It’s better to be slapped by the truth, than KISSED by a lie.”
We LOVE the truth – in fact, civilized society depends on it.  We want truth in advertising, truth in our legal system, truth in our government officials.  We ARE all about ‘the truth’

as long as it doesn’t get too personal.  As long as WE are the ones doing the interrogating.  But when the spotlight is put on US, the truth has a way of becoming ⇒ UNCOMFORTABLE.
We see it in our text.  Naaman knew he had a problem, but he really didn’t know the EXTENT of it.  Though a mighty man – though unusually brave and honest - a man held in honor…  he had an incurable problem.
Leprosy is a terrible disease that causes nerve damage in the skin …and eventually causes the flesh to rot away from the bone.  So fearful was this disease that those who had it were often quarantined OUTSIDE the city and if anyone accidentally came near them - the diseased person was to shout, “UNCLEAN!”  Those afflicted with this gruesome disease were forced into loneliness with the prospects of a painful death.  

Yep… Naaman knew he had a problem.  
In many ways, Naaman is a picture of US… and if you will allow me to share the TRUTH this morning - I want to show you three things we have in common with Naaman.

1.  First, just like Naaman, we are Cursed.  Naaman had a disease that had separated him from others and would end in a horrible death.  He was unclean.  He was doomed.  

And so are you.  

So am I.  

His was leprosy of the skin - ours is of the heart.  Sin has infected each one of us.  We were born with it.  No matter how moral we want others to believe us to be - at our very core - we are unclean sinners separated from a holy God.
Though Naaman was held in high esteem – though people thought he was a hero and a statesman, he had a disease he could not hide or ignore.  Should he compare his positive qualities with those of OTHERS, he likely would have stood head and shoulders above the rest of his peers.  
  • Character? <check>  
  • Trustworthy? <check>  
  • Courage? <check>
STILL, he had a problem that would eventually destroy him.
That’s you.  That’s me.  

The Bible is clear about it too.  In Romans 3, God says, “ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  And because of my sin, I am unclean and unworthy of the love, mercy, and grace of God.  By all accounts, we are alienated from Him and will one day, barring some miracle, experience His judgment and wrath.
Naaman knew he had a problem.  He might wear gloves in an attempt to hide it… he might wear perfume to mask the odor of his rotting flesh, he might do many great and heroic deeds to earn the respect of others… but no matter WHAT he did, at the end of the day he was a leper - and there was nothing he could do to change it.
Have you come to terms with YOUR problem?  In the quiet moments no one has to convince us of our guilt.  As we go through life we do everything we can possibly do to assuage our conscience.  We volunteer in the community, we give to the local charity, we compare ourselves with others thinking that being “good” is good enough.  But at the end of the day, we are just splashing cologne on a dead man.
In his book, Heart to Heart, R. G. Lee once said, “Sin has ruined men, women, and angels.  Sin has occasioned every tear of sorrow, every sigh of grief, every pang of agony.  Sin has withered everything that is fair, blasted everything that is good, made bitter everything that is sweet, dried up springs of comfort, rolled far and wide tides of sorrow.  Sin has dug every grave, built every coffin, and enlarged every cemetery that the world has ever seen.”
We - are - cursed.
2.  But not only do we see how Naaman was cursed, we also see how he was cleansed.  One day, according to our text, the armies of Syria had taken captive a little Jewish girl who would serve as Naaman’s household maid.  In the course of her daily work, the young lady told Naaman’s wife that there was a prophet in Israel who could heal Naaman of his leprosy.  With the encouragement of his king, Naaman sought the help of the man of God.
But for Naaman to be cleansed of his leprosy, he had to come to terms with a couple of facts:

First, he learned that cleansing cannot be bought or earned.  He put together a LARGE offering of money, several articles of rich clothing, and animals to give in exchange for his cleansing. He didn’t want charity or for people to feel sorry for him, he would make his OWN way.  He didn’t know that the cleansing offered by God is free.
A LOT of people struggle with the concept of grace.  They believe they can earn the favor of God if they give enough, do enough, join the right organization.  The sinful nature of man looks for ways to make his OWN way … not knowing that cleansing cannot be bought.

Second he learned that God requires faith and obedience for cleansing.  You’ve go to drop your pride and do things GOD’S way.  Naaman thought that the man of God would come out of his house and do some spectacular thing –
  • maybe wave his hands in the air –
  • utter some magic spell
  • or throw PIXIE dust on him – to cure him of his leprosy.  
But no, Elisha didn’t even go to the door to look at him - he sent his servant with word for him to go down to the Jordan river and dip himself seven times and he would be healed.
This made Naaman angry.  “Who does this guy think he IS???  Does he not know WHO I AM???”

