How Clean are Your Hands?

January 28, 2010

Psalm 24:3-6   3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?  4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.  5 He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.  6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Can I ascend the hill of the Lord? Can I stand in His holy place?

David here presents us with a picture of a pilgrim ascending the hill to the temple in order to engage in the privilege of worshiping God. The temple is a picture of God’s presence with His people. So the question is: Can I stand in God’s presence? Am I qualified to worship and praise Him?

Psalm 1:5 tells us that “the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.” No, the wicked could never stand in the presence of a holy God – they can only fall on their faces before Him, and be overwhelmed by His righteous wrath. Only the righteous, those with clean hands and pure hearts, can stand.

But consider verse 4: How clean must my hands be? How pure must my heart be? If my heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9), what hope is there for me to stand before God? How could I be clean enough to worship Him?

Verse 6 provides the hope that verse 4 seems to preclude: Those who seek His face, who desire to know Him, are among the generation of those who receive the blessing of worshiping Him. Such people desire above all else to see the fulfillment of the High Priestly blessing in Numbers 6:25-27, by which God’s Name is put on His people: “The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Such seekers, identified with God, subsumed under His Name, will receive God’s blessing: His own righteousness (verse 5). Therefore, to them He will become a God of salvation, not a God of wrath. Thus, they can indeed stand in His presence, in the assembly of the righteous.

But verse 4 still bites:

  • Do I have clean hands? Water does not suffice to clean them, as Pilate found out (Matthew 27:24).
  • Do I have a pure heart? Jesus echoes this psalm in saying the pure in heart will have the blessing of seeing God (Matthew 5:8). Yet my heart goes astray.
  • Do I lift up my soul to what is false – that is, do I long for what will never satisfy? That may be longing for the promise of power from a literal false god, a carved idol, but it also includes the longing for any goal in my life other than knowing God. The judgment must be, “Guilty!”
  • Do I mislead others with my speech? Do I want others to think more highly of me than I deserve? Do I twist facts and accomplishments so that I look good? Is my yes always yes, and my no always no (James 5:12)? Once again: Guilty.

So if I don’t have clean hands, if I don’t have a pure heart, if I do long for what will never satisfy, and if I do mislead others with my speech – where does that leave me? Can I climb God’s holy hill? Is there any chance I can stand to worship Him in the assembly of the righteous?

I want to seek His face. And yet, I have no ability to clean my hands. Where does that leave me?

My only hope: Receiving a pure heart as a gift. Receiving clean hands that are, indeed, Jesus’ clean hands. Having Him incline my heart to Himself (1 Kings 8:58). Having my lips purified by a coal from His altar (Isaiah 6:6-7).

That is, my only hope is God’s gift of grace through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).  And then, because Jesus rose from the dead and lives in His people, by His grace I can and must strive to live each day with clean hands, with a pure heart, with a soul not lifted up, and with edifying speech that gives “grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). I thus strive not to gain access to the holy hill, but, having been granted access to His presence, I strive to present evidence that He is worth more than everything else in this world.

Then I can ascend the hill of the Lord. Then I can worship Him. Then I can rejoice in God, my Savior. Then I will be among His people. Then He will be my God.

So I ask: How clean are your hands?

Should Christians Be Indifferent?

January 21, 2010

In the conclusion of Sunday’s sermon, I said, “Long for God to use you for His glory. Be confident that He will. But be indifferent to whether He uses you through pain and sorrow, or through success and fame.”

In my notes, I set off the word “indifferent,” and put a question mark next to it. Was it really the right word? Biblically, should we be indifferent to these outcomes?

The answer is yes or no – depending upon how we frame the question. So consider these different situations, and whether or not we are indifferent in each one:

In looking at the present circumstances others are facing, we must never be indifferent to their pain and sorrow. As we noted last week when discussing the Haiti earthquake, we must weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). In this way, we are like Jesus Himself (John 11:35).

In considering those who do not know Christ, we must never be indifferent to whether or not they come to faith in Him. Paul has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in [his] heart” when he thinks of the unsaved state of most of his fellow Jews (Romans 9:2). This is not indifference! Our hearts similarly should long for the salvation of those around us.

In the midst of our present circumstances, we must rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4). Paul writes those words while in prison. He goes on to say, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). Note that some of those reading this letter may have seen him live this out when he and Silas, beaten and bruised, praised God in song while in a Philippian jail (Acts 16:25). Now, I am sure that, other things being equal, Paul would have preferred to be out of prison rather than in prison. But he was content, he was rejoicing in the Lord, while confined. He knew God was at work. He was confident that God was in control. He was entrusting Himself to God in those circumstances (1 Peter 4:19) – and so his circumstances did not matter. In that sense, he was indifferent to them.

