Monday, October 7, 2013

Clean Hands

The earth is the LORD’S and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.  Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?  And who shall stand in his holy place?  Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.  They will receive blessing from the LORD, and vindication from the God of their salvation.  Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.  Selah  
Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors!  that the King of glory may come in.  Who is the King of glory?  The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle.  Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.  Who is this King of glory?  The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory.  Selah     Psalms 24:1 - 10 (NRSVA)
In every person’s spiritual makeup there are certain ideas about God which we hold as truth-unchallengeable – that which we believe about God; things not up for discussion.  Psalm 24 ought to be that.
There is a rich truth contained in this Psalm about who we are, and that for which you have been created:  we are not our own; we must live in a way that pleases God and not ourselves.  We must live with clean hands.
This is a reality Christian people must face every day.  Our salvation, purchased on the cross, demands we give our attention to living with clean hands.  One reason Jesus gave us this table is so we will remember that.
What does it mean to have “clean hands and a pure heart”? 
When my Grandchildren come to our house there is a rule – you wash up before
coming to the table.  And, after eating (and before putting hands, face or anything else on the walls or furniture), you WASH again! 
What’s more, you will probably always have Grandma or Grandpa standing nearby.  We supervise! 
We supervise because little hands are not yet adept at getting all the sticky stuff off a little round face and chubby hands.
If coming to the Lord with our prayers were about freshly washed hands, scrubbed with Dial or even old-time Lye soap, it would be a simple thing.  But, like my Grandkids, we need some help. 
Clean hands and a pure heart have to do with confessing the mud with which we live.  In 1969 I completed my tour of duty with Uncle Sam.  Elizabeth and I packed up the car and left Fort Knox in the rear view mirror.  When we got back home we rented our first apartment…3 whole rooms; very clean rooms!
One evening we invited my cousin, Rick to our apartment for supper.  Rick was unmarried and therefore not adequately trained for polite company.  Rick showed up wearing his old Army combat boots.  Sixteen layers of mud covered those boots from top to bottom. 

When Elizabeth answered the door, all she could see were those muddy combat boots.  “Take ‘em off,” was all she said.  “You’re kidding,” he replied.  The look in her eye convinced Rick – the shoes stayed out in the hall.  I took a picture for posterity. 
In some ways we have that same problem – we come to the Lord with all this mud (called sin), and we aren’t even aware.  He says, “Take it off”.  And we say, “Huh?”  And the Lord says, “I don’t want anything coming into my presence with all that sin covering it!”  At that moment in worship our hearts are broken, and we are undone.  We know how muddy we are inside, and it makes us shrink back from God.

The Necessary Table

It is necessary, this table; it helps us keep our mud in perspective.  The cross is lifted high above the muddy ground.  When we kneel there, he lifts us up.  And then, like a loving Mom or Dad will carry Junior to the sink, God washes us off.
There are those today who look down on the idea of Jesus being necessary.  We are educated enough, sophisticated enough.  We have medicine, science, philosophy and government programs.  We can solve anything.  We can clean ourselves, thank you!
The problem with that is we don’t really know anything.  The earth and its fullness – meaning the entire universe – is the Lord’s.  It includes all who dwell on the earth too.  That means HE decides how things work; HE decides when your life and mine is clean! 
So often we begin to decide things for our own lives, leaving the Lord out of our plans.  A man came to the church I was serving.  He needed help on Christmas Eve.  After giving him some food I asked him where he goes to church.  He never goes.  I told him he was welcome here.  He said, “I know I need God; He’s the only one who will never turn His back on you.” 
That man was right, God never turns HIS back; but the man just didn’t acknowledge that WE can turn our backs on God.  The table reminds us!
Several years ago one Thursday the news of the week was all about the death of Michael Jackson.  One reporter spoke about the dichotomy that was his life – so talented, high energy, and Jackson’s connection with the world’s audience. 
On the other hand there was the shadow of his life – the “mud” – drugs, questions about his relationships with children, and his financial irresponsibility, leaving over $400 million in debt.  He was the man who lived in Neverland. 
The reporter called him an “exceptional talent, a performer without peer”.  Then she said, “but as a human being he was an abysmal failure.”[1] 
That’s not really accurate.  As a human being Michael Jackson was just transparent enough to show us that each of us is exactly that – performer on the outside and shadows of mud inside.  If you do not believe this is so, you do not believe what Christianity teaches.
That’s why this table is necessary.  It reminds us we have all turned our backs on Him with our sin.  If that were not true the cross would’ve been unnecessary.  Jesus would have died in vain. 
But this table calls us to remember Him, and repent of our muddy sins; so do that - and in so doing, Jesus will give us clean hands, and a pure heart!  Isn’t that something?  He requires clean hands – and He does the scrubbing! 
So, come; ascend and stand in the holy place.  The invitation is to all – be cleaned and dine!

[1] Fox News, Thursday, June 25, 2009

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