In this message, Asaph, the director of worship and author of Psalm 73, declares truth that is still evident to us today. Sin looks fun when we don't see it all the way to its consequences; it can appear that there is true life apart from God. Jesus came so that we might have true life, not so that we would have to give up everything fun.
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Well, that's a pretty familiar chorus, even if you've never heard that song. At some point in some place in your life, you have said that very thing, and many of us for a long time stayed away from places like this worshiping a God like we're going to make a case who is worth worshiping this morning, reading a book called the Scriptures, the Bible, because all we want to do is have some fun.
The last place to go to associate with life is a place where there are lots of rules, a place where there's a big, heavy book with tons of rules in it; a place where there are a bunch of legalistic people who look like they're doing anything but having some fun. A lot of folks stay away from church their whole lives looking for life.
Many of us who are here sometimes resent the fact that we're here. In fact, a lot of us, you know, especially the younger the ones, high school folks and younger, who are in here are thinking, "You know, I'm for getting maybe right with God a little bit later in life, but let me have some fun first. All I want to do is have a little bit of living, a little bit of life. Let me experience some of those things that are so alluring before I get serious about coming to the light."
That's a song that resonated with our world. It was Song of the Year at the Grammys. It got a lot of attention because so many people identified with that, and to her at that moment, just being able to catch a beer buzz early in the morning, peeling labels off beer bottles, and not having a worry in the world was the abundant life to Sheryl.
The abundant life to some other people was having these great cars and being in California and getting them cleaned, and to someone else, it was just being dangerously close to somebody, all these things, but life is never found in a relationship with God, or so we think. Yet, Jesus made just the opposite claim. Didn't he?
He said, "The whole reason I came was that you might know life. My whole reason in coming is so that you would have life like you could never get it on your own, like you've never imagined. I want you to have life, and I want you to have it abundantly. I want you to have life that is so great that I can't even describe it. It's eternal life. I'm not talking about just quantity. I'm talking about a quality of life that you can only have in a relationship with me."
There is a great Psalm that we're going to look at today involving Asaph, whose job was to lead the nation of believers in worship. As he walked through his town one day, he really struggled. He saw everybody else in his mind's eye having all the fun with no consequence, and he wondered if what he did was crazy and foolishness and if, in fact, the way of the wicked was not a better way.
One of the things I love about the Scriptures is that they are so honest. This is not an isolated idea we're about to look at in Psalms. About five other psalms alone cover this topic because it's one that resonates with the souls of men. People write songs and poems about what is deep in their hearts, and one of the things that is deep in the heart of all of us is, "Am I crazy? Am I missing out? Is there more life apart from God?"
It looks like there is sometimes, and the Scriptures are very honest about that, but the Scriptures want to provide some perspective that will help all of us in the way we roll out our lives. There's a thing that's been traveling around for a long time. I don't know how true the statistic associated with it is, but the statistic is that 80 percent of kindergarteners can solve this riddle, and only about 13 to 17 percent of graduates of one of the most prestigious universities in our country can answer this question correctly the first time.
Some of you have heard this riddle. If you know it, don't answer it out loud, but I'm going to tell you why I think this is the case, that if, in fact, those statistics are correct it is because of the spirit of the song we just sung. Here's the riddle. "It is greater than God and more evil than the Devil? The poor have it, the rich need it, and if you eat it you'll die. What is it?"
Again, "It is greater than God and more evil than the Devil? The poor have it, the rich need it, and if you eat it you'll die. What is it?" Now, the statistics are 80 percent of kindergartners get this right off because kids think logically and sequentially. Graduates of schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Yale…adults…think on complicated levels.
We try and work our way out and think of something out there metaphysically that's greater than God. A child is wiser than us in that regard. A child understands the definition of God, and if God by definition is the greatest of all that is good, then if you're going to be true to your definition, the answer to the very first question is what gives you the answer to the entire riddle.
"What is greater than God?" you'd say to a child, and the kid will look back at you and go, "Nothing is greater than God." Of course, nothing, if he exists, is more evil than the Devil. The poor don't have it. The rich don't need anything, and if you eat it, you will die. How many of you missed this question because you missed the first question? What's greater than God? Illicit sex? Material prosperity? Power, popularity, fame?
See, the truth is, the reason we as followers of Christ have lost a lot of our strength, a voice in this world, is because we don't answer that first question consistently because what we experienced in here for the first 20 minutes when we were celebrating life with God, that we could sing unending songs about how he saved our souls, we don't think is that big a deal, to have our souls delivered from the consequence of being in rebellion against a holy God.
What is greater than salvation? We go, "A lot of things are greater than salvation, including my neighbor's wife, my anger that I zealously hold onto, my right to bitterness my lack of forgiveness, my self-entitlement, and all my other strategies to gain life in an unbiblical way." Well, I want to tell you, you're not alone, and it's not just Sheryl Crow who agrees with you. You're not the first follower of Christ or first person who has sat in a building like this who's been tempted to think that way.
