FROM THE HEART - LORD, I HAVE A BONE TO PICK
Dear friends in Christ,
The wheels seem to be coming off the world. When the Vice President who is supposed to help keep it together says it is coming apart by the seams, confidence wanes. Not long ago someone made the observation that there are now twenty four/seven news stations so they report on everything. When I was a kid, the nightly news, at least for a while, lasted only fifteen minutes. Where I grew up it was on TV from 6:15 PM to 6:30 PM. The first fifteen minutes was devoted to local news. With 24/7 news stations now everything gets reported. Maybe it was just as bad then but there was the time to report it all.
Yet the Lord makes it clear as we get closer to the day of Jesus’ return, “There will be terrible times in the last days.People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Those words come from Paul’s last letter before he was martyred – 2000 years ago.
On the other hand, in Psalm 2 God speaks and offers this challenge to the very people who seem to be pulling the world apart, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed.” The rulers of the earth are sneering at God the Father and God the Son, the anointed one, the Messiah. The psalm says, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath.” Hey, everyone, the Lord says, I am in control. Oh really, Lord? Really? Frankly, Lord, it seems like the inmates are running the prison. Lord, the facts seem to prove differently. The wheels are coming off.
Psalm 73 has a lot to say to us when we are led to think, “Lord, I Have a Bone to Pick with you.”
“I have a bone to pick with you, Lord.” I know I am of a different generation and I vocabulary sounds ancient at times. You dig what I mean? I come from a generation when the word ‘gay’ was used everyone assumed you meant ‘happy.’ “I have a bone to pick,” so say experts, goes back to the 1600’s. It is related to the phrase “a bone of contention.” The metaphor pictures two dogs fighting over a bone. The word “pick” speaks to the idea that they are fighting over the bone to pick to the bone clean and chew all the meat off and residual tissue. When we use the phrase it means that someone is upset about something that someone else has done or not done.
Asaph was the author of this psalm. Asaph was an eminent musician that David appointed to preside over the services at the tabernacle in Jerusalem. Twelve of the 150 psalms in the book of Psalms were written by him. In Psalm 73 Asaph was upset with God.
Asaph begins by stating he is a believer, “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” But he also acknowledges that he is not perfect and doesn’t have perfect understanding. He believes with his heart that God is control of all, but what he sees with his eyes is confusing. And that led him, as I know it does for us too, to have doubts and skepticism.
We are a dichotomy – new man that loves the Lord, and sinful self that doubts the Lord. As the man said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” That’s our story too. Asaph admits, “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.” Lord, I came close to giving up on you.
Asaph confesses, “For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Asaph envied to prosperous who had nothing to do with the Lord. He envied those whose pride and arrogance kept them from getting on their knees and pleading for mercy. They were too arrogant to do so. Yet their lives seemed to be so blessed and care so little about God and his people. Lord, it isn’t fair.
Asaph envied. Envy is an acid that eats away at contentment and faith. Besides is prosperity a blessing when it becomes an all-consuming god that leads people away from the gold paved streets of heaven?
Asaph continues with his honest feelings as wrong as they were. “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.” They are not like theLutheran pastor who has seven children eleven and under whose mom was taken from them at age 42. Lord, did you really need to take her away? Or the father of six girls at the age of 46? Yet there are athletes who could care less about you and who make millions and have their health and a huge quantity of testosterone because they have children in every city! It doesn’t make sense. Lord, aren’t there times when you want a do over?
“Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression.” Fame and fortune and power make people arrogant and proud. They even think of themselves as invincible. Crime does seem to pay. Dishonesty is the way you have to play the game. It’s a given that the one who has the most toys in the end wins.
“Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.” They say awful things about you God. The Barna group who study the relationship between faith and culture recently did a study and found that nearly 75 percent of Christian young people leave the church after high school. One of the key reasons they do so is intellectual skepticism. They say, “This is a result of our youth not being taught the Bible in their homes or in church. Statistics show that our kids today spend an average of 30 hours per week in public schools where they are being taught ideas that are diametrically opposed to biblical truths, e.g., evolution, the acceptance of homosexuality, etc. Then they come home to another 30 hours per week in front of a TV bombarded by lewd commercials and raunchy sitcoms or “connecting” with friends on Facebook, staying online for hours, chatting with one another, or playing games. Whereas the time spent weekly in the church Bible classroom is 45 minutes.” It’s no wonder that our young people leave the home without a Christian worldview. I don’t need God is the ultimate arrogance.
So much cheating and lying goes on and so few actually get caught, Asaph says, “They say, ‘How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?’ This is what the wicked are like— always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.”
The prosperity Gospel gang thinks like this. If you aren’t happy and rich and carefree, God doesn’t love you. God, you cheated me. “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.” Have you been like Asaph?
A well-known Texas pastor was invited to dinner at the home of a very wealthy Texas rancher and oilman. After the meal, the host led the pastor to a place in his home where they had a good view of the surrounding area. Pointing to the oil wells in the landscape, he boasted, "Twenty-five years ago I had nothing. Now, as far as you can see, it's all mine." Looking in the opposite direction at his sprawling fields of grain, he said, "That's all mine." Turning east toward huge herds of cattle, he bragged, "They're all mine." Then pointing to the west and a beautiful forest, he exclaimed, "That too is all mine." He paused expecting a compliment on all his hard work. But the pastor put his hand on the rancher’s soldier and pointed to heaven and asked, "How much do you have in that direction?" The man hung his head.
Countless things are amazing about our God. One of the things he can tell us is what would have happened if we had gone another direction or made a different decision. God told Israel through the prophets if they would go to war if they would win or not. You know Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken. God could tell us what would have happened if we had taken the road that was not taken.
I will always remember the conversation that I had with my dad when I told him I wanted to be a pastor. He wanted one of his sons to be a lawyer or a doctor. I was the next in line. He never got his wish, but God could tell me if I would have made it to and through law school or med school. He could tell me if that was the reason he wanted me to be a pastor so that I was always around the Word of God and his way of keeping me faithful.
Asaph came to see the errors of his thinking. “When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!” Jesus once asked the question that needed to be asked, “What good is it if a man gains the whole world and loses his soul? What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Remember the story Jesus told about the beggar Lazarus and the rich man? The beggar had faith in forgiveness of sins. The rich man didn’t. Many envy the rich in this life, but was it their riches that hindered them from being eternally rich? Don’t envy a life of anyone whose end will come to damnation even if their lot in this life was to have a lot.
The godless leader and the gangster, the dictator’s life is wiped out in a second and all that he had is taken from him. That’s the slippery slope.
Asaph came to his senses. He repented and confesses, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant. I was a brute beast before you.” How could I be so stupid and foolish? How could I envy the finite and almost toss away the infinite? How could I wish for a millisecond of pleasure and think of tossing away being in God’s presence forever?
“Whom do I have in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.You hold me by my right hand.” Our treasure is not here but there. Our treasure is our God.
Asaph’s victory over doubt is such a valuable lesson for us. I love this psalm. Asaph says what most of us think. Asaph proves that what most of us think is totally foolish.
Who hasn’t been disturbed and angered by the prosperity, the influence and power of the wicked? But we need to look beyond.
“You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.” I have used that as a funeral sermon text from time to time. But that verse is a good passage to guide us in this life. Give me your Word and promises Lord. They will lead me to glory. We conclude as Asaph did. “But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” Sorry Lord, about that bone to pick. There isn’t one after all.