Have you ever been in a situation where you were assigned a task and you really blew it? You were given a job, a chance to lead, and you really messed up. I will never forget this story about walking worthy. It was an experience that marked me for life, when I was put in a situation where I had a chance to lead and I lead very poorly. Psalm 101 is a great text, not only for what a leader does, but who a leader is, his character, and how he protects it. Let’s take a look at Psalm 101 and hear from David’s heart and how he wants to lead.
I had only been in the Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C. area about a year when the first friend I had made there died. His name was Jim Dooley. His wife had died in a white water rafting accident a few years before I met him, and he died from a very bizarre disease. He was barely fifty-three and he died of a strange onset of what was called Creutzfeldt Jacob’s Disease. For twenty years he was an army pilot, extraordinary athlete, great friend, and had one of the best laughs of any person I’ve ever known. His laugh could make anyone smile. He was a talented guy and loved people and he was a wicked guy on the racquetball court. We played ball two or three times a week and he became a confidant and a friend and I loved him.
So I served at Jim Dooley’s funeral and it took place at the Arlington National Cemetery. Now I had done lots of funerals before and I’d buried friends, and I’d buried people I’d loved, but I’d never done a funeral at the Arlington Cemetery at the Myer Chapel. Have you ever been to the Arlington Cemetery? There’s the little Myer Chapel off to the side and it’s controlled by the military. You have twenty four minutes to perform a service and the officers on duty have guns on their sides. They look mean and they say, “You have twenty-four minutes, preacher!” This was a fairly dignified service; it was run with precise military protocol and it was my first experience in this world, in this way. My father taught me to shine my shoes as a boy. The first job I ever had was a shoeshine boy at a barbershop about three blocks from home. I still shine my shoes. It’s a thing I have. It’s probably guilt, but it’s a thing I have, and I do it. So at this funeral I have shined shoes and I have a nice suit on and I preach a little fine twenty-four minute, twenty-two minute sermon, and the chaplain comes out and asks me, “Would you like to ride in the car or walk with the caisson?”
Now, I didn’t know what a caisson was or were. But it was a beautiful day, it was about fifty-eight degrees, and the sun was shining. It was December and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I said, “I’ll walk.” Now even though I had shined shoes and a suit on, the top coat I wore was my uncle’s and it looked like Columbo. It was a wrinkled, gray, oversized thing with a swaggering belt on it. So the chaplain says, “Come with me.” I’m carrying a giant, Ryrie-sized Study Bible and this giant coat, and we start walking down the way. Little do I know, this is going to be about a fifteen minute walk up and down the hills of the Arlington Cemetery. He, of course, was in his perfectly starched wools and hat and he marched as I walked. As we came around the corner behind us, I noticed the Color Guard behind us, marching in perfect array. Behind the Color Guard was the horse drawn caisson, which was polished and gleaming black, not a smudge, not a mark on this thing, and behind it was an entire group marching in precision military cadence. Then there was Colombo walking in front of them.
About a year later, a friend who was a chaplain in the Pentagon said, “Michael, I want to introduce you to the new Chief of Chaplains. He’s a two-star chaplain. He’s name is Admiral Gunhus and the highest ranking chaplain in military history. They’ve never had a two-star before as a chaplain. He’s over all the chaplains, of all military operations. I want you to meet him because he goes to your church.”
“Okay, let’s go meet him,” I reply.
So we get to the Pentagon and we take the Pentagon tour, which was remarkable. It lasted a couple of hours, and then my friend said, “Let’s go see the Chief of Chaplains.” We headed to the Chief of Chaplains office and just like much of military protocol, we had to go through chambers and doors and secretaries before arriving at the holy of holies. I’m stood there as Chaplain Gunhus came out to greet us. He shook my hand and he looked at my friend and says to him, “When are you going to teach this boy to march?” Turns out a year earlier it was he who was the duty chaplain at the Fort Myer Chapel who had asked me if I’d wanted to walk or ride in the car. I said to him, “Next time I’ll ride.”