Turn with me to Psalm 73. You know, I love that what we're doing in here is being partnered with across the way. This week, the directors of our children's ministry sent a letter home to all the folks who are actively involved in ministering to our children. They're having a ball this summer working through the Beatitudes. "Blessed are…"
They're helping the kids memorize those things and talk about, "Hey, here's where real life is. Blessed are those who have a right understanding of who they are and who God is and know they are bankrupt and corrupt and unable to ever pay off any kind of debt they have towards him with their life and their résumé, for theirs is the kingdom of God."
If you go down the way, what they're doing is they took those different beatitudes, and they spelled them out for the teachers. I want to just show you one thing they sent out. They said, "This is what the Lord said in the Beatitudes. The Lord says, ' [Happy] are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.'"
Then they said, "Listen, that's not what the world is going to tell the kids who are you are going to be ministering to." I want you to watch this. "The world says, 'Money will bring happiness, so climb the ladder of success. Try everything at least once. Be tolerant of bad, sinful behavior. Do not have standards too high, or you won't have any friends.' The world says that God is wrong, that you're not blessed if you hunger and thirst after righteousness. The world says that you're better off if you try everything at least once."
Now how many of us have been influenced by that song and by that philosophy? A lot of us have, and Asaph, the leader of worship in the time of David, one of the greatest kings in all of Israel, on his way to work, leaving his little home on the way to the temple, was tempted with what the world says. Look at Psalm 73 with me. This is one of my favorite psalms in the Bible because I could've written it. I can identify with it.
He starts by saying, "Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart!" He says that almost as if to prove to himself that he believes it, but now for the next, you know, 13 or so verses, he's going to let you know how much he struggles with this idea, and so he says, "But as for me…""I mean, I know this…" "But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling…""I was almost seduced," he would say. "My steps had almost slipped."
In verse 3, here's why. "For I was envious at the arrogant, as I saw the prosperity of the wicked." Now that word prosperity doesn't mean much to us in the English, but that word prosperity is a huge word to a Jewish mind. It's the word shalom. If you know any word in the Jewish language, in the Hebrew language, it's shalom. It means peace. It means life as you want it. It means more than fun. It means complete satisfaction.
What he's saying is, "Look, I almost screwed up. I almost made a huge mistake. I had some real heart trouble that was about to instruct my hands." Asaph is saying, "I was sowing thoughts of the world in my mind, and those thoughts were not far from bearing action. That action wouldn't be far from reaping for myself a habit, and that habit would not be far from reaping for myself a character. That character would reap for me a destiny because I saw, and I saw that, what God told me I would get in walking with him, they had. My heart is troubled, but not theirs."
It says, "Everywhere I look, the wicked are experiencing shalom, incredible peace. They have the life that I want that God said I should have." Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever looked around, and you go, "That guy ain't giving jack to the Lord! That guy is not honoring God with his life at all. He has a vile mouth. He lives for his own material gain and comfort. He's unfaithful to his wife. He's unethical in business, and his kids are the starting quarterbacks, the cheerleaders. There's no consequence.
He has a wife who's attractive, yet she doesn't even care that he's not even hanging out with her. He has a couple of houses. His business is written up in business journals, and I can't get ahead of this guy. He's the definition of rebellion, and he has 4 percent body fat, and I'm over here struggling to look in a mirror without getting sick. That's the life, and he tells me I'm crazy, and sometimes, I think I am"? That's this psalm.
He says in verse 4, "For there are no pains in their death, and their body is fat." This isn't the body fat thing I was just talking about. It means they have no want in their lives. They are well fed and well cared for and well provided for. "They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; the garment of violence covers them."
Let me just throw you over to one place that's very instructive in Scripture that's consistent with this. It's in Ecclesiastes, chapter 8. Solomon was wrestling with this exact same thing. It just said in Psalm 73, "…there are no pains in their death…" This is what Solomon observed. He said, "I have seen wicked people buried with honor. How strange that they were the very ones who frequented the temple and are praised in the very city where they committed their crimes."
What Solomon is saying is, "This makes no sense to me. I live in a town where wicked people go to the temple and just go through some religious ceremonies, but there's nothing consistent in their lives with that. These are wicked, evil men, and they are buried with honor." Solomon says it troubled him. We'll come back to that in just a minute, but you see this idea has troubled men for ages.
Back in Psalm 73, he says right there in verse 6, "Therefore pride is their necklace; the garment of violence covers them. Their eye bulges from fatness; the imaginations of their heart run riot." See this is true of the wicked people. Because no form of wickedness or self-satisfaction ever truly satisfies, they are constantly inventing new ways to enjoy perversion; building bigger house, going to more exotic resorts, and trying new things, new forms of self-pleasuring.
