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Psalm 26  Vindicate me, Lord, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered. Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness. I do not sit with the deceitful, nor do I associate with hypocrites. I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked. I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, Lord, proclaiming aloud your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds. Lord, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells. Do not take away my soul along with sinners, my life with those who are bloodthirsty, 10 in whose hands are wicked schemes, whose right hands are full of bribes. 11 I lead a blameless life. Deliver me and be merciful to me.12 My feet stand on level ground; in the great congregation I will praise the Lord.
Silent Prayer

We are entering into a time known as the Lenten Season, which is observed by many Christian groups.  It is also observed in many different ways.  Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter (not counting Sundays).  It begins with an Ash Wednesday service, which helps us focus on the fact that Christ is the Vine and we are the branches; that we are weak, and He is strong.  He sustains us and without Him, we are nothing. 

We aren’t observing Lent just because it is an historical practice.  We aren’t observing Lent just because other groups of Christians do.  We aren’t observing it to look like or be like any other groups.  We are observing it because it is good to designate time every once in a while to take a spiritual retreat; to take a spiritual inventory.  The season of Lent gives us this wonderful opportunity.  It parallels Jesus’ 40 days in the Wilderness where He fasted and had to fully rely on God to help Him be victorious over Satan and the temptations He faced to forgo the things of this world for the mission of His Heavenly Father. 

For me, this time period leading to Easter is an opportunity for spiritual recalibration, a re-alignment, and a refocusing on what is really important.  It is a time for renewal through the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, Bible reading, and even intentional giving.  We don’t give you a formula for how Lent should be observed as some churches do.  It’s up to you.  I just encourage you to use this time as sort of a “spiritual Spring cleaning” as we examine our walk with the Lord and invite Him to examine us thoroughly.  The practice of self-examination is a worthwhile and biblical practice. 

2 Corinthians 13:5-Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. 

Lamentations 3:40Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.

Consider these weeks an opportunity for a spiritual check-up!
As I said, this time period in the life of the church begins with Ash Wednesday, this Wednesday.  This is an experiential worship service that focuses on self-examination, confession, prayer, worship, and acts of worship that demonstrate we have to surrender fully to God in order to be empowered and effective.  There will be some worship stations to interact with, and all of them are optional.  You can just come and worship in your seat if you like or you can pick and choose what parts of the worship experience you want to personally encounter.  Our children from K through 5th grade and all our youth group will be in the sanctuary with the adults.  We ask that elementary kids sit with their parents.  I encourage you to come early as it is a pretty packed house, and ask that you enter in silence. 

I asked God to give me a text that would set the tone for this time period of examination and reflection.  He led me to Psalm 26 where David has been falsely accused of something or slandered somehow, and he is opening himself up to God to ask God to examine him and vindicate him.  He is becoming an “open book” for God to test him and prove him to be what he says he is.  He makes several claims about himself, which will become the basis for this sermon series that will take us through the next several weeks.

In verse 1 he says he has trusted in the Lord and hasn’t faltered.  He wants God to assess if that is correct.  In verse 4 he asserts that he isn’t living a double or hypocritical life.  He isn’t trying to run with the world and claiming to belong to God at the same time.  He gives God permission to weigh in on that.  In verses 6, 8 and 12 David says his worship is pure and passionate.  He wants God to try him to see if it is true.  In verse 7 David asserts that he is a ready witness for God.  He gives God permission to look over his life, to test his motives, to examine his behavior.  He allows God to grade him in these areas.

David’s claims about himself become the basis for a wonderful exam for us.  He gives us great questions to ask about our own personal relationship with God as we allow God to take a closer look.

Do I trust in the Lord?
Do I live differently from the world?
Do I worship with a pure and passionate heart?
Do I witness on a regular basis?

These are great exam questions that we can focus on during these next several weeks.  Let’s start with the first question.  Do I trust in the Lord?

There is a difference between admitting someone is trustworthy and in trusting IN them.  I suppose the believers in this room would all agree God is trustworthy, but does our daily life show that we trust IN Him?  Just because someone is trustworthy doesn’t mean that we are choosing to place our trust IN them.  Our hope for success and meaning in life still may rest in our ability to “make things happen,” to “figure life out” or to “provide for our needs because we work hard.”  Are we as believers trying to live a self-reliant life, or are we fully relying on God? The closer we are to Christ, the more we will rely on Him for daily strength, provision, clarity, comfort, and guidance. 

What does it mean to trust IN the Lord?  Proverbs 3 is the famous “trust” passage.  It has a lot to say about how we can make sure our trust is in the Lord.  Proverbs 3:5-“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

That “with all your heart” phrase speaks to the intensity, to the level of trust we are to have in the Lord.  It is a passionate pursuit.  Life can teach us to not to trust people, can’t it?  Disappointment and hurt and pain that result from trusting others can cause us to become self-reliant.  In order to trust IN the Lord with all our heart we are going to have to unlearn some of the things we have learned from living in this world.  We are going to have to let some of our walls down.  We are going to have to let go of the control of our lives and hand that job over to God.

