Friday, December 29, 2017

Psalm 119:41-48 Waw or Vav

May your unfailing love come to me, Lord, your salvation, according to your promise; then I can answer anyone who taunts me, for I trust in your word. Never take your word of truth from my mouth, for I have put my hope in your laws. I will always obey your law, for ever and ever. I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame, for I delight in your commands because I love them. I reach out for your commands, which I love, that I may meditate on your decrees.

Psalm 119:41-48
Waw (or Vav) is a unique letter in the Hebrew alphabet, unlike anything in English. When used at the beginning of a word or sentence, it's the conjunction junction: then ...also...but...

When David wrote an entire stanza starting with waw, he had little choice but to tie the eight verses together in a single, continuous train of thought.

Perhaps this octave should be read as one thing leading toward another, building on what has already been said.

41-42 So, May your unfailing love come to me, Lord, your salvation, according to your promise; and then I can answer anyone who taunts me, for I trust in your word.

43-46 And Never take your word of truth from my mouth, for I have put my hope in your laws. and I will always obey your law, for ever and ever. and so I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. And then I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame,

47-48 and I delight in your commands because I love them. So I reach out for your commands, which I love, that I may meditate on your decrees.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Psalm 119:40 Seeking His Righteousness

How I long for your precepts! In your righteousness preserve my life

Psalm 119:40.
If you've been reading along in Psalm 119 while you've been reading my blog posts, there's probably something about this verse that sounds familiar. That's because not too far back David wrote this:
I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word

Psalm 119:25
And then, just a few verses later...
Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word

Psalm 119:37
Actually, David uses that phrase, preserve my life, eleven times in Psalms 119. The King James version translates it as quicken me, the ESV says give me life, and the NASB revive me.

The Hebrew word comes from the root word for life. David is saying over and over that the Word gives him life, a life that quickens him when he's feeling worn out and lifeless, a life that is worth living.

In each of these verses he provides a detail about how the Word gives life. Here in Psalm 119:40, David makes a connection between longing for God's precepts and righteousness, with a life worth living.

God's precepts are a codified representation of His righteous character, defining the way you should live in order to become righteous like He is righteous. That's not going to happen through occasional reading or through picking up whatever bits of His Word you might pick up from sermons. It only happens when you're spending so much time deep in His Word that you long for those precepts, like a former couch potato learns to long for exercise.

Like regular workouts at the gym, the habit of going deep into the Word will produce changes in you. When you're feeling down, instead of reflexively retreating into a pity party, you'll eagerly seek out God's Word. When you're frustrated, instead of lashing out in anger, you'll dive into His precepts. When the things you see in the news and in pop culture make you feel sick, instead of a knee-jerk political reaction, your instant reflex will be to open the pages of the scriptures.

All of those changes in how you respond to life add up to righteousness. You're looking at life like God does, you're living your life like Jesus did.

Your devotion to the scriptures has reworked your heart toward righteousness, which will give you a new life like you never knew before.

 That new approach to the Word, to righteousness, to life, begins and is sustained through prayer.

Lord, pull me toward your precepts. Grant me the discipline to develop a longing for your Word and for your righteousness. Preserve my life and jump start my life by injecting me with your righteousness. I want to be like you, Lord. I want the life you intended for me.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Meditation Metaphor: Get Off the Couch

It's Christmas morning, and I can guarantee you this: I'm already a tiny bit frustrated.

No, I'm not frustrated with Christmas. At the age of 60, Christmas isn't what it was when I was 6, but it's still a special day. We'll get together with our grown kids and their kids and celebrate with family time, food, and a few presents in the stockings. It may or may not be happening today, because juggling the works schedules of five different households is tricky. But on this morning we're either getting ready for the get together to happen soon, or we're basking in the warm holiday memories of the recent gathering.

But yes, I will be frustrated a tiny bit this morning. What I'd really like to do on a day off is to get up early and be at the door of the ARC (the local gym) as soon as it opens.

But it's closed on Christmas. Imagine that.

This is very much unlike the person I used to be. In my younger years I was all about sleeping in as long as I could whenever I could. I was very much frustrated if I didn't get to spend as much time as I liked lounging around on a comfy couch or in a favorite easy chair, reading a book or watching TV.

But then I started going to the ARC, because all that laziness was ruining my health.

At first it was extremely difficult to sustain the habit of working out. I'd drag myself there, unless I found some excuse - any excuse - to skip a day.

The thing is, the more you habitually exercise, the more your body longs for it. As I got used to the routine of working out at the gym every Wednesday & Thursday and Saturday & Sunday, my entire schedule started to revolve around that routine.

And even beyond the routine, I found myself desiring that workout in situations I never would have imagined during my sedentary years.

When I feel myself starting to get sick, the first thing that pops into my head is this: I need to get to the ARC. Many times I've actually warded off a minor sickness just by sweating it out of my body.

When I feel myself descending into a blue funk, depressed and listless, I know the best thing for me is to head to the ARC. The body chemicals that drag me into depression are highly vulnerable to a muscle-stretching, heart-pounding workout.