They imagine and develop new and greater ways constantly to try and figure out how to get life. He said, "There's no end to this." Verse 8 says, "They mock and wickedly speak of oppression; they speak from on high." Verse 9 says, "They have set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue parades through the earth."
You know, I have a friend of mine here who was involved with a Fortune 500 company, and he was one of the vice presidents. One day, the president, the CEO, came into his office and said, "Hey, we just got this contract with so-and-so, a $20 million contract!" My friend, who walks with the Lord and loves the Lord, in a very honest way had been praying for this contract, and responded by saying, "Man, praise the Lord! That's great news!"
The boss turned around and goes, "What'd you say?" He said, "I said, 'Praise the Lord!'" He goes, "What do mean, 'Praise the Lord?' Don't praise the Lord. You praise me. You praise the VP of marketing. We're the ones who got this deal." They mock that there's any sovereignty, any evidence of God working in and through their lives. Grace to them is a joke. "You get it. You earn it. Don't tell me, 'Thank God.' You thank me. I'm the one who's going to kick in your bonus this next year."
You know, I mentioned before that Napoleon had this same idea. He mocked God. Before he would go into battle with his troops, he'd stand before them, and he would say, "Whose side is God on?" They were rehearsed to respond in the same way: "Whoever has the most artillery." They would look to their left and their right at their cannons and their catapults, their horses and their strength, and they would mock. They would laugh, and they would go forward in arrogance. They would say, "God is on the side of those with the most artillery."
I mentioned before that Napoleon was pretty convinced of that and, in fact, had that belief reinforced consistently until he came across a little English force who had a little bit less artillery and a little tract of land we've come to know as Waterloo. We saw that, in fact, at that particular moment, God was not on the side of the one with the most artillery.
In verse 10, he says, "Therefore his people return to this place…" In other words, wicked folks keep coming back again and again to where they are. "…waters of abundance are drunk by them." People are drawn to dollars. Money and excess corrupt not just those who have but those who set their hearts on it. Men are drawn to a certain lifestyle because they're promised the prosperity the wicked already enjoy.
You may not know Robert Altman, but he was a comedian who was trying to make it a number of years ago and had more than just marginal success. He was friends with Richard Pryor at the height of Richard Pryor's successes and fame, and Richard Pryor in the 70s was, you know, the Jerry Seinfeld of his day except he was very perverse. He makes Seinfeld look like kindergarten teacher, and Pryor would glory in his excesses.
He would call friends over every now and then in the middle of one of his indulgences, and he would have all his cars out front, his Rolls-Royces, his whatever else he owned, five or six cars in his driveway. He would call his friends. Robert Altman said he went over one time. He went through the driveway, saw the cars, and walked in.
There was Pryor on a couch, sitting there unclad with several women also in the same state with a big tray of cocaine in front of him in the middle of this drug-induced orgy, and Altman would walk in and think, "Unbelievable! I'm invited here to this," and Pryor would say to him, "Hey, you can't stay, you crazy fool. I just wanted to give you some incentive. Now get out of here," and drive him out.
Now Altman was seduced by that, and the reason he wanted to produce greater fame and the reason he wanted to work hard to be funnier and more well thought of is so he could get life, because he saw no consequence in Richard Pryor's life. You know, it's interesting. Not less than a decade later, Richard Pryor was interviewed in People magazine when he had almost killed freebasing cocaine.
Richard Pryor said what Asaph is about to say in just a few short verses. Richard Pryor spoke with the wisdom God had begged him to hear and revealed to him centuries before through the mouth of Asaph. Richard Pryor said something like, "Let me just tell you something People magazine and people of the world and Robert Altman: the laughter of the arrogant is short."
As he struggled with his MS, as he struggled with his third-degree burns, as he struggled with his life that had fallen apart and his marriages that were ruined and the bankruptcy that ensued, Richard Pryor said, essentially, "I was a fool above all men, and I used to taunt men to come and chase after what I have, telling them that I had life. The whole time, I had to cover up my emptiness and shallowness by chemically induced states and by chasing after certain satisfactions that never satisfied."
If you asked most of us who had arrived and how had made it, Richard Pryor was at the top of that list in that decade, and if you'd think all you wanted to do is having some fun, you would think of Richard Pryor and later Kurt Cobain and just myriads of others. This is where our psalmist is. Now watch what he says.
Verse 11: "They say, 'How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?'" This is, by the way, their acknowledgement. You'll see that the Scriptures don't ever acknowledge something called philosophical atheism. In other words the idea that anybody would believe philosophically that there is no God is considered so completely absurd that the Bible doesn't even care to address it, but practical atheism, which means people who know there is a God but live as if there isn't, runs rampant.
What he's saying here is that the wicked are practical atheists. They acknowledge there is a God, but what they do is they don't attribute to God all his nature demands. They say, "God is there, but he's limited and shortsighted. God doesn't keep a count, and God doesn't intervene." They are what are called uniformitarianists who believe that things will always be as they always have been, and they neglect that God has intervened in human history before and has promised he will intervene again.
