Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Gospel Confronts the 'Left Out Losers'

The last chapter addressed 'the lucky ones'.. what about the rest of us?

The difficulty in all of these posts is that we are dealing in stereotypes and archetypes- whereas real life is always a mangled middle. In the real world, life is fragmented and complicated, messy and menial.

That is why I love the Books of Psalms/Proverbs/Ecclesiastes- the books of literature- where real depictions of the human heart are presented in living color. The 'songs' are cries of celebration and pain. The cries of the heart are energetic at times and depressed at others. We find real doubt, anger, hurt, and confusion.

So what does the gospel say to us when we feel rejected or abandoned? Where do we find answers for our loneliness and depression?

A particular Psalm I run to in times of wandering/wondering is Psalm 73.

 1 Surely God is good to Israel,
   to those who are pure in heart.

The writer here is commonly referred to as Asaph- a rather unknown figure except to refer to a priestly choir director of the post-exile Jews. Whenever I read verse 1 of Psalm 73, I feel it is the 'lip service' things we always say in our faith. Those of us who walk with God for any length of time can relate to how we learn all the jargon and phrases. When I feel wounded or betrayed it is easy to say "God is good" on the outside, but on the inside there is deep questioning and digging doubt.

 2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
   I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant
   when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
 4 They have no struggles;
   their bodies are healthy and strong.

In a world of 'compare and compete'- life can beat you down in a hurry. It seems like no one else is hurting the way you are. It seems like your struggles are unique and no one else is suffering. This is all an illusion, but our twisted hearts magnify our troubles and deepen our woundedness.

5 They are free from common human burdens;
   they are not plagued by human ills.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
   they clothe themselves with violence.
7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
   their evil imaginations have no limits.
8 They scoff, and speak with malice;
   with arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
   and their tongues take possession of the earth. 

10 Therefore their people turn to them
   and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, “How would God know?
   Does the Most High know anything?”
 12 This is what the wicked are like—
   always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

It isn't enough to see others carefree, but it is particularly painful to see the wicked seem to get by scot free. Skeptics sell tickets, liars get promotions, the right way is harder and slower and it seems like we are getting left behind by holding to 'silly' rules. Our desire to live according to the rules is looked at as 'archaic' or 'naive'. I highlighted verse 9 because it is the most painful of all- there are some who use all the jargon of faith- but see no struggle with sin or compromise. As they move up and get applause without consequences, it makes you want to punt it all away (I believe this was the so called 'sin of the Nicolaitans' in the Book of Revelation'- those who played it both ways- words of faith and lifestyle of world and never seeming to get in trouble).

13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
   and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted,
   and every morning brings new punishments.
 15 If I had spoken out like that,
   I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this,
   it troubled me deeply 

So it gets to this... a little pity party. I have been here enough to know how pathetic a position it is. Thankless, prayerless, overly sensitive and critical.

Let me say that there is proper anger and pain that shouldn't be confused with this attitude of 'permanent victimhood'- but I see more improper reactions than appropriate ones. In fact, our culture has a huge epidemic of victim-itis- we know how to WHINE.

NOW- verse 17 indicates a huge shift... and it can easily be mis-understood. So let's experience this shift- a gospel awakening....

17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
   then I understood their final destiny.

I CAN HEAR THE SKEPTICS NOW..... Oh Sure, nice answer- a mean God who crushes the mean people and you are supposed to feel better? This totally misses the point.

The change begins with WORSHIP- a lost art and experience in our culture today. Arch Bishop of Canterbury, William Temple defines it this way:

“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God.It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness, nourishment of mind by His truth, purifying of imagination by His beauty, opening of the heart to His love, and submission of will to His purpose.And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.” 

It has been said that without worship...we shrink. It is suggested that if we never learn to worship-even God will disappoint us. Sadly, we think of worship as sitting on a hard pew and watching a B grade concert, singing monotonous and repetitious choruses, begrudgingly putting money in a brass plate, eating stale crackers, licking a thimble of warm grape juice, and hoping the thing ends before the lunch crowd hits the restaurants.

We think that we are the audience, the ministers direct, and the preachers/musicians are the participants.A worship service is where WE are the partipants and GOD is the audience.
We come in His sanctuary not to be entertained, what we can get... but it should be what we can give to HIM.

As we meditate on what He has done- as we bless HIm for who He is- as we mutually confess our sin and rejoice in His generous salvation, our eyes are cleared, the dust settles, and we realize we are on a journey to a great wedding feast- aliens in a broken world- and our present sufferings are nothing in comparison to the coming glory (Rom 8:18).

If we never see this... then we are in danger of what is coming for the rebels, the earth dwellers.....

 18 Surely you place them on slippery ground;
   you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed,
   completely swept away by terrors! 

I never rejoice when it happens- but we see it all the time. The one's we thought were living the life are swept away in tragedy.....

20 They are like a dream when one awakes; 
   when you arise, Lord, 
   you will despise them as fantasies.

Again- the ones who betray and rob and bully and persecute God's people are going to get the wrath of the Father. Those who pierce His son will see Daddy coming in a cloud of wrath.

21 When my heart was grieved

   and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
   I was a brute beast before you.
 23 Yet I am always with you;
   you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
   and afterward you will take me into glory. 

Every time I get to this section I can't help but think of Keith Green's song "Your Love Broke Through"
This is gospel beginning- it is evidence of repentance... "God, please forgive me, I was wasting away in a pity party of victimhood- tired of being kicked around by the wicked world- but You love me and the gospel says that You forgive me- Your love has broken through!"

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart
   and my portion forever.
 27 Those who are far from you will perish;
   you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. 
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. 
   I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;
   I will tell of all your deeds.

 As I close- it would be helpful to say one more thing- LIFE WOUNDS- there is no way to get around that- THE PAIN IS REAL- and the questions are heartfelt. It may help to meditate not on WHY? instead the Bible gives the answer as a person.. a WHO?

The Cross of Christ, by John R.W. Stott:
At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before Gods throne. 
Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly - not with cringing shame, but with belligerence.
'Can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?' snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. 'We endured terror ... beatings ... torture ... death!'
In another group a Negro boy lowered his collar. 'What about this?' he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn . 'Lynches ... for no crime but being black!'
In another crowd, a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes. "Why should I suffer' she murmured, 'It wasn't my fault.'
Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in this world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said.
So each of the groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. A Jew, a Negro, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the centre of the plain they consulted with each other.  At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever.
Before God could be qualified to be their judge, he must endure what they have endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth - as a man!
'Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.
'At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die. Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.'
As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled.
And when the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No-one uttered another word. No-one was moved. For suddenly all knew God had already served his sentence. (End)

As for me- I'm so thankful there is a gospel for losers- It means there is room at the cross for me.....

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