I’m not going to lie.
I’m in heaven.
I’m writing this in Florida… in warm weather… with humidity… and sun.
My wife and I are here to do some house-hunting because we’re moving from Minnesota. You know, the home state of Frostbite Falls, MN.
Well, actually there is no Frostbite Falls, MN. The famous town from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (a favorite cartoon show of mine as a wee lad) was based on the far north city of International Falls, MN. True story. Here’s the proof.
International Falls (aka “The Icebox of the Nation”) sits on the border between the U.S. and Canada and is known as one of the cities in the United States where the winter temperature routinely plunges to the torturous depths of somewhere between face-cracking cold and fire-freezing-in-place. It can get so cold your nostrils stick together.
During the winter season, polar air often slinks out of Canada like a malevolent force spreading over the Minnesota landscape. (Okay, sometimes it’s more like an oncoming freight train!) It reminds me of the dark and foreboding cloud of Sauron’s evil spreading out of Mordor toward Gondor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies.
As a kid, I remember days so far below zero (-30o) my vinyl winter coat would start to crackle just minutes after stepping outside to shovel the sidewalk! When it’s that cold, you can throw boiling water into the air, and presto, instantly frozen vapor! (Like this)
The good news is the sub-zero torture doesn’t last long, it only seems like it does. To be fair, the winter of 2021 has been pretty mild, all things considered. We’ve only had one 10-day run of the ol’ sub-zero blast freezer. When the temp finally passed the 32o mark, Minnesotans broke out their shorts and t-shirts and grilled outside in celebration.
That’s the strange thing. We humans acclimate quickly. When the climate changes, it brings great joy because even the smallest change is noticeable and glorious! The bigger the change, the more awesome the experience and appreciation for that change. (Yes, I vote for global warming, but that’s another post.)
For example, every winter I get used to the cold even though I still despise it. The remarkable thing is 32o seems cold in November, but near tropical after a cold snap in February! One of my simple pleasures and a great delight of life is my wife and me taking our annual February Thaw trip to Florida. We leave winter weather and arrive in summer weather in a matter of hours, not months.
The moment I step into the sunshine and warmth of Naples, FL I feel my body unfold and my spine straightens up. To my surprise, I realize I’ve been living in the “winter hunch” form for three months. Shoulders stooped, head down, and my body folded inward to keep warm.
The magnificent “release of the hunch” is a feeling of absolute delight! Almost involuntarily, I throw out my arms and turn my face to the sun!
Oh, rapture! The joy of “summer” has returned!
Yes, I know it’s not summer right now. It’s winter. But the feeling of summer brings me joy after becoming acclimated to the cold. I haven’t lost summer. I just rejoice in the sense of its return to my life.
I started to get that feeling a few weeks ago after the cold snap in February. The sun was shining and I was driving down the highway in the warm, tropical heat wave of 40o! The smell of the wet ground began to permeate my car. The snow was melting and I took familiar pleasure in it “bleeding out” to its eventual demise. The sun was warm on my cheek. The air even had some humidity to it rather than that bone-dry winter air. I rolled down my car window.
You Minnesotans know exactly what I’m talking about.
I started to thank the Lord for the joy of the oncoming spring and summer. Over and over again. I couldn’t stop.
It reminded me of King David’s words from Psalm 51:12 that I had so often sung during the church liturgy, “Restore unto me the joy of my salvation…”.
Psalm 51 records David crying out in the midst of his “cold-snap” of rebellion and sin. About a year earlier, he had committed adultery with another man’s wife (Bathsheba, 2 Samuel 11:1-4), masterminded her husband’s murder (Uriah, 2 Samuel 11:14-17), and covered up his sin by taking Bathsheba as his wife (2 Samuel 11:27). As far as we know, David didn’t reveal to her that he had “put out the hit” on her husband just so he could create the appearance of a righteous marriage and conception.
Yeah, like anyone can hide their sin from God (Psalm 139:1-12).
As David covered up his sin, a polar vortex of guilt settled over the landscape of David’s heart.
And his relationship with God froze.