I did not walk worthy that day. I did not even know how to walk worthy that day. I wasn’t in my element. I’d never gone to bootcamp. I’d never been an NCO. Never been to Officer’s Training. Never had some drill sergeant barking at me. I didn’t know how to do it. I was inappropriate that day. I didn’t walk to honor the military. My friend had a caisson. You and I serve a King. We serve the King and we’re to walk worthy. We’re to walk in a manner of our calling, Paul tells us.
Psalm 101 is another royal motif psalm, probably an inaugural psalm. In fact, David wrote it on the occasion of his own inauguration, which seems a little strange. But then if we know the character of David, we know that he was a wonderful musician. He was a man’s man and had killed a lion and a bear, which was not an easy accomplishment in any day. He killed a giant. He was a mighty warrior and he was the king. So he was an unusual combination of the military grit, of the strength of a man in the field dealing with animals, and yet he knew how to lead God’s people. He happened to be an extraordinary musician and writer as well. So in some ways, it makes sense that he would write his own inaugural tune.
Neil Poston’s book from the mid-eighties, Amusing Ourselves to Death, states, “I believe I’m not mistaken when I say that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.” We serve the universal king, the sovereign God, and His Son, Jesus Christ through His Spirit, and we need, I believe, a different look at what it means to follow Christ.
Now this, of course, is another one of the Hebrew Hymnbooks. David, not unlike Psalm 110, has this double message. He’s talking about himself, but he’s also talking Messiah, the ultimate King. Now the King of Israel had to do two things. He had to be subject to the laws of God and he had to be an example of the law of God. He had to be submissive to God’s law; He had to comply with it, to follow it, to obey it. But he also had to be an example of the law to the people who were in his kingdom. That is in germ form what Psalm 101 teaches. I am subject to the law of God, but I must be an example of the law of God to all the people around me in my cabinet. Derek Kidner says, “It should hardly need saying that the resolve here is to have no truck with evil men does not spring from pride, but from the king’s concern for a clean administration, honest from the top down.”
Cindy and I are political junkies. We love politics. We love to watch all the debates, and all the pundits, and we have our own running commentaries as we are watching these people. I want a clean administration from the top down. I don’t care if you’re a mayor, a councilman, and alderman, or a president, I want a clean administration from the top down. Doesn’t everybody? If Richard Millhouse Nixon would have said, “Yes, I had a hand in the Watergate affair,” they’d have slapped him on the wrist. He’d have been a heroic president and built his library, and we would have all loved him. The same is true with every president. They make mistakes. We’ll give him lots of grace, won’t we? We’ll give him lots of slack, but if it’s not clean, the nose knows.
This psalm unfolds into three very simple points. First,a commitment to serve the king. Psalm 101, beginning at verse one: “I will sing of lovingkindness and justice, To you, O Lord, I will sing praises.” Here we have the two vertical aspects that we’ve talked about, lovingkindness and now the word justice. Lovingkindness of course, that covenantal love. God loves to be loyal to His chosen people and His covenant promises. It is His hessid character. It is who He is. It is the ethical love of God that when He says something, it can be trusted. His character, His promises are good. His Word is good. That’s who He is. That’s who we pin our hopes on.
Here the psalmist says, I’m going to sing of His lovingkindness. Think of the Psalms we sing: hymns, contemporary versus traditional, versus classical music, whatever your particular preference may be. Does the lyric worship Yahweh, Jesus Christ, well? Is there a vertical nature to the worship? One of the great litmus tests of the songs we sing is: Are we singing about Him or are we singing about us? You can do both, but I hope we sing a little more often about Him, the doxology, the glorification of God, praise God from whom all blessings flow. We’re praising God, not talking about our miserable state, which I like to do too. The worship sings of a lovingkindness and justice.
Justice is the ruler’s prime duty. We expect a king to execute justice. Now the Hebrew concept of justice is a little different than perhaps our American view of justice. The American view of justice is, Fix it! Do the right thing! But the Hebrew concept of justice was a two-edged sword. You corrected those who did wrong, but you rewarded those who did well. It’s not just the one side. Some of these communities try these experiments. Instead of tickets, they give ten-dollar gift certificates to people who come to a complete stop. You’ve heard about the motorcycle cop who comes up to your car window and you think, “Oh no, what did I do?” Have you ever had that light and siren in your rear window and been happy? There aren’t many things that get me going like the sound of a police car and red lights in my rearview mirror. What did I do? Am I holding the wheel right? Do I have my seatbelt on? Am I driving the speed limit? Did I come to a complete stop at the stop sign? So justice from the American feel is, “What did I do wrong?” But the Hebrew concept of justice is, that’s just half of it. You reward those who do well.
