“Don’t Be a Donkey!” (a sermon on Psalm 32)

Let me tell you two stories.

Story #1: about eight years ago, I had an infection.  I had a low grade fever that wouldn’t go away.  Being a normal American male, I ignored it, figuring it would go away.

It didn’t go away.

So I took Tylenol and Alieve, and the fever would go down but it soon returned.  I went to the doctor, and she gave me antibiotics.  They knocked the fever down, but it (again) returned.

For about ten weeks, I had a fever that just completely never went away.

Finally, after just short of three months, my doctor sent me to a surgeon who removed some infected scar tissue from my leg.  See, the infection had found a home in that scar tissue on the back of my leg.  I could ignore it, I could even throw medicine at it, but it wouldn’t go away until someone dug it out and removed it.

Story #2: David was the king of the Jews, living in his palace in Jerusalem.  His reign had been one long string of successes.  He was like Midas: everything he touched turned to gold.  God had blessed him over and over and over.

2 Samuel 11 begins: “In the spring of the year, when the kings of the nations went to war…”, David had sent his army out but he himself remained behind.  One evening, out walking on the roof of his palace, he saw a beautiful woman bathing on a neighboring roof.

He was intrigued.

He asked about her and learned that she was the wife of his friend, Uriah.

He was STILL intrigued.  So he sent for her, and when she was brought to him, he had sex with her.  We call that rape, by the way, when a man has sex with a woman who has no power to consent or refuse.

And then he found out she was pregnant.  So he tried to get his friend, her husband Uriah, to be intimate with her so that everyone would think that the baby was Uriah’s.  But Uriah refused.  So David, the king that God had blessed over and over, sent Uriah back to the army, back to the front lines, carrying the orders from David that led to Uriah’s murder.

And David thought: “I’ve covered this up.  No one will ever know.”

And weeks and months passed, until Nathan the prophet came and told David a story; “You are the man.”  And David confessed.  And David repented.  And David wrote:

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord does not count against them.

When we sin, we can respond to it in one of two ways.

FIRST, we can deny our sin.  We can avoid it or hide it.  What does David say in v. 3?  “When I kept silent …”  He denied his sin, and tried to cover it up.

It’s a very human impulse; we do something that we know is wrong, and we’re embarrassed.  We’re ashamed.  So we hide it, even if hiding it means lying or worse.

David says (vv 3-4):

“When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.”

What does David say happened to him as he hid his sin, focused on keeping it hidden?  His strength drained away, evaporated.  Ever been there?  You’ve done something and you’re hiding it?  Maybe from a parent, or a spouse, someone we don’t want to disappoint, and we know they’ll be disappointed …

What does having a shameful secret do to your relationship with your husband, or your wife?  Or when you were a child: what did having a secret sin do to your relationship with your parents, or others in authority over you?

We see it in Genesis 3; Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the tree, and when God comes, they hide.  We’re just like that.

Sin breaks our relationships with God and with the people that we’ve sinned against.  It builds a barrier a mile high and a mile wide and a mile deep, and we can’t get through it or tunnel under it, or climb over it.  And we’re the ones who build it, brick-by-brick, walling ourselves off from the one who loves us the most, the one we most need, the only one who can heal us.

The other alternative: we can confess it, and deal with it by bringing it to God.  Fact is that we ARE sinners.  As we admit and accept that fact, climb out of denial, we can begin to heal.

We know we’re sinners.  God knows much more clearly, it’s not like we’re going to shock him.  He not only knows what we did, he also knows the darkness in our hearts that leads to our sins.

Guilt and shame are reflexes that God wired into us to protect us.  When we sin, we feel guilt and shame, and it’s just like feeling pain when you touch something hot.  God designed your system so that you would pull back from something because it’s dangerous.

With physical pain, the reflex is to withdraw, pull back to safety.

With guilt and shame, the reflex is to run to God, turn to him for healing and cleansing.

David says that he confessed his sins to the Lord.  “Confess” means “to agree with someone.”  When we confess our sins to God, we’re agreeing with him about the nature of what we’ve done.  We’re agreeing with him about our motivations, not fooling ourselves or excusing.

Ever gotten a non-apology?  “I’m sorry if you thought I was being disrespectful.”  That’s not confession, confession agrees with God’s perspective on our sin, no rationalizations or excuses, no blaming others, no equivocations.

Notice the benefits that David said he received when he confessed his sin to God:

  • Forgiveness (5): “… you forgave the guilt of my sin.”  God removed the penalty, broke down the barrier.  How does it feel when you’ve been estranged from someone you love, and then they forgive you and receive you with open arms?  That’s the picture.
  • Protection (7):You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”  In an uncertain, troubled world, God can be your refuge and protector, IF you turn to him.  But you can’t turn to him if you’re hiding some shameful sin.
  • Direction (8-9): “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.”  Vv 8-9 is a different voice than the rest of the psalm; everything else is David, but vv 8-9 is God speaking, promising that if you will give up your pride, he will guide and direct you.

Have you ever been lost, taken the wrong turn?  God’s promise is that he will give you direction, as you turn to him and depend on him.

  • Unfailing love (10): “… the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.”  God’s covenant love refuses to let go.  Fierce, tough, tender; the love of a mother bear for her cubs, “the reckless, raging fury that they call the love of God.”

Four takeaways:

FIRST, you ARE going to fail.  The measure of your faith, your ministry, your service to God is not whether or not you fail but how you respond.  Will your failure shatter you?  Keep you running for the next forty years, never to settle and deal and grow?  Or will you be crushed and rebuilt by his grace?  You WILL fail.  Own it.

SECOND: God does his most powerful work in our lives through failures IF we respond to them with humility, repentance, and faith.  When you fail, look at your life and think, what can God build out of even this?

THIRD, the source of your power is God’s presence.  God’s grace gives you entry into that presence; you NEVER earn it, and you never deserve to be there.  Unresolved guilt and shame short-circuit our ability to access God’s grace.

If your prayers are powerless, if your relationship with God is stale and dead; If you have no patience with people, if you’re not able to forgive, …

… could it be because you have unresolved sin standing between you and God?

FOURTH, your secrets–even the shameful ones–lose their power when you drag them into the light.

For many years, the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland OH was known as “the mistake by the lake.”

They built the stadium over a garbage dump, or used garbage from a dump to fill the land–I’ve heard the story both ways.  And when NFL players hated playing on that field, because when they played there, the garbage–glass, masonry, metal–that was buried under the field, under the dirt, would work its way to the surface and cut and scrape the players.

That’s what sin and guilt are like: buried garbage that refuses to stay buried, keeps working its way to the surface.  Like an infection that you’re trying to ignore, but the symptoms keep getting in the way, making you miserable.

God wants your life to be shalom, to be better than it is.  Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Sin in your life–and we ALL sin–will build an impenetrable barrier between you and God, between you and his grace, IF YOU LET IT.  But God will smash that barrier if you let him.

Don’t let guilt drive you away from God.  Turn, confess, repent, receive, and be healed.


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