There is a limit to what we can know and understand.  We are finite, but God is infinite.  He has a plan.  He always has a plan.  When things happen and circumstances become difficult, God isn’t in the corner trying to create a plan.  He has the plan before you have the problem.

He knows everything that will happen before it happens.  He doesn’t just anticipate it.  He isn’t just ready for something in case it happens.  He doesn’t have a plan A if one thing happens, a plan B if another thing happens, and a plan C if something else transpires.  He knows what is up before it’s up, and He is prepared to interject His wisdom and will to accomplish something strategic, something supernatural, and often something very special in our lives.  Romans 11:33 says, “Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”  He created everything there is to know.  Scientists only job is to try to discover and understand stuff God already knows.  There is nothing He doesn’t know!  We can trust IN Him because of His comprehensive wisdom and knowledge.

Still, it can be hard to trust God.  We may not feel like trusting God.  What can we do in those moments?  We can cry out to the Lord.  We can talk to Him about our doubts and fears.  Surrendering fully to God starts with a conversation.  Proverbs 3:6 says, “In all your ways acknowledge God, and He will make your paths straight.”

How to we acknowledge Him?  We can acknowledge God IN prayer.  We can acknowledge in our prayer that we understand He is God and we are not.  We can acknowledge Him by turning to Him and admitting we don’t have the answers or the best answers or the right answers apart from His leadership.  When we pray, we are acknowledging that we need help, and we want it to come from Him because of our confidence in His comprehensive wisdom.  Prayer is an exercise in trust. 

There is a transfer that takes place when we acknowledge God in prayer.  Our burdens get lighter as we transfer them onto Him, and we become filled with strength, courage, peace, and perspective as God begins to transfer His wisdom and power to us.  Prayer is the mechanism by which we hand the keys of our lives to God, and we move into the passenger seat.  We cannot say we trust IN God if we have no prayer life. 

We show we trust IN God when we talk to Him about our struggles, our hopes, and our dreams.  In the place of prayer, we need to be still and listen.  We need to be open to direction and correction. 

Proverbs 3:7 goes on to say that if we are going to trust IN God, we have to be serious about separating ourselves from sin.  It says, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.”  Do not be wise in your own eyes.  That was Adam and Eve’s problem, right?  Their trust was in self to discern what was best for them even though God had clearly defined what was in their best interest.  What Eve saw was more important in the moment than what God had said.  Sometimes we are looking for a reason to be disobedient.  Sometimes we are even open to a push from the outside to get us to do something we know we shouldn’t do!  Eve saw that the fruit was pleasing to the eye (Genesis 3:6).  Perhaps once she was attracted to that which was off limits, she was just looking for someone to give her a good reason to go for it.  When we use our own wisdom and then look to the wrong people to validate our self-wisdom, it will always be a disaster.

Do not be wise in your own eyes.  We are good at talking ourselves out of obeying God because after all, we can reason, we have a mind, we know how to weigh the pros and cons and we can discern what “makes sense.”  How many of you know this morning that God’s ways don’t always “make sense” to the likes of us?  It’s like Solomon knew we wouldn’t get how important it was when he said it the first time, “Lean not on your own understanding,” so he slipped it in there again in just a little different way just to drive his point home.

Fear the Lord and shun evil.  Sin is evil.  Sin clutters up our lives in order to steal our focus off of our relationship with God. Sin messes with our trust IN the Lord because it focuses us on self and what we want, on what feels good to us, and not on what pleases God. Satan doesn’t want you to trust IN God.  He wants you to sin and be chained to yourself and your fleshly impulses and desires.  This season is a time to de-clutter our lives.  If it doesn’t please the Lord, if it causes us to hope in or find strength in behaviors and experiences that God says offend His holiness and harm our life with Him, they have to go.  We need to become obsessed with doing the things that please God. 

When we run after sin and the things of this world, we are saying either, “God, I don’t trust that the consequences of sin are real” or we are saying, “God, I can’t count on you to give me peace and joy and fulfillment in life, so I am going to go in search of it apart from you.”

Have you ever thought about that?  At the heart of evil, at the heart of sin, is a lack of trust IN the Lord.  Maybe during this Lenten Season you will think of some bad influences in your life.  Maybe it is certain people who are dragging you down or in the wrong direction; people you have been looking to, to validate your desires to sin.  Maybe it is certain shows or websites that take your mind to a fantasy world instead of on the things of the Kingdom.  Let’s use these weeks leading up to Easter to walk away from sin and to focus on pleasing God.