Over the next year, as David hunkered down in his deception, the weight of sin increasingly pressed down on him. He developed a “winter hunch,” stooped shoulders of guilt and despair (Psalm 32:3-4. Yes, I know it says David felt like he was languishing in the cruel heat of a bone-dry summer. Just go with me on this.). He knew what he had to do but was frozen in place out of guilt.
That is until the sun of God’s grace shone on David’s icy heart and chilled conscience through the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12:7). Nathan’s exposure of David’s sin triggered a rush of confession and contrition from the King.
“Be gracious to me, God, according to your faithful love; according to your abundant compassion, blot out my rebellion. Completely wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me. Against you—you alone—I have sinned and done this evil in your sight. So you are right when you pass sentence; you are blameless when you judge.” (Psalm 51:1-4)
It wasn’t a pleasant confrontation, and it did carry life-long consequences, but David’s relief from his rebellion and deception through exposure and confession erupted in praise. It’s recorded in Psalm 32.
“How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How joyful is a person whom the Lord does not charge with iniquity and in whose spirit is no deceit!” (Psalm 32:1-2)
THIS is an eruption of rapture!
David’s confession was the beginning of the Dark Winter of Sin Thaw. His praise and thanks were the declarations of the Bright Spring of Forgiveness. He reveled in the warmth of the Summer of Cleansing and Restoration.
“Restore unto me the joy of my salvation…”.
David’s salvation means his relationship with God. He knew what it was like to lose connection with the Living God. He had seen it up close with his predecessor, King Saul – the rebellion, the growing coldness, the isolation, and the struggle with demonized thoughts after the absence of God’s palpable presence when the Holy Spirit left Saul and settled on David.
Now David had sensed the same threat of abandonment and he was terrified. So, he cried out,
“Restore unto me the joy of my salvation…”.
“My salvation” – David’s open and unhindered communion with God.
Here’s the kicker. Just like I didn’t “lose summer,” but just the experience of summer, David hadn’t lost his relationship with God. The Holy Spirit had remained with him. But through his unrepentant sin, David had lost the experiential joy of that relationship. The sense of God’s presence, the awareness of a living relationship with God had frozen up. There was only a step away from departure if David had continued in his rebellion.
David didn’t cry out, “Restore to me my salvation.” He cried, “Restore to me the joy of my salvation.” In other words, “restore to me the joy of knowing experientially your presence and your pleasure with me. Restore the fullness of your relationship with me and me with you.”
Too many of us are content to live in the tundra of sin. We acclimate to the cold, the isolation, the inactivity, the solitude of a life without the fiery, hot sense of God’s presence. Because of our stubbornness, pride, and self-sufficiency, we’d rather live in a spiritual arctic circle alone, than a spiritual tropic zone with Jesus.
And over time, the weight of unconfessed sin presses down until we get “the guilt hunch,” the closed-off life that keeps others away, especially the only One who can do anything about it.
So, does God move from us or do we move from God? Doesn’t matter. God is clear, “But your iniquities are separating you from your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not listen” (Isaiah 59:2). Frankly, we don’t listen to God, either. The Spirit has to break the ice.
As the Spirit spoke through the Prophet Nathan, “Thou are the man,” so the Holy Spirit needs to break through our icy hearts to mercifully point His finger at us and declare, “Thou art the man” or “Thou are the woman.” If we respond to Him, the thaw begins. If we confess our sin, the heat rises. If we embrace God’s offer of forgiveness and cleansing, we unfold within, our shoulders rise, our spine straightens, our head lifts to look God in the face once again rather than avoiding His loving gaze, and we turn outward toward Him.
Then we can say like David, “God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore the joy of your salvation to me, and sustain me by giving me a willing spirit. Then I will teach the rebellious your ways, and sinners will return to you.” (Psalm 51:10-13)
I really like that last line. In other words, those who thaw should help others thaw.
As we step into the Son’s light of forgiveness and cleansing, the magnificent “release of the guilt hunch” gives way to absolute freedom! We’ll throw out our arms and turn our faces to the Son! Oh, rapture!
The joy of “summer,” our salvation, has been restored!