The last time he intervened in the flood, it says men were marrying and giving in marriage and were eating and drinking and partying and carrying on as if things would always be the same, and then, it says, in an instant, in a moment, the flood of God's judgments came and separated the righteous from the wicked, and things weren't so merry anymore, and the laughter of the arrogant was very, very short.
The pain of the righteous, the pain of the perspective of us who sit and say that God is there, when we look out sometimes and we see the fact that these guys are having a big time, it seems like a long time before there's any consequence to that. Doesn't it? If you meditate and dwell and you do what Psalm 37 tells you not to do, Psalm 37 acknowledges that this is going to be a struggle for us. It tells us to not be envious of the wicked, to not fret because of evildoers.
It's says, "For they will wither quickly like the grass and fade like the green herb." They won't be around very long. Jesus knew this. In Mark, chapter 4, he says, "Let me tell you what quenches the effectiveness and the productivity of followers of Christ, men who the Word of God is sown into their lives, women who hear God's Word and learn it… The reason they don't go on to greater fruitfulness and greater faithfulness is because they do what Asaph did but don't end up where Asaph ended up."
As they parade through life and the seed of God is sown in their hearts, it says, "…but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the [concerns for many] things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful." See, this is such a huge psalm for us because, even if we don't go passionately running after rebellion and evil and we don't follow Richard Pryor's steps and take his information and his encouragement, what many of us do is begin to choke out a passionate pursuit of God's Word.
We just lose a little bit of our zeal because everybody else who is pursuing their own way is the one with shalom. They're the ones with the "abundant life." You know, all of us when we're sitting there with the remote in our hands, if you have cable or you have satellite and you're flipping through channels and you come to MTV, you catch glimpses of the way they arrogantly parade their worldview of where life is…their beach parties, their Spring Break in Cancún.
When you look at that, it's so easy to go, "Man, they are having so much fun! It looks like that's where the life is. What are you going to do for spring break?"
"Oh, I'm going to hang out here with my parents or I'm going to go over here with my parents. What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to go pursue every form of indulgence imaginable down in Cancún. All the fun you seen on TV, I'm going to be a part of it."
College students, man, this is where you walk for four years. High school kids don't want to get serious about Christ because they don't want to miss their walk through this for four years, and 20-year-olds don't want to get serious about this because they want to make their first million.
When you start to get to the 30-, 40-, 50-, and 60-year-olds, you're going to start to see people getting some of the things they live for, and they have the scars to prove they've attained it and the emptiness in their heart wondering where the life is they thought they'd have once they got there. One of my favorite quotes is that the rich are infinitely better off than the poor because, while the poor still think money will buy them happiness, the rich know better.
See, Robert Altman still thought that women and cars and success and fame would give him what he longed for, but Richard Pryor knew better. He just didn't have the courage to tell that the ladder that he'd been climbing was leaning up against not the wrong wall but against no wall at all, and he knew, the higher he climbed, the further he was going to fall, not because he was having success but because he had nothing he was anchored to and life was causing nothing but pain and confusion.
I love the honesty of our Bible. When we talk about life and celebration and fun, we do it the way Rolling Stone does it. Man, right here, I have the Rolling Stone guide to Spring Break. I have to tell you, I couldn't put the slides up here that were in Rolling Stone. They're not just doing wet tee-shirt contests on beaches anymore, and they're parading their wickedness. I'm telling you, the imaginations are running riot in the games they're playing now to give out a free tee shirt from Carlos'n Charlie's.
It looks like so much fun, but what they're not showing us is the little girl who wakes up crying. What they're not showing is that even though they give you a pill which will keep you from getting pregnant and now a pill to keep you from delivering that baby, they cannot give you a pill for the anguish of your soul. They don't show that part of it on TV. They don't show you that part on Springer Break. They just show you're missing out on where life is.
Have you ever walked down that road? Do you ever leave that remote sitting there going, "You know what? I wonder if I'm missing it. I wonder if the songs of life, the songs of celebration, the songs of celebration and friendship are somewhere other than where God says they are. Asaph did, and this is what he said.
He goes on to say in verse 12, "Behold, these are the wicked; and always at ease, they have increased in wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure…" Surely in vain I have been concerned with godliness, I have been consumed with sanctification, I have connected with the body of Christ, I have been equipped, I have served in my giftedness.
" [Surely I have] washed my hands in innocence…" Like a fool. He says, "…for I have been stricken all day long and chastened every morning [by what I see, by their prosperity, and by my apparent lifelessness] ." It's bombarding his mind's eye. Then you have what is called a pivot verse because something's about to happen that's going to change his view.
He says in verse 15, "If I had said, 'I will speak thus…'""I will declare. I will preach this. I will let folks know that this is what life is all about." "…I would have betrayed the generation of Your children. When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight…" Can I hear an "Amen" for Asaph? Yeah! Do you see how real your Bible is? It does not sugarcoat this stuff.