In looking to the future, we desire God’s glory above all else. We pray and long for His Kingdom to come, His will to be done on earth itself, and not only in heaven (Matthew 6:10). We desire the earth to be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). We are not indifferent to this outcome!

In looking to the eternal state, we long to see Jesus face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). We do look forward to living with perfected humanity without sorrow, without pain, with every tear wiped from our eyes (Hebrews 12:23, Revelation 21:4). But God Himself is our hope; all other joys of heaven pale before being with Him (Psalm 73:25). We are certainly not indifferent to that outcome.

In contemplating our personal future on earth, we want to be used by God in whatever role He chooses to bring about the coming of His Kingdom. This is the sense in which I was using the word in the sermon. God may grant us success or failure. We may be known or unknown. We may see a clear response to our ministries or no response. Our goal is not success, or fame, or even a response to our ministry. Our goal is God’s glory.

We could say that this attitude is Philippians 4:11 prospectively. We are content not only in our present circumstances, but in any possible future circumstances – if those future circumstances are part of God’s plan to fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory.

As in the case of present circumstances, we certainly will have personal preferences about what those future circumstances look like. I would rather be able to walk all my life than to lie in a hospital bed from tomorrow until the day I die. I would rather live with a roof over my head than to have an earthquake devastate my city and be forced to sleep in the open with thousands of others for days on end. And I would rather be the means hundreds come to faith than to speak to those of hard and stubborn hearts who never listen (Ezekiel 3:7).

But there is a sense in which I should be indifferent to these outcomes. For Jesus was indifferent to outcomes over which he had a personal preference. When faced with the immediate threat of the cross, of taking on Himself the punishment for all the sin of all redeemed humanity, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). In that sense, He wasn’t indifferent. However, He continues, “Not as I will, but as You will.” Or as He says elsewhere when His heart is troubled at the prospect of the cross, “For this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (John 12:27-28).

He was indifferent in the sense that the joy of glorifying the Name of God so outweighed the pain that there was no comparison (Hebrews 12:2). Paul says our attitude should be similar: our terrible sorrows, real as they are, become “light momentary afflictions” when compared to the “eternal weight of glory” that they produce (2 Corinthians 4:18).

So will you have the indifference of Jesus? Will you pray, “Lord, I naturally want an easy life. And I naturally want to be used by You in ways that yield clear, obvious responses. But You are filling the earth with the knowledge of Your glory as the waters cover the sea. Above all else, I want You to use me in whatever way will bring that end about. So here I am. You choose. Enable me to serve you faithfully – in whatever way you choose: in sorrow and pain or in earthly joy and happiness; in success and fame or in obscurity and dishonor. Just glorify Your Name through me, Your slave.”

As Laurence Tuttiett wrote:

Father, let me dedicate all this year to Thee,
In whatever worldly state Thou wilt have me be:
Not from sorrow, pain or care, freedom dare I claim;
This alone shall be my prayer: glorify Thy Name.

My He do so. And may we always rejoice in Him. Amen.

Responding to Disasters

January 14, 2010

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is devastated. Thousands and thousands of buildings have collapsed. Tens of thousands are dead. Thousands more are injured and doomed to die, as hospitals too are destroyed and the needs outstrip the remaining medical care.

How can we respond to such a tragedy?

The Bible is our guide in all matters. In His Word, God tells us who He is, who we are, how He rules the world, and how we should respond to Him. He tells us what we could never learn on our own, what we would grope after and never find apart from His revelation.

So what guidance does the Bible give us?

First, we must weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). Our Lord wept over the coming judgment on Jerusalem (Luke 19:41); He wept at the grave of His friend, even though He was about to raise him from the dead (John 11:35). Ultimately, all sorrow and pain in this world is the result of sin – God’s initial creation was very good (Genesis 1:31). So let us weep over sin and its impact.

Second, we must pray. God works through prayer to bring about His purposes at all times (2 Corinthians 1:11), and so He exhorts us to pray about all our needs (Philippians 4:6).

Third, we must do what we can to help those in need (Luke 12:33). In so doing, we honor God (Proverbs 14:31), who has compassion on the poor and needy (Psalm 72:13). Now, in such situations we can do more harm than good – our attempts to help can hurt, as we noted earlier. So let us give to organizations that are cognizant of these dangers, who are working with local institutions, considering both the urgent relief needs and the longer term rehabilitation and development needs. Some suggestions (among many possibilities): Food for the Hungry, Child Hope International, and Water Missions International.

