Tag Archives: Grace

Everybody Needs a Heart Transplant

Psalm 51 is classified as a penitential psalm. The definition of penitence is sorrow for sin or faults. The psalm certainly lives up to that definition, expressing profound sorrow, but it does a great deal more than wallow in recognition of personal wrong-doing.

The header on this psalm links it to David’s adultery with Bathsheba, a sin that was magnified by the murder of her husband. Jesus spoke of the moment David fell into sin. Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 ESV). Jesus said that David’s sin originated in his heart. In fact, Jesus said that the heart is the place where our sins are born: “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:10 ESV). Apparently, the problem with the world is sinful hearts.

When David wrote Psalm 51, he recognized his real problem. He confessed his sin and his need of God’s forgiveness and cleansing, and then he said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV). David knew that his heart would continue to be a source of sin if something did not change. His heart needed to be different, and he knew he could not merely decide to be a better man.

Contemporary culture would have us believe that we can simply decide and then become. “If you can dream it, you can be it,” the culture says. Every person who struggles with diet and exercise can testify that dreams simply are not enough. David looked at himself and saw the way his attitude and behavior had been perverted by the lust in his heart, and he recognized that his heart was the problem. He also recognized that imagining himself as a better man would not fix his heart. He said, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5 ESV) David could see what Jesus saw in the heart—the source of his sinful thoughts, words and deeds. His heart needed to be fixed, and he could not fix it himself.

David turned to the One who could fix what was broken in his heart, and I find that I need to do the same thing. David could not fix himself, and I cannot fix myself, either. David cried out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV), and I cry out the same way. My heart is a mess, just as his was, and I turn to the same source for help.

I share meditation on Scripture with an online group, and that means that when I read a text like this with the group, I benefit from the insights God gives to other people. In the group, many people recognized and rejoiced in the cleansing of the heart. That part of David’s cry was thoroughly celebrated, but one person saw the next level of blessing. She recognized that God did not merely cleanse David’s heart, but he “created” a new heart. We don’t simply get washed down. God does not merely paint over the scars of our sin. We get new hearts. She said, “He ‘created’ a new heart in me.”

That is the real blessing. I am not merely clean. I’m all new. I am like the advertising mantra “new and improved.”

Every time I read Genesis 6, I feel a pain in my stomach when I read, “GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV). Here, too, I am reminded that the heart is the origin of sin, and it boils out of us like an erupting volcano, ultimately destroying everything beautiful in the world God created. Fortunately, the Bible does not stop there. God’s story continues, and instead of despair, there is hope. David looked at himself and saw his own wickedness and evil, but he saw the hope. David knew God as a God who not only forgives us but makes us new. His experience foreshadows the coming of Jesus to work our salvation through Christ. When David asks for a new heart, he exercises the kind of faith that Abraham had, and Paul said that Abraham’s faith made him righteous, just as ours does. The author of Hebrews repeated that assertion that many people who lived before Christ had faith in God’s promise and God counted it as righteousness for them, too. The same faith worked for David.

There is only one way for us to be made clean, righteous, new, and that way is Christ. David’s prayer calls forth the same cleansing power as I experienced when I professed my faith and was baptized. God’s heart was broken by human sin in the Garden of Eden, at the time of Noah, when David took Bathsheba from her husband, and every time anyone chooses evil rather than good. Fortunately, because of the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, every human being can safely and confidently pray with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV)

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Bible Meditation

torahMy grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:9

  • The Supreme Court recently rendered a decision that puts the law of the land squarely in opposition to God’s will for human beings. What does this verse say to people who feel that this decision puts them in the crosshairs of earthly power?
  • We all sin. We all struggle with the consequences of sin. Daily life sometimes feels like walking on broken glass. What does God promise us?
  • When circumstances are incomprehensible, they also feel unbearable. To such situations, Luther said:

When the murder of John the Baptist was announced, that horrible crime, [Jesus] was silent, went away into the desert, fed the people, and did not make an issue of it, but only preached the Word and did His duty. Christian wisdom, therefore, means to commit oneself to the power of God and to turn one’s cause over to Him who judges justly. A Christian can indeed, by the office of the Word, judge sin, but he should not raise his hand against it unless he is compelled to do so by God or commanded by the Word. And so when you are alone and unable to set everything right and straight, commit your cause to Him who has more powers and who alone can do everything.”
Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 15 : Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Last Words of David, 2 Samuel 23:1-7, ed. J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1972). Ec 1:16.