God understands. He's walked on this earth. He's been mocked at and spit on, on this earth as a righteous man himself while Herod and Caesar lived in excesses unmatched in his day. He's been troubled as a human, and he's felt what you have felt. He's been tempted in every way as you have with the campaign of MTV, yet he did not cave in, and neither did Asaph, and here is why. There are two reason specifically I can give you in these next two or three verses.
First, it says right there in verse 15, "If I did this, I would've betrayed my children." Here is one of the benefits of community. I need to tell you guys this. As much as I can tell you that I love Christ and as much as I am desperate to be a man who honors God, if it were not for my circle of friends and accountability, if it were not for my wife and my children I love, who I do not want to disappoint…
If it were not for this body who has entrusted me with incredible trust and has given me the incredible privilege to serve them by being a man who gets to commit himself to the Scriptures and to their lives and to share in that struggle to faithfulness with them, if it was just left to me and my God, I have to tell you, I'm scared to death at what I might would do.
I'm scared where I'd find myself in February and March looking for life, because I would go, "You know what? I'll take some of the sting of some of the sin. I'll take some of the consequence of my own rebellion," but I realize that my life is not an island and what I do affects other people. Though I might be "man enough" to take the bite of that viper, I don't want my kids to feel that horror because I know…I know…that whatever pleasure I get is fleeting compared to the consequence.
One of the privileges of community is it brings… God uses it. He doesn't punish us for needing it. He offers it to us. If you're out there isolated and alone and if you screw up and if you sin and if your life craters, then it's not going to affect anybody, he asks you, "Why?" Get connected with some other people you will disappoint, crush, and let down if you make decisions like the rebels of your day make decisions. Community preserved Asaph. He said, "Even if I wanted to do it, I knew, if I did it, others I love would experience pain, and I don't want them to experience pain."
That's a very practical reason he was able to keep pure, but he has another one, not so practical as it is just bottom-line truthful. It's in verse 17. He got to work. He says, "…until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end." What did Asaph see when he got to the sanctuary? He saw an altar. He saw a bunch of animals who were being led to slaughter for the sins of the people. He saw atonement or payment for sin.
He saw holiness, goodness, justice, and consequence, and he realized that what Ezekiel after him would say is true, that God doesn't delight in the death of the wicked and that God says centuries later through his servant Peter that God does not delight in the death of the wicked and he's patient toward you, longing that you would come to repentance, not wanting you to experience the consequence of your rebellion against him.
This is what he says in verse 18. "Surely You set them in slippery places…" Meaning, the wicked. "…You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment!" Suddenly or completely they are swept away. It reflects back to the time of Noah, when that's exactly what happened, where in Matthew, chapter 24, it's described. Asaph says here, "Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form."
I love this saying. There's a Chinese proverb that says, "He who rides tiger must find way to dismount." That's what Asaph is saying. They are riding a tiger of rebellion, and there's going to be a day when they have to dismount. There's a story a theologian told one time. He said, "You know, I see people in the world talking about how great their lives are living apart from and in rebellion against God."
He said, "They are like men who have jumped off a 100-story building, and when they've passed the ninetieth floor, they'll wave at you and say, 'This is great! Unbelievable! I'm having a ball!' On the eightieth floor, they'll say, 'Gravity has no effect in my life. It's a rush. Adrenaline's at an all-time high.' They would say it at the seventieth, sixtieth, fiftieth, fortieth, thirtieth, and twentieth. They would continue to celebrate their place, but sooner or later, the reality of truth will catch up with their experience."
This is what Asaph is saying. "I walked into the temple, and I saw the holiness of God. I saw the consequence for sin, which is judgment and death, and I knew they were in a slippery place and that, sooner or later, what they were enjoying was going to come back and get them in a way they've never, ever imagined." It's like three friends who are sitting around and talking about what they want said at their funerals.
One friend says, "Well, I want them to say, when they stand over my casket, 'He was a good dad, an ethical businessman and kind to his family.'" The second guy said, "I want them to say that I was a hardworking doctor who gave my life to the cure of disease and the comfort of fellow humankind." They looked at the third guy who was a little bit more bothered, and they said, "Well, what do you want to hear them say?" The guy said, "I want to hear them say, 'Well, look! He's moving.'" We all realize there's a day when all this stuff doesn't matter that much.
I'll never forget when I had the privilege of sitting, within a six- to seven-month period of his death, on the private jet of a billionaire, flying with a bunch of friends down to Florida to his five-star resort that he owned to celebrate a significant time in his life and the conversations we had while I was down there talking about ultimate things in life and spiritual things and his resistance to them and his hardness toward them and some of the offense he even took toward our conversation.