I love this verse:  “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (II Timothy 2:22)

I love that it says that sin can be replaced with righteousness, faith, love, and peace.  I love that righteousness, faith, love and peace and be fun.  I don’t have to get high to have fun.  I don’t have to get drunk to have a good time.  I don’t have to sleep around to experience love.  I don’t have to get caught up in worldly drama in order to pass the time or to feel significant.  I can live God’s way and have a blast! 

Here’s the thing:  Pursuing righteousness, faith, love, and peace will take me to a good place where I can say like David, “My feet stand on level ground.” When David refuted what was being said about him, he wasn’t saying he was perfect, but he was saying he was sure-footed.  He was “spiritually stable” (Maybe I just coined a new phrase!)

When I pursue the things God says can replace the pursuit of sin, I won’t wake up with regret.  I won’t walk around in shame, with a hangover and a foggy memory about what happened the night before.  I won’t be looking over my shoulder to see who might be find out what I did last night.  I won’t waste time and money on things that will only compromise my health and possess my mind.  I show I trust IN the Lord when I pursue the things He says will lead to life and godliness and true fun without regret.  Trusting in God’s plan and living His way will bring about great results in our lives.  “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:8)  Sign me up!  It sounds easier than going to the gym!

Look at II Timothy 2:22 again:  “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22)

The second part of that verse tells me there is safety in numbers!  It says I can pursue those things God has called me to, along with others who also love Jesus and want to have real fun.  Proverbs 3:7 doesn’t say, “Shun fun.”  It says, “Shun evil.”  Our God is the God of the real party!  (But that’s another sermon.)

Trusting IN the Lord means God is going to be first in every area of our lives.  Proverbs 3:9-10 talk about what that looks like when it comes to money:  “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” (Proverbs 3:9–10)

I know money can be a real touchy subject.  There are many churches who make money their priority rather than the making of disciples.  That is very sad and is manipulative and is a distortion of our mission. What many Christians miss, however, is that part of discipleship and trusting IN Christ does involve the way we spend our money.  Do we trust IN Him enough to give of the firstfruits of our income?  Giving over that first part of our paycheck to God, that off the top amount to God, is one way we show our trust is IN Him.  Here’s the truth:  God doesn’t need our paychecks or any portion of them.  He will be God whether we give Him ten percent or five percent or twenty percent.  But until we honor Him in every area of our lives, we won’t be truly trusting IN Him.

God does have something to say about every area of our lives.  He has designs for our marriages.  He has designs for our work.  He has plans for our friendships.  He has ideas about our recreation.  What we do behind closed doors matters to Him.  How we treat our bodies is absolutely important to God.  How well we love all people, how we talk to people we disagree with, how we handle conflict, how we parent, how we interact with the opposite sex, our educational pursuits, how we dress—our modesty, our health, our wealth—all of life is our opportunity to honor God.  And when we do, our lives speak that we trust IN Him.  I didn’t have a “dog in the fight” for the Super Bowl, but I loved that so many of the Eagles’ players took the opportunity to honor God as they won.  God deserves to be lifted high in every way we possibly can lift Him up for people to see.  When we are that committed to demonstrating honor to Jesus in every facet of our lives, there is no way people can miss that we belong to Him!

Even at the times when we are being disciplined by the Lord, when we need redirected, when He has to get our attention, we can trust IN Him because He would never discipline us to harm us.  He disciplines us out of love.  Proverbs 3:12-“Because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son He delights in.”

Have you ever needed a time out?  Have you ever needed to learn a lesson?  Have you ever needed to think about what you have done?  Has there ever been a consequence to remind you not to do something again?  Did it work?  My guess is “Yes, it worked if you allowed it to shape you.”  But while you were undergoing discipline if you just concluded, “This is dumb, God.  This is stupid.”  Or if you just got focused on the discipline and asked God, “Why are you putting me through this?  God, why are you on my back?  God, why won’t you just look away and leave me alone?” I am sure it didn’t work at all.  And if God left us alone He wouldn’t love us.  And if we want to be left alone by God, we really don’t love Him.  But if we allow God to discipline us, if we are open to correction, it will serve a great purpose in our lives.  We can trust IN God because He loves us enough to not let us just go our own way when we are going the wrong way!
Are you ready for the exam?  Are you ready to expose your life to God and let Him evaluate how much you trust Him?  Were there some buttons pushed in your spirit this morning as you heard this message?  Was there some spiritual squirming going on?  If you can’t say with David that you trust in God with your whole heart, that your life doesn’t testify to that reality, what WOULD it take in order for you to place your full trust IN Him?  What changes could you make to allow your trust to grow?  How can you move from trusting God to trust IN God?

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