Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Psalm 119:31-32 Get Up and Run!

I hold fast to your statutes, LORD; do not let me be put to shame. I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding.

Psalm 119:31-32
My wife wants to run a marathon. She probably never will.

I say that not to discourage her, but the fact is that she is 60 years old and her thyroid messes with her body chemistry from day to day in unpredictable ways. She sometimes goes days or even weeks with barely enough energy to walk around doing housework, let alone go for a walk or a run in the neighborhood.

When her body allows her to do it, she does walk. She does run. And she always has in mind that quarter-marathon, half-marathon, or the whole 26.219 miles.

She steadfastly refuses to see herself as someone who is too old, too ill, too imperfect to run.

She takes the same approach to her walk with God.

There are two ways to read the Word and two ways to walk the 1 road of life.

It's all too easy to get stuck in the habit of reading the Bible only when you feel like it, either because you happen to be exceptionally motivated that day or because you're exceptionally racked with sorrow or guilt and go to the scriptures for relief.

When you approach the Word that way, you'll probably only find something to match your mood. It'll be a snippet of happy thoughts when you're feeling good. But the Word is just as likely to deliver you the very statutes that confirm your guilty feelings.

Instead, choose to approach the Word - and life - like a marathon runner. Spend time in the scriptures every day, regardless of your mood. Make your time in the Bible a habit and also develop the habit of stretching yourself to read deeper and longer.

Ask God to broaden your understanding of the scriptures as a way to hydrate yourself for whatever adventure God has in store for you in the days and weeks and years to come.

Some translations replace the phrase "broaden my understanding" with "enlarge my heart." That's exactly what the habit of Holy Bible hydration will do for you. It's the best sort of cardio exercise for the soul.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Psalm 119:30 Course Corrected

Just do what the Voice tells you, even if you think she's wrong. Her ways are mysterious, but the Voice has a higher plan for you.

- Richard Powers, Orfeo, describing a GPS
Before the advent of GPS technology, we used road maps, printed on paper, folded accordion style. Whoever was in the passenger seat would open the unwieldy thing, turning it around in search of the part they needed, rattling it to get the creases out, refolding it to suit their purpose, desperately into submission.

This frantic activity usually took place while the driver was trying to steer the vehicle in what he hoped was the right direction.

I’m not sure whether being distracted by the GPS on my phone is any better or worse than the old way.

I could purchase a dedicated GPS device, like a Garmin, attached to the top of the dashboard or on the windshield by the rear view mirror. Or I could buy a newer car with one already built in, or with a cell phone holder on the dash.

Then the map and directions would poised in front of me in a more convenient, less distracting way.

But I have neither of those, so I tend to set my smart phone in the cup holder or on the little shelf in front of the speedometer, neither of which is conducive to distraction-free driving.

Maybe someday technology will advance to where the directions and map are implanted in our brains.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws.

Psalm 119:30
Many people travel the 1 road of life while using their Bible in a less than efficient manner. They rely on whatever snippets of scripture they get from their preacher on Sunday or from the occasional input of a daily devotional.

When a decision arises, they may turn to the Bible, hoping the relevant advice will magically appear before them. Meanwhile, they're careening on through life, distracted and uncertain which way to go.

David mentions two things in this verse that he does to keep himself on track.

First, he has chosen the way of faithfulness. This is certainly much better than choosing on the spur of the moment whether to be guided by faithfulness to God or faithfulness to the desires and whims of the moment. You've got to make that choice from the beginning and make it once again every morning as you begin your day. Set your sights on the goal of faithfulness or you'll surely fail.

David, doesn't, though, begin every day with a renewed gumption to try to be faithful. That's a recipe for failure.

Instead, to translate verse 30 literally, he says, "your judgments I poised."

Through regular, habitual devotion to reading and meditating on God's Word, David had absorbed the Word into his heart. As a result, when situations arise in his daily life, the judgments and advice of God were right there in the forefront of his mind and his heart was already trained to lean toward those judgments rather than toward the selfish choice.

Like a GPS implanted in his brain, the Word guides him down the 1 road of life.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Psalm 119:29 Teach, Rebuke, Correct, & Train

Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me and teach me your law.

Psalm 119:29
Even when you're tempted, God will be gracious and protect you by teaching you from His Word.

Paul outlines this graciousness of God in II Timothy 3:16-17.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Do you see Paul's outline? It couldn't be any more clear, and yet I  missed it until Wayne Kessler spelled it out for me.

The God-breathed Word is useful for Teaching: I've been reading the Bible for most of my 60 years and it continues to teach me new things about the way to travel the 1 road.

The God-breathed Word is useful for Rebuking. I've been reading the Bible for most of my 60 years and trust me, it has rebuked me many times and in many ways, pointing out just how far I've stupidly wandered from His way.

