The Provocative Devotion: Psalm 1

One of the dangers of being a teacher of the Bible as ones profession is that the Bible can easily become something to dissect, study, analyze, and disseminate to others. Every reading of the Bible can turn into an exercise of the mind and never the heart. Aware of that danger I have made a point of having time in the Bible that is just for me, to let it speak to me, challenge me, comfort me. An important way that works in my life is to journal about the passage in front of me. Recently I dove back into the Psalms for just that purpose. After all, what better place to go to have one’s heart placed open before the Lord than in this most personal and honest of books.

But because I am also a teacher at heart it became clear that I should not keep those insights to myself. As a result I am offering a brief reflection on each Psalm in the hopes that God’s Word will accomplish in your life all that He desires. These are not exhaustive by any stretch and will generally only cover one major point that the Lord is making to me through the Psalm.

Sola Deo Gloria,

Dan

Psalm 1:1-3

Blessed is the man who walks not in the council of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. In all he does he prospers.

I love the grace of God. It is a gift beyond measure, to be loved, forgiven, afforded mercy, and countless opportunities to reset after failure. I love the freedom that comes in Christ. I love the message of the Gospel that a sinner like me, who was on a greased pole to hell could be rescued but the sacrifice of God-in-the flesh, Jesus Christ, who though He was in very nature God, did not cling to that position in a stingy way, but rather emptied Himself to become a servant to the point of death for me and for my salvation. I am all about grace.

David’s words in Psalm 1 seem to run 180 degrees counter to grace. David loves the law, he meditates on it day and night. He feeds his very soul on the law and is delighted by it. Clearly David was an extremely high J on the Myers-Briggs personality profile. Or was he? Maybe David saw something in the Law that points to God in ways that I miss when I focus only on grace. Wasn’t it Martin Luther who said we need the law to fully experience grace? Wasn’t it Paul who in essence said he would have never known the seriousness of his sin and need for grace, if not for the law? David is on to something when he says, “the law of the Lord”. It is not human rules of religion, by which we seek to prove our worthiness to God that David speaks of. It is the law of the Lord, the way of life that is delightful and restorative and freeing. Yes freeing. The law of the Lord is not meant to bind me and make me a slave but rather it is intended to show me the parameters of an abundant life. The law it like the steel fence at the edge of a vast meadow that keep one from falling off the hundred foot cliff and being crushed to death by the fall onto the rocks below. That fence, that law, is designed to show me the dangers of proceeding further and turn me around to enjoy the vast wonders of the glorious meadow behind me.

What freedom there is in such law. That law brings me life. Far from being a burden and a heavy weight that pins me to the ground and keeps me from experiencing life, the law of the Lord is life-giving. To be sure, obedience to it does not gain me salvation. That is by grace and one reason I so love grace. But obedience to the law, meditating on the law, delighting in the law, that gives me freedom to live a life worthy of the calling I have in Christ Jesus. A life saved by grace and protected by the law of the Lord.

Why Don’t We Love God More? part 4 of 4

Do you find yourself from time to time treating your sin as if it is no big deal, not as bad as some other people you know? If you do then you will fail to experience the full delight and freedom that comes from the forgiveness God offers. You will always carry around a hidden weight of pride mixed with some nagging guilt. The pride is your own flesh. The nagging guilt is the Holy Spirit trying to bring you to your knees so you can receive the full force of Gods love.
The only way to begin to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength is to admit the depth of your sin. When you come to grips with that, and give up any hope of your own righteousness making the least bit of difference, then you are in position to receive Gods love. Only when you receive that love on that basis, the basis of your own complete and utter sinfulness, are you then in a position to live rightly, for the right reason.

Our reaction to God’s grace is a study in paradox. On the one hand we are extremely grateful for it and know that we need it. On the other hand we are often uncomfortable with it and seem to be concerned that a little too much grace might be a bad thing. We seem to be concerned that there will then be no motivation for living righteously. In some evangelistic presentations the question of what should motivate us to live rightly if we have all this forgiveness and grace is boiled down to a sense of gratitude for our forgiveness. With all due respect to those presentations, my gratitude runs out after a very short while. Certainly gratitude is a factor in obeying Jesus, but it is extremely limited in its effectiveness.

The Bible never speaks of gratitude as the reason for living righteously because gratitude is too weak a motivator. Jesus gives a rather different idea. He said very simply in John 14:15 that we will obey Him, keep is commandments, IF WE LOVE HIM! Love for God that comes as a response to His overwhelming forgiveness is what should motivate us to live differently. But in order to have that kind of love we must know and admit the depth of our sin. We do this not so we can wallow in some spiritual form of self-loathing but so we can understand the depth of God’s love for us. If you are not able to admit on a daily basis, the depth of your sin and the height of God’s mercy, you will not be able to love God with all you are.

