A Faithful God And His Fragile People

Psalm 103:6-14
The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

As Pastor Mike shared last week, we are a forgetful people. A sad reality of living in a world that is underneath the curse of sin is that we can be forgetful, or indifferent and bored with what is magnificent. We forget what ought to be unforgettable. David tells himself in verse two of this Psalm to not forget the benefits that God displays towards those who fear him. We forget. We read our Bibles, hear a sermon, sing a song that tells of the magnificence of who God is and what he does. And then we forget it.

Our mind and heart can be like a strainer as the soul-refreshing water of God’s benefits pour through it. It doesn’t stick, but slips right through and fails to shape how we think and how we feel. The goodness of God slips through and we are unaffected by it. That is why we need to constantly be hearing God’s Word and praying that those holes in the strainer get smaller and smaller so that we can remember and not forget.

This is why the Psalms are good for your soul. They remind you of what you are so prone to forget. The Psalms and the Bible as a whole are not meant to be a vaccination that you get once. One shot and your good to go. No, God’s Word is more like an antibiotic that you need constantly flowing through you by means of an IV.

You need to be constantly having the Bible shape your thinking and your feelings about God. When you’re dead, you can stop reading your Bible. What comes to your mind when you hear the word “God.” Right now, specifically what comes to mind? What words or thoughts or attributes come to mind when you hear the word “God”. The answer to that is crucial to how you think, feel and act. This needs to by crystal clear in your mind.

AW Tozer’s book, The Knowledge of the Holy has been so helpful to me in reminding myself of who God is. He writes: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us… The words, ‘Be still, and know that I am God,’ mean next to nothing to the self-confident, bustling worshiper in this middle period of the twentieth century… Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous

Psalm 103 is a gift from God to help us know who God is, what he does, and who we are. Moses longed for this. In Exodus 33:18 we see him longing, desiring, wanting to know God more. He said, “Please, show me your glory.” And the Lord descended in a cloud and stood before Moses proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgressions and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 34:6-8).”

And Moses’ response was a bowing of his head to the earth and lifting up his heart in worship to Almighty God. What comes into your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you. Psalm 103 is 22 verses of filet mignon steak for us to savor. It’s the can be the clogs in the strainer to stop forgetful thinking about God. So let’s walk through verses 6-14 and see and savor who God is, what he does, and who we are in light of that.

VERSE 6

“The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed (v. 6).” When you see the word LORD with all capital letters like we see hear, that is using the proper name for God. The specific name for the true God of Israel. The self-existent one. Tozer writes about God’s self-existence by saying, “Aside from God, nothing is self-caused… Man for all his genius is but an echo of the original Voice, a reflection of the uncreated Light. As a sunbeam perishes when cut off from the sun, so man apart from God would pass back into the void of nothingness from which he first leaped at the creative call.

And this self-existent God works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. God does see and does care about injustice and oppression. Each day across this world of 7 billion people how many evil, sinful acts go unchecked and unfounded by governments and criminal justice systems? Acts of unrighteousness and injustice that have happened throughout human history, and have gone unpunished, are incalculable. So how do we reconcile the truth of this verse with reality around us? At work I see men getting away with spousal abuse. I see drunk driver’s who have killed people not get any prison time. Kids, do you see bullies on the playground or in your neighborhood pick on you or someone else and get away with it? It doesn’t seem like God is working righteousness and justice for the oppressed.

Anytime we see promises like what we see in verse 6 we must have a wide angle lens to it. We must remind ourselves that we are but dust and vapor, but God is self-existent and eternal. He sees it all, knows it all, and will execute judgement on it all in this life or in the next. And the courtroom of the throne God is a far more fearful place than the courtroom of this world! All evil will face its just due before the Lord.

If this weren’t true, my job as a law enforcement officer would be utterly depressing. The Lord does work and does act on behalf of those who are oppressed. Often it will not be in the way or within the time frame that we choose. But this will only serve to show God’s patience with the wicked, and ultimately show with a greater display of his magnificence, the judgement he will give on behalf of those who are oppressed.

“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end (Revelation 22:11-12).” God’s justice will be carried out by his son Jesus who will repay every single person for what they have done. Nothing slips through the cracks.