The God-breathed Word is useful for Correcting, thank God. I've been reading the Bible for most of my 60 years and He has been gracious to me over and over, providing me with detailed instructions on how to climb out of the ditch and get back on track.

The God-breathed Word is useful for Training in righteousness. For all of my 60 years I'm been trying to stay focused on God's Way, I've been trying to be the man He created me to be. Trying hard has generally resulted in failing hard. But I've been reading the Bible for most of my 60 years and through it He continues to train me to be and do and follow His Way. Training is so much better, and more effective, than trying.

The God-breathed Word is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and for training in righteousness, all for the purpose of thoroughly equipping me - and you - to be a servant, doing His work. Without verse 17, without the focus on servanthood and doing the work, it's all too easy to approach the Word as a tool to teach me to be self-fulfilled, to rebuke me so I can help myself do better, to correct me so I can be right, and to train me in self-righteousness.

The God-breathed Word  is useful for God's purposes, not for whatever purpose I decide to use it for.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Psalm 119:28 Correcting Your Stride

My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word

Psalm 119:28
If your soul is weary from walking the 1 road of life, it could be you're doing it wrong.

No, I don't mean you're walking in the opposite direction from God's way. I'm talking about how sometimes you're trying so hard to follow God's way that it's wearing you out. Because you're doing it wrong.

I have a degenerative cartilage problem in my right knee. Sometimes the pain in my knee changes teh way I walk. My wife is usually the first to notice I'm walking different. But by the time she mentions it, the rest of the my body is noticing the change in my stride as well, because it's throwing everything out of whack.

So, if your soul is out of whack from trying to live according to God's way, how do you get back on the right path? By correcting your stride.

Maybe you're the type who, when you're soul weary, turns to the Bible to find a verse that will pick you up, that will give you an upbeat religious motto to get you through the days.

You're doing it wrong.
Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.

Proverbs 25:20
What you need is not a pick-me-up verse but to go deeper into the ways of God. To learn anew how to walk on the 1 road rather than trying to driving along it with a heavy foot on the pedal.
  • Read the Bible's stories of people who dealt with life altering affliction. Mentally step into the story alongside them and experience life with them. You'll learn what they learned, that there are no pat answers, no easy fixes. There's only picking yourself out of the mud yet again and taking the next right step for God.

  • Use your imagination to walk the roads of Palestine alongside Jesus and his disciples while reading the Gospels. Learn to match the stride of the Man of Sorrows as he keeps moving forward through the sorrow and pain, driven by the relentless pursuit of the mission the Father gave him.

  • Read Paul's second letter of the Corinthians, where he pours out his heart about the practical ways he chose to find purpose in the pain.

  • Read the books of Poetry and walk around for a while to the beat of a different drummer. From Job, absorb a view of affliction that start and ends with a big picture of God. From Psalms, learn to talk to a God who is not made in your own image, but who wants to know you and be known by you. From Proverbs, learn to see God's way and his wisdom as it's worked out in every little part of life. In Ecclesiastes, learn to see life from God's "above the sun" point of view, and to take off the rose-colored glasses and acknowledge the very real struggles of living in the cursed world. Then step into Song of Solomon and bathe in a poetic love song three millennia old and discover not just a pick-me-up verse but a renewed love affair with the God who loves you and wants you to walk through every part of life with him.

“...I fear their false urgency, their call to speed, their insistence that travel is less important than arrival...”

― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Psalm 119:27 Learning God's Way

Want to learn to play the piano?

There's an app for that. And videos. And websites.

Just like learning to replace a toilet flapper, merge two columns on Excel, or roast a turkey, modern technology can indeed help you learn to play the piano.

Or you can take piano lessons from a piano teacher.

My wife is a piano teacher. Her students learn to match up the notes on a scale with their letters (A through G, plus sharps and flats), just like they could on an app. They watch a professional pianist (my wife) play the notes on an actual keyboard, much like they could on YouTube. They also receive instruction on a wide variety of musical theory and other piano-playing topics, much like they could on a website.

In fact, several of her students do make use of technology to supplement their weekly lessons with Karen.

What they don't get from the technology though, is learning Karen's way of playing the piano.

By spending half an hour at the piano with Karen every week, they learn to love playing piano because her love for the piano - and for her students - is captivating.

From Karen they also learn the reasons behind all the different rules of playing piano. Why do you place your hands and fingers just so? What's the reason behind the preferred way of sometimes crossing one hand over the other - and sometimes not. Why is it important to know those note-letters, to understand the meanings of terms like arpeggio and adagio? Why does correct posture matter?