Why Don’t We Love God More? pt 2

The Great Commandment is not to love the Lord your God with a LITTLE of your heart, mind, soul, and strength, but with ALL your heart, mind, soul, and strength. It is a command to love God much, very much, as much as possible. But if it is true that people, who are forgiven little, love little, what hope is there for people who have lived a decent life by all human standards and not sinned much? What about those who have lived according to Alfred P. Doolittle’s standards of middle class morality? I can just picture people like Simon saying, “Wait a minute! I tried to live a good decent life and now you are telling me that because I didn’t sin much, that I don’t have much to be forgiven for and so I am destined to not love God enough. That hardly seems fair.”
So what is the answer to this seeming “unfairness” in God? The problem lies in our understanding of our sin. Our human tendency is to evaluate our moral and spiritual standing by looking at other people around us. Invariably we look to the right and see very holy, godly people and decide that they are the exception and we should not be expected to like them. Being the next Mother Theresa is just not what we think we should be expected to do. Then we quickly look down the other end of the moral lineup and see people who we determine are far worse off than we are. Sure we can see Hitler and Stalin and Charles Manson and decide that they are clearly wicked sinners and are in desperate need of either forgiveness or punishment. But even less extreme than that we are always able to find someone who we decide is worse than we are and so we must be okay in Gods eyes. This fits perfectly with a concept in psychology known as the false attribution theory. It basically works this way; we assume the best about our own actions and motives and attribute the worst possible motives and actions to others. When you are driving in your car and someone cuts you off, you assume all sorts of nasty things about him or her; they are a jerk, dangerous, an idiot, they should never have been given a license. But when you cut someone off, it was an understandable mistake, you are so sorry the other driver should understand and be gracious to you.
We do the same with our sin. We think that because we have the best of intentions that our sin is not as serious as that of other people. As a result we think that our need for grace, mercy, and forgiveness is not as severe as that of other sinners. What we fail to realize is that no matter the depth of our sin, we are all the same. We are all destined for Hell without the forgiveness offered in Jesus Christ. Being a sinner saved by grace must never be allowed to become a cliché. They are words that must burn within us and light a fire of desire to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Why Don’t We Love God More? Part 1

It is my contention that if we really loved God in a Great Commandment way, with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, then we would be living far differently from the way most Christians currently live. The strange part is that given the level of blessing and abundance that the church in the west experiences, including the freedom we have to worship, you would think that our love for God would be abundantly manifest. You would assume that given the amount of Christian teaching that is available to us through books, radio, television, podcasts, conferences and all the rest, that our knowledge of God and thus our love for God would be uncontainable. So what is the problem? Why don’t we love God more?
I think the answer is found in an event in the life of Jesus and a story he told that deals with this exact question. It comes in Luke 7:36-50. Jesus has been invited to the home of a Pharisee named Simon. It is a dinner party with some of Simon’s closest friends. Because Simon is a Pharisee, one of the religious teachers and strict keepers of every religious rule imaginable, his friends are only the most respectable kinds of people. So there they are in Simons house all feeling good about themselves, how respectable they are and that Jesus, this up and coming prophet is eating with them. Suddenly into the room comes a woman whom they all know to be a local prostitute. She falls at Jesus feet, weeping. As her tears drip off her face and onto his feet, she wipes the tears away using her long, undone hair.
Imagine such a scene in which you are the host. I suspect that your first move would be to intercept this woman or at least get her away from Jesus and out of the house. You might even immediately call the police. Yet in an amazing act of passivity, Simon doesn’t move. Instead he sits and ponders to himself wondering why Jesus would possibly let a prostitute, a sinful woman if there ever was one, touch him, let alone weep and his feet and kiss them.
Jesus looks up at Simon and asks him a question, all the while with the woman weeping at his feet:
“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Luke 7:41,42 NASB

Without making any connection to the current events playing out before his very eyes Simon answers,
“I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”  “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Verse 43

Simon must have been confused at this point. What does that question have to do with all of this? I suspect that there was a little bit of annoyance at the question, tempered with a touch of spiritual pride when Jesus praises him for his answer. But it was all short-lived as Jesus let the spiritual hammer fall heavy on Simon’s head.

44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.

I love that opening line in verse 44, “Do you see this woman?” How could he not see her? She has created a scene unlike anything Simon has ever experienced in his home. Yes he sees her with his eyes wide open in amazement.  He sees how she compares to him. His answer would be yes I see her. “I see that she is a whore and I am a religious man who would never associate with her. I see that she has barged in uninvited and I am holding my tongue, keeping my place and maintaining a proper decorum. I am a proper, righteous man and I see that she is a sinner of utmost filth.” But before he can even begin to express any of his thoughts in which he compares himself favorably to “this woman” Jesus goes into a litany of comparisons of his own.

You did not give me any water for my feet so that I could wash, or a towel to dry them when I came into your house. This most basic of the rules of hospitality for a guest and you violated it. Yet she has not ceased to wash my feet with her tears using her very hair to dry them clean. And it’s not even her house! Chalk up one for the prostitute. You did not even great me with a formal kiss on the cheek when I entered your home as a sign that you welcomed me as a friend, yet she has not stopped kissing my feet as a sign of her devotion. That’s prostitute two, Simon zero. Finally, you did not honor me as a guest by giving me oil for my head, yet she has anointed my feet with perfume. Final score: prostitute three, Simon zero.

Simon had to have been spiritually shell shocked at this point. Jesus has just indicted him on three counts of blatant disregard for his guest, a theological and sociological sin in Simon’s day. But if that wasn’t bad enough the worst was yet to come. As soon as he finishes the litany of indictments Jesus says,

47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

The comparison hits it apex. “She is doing all of this” Jesus says, “because she loves me, because she has been forgiven much. Just like greatest of the two debtors in my previous question that you answered so well Simon. She loves much because she has experienced much forgiveness.”  The unspoken comparison that Simon and everyone else in the room are now painfully aware of is that Simon loves “little”. For all his adherence to the religious laws of his day and all his striving to be respectable and righteous, Simon is told that he is guilty of having little love.
Now you might be thinking, but Simon was a good man. He followed the rules. He certainly was not a prostitute or other kind of blatant sinner. He was a respectable guy. Jesus himself compares one who sinned a great deal with one who sinned a little. The woman is the one who sinned a great deal so shouldn’t Simon get some props as the one who sinned a little? He was doing a respectable job, trying hard to be righteous. On the surface you might think so. But there are depths to this story that we rarely plumb.

Check back on Friday for part two and begin to plumb those depths.