How do Luther’s comments correlate with the teaching in today’s verse? Where is the comfort in it?

  • Secularists deny the existence of a spiritual realm. They teach that our only recourse in life is to our own strength. How do you answer a secular thinker who scorns your faith and belittles your willingness to trust your well-being to a power he cannot see?

 

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Torah Scroll
Source:  http://library.duke.edu/exhibits/hebrewbible/torah.html
License:  Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0

 

Stop and Think about the Bible

torah_500

God,
being rich in mercy,
because of the great love with which he loved us, 
even when we were dead in our trespasses,
made us alive together with Christ
—by grace you have been saved—
and raised us up with him
and seated us with him
in the heavenly places
in Christ Jesus,
so that
in the coming ages
he might show
the immeasurable riches of his grace
in kindness
toward us
in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-7

  •  Paul wrote these words to a troubled church. It was a great church, birthed in fire, a fire that burned books of magic spells and potions associated with the culture of idolatry in Ephesus. If someone like Paul came to your town and stirred a lot of people to receive Christ, what would be the major thing citizens would abandon or throw away as they came to faith? To ask the same question a different way, what do you believe most people in your town cry for when they feel hopeless?
  • Do you know people who fixate on angels more than they fixate on Jesus? How did it happen? Why do they have so much more faith in angels than in Jesus?
  • In the town where you live, do most people claim to go to church on Sunday or not? What do people in your town do if they are not in church on Sunday? Do these things fill up their lives and push Christ out? Or was Christ ever in their hearts?
  • Do you observe any hint that people in your town who do not serve Christ believe that they are sinful? If people do not think they are sinful, or as Paul said it, “dead in their trespasses,” what would make them think they need Jesus?

By grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not your own doing;
it is the gift of God,
not a result of works,
so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

  • Do you personally know anyone who believes that he does not need God, or any god? What does that person say is the foundation of his personal strength? Does that person consider that there is anything in his life which he would die for? In different words, is there anything he would die rather than give up?
  • Are you saved? What were you saved from? How did it happen that you became saved?

We are his workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand,
that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

  • You may have heard someone say, “I hope this one counts for good stuff, because last time I think I made God mad.” What would you tell someone who said such a thing?
  • Since we now know that good works don’t buy heaven, what is the point of doing good works at all?
  • Imagine you had hired someone to be your right hand while you worked as a teacher and personal mentor to a dozen people over the course of a weekend retreat. You were scheduled for thirty minutes to eat some food at 8PM on Saturday evening after teaching and consulting nonstop since noon. If your assistant inexplicably brought you a beef taco and chips after you had specifically ordered chicken, would you feel entitled to complain, or would it be proper to eat it without any unpleasantness? Would it be a good work to refuse to abuse your assistant, or would it be leadership to teach him what a big error he had made? What exactly is a good work?

 

 

What’s in Your Future?

Your culture sees what you’ve been; God sees what you can be. Jim Denison

I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

The words of Jeremiah to people in exile because of their sin stand shoulder to shoulder with Jim Denison’s statement which closes a post about the recent leak of a tape made by Monica Lewinsky. The tape is being circulated in one of the media’s endless exploitation of the willingness of the public to be titillated by public immorality. Nobody knows or cares where Monica Lewinsky is now, and the media neither knows nor cares how she may feel about this manipulative use of her story. The point of the publicity about the tape is to stir the cultural pot once more as Hillary Clinton poises herself to try again for the presidency.

The cultural climate today makes it clear that the behavior of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in the past means nothing. The dominant theme of the culture is that each person should figure out what sexual behavior makes him or her happy and then should behave that way as often as possible. The culture won’t view the tape through a moral lens; it will view the tape through an entertainment lens. The culture does not care if two consenting adults engage in sexual behavior that some people consider to be adulterous and wanton. The culture only cares if it is something fun to talk about, especially if it permits the culture to belittle people who do view the tape and the relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky through a moral lens.

In short, the culture is happy to gossip about anything and everything. The culture enjoys gossiping about the fact that some people find the Clinton/Lewinsky relationship shocking and immoral, even as it enjoys smirking at Lewinsky for trying to resurrect the relationship Bill Clinton discarded when it became inconvenient. The culture is entertained by issues that hurt people. The culture happily dissects people and relationships, no matter the circumstances, and after it has put the people through a wringer to extract the last full measure of public comedy, it scornfully flings the remaining dregs into the deep gloom of yesterday’s news. As Jim Denison says so plainly, all the culture remembers is who you were. The culture neither knows nor cares who you are or who you might be.