Look at the beginning of the psalm. The king is saying,I will, two declarative statements. I will sing of God’s, hessid, of His lovingkindness, and I will sing of His justice. The king’s resolve as He begins His inaugural address. Let’s talk about the Hesid of God, that He is a lovingkind God, and I as the king will sing of justice. I will do right and I will reward those who do right. That’s my job as a king. That would be a pretty good mantra for any presidential candidate. “I will do the right thing in the right way. I will correct those who don’t and I will reward those who do.” That’s the chief concern of the king; a commitment to serve a greater King. We might call them the vertical and horizontal commitments: lovingkindness and justice. Spurgeon called them the bitters and the sweets.
When I read this part of the psalm, one of the questions my mind runs to is, do I recount God’s lovingkindness and justice in my own life? We sing the little hymn, Count your Blessings; name them one by one. Count your many blessings; see what God has done. It’s an old ditty of a hymn, but it’s pretty good theology. When’s the last time you took pen to paper and you counted the blessings God has put in your life? It’s a humbling thing to do. It’s a glass half empty or half full. It’s always half empty for me. I’m the pessimist. I’m Eeyore. It’s only my birthday. Nobody cares about me. All I’ve got is this dumb balloon. I like being depressed. “Snap out of it,” Cindy would tell me. I did marry the perfect woman and you should hear her talk sometime.
But I have to count my blessings. I have to write them down sometimes. God saved me from a licentious, drug-filled life. God gave me Christian friends while I was in high school and college. He gave me three great Christian roommates in high school and college that helped me tremendously. God put me in a little tiny Bible church in Nacogdoches, Texas, Grace Bible Church, that was taught by a man named John Aldridge. You might know the name Joe Aldridge. John was his big brother and he was a Dallas Seminary graduate. I got to sit under some of the finest Bible teachers in the world. I got to sit under Howard Hendricks for four years and went back for two more.
I’m going through all the blessings on my list: Bob Tolson was another one who taught the Bible so faithfully. I listened to cassettes from some guy named John MacArthur and another guy named Chuck Swindoll back before they were even on radio. The tapes from this guy were called The Shepherd’s Voice, out of Fullerton, California. I got two cassettes every week in the mail and listened to these tapes, listened to some guy named Pentecost and Stanley Toussaint, and who knew who these people were. I learned the Bible, I learned doctrine, and I learned to study the scripture, and then I got to go to seminary. I married a wife along the way who loves me more than anyone should.
On and on I could go. How about you? Have you counted your blessings? Have you chosen to sing of God’s lovingkindness and justice? If I fixate on the problems and pains that I have, I become a depraved Eeyore. If I take the choice, it’s a declarative decision. I will sing of lovingkindness and justice. I will! And you’ll see the declaratives as the psalm unfolds. When was the last time you went through that last exercise? I’m far better off than I ever deserve, and probably you are too.
Second, a commitment to clean character. Verses two through five read,, “I will give heed to the blameless way. When will you come to me? I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart. I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those that fall away; It shall not fasten its grip on me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil. Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor; him I will destroy; no one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.” Now you notice the declarative, I wills again. The first one in this strophe is the choice of integrity. Integrity is a little word in Hebrew, tamim, and it means blamelessness. A person of integrity is a person you can’t pin any blame on. We might say, “They’re squeaky clean.” Early on with my daughters I would make their glasses sing (unfinished thought). We would get hot soapy water and clean them, then we would put different amounts of water in each one and I would rub my finger around the rim and make them sing. Then I would intentionally let them, with their unsqueaky clean hands, try to make them sing, but they couldn’t do it. I would say, “You have to wash your hands in really warm, soapy water to get all the oil off your finger or it will never sing.” You have to be squeaky clean. Nothing can be on the rim that prevents it from making that sound. That’s a sense of the word “integrity,” a blamelessness.