Even on the days that my 60-year-old body, with its deteriorating knee and imperfect lungs and aging heart, is incapable of lasting very long at the gym, I'm still glad I went. My wife and I will confess to each other that we just didn't have the stamina or strength today, but, "at least we went."

Have you developed a habit of exercising your mind in the Word? The sort of habit that makes you eager to do it again, habitually?

Are you so into your routine with God's scriptures that you find yourself frustrated when other things interfere with your scheduled time in the Word?

Just like training your physical body to need that regular strenuous exercise, you can train your soul and spirit to need scheduled strenuous time in the Word. The sort of time in the Bible when you combine the heavy lifting of going deep into books like Romans and Jeremiah, but also the familiar, heart-pounding pace of re-reading the Psalms and the Gospels.

The New Year is coming. But don't wait until next week to get started with training yourself to eagerly desire the Word of God.

If you're like most people, you're going to have more down time than usual today and throughout the coming week. You can use it to catch up on the shows you've been wanting to binge-watch on Netflix. That can be fun. But you can also use it to binge-read your way through the New Testament or through the books of Poetry.

Take some time to figure out what your schedule is going to be for the intensive Bible workouts you need. Enter that schedule on your Outlook calendar, or whatever you use to keep track of your other important appointments.

Get up off the comfortable couch you've allowed your spiritual life to settle for, and prepare yourself for the adventures God has in store for you this next year.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Psalm 119:39 Disgrace

Take away the disgrace I dread,
for your laws are good.

Psalm 119:39
Let's take a look at a few more of those 100 Ways to Meditate on the Word:
  • Gnaw on the Word, Gorge on the Word, Soak up the Word, Bathe in the Word, Marinate in the Word, Scrub Yourself With the Word, Let the Word Dwell in You Richly. Stop thinking of Bible Reading as something you ought to do. Let it become a part of who you are.
  • Read the Word for Information. It is helpful to learn and remember details and facts from the Bible
  • Read the Word for Application. Read and think about how it applies to your daily life
  • Read the Word for Transformation. Let the Word seep deeply into your spirit and change you.
  • Step Into the Stories of the Word. Imagine yourself as part of the story you are reading. What would you ask the people in the story? How would you act differently than they did?
  • Personalize the Word. Insert your name into the passage.  For example, John 3:16 – For God so loved Jean. Or Romans 6:1 – What shall Suzette say? Shall she go on sinning that grace may increase? By no means! Suzette died to sin!
  • Personalize the Word for Someone Else. Insert the name of someone else into the verses. 
  • Read the Word From the Perspective of Someone Else. How would an atheist react to the verses you are reading? Or a skeptic? A church drop-out? Your grandmother?
  • Let the Word Be Your Guide in Making an Inventory of Yourself. Let the Word teach you about yourself, to understand where your heart is in relation to God’s heart, and how you’re progressing
  • Look for God at Work in Every Part of the Word. Every book, every chapter of the Bible is about God’s plan to bring us back to Him through Jesus Christ.
  • Wade Through Guilt to Grace in the Word. Make a personal list of “grace” passages in the Bible. Reading the Bible can produce a deep sense of guilt in your heart. Always claim your guilt and deal with it honestly, then turn the page (physically and spiritually) to read about God’s grace and claim it your own.

Father, guide me as I read your Word, so I will not only learn to see myself for who I am, but to see you for who you are, the God of Grace and Forgiveness.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Psalm 119:38 Melting Hearts

Fulfill your promise to your servant,so that you may be feared.

Psalm 119:38
One of the chief reasons God had a Chosen People in Old Testament times was to demonstrate to the rest of the world what happens when a people live in a godly way and rely of the One True God (Deuteronmy 28:9-11).

The stories of Israel's repeated failure to live up to that purpose makes up a great deal of the Old Testament. And yet, God's fulfillment of His promises to Israel was noticed by the people of other nations.

In Jericho, Rahab the prostitute talks about it:
Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. 

Joshua 2:8-11 (compare Joshua 5:1)
Nehemiah wrote of the same thing happening during his time:
When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.

Nehemiah 6:16
You and I are not citizens of the nation of Israel, and this is not 1500 B.C. But does it still hold true that God's fulfillment of His promises to His people, the church, will strike fear into the hearts and minds of people outside the church?

It did in the 1st century church. You'll recall the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who got together to conspire a plot to cheat the church and get ahead. After they both died, Acts 5:11 notes, "Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events."

But, you may say, I haven't seen anyone dropping dead during the offering time. How does this relate to today, in 2017 A.D.?

The world is still watching to see whether God fulfills His promises to His people. When we claim to our neighbors and co-workers that God is real and that He blesses us, what evidence do they see of that? When we claim to have been changed by our relationship to God, do they see any actual change?

God has promised that the Spirit within His people will produce fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). Do the non-Christians you encounter on the job or online notice that you are actively bearing the fruit of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? If they do, they will gain a new respect for our claims about the God who is real.