Karen teaches them the joy of writing their own songs, even if their songs aren't very good. She teaches them how to play along with an audience singing. She instills in them the discipline of practice.

In other words, they learn not just how to play the piano, they learn Karen's way of playing a piano.
Cause me to understand the way of your precepts, that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.

Psalm 119:27
Many people approach the Bible like its a textbook of doctrines, rules, and precepts. If you want to know what opinion to have about predestination, there's a verse (or several) for that. If you need to know the qualifications for elders, there are chapters that will list them all out for you.

It's true the Bible has a verse or passage for just about every topic you want to study. So why isn't the Bible organized that way?

Instead, the Bible is organized like a history book. Even the poetry and prophecy and epistle sections are grounded in an historical place and time.

That's because the precepts of God and the deeds of God are inextricably connected.

As David says, it's not enough to simply read the precepts, memorizing them and sorting them into categories. They're not meant to be cataloged.

The precepts, the laws, the commands, and the rules aren't organized not by topic. Instead they're presented as they relate to the stories of God's deeds (and Jesus' deeds).

There were reasons behind the things God did, grounded in his character. He does what he does because he loves what he loves. And his precepts grow out of that same love.

Don't approach the Word like someone trying to learn plumbing from a video.

Meditate on the Word alongside the One who wrote the words and did the deeds. Understand his deeds within the context of his teachings, and dive into the depths of his teachings by understanding the way of his works in the world. Meditate on how you can pattern your own words and deeds after the words and deeds of the master.
God does not leave it up to mankind to figure out what his mighty acts mean, but God follows up on his mighty acts with words that tell mankind what his acts mean and how we are to live in light of them.

~ Matthew Barrett, God's Word Alone

Friday, November 3, 2017

Psalm 119:26 Spiritual Adulting

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Earlier this year I had to fill out a lease application. Our potential landlord wanted a detailed accounting of our income, our debts, our accounting history. He wanted a copy of our most recent tax return. He wanted a list of all of our previous rental addresses over the past 10 years. I had to sign to authorize him to check our credit score.

It's kind of unnerving, especially if financial history is less than ideal. If the accounting come sup short, then no lease.

Most of us have been through something similar. It's part of "adulting". Lease applications, loan applications, insurance applications. We're continually required to give an accounting of ourselves.

But what if you're a total mess? What if your credit history is disastrous? What if you really are terrible at it all? What if you know you don't measure up? What's the point of adding up all the numbers and reliving all your history of failure one more time, just to risk certain rejection?

I gave an account of my ways and you answered me; teach me your decrees

Psalm 119:26
So how are you at spiritual adulting?

Have you found yourself face down in the dust after yet another embarrassing pratfall? Is your character history lacking?

I don't have to ask. I know your palms and your knees are dusty from stumbling into the dust over and over again. I know this because we're all on the same road together. We're like a choreographed flash mob, all falling down and pulling ourselves back up in full view of the public.

You can drown in your shame and depression. But spiritual adulting means giving an account of your ways.

Add up the victories and the failures, write them all down. Keeping a record of your accounting is essential to discerning the patterns.

Give an account to yourself, but also to God.

The first step of the spiritual discipline of confession is self-examination. Until you stop ignoring the details of your failures, you'll never bring yourself to be honest with God in confession.

He will listen when you confess. He'll look over the details of your accounting and respond to them, helping you to see where you've undersold yourself and where you're still fooling yourself.

And He'll guide you into His Word, those decrees that He intended to be an accounting tool for our spiritual lives.

God is willing and eager to use His decrees to teach you if you're willing to be taught. Set your personal account of your ways up against His account of His ways, and allow Him to offer both grace and transformation.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Psalm 119:25 Dusty Roads

I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word.

Psalm 119:25
We are all on the same road, from birth to death. From dust to dust.

It should be no surprise, then, that we all at some point (or at many points) find ourselves laid low in the dust. It's only that God-breathed soul within us that enables us to rise out of the dust, to keep moving on.

David's literal words in this verse are "My soul clings to the dust." True words those.

On a daily basis my soul is nearly choked out by the physical, dust-made part of who I am. My body hungers for the physical in this world, the things that appeal to my dusty self.

At the same time, the dust of the dying world (and of my own inevitable death) also clings to my soul. Everything in this world is winding down, wearing out, turning to dust. It's so easy to become soul weary through the constant battle to choose a life that's more than just marking off the days until death.

The first step to climbing out of the dust is to admit your predicament to yourself. If you continue to pretend you've got it all together, you'll never find the way out of the dust.

Like David, admit your soul is covered with dust and that it hungers for the soul-scrubbing bubbles of God's Word.

Lord, teach me the discipline of refreshing my soul in your Word with the same eagerness as I refresh my body of dust with pure, clean water.