And his choice is, I will give heed to the way of integrity. I will submit myself to it. Leo Durocher said, “I’ve never questioned the integrity of an umpire; his eyesight, yes.” The demonstration of integrity is, Ok, I’m going to sing about it. I’m going to give heed to the blameless way. How are you going to prove it, King David? How are you going to show us the blameless way? Look at the rest of the verse; there is a interlocution to take notice of: When will you come to me? But then look at the next strophe: I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart. I will set no worthless things before my eyes. I hate the work of those who fall away.
Let’s unpack these a little bit at a time. It’s one thing to look like a person of integrity. It’s another thing to live like a person of integrity. A friend of mine said he could never pastor. “I could never be a pastor of a church.” When I asked him why not he replied, “Well, you counsel these guys who are the worst husbands and fathers in the world, and on Sunday morning they put on a suit and tie and they sit in the pew and they smile at you. So I could never be a pastor.” He couldn’t handle the disconnect from what a person says versus what a person does; the lack of integrity. If what we say we do, we do it when no one is around to see if we do it. That’s when you know if you have integrity. What you do when no one is looking.
I would take it a step further. It’s what you think about in the privacy of your mind. No one can dial in to our thought lives except the Holy Spirit. What we think about when our wife is talking. What we think about when our husband is not talking. What we think about when a young woman walks by. What we think about when a strapping fine specimen of a man walks by. What we think about when we look at someone with contempt. How we judge or are critical of other people. I believe that’s where integrity begins.
Now, where was David’s demise physically? From the roof of his house he saw a woman bathing. Well, what’s he doing on the roof looking at a woman bathing? What’s she doing bathing in such a fashion that he can see her? There’s no integrity. The text gives us no indication, but I suspect it wasn’t the first time. It’s in his house. When he wrote these words, little did he know he was making a choice before God, before people, and I think he meant every word of it. I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart. He knew he had to do it, but he’s human and he’s culpable just as are we. It’s a very powerful warning to those who would be leaders, whether you lead a family, you lead an organization, a ministry, a company, a practice, or a classroom. When a leader falls, he or she falls far. It affects a lot of little people.
I once served at a church where the prior pastor had gotten into trouble. He’d left his wife and moved in with his secretary, whom he eventually married. To follow that scenario was an interesting experience. I met people for years afterwards who would say to me, “I used to go to that church before so and so fell.” I heard that again and again and again. And I thought, in God’s sovereign plan, He’s going to work through those experiences. But I also wondered, when that man made a choice to commit those sins, did he have any indication of how it would affect the average person in the pew who just came to church on Sunday to listen to his or her pastor talk about God?
The imperceptibility of leadership is something we never talk about. Just because you are who you are, where you are consistently has an impact. Just because Cindy and I have stayed married faithfully for over thirty years and counting makes an impact; it’s imperceptible. There’s somebody somewhere who says I’d like to kill my husband today, but because Michael and Cindy love each other, I won’t. You’ll never hear that story, but it’s true. It’s true about you too because you have stayed faithful, even when others have not. It’s imperceptible. David’s choice was to have a clean integrity.
Now, the little interlocution, when will You come to me?, makes Bible scholars far smarter than me scratch their heads. I think it’s just interlocution that he’s saying, “I’m doing this God. I’m trying to live faithfully. Where are You? Where are You?” This is incredibly intimate insight into King David who’s saying, “I’m really trying to do my best (in our terms), Jesus, but I don’t feel You. I don’t see You. I don’t know where You are. You’re not a real tangible God. I can’t hug You. I can’t feel You. I can’t burn something in front of an idol that looks like You. I’ve got this temple complex with an altar and that’s it. How do I know where You are?” The intangibility of His sovereignty was no different than ours. I think it’s a personal glimpse into the heart of David.
David was a man after God’s own heart. He’s a complex character. We probably know more about David’s emotion than any other character in the Bible, as he wrote the Psalms as a king, as a musician, as a warrior, and we recall, a song writer. We know a lot about his personality and character. It fascinates me that the king is telling himself and others that we have to make a choice, a personal choice, to worship God, no matter how we feel, no matter what our experience in life may tell us. A follower of Christ chooses to serve the King. He chooses to worship Him. David gives us the keys to what it means to be a good leader. This is Michael Easley inContext.