Only six to seven months later I had this strong-strength, proud, self-sufficient man on the last days of his life lying in bed asking me if I'd just put a chip of ice in his mouth, with all the strength he had grabbing my finger and just squeezing a little bit while I prayed for him, as if to say, "Thank you. There's no greater kindness anybody's ever done me." I'm going to tell you something. The laughter of the arrogant is short, but it chokes out our fruitfulness. It deceives us, and it gets us concerned about the wrong things.
This psalm continues, and it moves with Asaph talking about where God really is in his life, and he realized that they're going to wake up, they're going to be one day face-to-face with this God who is holy, and in verse 21, he says this. "When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within…" As I was envious of the wicked, as I fretted because of evildoers. He says, "…then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast…" Which is simply to say, "You know, I didn't work with rationality. I just worked on impulse."
It is what most of us do when we're looking this way. We go, "That looks like fun. I'm going to run toward it," instead of processing truth and walking in wisdom and leaning not on our own understanding but, in all our ways, acknowledging him. Asaph said, "I was so close like this, when I was sowing that idea in my mind."
The experts in New York on Madison Avenue will tell you that the average American gets hit with over 300 advertisements a day, telling them they need this to be happy, need this to be satisfied, need this to be content. If we get hit with 300 of those a day, you know, it's just a constant pulling and piercing from within. It's a worldview that's begging you to find life somewhere else.
I don't just get it from billboards and from TV commercials and radio ads and print ads. I get it from watching the arrogant parade by me all day long. It's tempting my heart and piercing me within and prodding and pulling me away from life, and all they do is show you the upside of Fruit Loops and not the weight you carry afterwards.
I love the sign I saw on one friend's refrigerator. It had a picture of a person whose body was disproportioned inappropriately, and they had pockets of food. It said, "Before you grab it, ask yourself, 'Do you like it enough to wear it?'" We never think about that when we go into rebellion. Do we? Do you like it enough to wear that face of anger, that hard heart of bitterness? Do you like it enough to wear that scar of self-hate, that scar of a lack of self-respect and self-esteem? Do you like it enough to live with fear and insecurity? Do you want to wear that?
What the Scriptures tell you is he begs you. He says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." What songs of life are all about. It's in walking with Christ.
But man, when you're around some of the folks who people in this body are privileged to be around and you see the excesses of the world, you start to go, "Maybe I ought to dangle a little bit in that way, and maybe I ought to forsake some ethics and forsake some morality and forsake some convictions because that looks like life." Again, I would tell you, one of the privileges of being in some of those circles sometimes is, when you get to the door and get there and shut it, you can find out that they're not as happy as they look.
You know, I have had the privilege of, at times, knowing and having some conversations with the gal who wrote that song, Sheryl Crow. When she first got the opportunity to tour with Michael Jackson, which was her big break, as she went out to LA, she was the only female chosen on Michael Jackson's Bad tour. I mean, this was at the height of Michael Jackson's career. He was Elvis of the day.
Sheryl and I went to college together, and when they came through Dallas, I went down and spent some time with her. I just sat with her, and I said, "How are you doing?" She told me incredible stories about Michael and his monkey and incredible stories about the tour and how nuts it was. I said, "Well, how's your heart doing? What are you up to with some of this stuff?" She says, "Oh, I'm doing fine. I'm really doing fine. I think I'm keeping it in perspective."
You know, Michael had a crush on her. He used to watch movies with his monkey and Sheryl. He'd have her over and come watch this stuff. She was just in the inner circles of the inner circles of the day. Then a little bit later, Quincy Jones got ahold of her and helped her get her first stuff started and produced her first albums. She got runners. She became, you know, a five-time Grammy Award winner her first time out of the chute, and life was just rolling for Sheryl.
It wasn't long ago that she just said that Stevie Nicks and Kid Rock saved her life. You have to be in a pretty low place if Stevie Nicks and Kid Rock are saving your life. They, though, as friends did come alongside and helped her with some substance issues she had, which was a great thing, but you know, it's not just about getting hooked on some substances. It's about looking for life.
Do you know what Sheryl really wants? What she wants is life, and I understand all the places she's looked for it because I am so pierced within to look for it in the exact same way. I'm not talking about that I used to be. I'm talking about that I'm like Asaph, and every day, every week, I start to go, "You know, wow! That does look like life. That does look like life," but I want to be somebody who thinks not with the mind of this world but thinks with a perspective of truth.
It ends here in this little psalm by just commenting, "Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth." What he's saying there is, "Lord, in light of you, when I understand who you are and when I fellowship with you and when I go to you…" I told you that community was one of the things that kept Asaph on track. The other thing was his time of intimacy with the Lord, pursuing the Lord in his place and seeing truth and seeing revelation for what it was.
It got him thinking straight again. What Asaph is saying right now is, "God, in light of you, your glory, your goodness, the peace you bring that's beyond circumstance, at that moment when I'm in fellowship with you, there's nothing on earth that compares with that. You alone give me what I long for."