Jeremiah spoke to people who felt like yesterday’s discarded and forgotten news. They had been crushed in battle with a powerful empire. Their capital city, including their temple, had been violated and destroyed. The people had been transplanted to strange lands, and they not only felt forgotten by God, but they felt hopeless that they could ever get his attention again. Jeremiah brought them a message that said, “God certainly knows what you have been, but God also knows what you can be.”

When I was small, a spanking was still an accepted punishment for the misbehavior of a child. When my brother and I got in the habit of snacking after school on food our mother had told us not to eat, she eventually discovered what we were doing – what made us think that she would not notice that the food had disappeared? Our family’s tight budget meant that what we regarded as a minor error was a major loss, and our behavior called for a major punishment. Each of us received a spanking with Mother’s hairbrush. What I remember most about that experience was what happened next.

After the spanking, I was in tears, more from the shame than the pain, which was minor. I stood up rubbing my eyes and sobbing. When I turned around, my mother stood there sobbing, too. She put her arms around me and said, “I hate doing this. Please don’t ever act like this again.” Then we both cried together. My mother did not want to dwell on this past failure; my mother wanted me to look forward and do better. She had a hopeful view of what I might become.

That is how God feels when he must punish our bad behavior. That is how he felt when he allowed Israel to suffer the consequences of idolatry and wicked behavior. He hated seeing Israel dragged out of the Promised Land, the land he had given to his chosen people. He hated seeing the temple destroyed. He hated the misery the Israelites endured as oppressed captives in a foreign land. Nevertheless, he also hated the way the Israelites had pretended to worship him while actually giving all their loyalty to idols. The Israelites did not simply abandon God for idols. Rather, they pretended to worship him while giving first place to the idols. Rejection was bad, but the deceit was worse.

My mother hated spanking me, but she hated the lie my brother and I perpetrated by eating the forbidden food. Even though she had had plans for that food, it really wasn’t the loss of the food that hurt; it was the deception. Our disobedience was bad, but our sneakiness was worse.

I don’t remember much else about that day, but I will never forget my mother’s tear-stained face as she said, “Please don’t ever act like this again.” God felt that way about the Israelites, too. My mother knew I was capable of better behavior. God knew that Israel was capable of better behavior. When I fail God and mess up and make him simultaneously angry and ashamed of me, God nevertheless still loves me and continues to have plans for me. My mother didn’t throw me out on the street after I made a mistake; she held me close and continued to believe that I had it in me to be a better person.

How do I know that God sees what I can be? I know it because I know what he saw on the cross as Jesus died. Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?” and the reason is that all my sins, along with all the sins of the world, covered him at that moment. God looked down at the cross and all he could see there was my sin. When Jesus died, all my sin was washed away in his shed blood. Now when God looks at me, he sees that shed blood. Because I am washed in the blood of Christ, I can become what he created me to be. The gifts God gave me at creation cannot be rubbed out by my sin, but the blood of Christ does “rub out” or wash away my sin. Because God saw my sin on Jesus when he hung on the cross, God can’t see my sin when he looks at me. My next-door neighbor may be blinded by my sin so that she can’t see me, or my boss may be blinded by my sin so that he can’t see me, but God doesn’t see my sin anymore.

Because of the shed blood of Christ on the cross, God says to me as he said to Israel in exile, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

Do not despair. God still sees a future for you.

 

A Hymn for Meditation

God of Grace and God of Glory 

God of grace and God of glory,
On your people pour your power;
Crown your ancient church’s story;
Bring its bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
For the facing of this hour.

Cure your children’s warring madness;
Bend our pride to your control.
Shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
Lest we miss your kingdom’s goal.

Save us from weak resignation
To the evils we deplore;
Let the gift of your salvation
Be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Serving you whom we adore.

Harry Emerson Fosdick

  •  In the second verse the hymnwriter speaks of  “warring madness.” What behavior and attitudes does he believe to be at the root of  “warring madness?”
  • How can someone be “rich in things and poor in soul?” Can you think of an individual in the gospel stories who demonstrated such an attitude?  (See Luke 18:18-30)
  • On what biblical basis does the hymnwriter pray, “Grant us wisdom”?  (see James 1:5)
  • What is an example of behavior or attitude that constitutes “weak resignation to the evils?”
  • What do you think God’s “kingdom’s goal” is?