Fourth, we must take note of Jesus’ warning to those around Him as they considered a local tragedy:

“Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:4-5

Some people evidently were explaining the fall of the tower as God’s judgment on those eighteen people, saying that they deserved to die, and others (like themselves) did not. Jesus says, “Don’t think that way – but take the occasion of these deaths to examine yourself!” God’s judgment will come on all who do not repent (Romans 2:4-5) – and it will be much more terrible than the fall of the tower of Siloam, much more terrible than the Haiti earthquake, much more terrible than the Aceh tsunami (Revelation 6:15-17).

Fifth, we must remind ourselves of the Gospel. No one is righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10-12). We all deserve God’s condemnation, His wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). Yet God sent His Son to live the perfect life that we should have lived, loving God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength every minute of every day, loving His neighbor as Himself (Hebrews 4:15; Matthew 22:36-40); He sent Him to the cross to suffer and die, taking on Himself the penalty we deserve (2 Corinthians 5:21); and He raised Him from the dead, showing that the penalty was sufficient (Acts 2:24). We who believe in Him (John 1:12), valuing Him above all else (Matthew 13:44), receive the benefits of this death, and are united with Him for all eternity (Romans 6:4-5, 23).

Finally, we can rejoice that God is sovereign over all affairs of men. He is the Almighty One, who not only knows the number of hairs on my head (Matthew 10:30), but watches over and superintends all the events of my life, and of all the lives of those who are united in His Son (Psalm 1:6). So we can pray with the psalmist, “When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!” (Psalm 142:3). May our hurting brothers and sisters in Haiti know this truth, and lean on our Rock and our Refuge (Psalm 61:2-3).

May we, by His grace, be as He is in this world (1 John 4:17) – and thus, knowing our sinfulness, knowing our weakness, serve humbly as conduits of His mercy, His compassion, and His Word to the downtrodden and the needy.

My Food is to Do His Will: Nimeshiba

January 7, 2010

What do you say after eating a wonderful meal?

Imagine that you have just shared good fellowship and excellent food. You have eaten to contentment; you are full, satisfied but not bloated. What do you say?

You could say, “Wow, that was great.” Or, “Oh, what a wonderful meal!” Or, “My stomach feels just right.” But none of those expressions really captures the moment.

In this case, knowing other languages helps. In Swahili, one word captures all these ideas:  “Nimeshiba” means “I’m content, satisfied, full but not bloated, relaxed, happy, and delighted.”

Think of those ideas when looking at John 4:34.  Jesus has traveled a long distance. His disciples go to town to buy food while their master waits at the well. While they are away, Jesus speaks the Gospel to a Samaritan woman. The disciples then return with food – and yet Jesus doesn’t eat. When they urge Him to eat, He replies, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” That is, Jesus gained sustenance from submissive obedience. He delighted to do whatever His Father had sent Him to do. He was content, satisfied, relaxed, and happy when He had accomplished the tasks the Father gave Him. Though He had not eaten any physical food, He could say to His disciples, “Nimeshiba.”

Do I have that same delight in submissive obedience to the Lord? Do I hunger to accomplish the work He has given me? Am I content when I have fulfilled His purposes for me – even if many of my personal desires and needs seem to remain unfulfilled? Even if the work that I personally wanted to accomplish remains incomplete? Is my food to do His will?

One barrier to my doing His will is that I am pulled different directions. As I live in this world, I am influenced by my family, my culture, my profession, my schooling, by radio, by television, by the internet  – all these influences have an impact on my understanding of what I should do and where satisfaction lies. If I am to walk in God’s ways in the midst of these influences, I must know His ways and see His paths! So the first step in being satisfied to accomplish His work must be to pray with the psalmist, “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths” (Psalm 25:4). We need Him to cut through the fog of this world – the fog of wrong desires, the fog of unbelief, the fog of past wounds and sorrows, the fog of anti-biblical influences. We need Him to shine brightly through His revelation in His Word, so that we can know His ways and see His path.

Having seen His path, the issue then becomes: In what do I delight? How do I get sustenance? Is my food to do the will of the One who called me out of darkness into His marvelous light? Or is my food to ignore the seemingly difficult path God has laid out for me, and to take the easier, more attractive path that seems to offer plenty of nourishment, plenty of delights, plenty of satisfactions?

Please join me in this New Year in praying to our Father, “Lord God, teach me your paths – and make walking on your paths my delight, my satisfaction. Enable me by your grace to say, ‘Nimeshiba’ when I have submitted in obedience to you. Make me like Jesus – so that my food is to do Your will.”