AW Tozer writes on God’s justice, “The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions. It hushes their fears and allows them to practice all pleasant forms of iniquity while death draws every day nearer and the command to repent goes unregarded. As responsible moral beings we dare not so trifle with our eternal future.”

What comes into your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.

VERSE 7

“He made known his ways to Moses, and his acts to the people of Israel.” The word “ways” here is referring to God’s statutes, ordinances, decisions, and laws. The self-existent God made his ways, his paths, his course known to his people. The word “acts” refer to God’s deeds and exploits. Those things which he brought about to deliver his people out Egypt and into the land he had promised them.

Moses pleaded with God in Exodus 33:13 for God to show him his ways so that he might know God and find favor in God’s sight. For 400 years God’s people sat under injustice and oppression from the Egyptians that went unchecked. Year after year, decade after decade, century after century, God’s people were looking for deliverance and didn’t see it come. Where was God? Where was his deliverance? After 400 years he made his acts known to Israel and to the Egyptians by displaying his wonder through the plagues, through splitting of the Red Sea, and through the destruction of the Egyptian army.

Four hundred years requires a wide angle lens to see God’s righteousness and justice displayed. But like Moses, are you looking for it? Do you long for it? Do you plead with God to show you his ways and his acts? Where in your life do you struggle to have your mind and heart shaped by God? What circumstances are testing your faith? Or where do you feel numb to reality of the self-existent One? Press Psalm 103 up against these situations in your life through prayer, as Moses did and ask God to show you his glory!

What comes into your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.

VERSE 8

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

The words “mercy” and “grace” are used often to describe who God is. To a fault, modern day worship songs talk about God’s mercy and grace while failing to highlight his justice and righteousness (which is why you may do well to listen to reformed, Christian hip hop). Nevertheless, we ought not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and forgo talking about these commonly used words. Rather, we should be crystal clear in our minds what these words mean when we use them about God. Remember, what comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.

Mercy is the full compassion of God carried out in action. God does not merely feel compassion towards those who fear him and then fails to act on their behalf. He expresses that compassion in acts of mercy towards them. AW Tozer writes on the mercy of God, “As judgement is God’s justice confronting moral inequity, so mercy is the goodness of God confronting human suffering and guilt. Were there no guilt in the world, no pain and no tears, God would yet be infinitely merciful; but his mercy might well remain hidden in his heart, unknown to the created universe. No voice would be raised to celebrate the mercy of which none felt the need. It is human misery and sin that call for the divine mercy.” Mercy is the full compassion of God carried out in action.

Tozer goes on to write about grace in this way: As mercy is God’s goodness confronting human mystery and guilt, so grace is his goodness directed toward human debt and demerit. It is by his grace that God imputes merit where previously existed and declares no debt to be where one had been before… We who feel ourselves alienated from the fellowship of God can now raise our discouraged heads and look up. Through the virtues of Christ’s atoning death the cause of our banishment has been removed. We may return as the Prodigal returned, and be welcome. As we approach the Garden, our home before the Fall, the flaming sword is withdrawn. The keepers of the tree of life stand aside when they see a son (or daughter) of grace approaching.”

The grace and the mercy of God grant to us his slow anger and his steadfast love. God’s love is abounding- his love is piled on in heaps towards those who fear him. And his love is steadfast- his love has abiding goodness that is great and loyal to those who fear him. It doesn’t falter or wane.

Defining God’s love Tozer said is impossible. “I can no more do justice to that awesome and wonder-filled theme than a child can grasp a star. Still, by reaching toward the star the child may call attention to it and even indicate the direction one must look to see it. So, as I stretch my heart toward the high, shining love of God, someone who has not before known about it may be encouraged to look up, and have hope.” We may never fully know what the love of God is, but we can see it expressed in this verse through his mercy, his grace and his slowness to anger.

Tozer writes, “The love of God is one of the greatest realities of the universe, a pillar upon which the hope of the world rests. But it is a personal intimate thing, too. God does not love populations, he loves people. He loves not masses, but men. He loves us all with a mighty love that has no beginning and can have no end.”