I want you to understand something - Pride bars the gates of heaven.  James said, “let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.”
Kinda reminds me of so many people today who would rather give some amount of money, or DO some sacrificial act to secure their own salvation.  But that sacrificial act has already been done - Leading many to be disappointed at the simplicity of the gospel.  God demands repentance and faith.   
Naaman’s pride would have gotten the best of him too, were it not for one of his servants who convinced him to give the prophet’s prescription a try.  “What you’ve tried till now hasn’t worked.  Why NOT give this a chance???” his servant advised.
When he went down to the river and followed God’s directions, he was immediately cleansed and his skin became like that of a newborn baby.
Interesting how God works, isn’t it?  Naaman would never have been cleansed were it not for:

  • The witness of a slave girl who set the mighty man on the road to his healing.
  • The urging of a soldier to at least give God a try.
  • And the miracle never would have happened if he hadn’t dropped his pride and let go of all his own attempts of self-salvation.
Interesting how the Lord does miracles through something as simple as faith and obedience.

A lot of people want to go to heaven.  In fact, I don’t know anybody who DOESN’T want heaven and all the blessings that go along WITH it!  But they want it own their OWN terms.  BUT just as Naaman learned ⇒  it is GOD Who sets the terms.
3.  But there is one more way we are like him.  Not only are we cursed like him, and cleansed like him, we also face a Conundrum like him.  Notice halfway down in verse 17 and then all of verse 18, “from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord.  
In THIS matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.”
Conundrum – now THERE’s a word we don’t use every day.  A conundrum is a difficult, a perplexing situation.  

And that is exactly what Naaman would face when he went back home.
He was absolutely convinced that God had cleansed him and that there was no other God but Elisha’s God.  He is committed to live for, worship, and SERVE the Lord.
BUT – he knew that waiting for him back in Syria was a job where he would face many challenges to his new life.  

He knew that as soon as he returned to Syria, he would face all the idolatry and sinfulness of a people who didn’t know the Lord.  And he needed the assurance that God wouldn’t disown him if he continued to serve as the King’s bodyguard.  He didn’t want God or even Elisha to think that he endorsed that idolatry.  A conundrum.
Going back to the old life, poses a conundrum for you too.  

It’s easy to serve the Lord and do all the right things when you are surrounded by godly people.  It’s easy to do right when you are at camp or at a Christian concert… surrounded by people who are on fire for God.  But you can’t live here.  You have to find the strength to do right when you are away from this place.  You have to get to a place in your walk with the Lord where you resist the pull of your lost friends and family.  

Your faith must hold up under everyday challenges.
The old life will wear you down.  The devil will tempt  you with compromise – he will convince you that “part-way is good enough.”  Every day, you will face this conundrum.  

What should you do??  Three things:

First, Christians MUST BE COMMITTED to living differently.  This can’t be a ‘Sunday-only’ thing.  This NEW life will not be easy for you.  Your faith will be challenged and even ridiculed.  There will be times when you will be forced to draw the line and take your stand – even with people you love.  Your commitment will not make you popular.  The kind of stand I’m talking about might cost you some relationships or even a job.  But you MUST RESOLVE in your heart that you are going to do the right thing - REGARDLESS.
All of us struggle when we go back to our daily lives.  But if you are particularly weak in some area – stop putting yourself in a position to compromise.  
  • If I know that I struggle with alcohol, then why would I put myself in a position where it is served or hang out with people who consume it?  
  • If I struggle with lust, then I need to do whatever it takes to keep myself OUT of those compromising situations.
Second, though Christians have been forgiven of their sins, they are still human – and sometimes fail.  During those times you need to remember that cleansing is still available for you.  God doesn’t just provide for yesterday’s failures… but for ALL of them.  John said, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.”  

No matter how committed you think you ARE today – there will still be times when you fail.  Don’t allow that stumble to prove fatal.  God has not given up on you.  His grace will be with you till the end of your life if you will trust Him.

And third, this conundrum requires us to look for ways to introduce people to Jesus.  Make up your mind before you go back out into the world that you are going to share the Lord.  The Bible even tells us to let our conversations be ‘seasoned with salt…’ that is, we are to look for ways to bring the Lord into our conversations.  

  • Whether we talk about the new things we’ve learned in Bible study,
  • OR we offer to pray for those who are going through a difficult situation.  
  • Whether sharing our testimony of the things God has done for us
  • or lending our help to someone in need -
We need to express, publicly, our commitment to Jesus!
So YEAH, In many ways, we ARE just like Naaman:
  • We are cursed with a disease that separates us from God…
  • we are cleansed of our disease when we exercise faith and obedience in God’s cure.
  • And we face a conundrum every time we go back to everyday life.  We cannot go back to life as it was before Jesus.  We - MUST - be - different.
Maybe you are here today and YOU realize that you have a disease that only GOD can cure.  Inside your heart, you know things aren’t right between you and God.  And today you want cleansing.  Why not come to this place of prayer and in faith and obedience trust God to save you??
Or maybe you are here today and you HAVE been saved.  You believe in the Lord and want to please Him.  But the conundrum of living in a world of temptation and sin often gets the better of you.  And today, you want to ask God to give you the strength to stand firm in your commitment.
If God is speaking to your heart, why not pray about it right now??