Now that is not what he's saying he felt like all the time. He's saying, when he is disciplined to go there, to sit still at God's feet to not think as an animal and just some gut reaction but to think with rationality and purpose and a redeemed mind, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ and looking at the perspective of an empty tomb, he says, "When I understand that, that you are my God and you are for me, what else is there?" That's peace.
He says, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength…""You hold me near, by your Word, by community, by conviction of your Spirit. You keep me where I need to be." "For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good…"
Now let me just say this. If Asaph did not know and by faith accept the provision God had given him, the nearness of God is his end because a Holy God consumes that which is not holy. Asaph is saying, "By the grace of God, you've made provision for my sin." Back then, it was an animal sacrifice, innocent blood that was shed in anticipation of the perfect sacrifice that would one day come to cover the sins of the world. Asaph said, "Lord, being near you is good for me because you have dealt with my sin graciously through the punishment of another." Why?
It's because he personalized this. He didn't just have it informationally. He says there in verse 28, "I have made the Lord [the God of Israel] my refuge…""I have personal trust in you, and now as a result of my personal trust and, Lord, knowing that you have put me in a place of peace that no amount of worldly satisfaction and fame could ever give me, I'm going to have a personal testimony, and I'm going to tell others of your works.
I'm going to stand before billionaires and rock stars, and I'm going to say, 'I know what you have is sweet and is nectar of a moment, but you know it's not giving you the peace you're looking for. There's nothing wrong with being successful in the music industry. There's nothing wrong with being successful in the business world, but if they're your gods, there's plenty wrong with it. It lacks life. Doesn't it?" Behind closed doors, they whisper, "yes."
Let me give you some very practical application for this psalm for me and for you. I just call this one weep, wait, worship, and warn. Let's just be honest. We need to weep honestly. Sometimes, it looks like all the fun is at Cancún. Can I hear an "Amen"? Is anybody else in this room honest? Okay? We talked about this last Easter. We talked about how the heaven of Turks and infidels involves indulgences of the flesh.
You know, there was a time I thought heaven would be the place that he would let me have my Richard Pryor moments unfettered, and that was because I was ignorant and didn't know the Scriptures because, now that I know more of who my God is, what I understand is that, when you're in the presence of God, you can take the highest description of good on this earth, and it pales in comparisons to him.
You know, for a kid, when you talk about what heaven is, they go, "Ice cream, candy…all of it all the time, all you want." We know as adults that, if that's all that heaven is, we're not making a good deal right now. You know what? If it's sex, if it's comfort, if it's beauty, if it's popularity… If that's all heaven is, we're cutting a bad deal.
God says, "You know what, Todd? You don't have to worry. It's so much better than that. I can't even describe it to you. The best I can do is tell you that, the very thing that people kill each other for in war and work their entire lives for, gold on this earth, I've paved the streets with it. It's worthless and meaningless up here in heaven. It's as asphalt to you. It's like a rock. It's sand. It's nothing."
Right now, we can be honest about the fact that we're missing out on what appears to be life at times, and we can weep honestly. We don't need to pretend that sin is not attractive. It's called deceitful for a reason. It looks like it's where life is. Let's be honest about the fact that, yes, right now, we are not the ones who are experiencing every pleasure and every comfort that is known to the flesh, and sometimes, that troubles us.
Sometimes it troubles us that even God trusts us enough to walk through some dark valleys as we honor him when it looks like those who don't honor him have nothing but glee. We, at times, can mourn about that, but we ought to wait patiently, and we ought to not sell out and not buy the lie and not reorder our worldview and start to go for something else.
We ought to then worshiphim and say, "Lord, I'm going to sit at your feet and believe your tomb is empty and believe your cross was there for a reason." This last one is a big deal. Having been delivered from a life of slavery to the flesh, slavery to being animals who act on whatever we think would bring us joy and pleasure in life for a moment, we need to declare, we need to warn earnestly and passionately to our friends and family and love them where they are.
We need to understand that they have been deceived in the way we ourselves are tempted to be deceived and reason with them in every way possible, speak with them about the truths and the compelling evidences of the Scriptures and about our Lord and his grave, love them wherever they go. We need to be the Kid Rocks and Stevie Nickses in their lives and bring them to real life.
We need to not look down on them. We need to seek them and develop a relationship with them and initiate with them and not join them in rebellion, for Christ himself was a friend of sinners, not a companion in what sinners did. He didn't date them. He loved them and called them to righteousness and repentance, and that's what we ought to do.
If you're here today, just as lovingly as I can, let me just show you this little point because the cross you wear around your neck that you see on top of buildings all around the world is not just a reminder of God's deliverance. That cross is also a reminder of God's damnation and his hatred for sin. Do you know that?
When you look at a cross, when you see a cross, when you sing about the cross, what you're saying is, "God, there is judgment, judgment that is so severe that you would pour out your wrath on your Son because you love those you created and wanted to give them a means through which they might be saved, and you didn't want to just overlook sin because of your nature, but you poured out your wrath on one who those of us who cannot handle your wrath and who otherwise would enter into eternal destruction might find life in him."