VERSES 9-10

“He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” The word “chide” means to accuse, to level an accusation against someone. As a young adult, I struggled with understanding the type of anger and the outcome of God’s anger towards his people when they sin against him. Here’s the pattern that would go through my mind when I sinned. I would sin, feel guilt for committing that sin, think God was angry, feel like I couldn’t approach him because he was angry, and then have to prove my worth before him again by not sinning for some subjective amount of time before I could come back to him in fellowship and receive his favor. My thinking about God was not informed by the Bible but by my subjective experiences in my life with other people around me. I had imported (unconsciously) my sinful anger and other’s sinful anger into what I thought about how God displayed anger, never connecting the dots and seeing where my thinking went wrong. What comes into your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.

So what do these two verses teach us to think about God’s anger? There is a purpose for God’s anger displayed towards his people and it achieves a different outcome from those who are not his children. For those who remain enemies of God, those hard-hearted, persistent sinners who never have hearts of fear, awe and wonder towards God; these enemies of God will receive the full expression of his eternal anger that will result in hell. These people don’t experience God’s grace, mercy and steadfast love. They are cut off from fellowship and friendship with God.

Yet for those who fear God, this is not the outcome of God’s anger towards them. God’s anger towards his children will not last forever. And not only does it not last forever, it isn’t expressed in the fullness of what it ought to be expressed. He doesn’t deal with us in the ways that would be just according to our sin against him. He will not always chide.

Isaiah 57:15-21 shows the display of this. God is one who stands high and lifted up, separate from us. Not like us. His home is in eternity, outside of our constraints of time and space. His name is Holy. Yet he also dwells with those who are of a contrite and lowly spirit in order to revive their spirit. He doesn’t keep his anger against us, for if that were the case, indeed our spirits should grow faint before him and it would be right for us to feel like the our very breath was take away from us. Yet the anger of God towards his children is displayed so that we might repent, turn from our sin, and then God heals us, leads us, restores us, and comforts us. He gives us peace. The wicked will never receive that kind of peace.

The amazing reality that we see in Psalm 103 is that God displays anger towards his people, yet it is never the kind of anger that we really deserve. He doesn’t deal with us, he doesn’t interact with us, according to our sins. Think of a person right now who is very difficult for you to get along with. It could be a person who has shown a condescending attitude towards you. A person who was done unkind, uncaring, or demeaning things towards you. You can probably think of at least one person you have felt anger towards because of the unfair, unjust way they have treated you. And you want to show anger towards them for what they have done against you.

Now consider this. The sins God could hold against you are 10,000 times worse than the way anyone has sinned against you personally. Yet God has chosen to over look your sins by not dealing with you as he ought to. What great news that is. That is your biggest problem in the world- what is God going to do with your sins again him?

He doesn’t repay us according to our iniquities. When things go wrong in my life I’m quick to feel like I don’t deserve it. Why is this thing happening to me God? I don’t deserve this! Whether it be the furnace breaking, the car quitting, the kids screaming or frustrations over my weaknesses. One way to combat those feelings is think on these verses. Rather than thinking about what I don’t deserve, I think about what I deserve. I deserve eternal suffering in hell for my sins against God, and God has removed that from me and instead showed me a host of benefits. I need to say to myself- don’t forget these Kyle. Don’t forget God’s benefits.

What comes into your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.

VERSES 11-12

“For as high as the heaves are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgression from us.”

There are two things I hope you see from these verses. The first is that the creation of the world around us points towards the attributes of God. When you step outside your door you are entering a created world that is shouting the magnificence of God not in just general ways, but in very specific ways. I love going on road trips and seeing new things and new places because it seems like I am more aware of the glory of God by seeing something new. I have to fight against boredom from seeing the same things in my town day after day that blend into the background. When I drove along the Columbia River in Oregon I was blown away by the vastness of the river and gorge it was nestled in and my wonder at God’s power and might were rekindled.

Here we see that the atmosphere can teach us about God’s love and directions of travel can teach us about his forgiveness. At some point this week, go outside, look up into the sky and think on the God’s steadfast love. Think about how much distance there is between the ground you are standing on, and the plane that is flying over head. Or the cloud that is wafting through the sky, or the stars or sun that are shining down on you. And then consider how God’s love is even vaster, greater, bigger, and grander than even that!

The earth is 24,091.5 miles round at the equator. God has removed your sin as far as the east is from the west. Picture standing on one side of the earth and God removing your sins and taking them to the complete opposite side of the world and burying them in the bottom of the ocean. The farthest city away from us on the earth is Perth, Australia. It is 17,118 miles away. Think of God taking your sins and carrying them to Australia and burying them in some desert, or mountain or off the coast in the ocean somewhere.

But even that’s not far enough because as far as the east is from the west doesn’t have any ending point. If east and west started at the same place, and east started going east, and west started going west, they’d continue on for infinity. We worship an infinite God who has removed our sins from us forever. They can never come back to condemn us.

Second, see that this reality is true for those who fear him. This is not true for everyone. God does hold sins against those who refuse to fear him. But for those who are in awe of God, who are astonished at who he is, and even have terror at his might and power, those are the ones these verses are true for.

We can have a dual emotion of terror and awe in God. When we were in the Badlands of South Dakota, we were standing on the edge of this overlook, and I could look straight down into the gorge. I felt an astonishment at how deep a drop it was, and a terror at the same time making sure my kids didn’t get too close to the edge and fall into it. That is what the fear of God is like. It is a mix of reverence, awe, fear, terror and astonishment at the same time.

What comes into your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.

VERSE 13

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”

God uses his creation as a way to see the vastness of his love and forgiveness. In verse 13 we see also that God uses the picture of a father with his children to show us his compassion. For some of you this may be difficult because you may not have had a compassionate father. Yet for others this metaphor may click with you instantly because you saw your father show compassion time and again.

We are made in the image of God. We know that, we’ve been taught that. Specifically in this verse we have an example of what that means in the aspect of a way a father should relate to his children- with compassion. A father images, points to, reflects the compassion of God towards his people when he shows compassion towards his children.

But the relationship of a father to his children isn’t the only picture we have in Scripture of God relating to those who fear him. Isaiah 49:15 depicts the maternal type relationship God has with his people. And Provers 18:24 shows that we can consider God a friend. The relationships in our lives (when expressed in good ways) with other people image the way in which God relates to us in all his goodness.

There is nothing in this life that you can think up that is good, desirable, or excellent that doesn’t find its origin in God. Any goodness that you see in the world is an image, a reflection of the goodness of God. Whether it is a father hugging his son after he’s had his feelings hurt by a bully, or a mother nursing her child, or a friend grieving with someone, or a thousand different good interactions people have with one another, these all find their origin in the goodness of God.

Grace, let’s image God’s compassion, kindness, love, mercy, grace and steadfast love towards one another. That’s easy to say here, and hard to do out there. We have different personalities, different ways we process information, different things we emphasize, different options and the list could go on in the differences among us in this room and in our Discipleship Groups. As elders, we are regularly shepherding problems that come up because of our differences.

But don’t pull back in the face of being sinned against by another member of Grace. Don’t pull back because of an offense someone did towards you (knowingly or unknowingly). Rather, let’s press in as God did when we sinned against him. He didn’t pull back, stand off, dust his hands off and say I’m done with these people. As a father, he demonstrated compassion, he showed mercy, he gave us his steadfast love and showed us all his benefits. Let’s image that! Let’s reflect that towards one another when someone offends us, or rubs us the wrong way, or makes us angry. Let’s work through these issues showing one another the same kind of grace and mercy that God showed us.

This is why what comes into your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you. This is how we ought to be thinking and Psalm 103 helps us do that.

VERSE 14

“For he knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust.”

We are frail. You are frail. You are like dust. God is like concrete. You are a vapor. God is an everlasting fire. Your body has an expiration date. God is from eternity. God is firm and immoveable and unchanging.

Tozer writes, “God dwells in eternity but time dwells in God. He has already lived all our tomorrows as he has lived all our yesterdays… How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none. Eternal years lie in his heart. For him time does not pass; and those who are in Christ share with him all the riches of limitless time and endless years. God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirts and relax our nerves… In God there is life enough for all and time enough to enjoy it.”

We are weak. God is strong. The paradox of the Christian life is that when we are weak than we can be made strong. This is to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. Death is at work in our bodies. But life is at work in our hearts.

Grace your first and greatest and highest aim in your dust-like body is for your soul to bless the eternal, self-existent One. Forget not all his benefits. Bless him for who he is and what he has done.

What comes into your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.

Bless the Lord O my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name.