If you're here today, we lift up the cross of Jesus Christ, and we tell you that, that cross is there to tell you that God loves you and wants to deliver you out of darkness and into light, and we invite you to come into the light and to have peace like you've never imagined. I need to let you know that cross will serve you one day. It'll serve you either as the means through which you are delivered or as the final statement of your damnation.
Do you know what so ironic? In the next two or three weeks, our country is going to sing a song a whole lot. It was written by this lady. Take a look at her. She wrote a little phraseology. She heard a song one day when she was out during the time of the Civil War. Isn't she a beauty? Look at her. That's Julia Ward Howe. Do you know who she is? I saw her picture, and I thought, "I want to put her up there."
That woman knew more Bible than probably most of us will ever know. One day when she saw a bunch of armies from the North marching toward the South, singing a song called, "John Brown's Body," which says, "John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave," she knew her Bible so well that...
They kept singing it, and she was disturbed by the fact that these men were going to war because of what happened at Harper's Ferry and some abolitionist whose life was delivered up and killed and hung because he'd tried to free some slaves. She went home and took this very familiar camp tune, and she said that, almost as quickly as she could put her pen to a paper, she wrote some different words that The Atlantic Monthly later published and then became well known that you have sung.
Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage
where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning
of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
I assure you, if you go to a fireworks show, you're going to hear "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Let me just ask you a question. What are we calling for as a nation when we sing those words? We are celebrating the fact that God is a God of wrath. He's a God of mercy and a God of justice, but his truth will go forward.
There will be a day when he will unleash the lightning of justice with his terrible and swift sword. Have you heard that phraseology before? You bet. It's in Psalm 73, among about 100 other places in your Bible. Look at what she did. She took this little tune, and she heard Jeremiah, chapter 25, in her mind's eye. This is what Jeremiah, chapter 25 says.
"Therefore you shall prophesy against them all these words, and you shall say to them, 'The Lord will roar from on high and utter His voice from His holy habitation; He will roar mightily against His fold. He will shout like those who tread the grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth.'"
What I want to declare to you today is, "Look, I understand, man. I am crying with you." It looks like they're sometimes having all the temporal fun, and sometimes, there is some temporal pleasure to sin. That's why it's called tempting, and the Scriptures are very honest. It says sin has its season, but it also says that season is short, and it isn't worth it. It's not like you sin and then repent and get away with it because you don't acknowledge the sting that comes with that season of rebellion.
Now the grace of God is available to anyone who comes today, and God is saying, "Those of you who weep at the state our lives are in sometimes, wait patiently for the day. You'll never regret it." Worship him continually in community and in his presence so that you know, "You alone, God, are where life is." If you have an ounce of compassion, you declare that his truth is going to march, and you ask your friends to meet him and then go to the cross for deliverance and not wait for his damnation."
Father, we pray this morning that we as a group of people would not have to act like sin doesn't look enticing sometimes. I'm so grateful that you have given us a worship leader in Israel who said, "Are you crazy? Every day I walk to work it looks enticing." Father, we want to be people who are wise, that we don't parade that stuff continually before us because we know that, the more our minds are exposed to that stuff, the more they're going to be prone to influence our hearts, and that will make us prone to have hands that chase after things which bring death.
Father, it concerns us and troubles us that the wicked have shalom, the wicked have peace, and the only reason this morning I pray for trouble in their lives is because, the longer they go having satisfaction in their rebellion, the longer they go thinking there is no problem. As a person who has himself found grace from you in ways I'll never understand, for reasons I'll never understand, I pray for my friends, poor and great, that you would bring about conviction in their lives and that they could find where life really is.
I pray that, while they look at me, they would see me waiting patiently for the day, fully convinced of him who has saved me and they would find me worshiping at his feet, not just in the context of a Sunday morning but with my life and the things I choose and the things I surrender to and the way I love.
I pray, Lord, they would find me as a gracious messenger and they would find this body and this community of faith and all who sit here today as loving proclaimers of truth, heralds of righteousness, as it were, who sing with boldness and conviction that life alone is in God, that we are not to find satisfaction and cannot find satisfaction anywhere else but in him.
Lord, this song we're about to sing, may it be the song our lives scream out and testify to all the days of our lives beginning right now with the way we love people at lunch, this afternoon at pools, this evening as a family in neighborhoods. Tomorrow at work, may they see us as individuals who, by the grace of God have been taught as Asaph has, that you alone are where life is and that all others are in a slippery place. I pray this in Christ's name, amen.
Music has incredible power to touch our hearts. And some of the greatest songs ever written are found in the book of Psalms. In the Songs of Summer we focus on four biblical "lyrics" to show how they capture the essence of joy, life and relationship found in Christ. You'll be challenged and encouraged as you hear how beautifully God's Word speaks to the deepest needs of our hearts.