Doing our part to lay claim to the promises of God is one of the most effective and powerful way of drawing people to Christ. They see how the Lord has changed our lives, and they gain a new respect, or what the people in the Old Testament would have called fear, for God.

It's not about getting what was promised for my own sake, but for God's sake, for the sake of drawing people to Him. The best way to change your approach to God's promises is by praying.

Lord, teach me to eagerly seek the blessings you've promised, so that I will be a magnet, drawing people toward God. Help me to counteract their skepticism with acceptance of who God is.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Psalm 119:37 Let the Word be About the Word

Turn my eyes away from worthless things;preserve my life according to your word.

Psalm 119:37
We need to understand what David means when he uses the Hebrew word translated as worthless.

The same word is used in one of the most well-known verses in the Old Testament:
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

Exodus 20:7
Yes, that's one of the Ten Commandments. I learned it as Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. It's not talking about using swear words, but about ascribing negative or foolish attributes to God. Or, as it's also often used, to worship an idol that is a false or vain or worthless god.

This idea then connects us over to another scripture where the same word appears:
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Psalm 127:1-2
Anything you try to accomplish without relying on the one true God is pointless, vanity, worthless. This includes offering sacrifices to God without also humbling yourself before God, as Isaiah says.
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!

Isaiah 1:13
With this understanding of the way the term is used throughout the Old Testament, it's clear that David, in Psalm 119:37, is asking God to help him turn his attention away from an approach to the scriptures that doesn't honor the God who wrote the Word.

The Bible isn't just a collection of verses that we can twist or construe to say whatever we please. The purpose of the written Word is to help us know the Word who is God and who is with God. Reading the Bible in any way that ignores the character of God is pointless, worthless, vain.

On the other hand, studying the scriptures in order to understand the heart of God will gradually change the reader's heart to be like His.

I'll ask the same question again. What's the best way to stay focused on honoring the character of the God who wrote the Word? The answer is the same, of course.


Father, remind me over and over as I read your Word, that You are the Word, that every thought, every doctrine, every part of the scriptures is a reflection of your character. Help me, Lord, to not waste my time trying to find things in the scripture that are disconnected from you and your heart.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Psalm 119:36 Selfish Again

Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain.

Psalm 119:36
Selfish Ways to Approach God's Word:

Read the Bible as a Self-Help guide.  Considering Jesus clearly says the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love others, why do so many believers only use the Word like it's their personal self-help book? You help yourself by getting out of yourself and investing in the lives of others. The Bible is a guide on how to do that. (Philippians 2:3-4; Matthew 20:28)

Focus on discovering proofs of how right your theology is and how wrong other groups are.  This is pretty much what I grew up thinking the Bible was for: a way to prove those "denominationals" wrong. When you're focused on putting down someone else, that's envy. That's not what the Bible is for.   (James 3:16; Proverbs 18:1)

Concentrate on what the Bible says about the sins of the flesh. Oh, yes, there's plenty written about the sins of the flesh. But some people seem to be obsessed with the fleshly sins of the world, while ignoring the spiritual and attitude sins in their own hearts. (Romans 8:5)

Search the scriptures for things you can use to control the actions of others. If your goal is to tell other people where they're sinning, to set up rules for their behavior, then you're just being selfish. Sounds a lot like what the Pharisees were good at. (II Peter 2)

Read the Bible and then go and live however you want. Throughout history there have been many church-going people who will listen to sermons, read the Bible, and go through the rituals of religion, but then live their daily lives according to the selfish and sinful ways of their heart. We read verses like Romans 2:8 and think it's talking about non-Christians who "are self-seeking and reject the truth and follow evil." But there are plenty of outwardly religious people who are doing the same thing.

So what can you do to break your habits of selfish Bible reading? Pray before (and during) your Bible reading. As Tim Challies has put it so well, Prayerlessness is Selfishness.

Do you rally think you can rise above your selfishness, your preconceived notions, the influence of the mass media, and understand the path of God's statutes without his help? Of course not.

Challies quotes H.B. Charles Jr:
“The things you pray about are the things you trust God to handle. The things you neglect to pray about are the things you trust you can handle on your own.”

Father, help me to not interpret your Word according to my own selfish way of seeing things. Through your Holy Spirit, illumine and inspire, so I can fully understand your heart and be directed in your way. Guard me from the conceit that I can do this without you. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Psalm 119:35 Path Illogical

Dr. Phil's guests describe their unproductive habits and the resulting mess of their lives, and his response is always,
"And how's that working for you?"
No one is quite sure who first said or wrote another popular phrase:
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”
Both of these address a behavior we all know to be true, because we've all been guilty of it. We know what we ought to do. We know that what we're currently doing is causing problems for us. And yet we keep on doing the same self-defeating things over and over again.

Paul expressed something similar in Romans 7:15.
"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."
David confesses to God that he needs help with this problem.
Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.

Psalm 119:35
Like the psychologist's patients who hear the doctor's advice week after week but fail to actually follow through, many people  approach God's commands like a pep talk, but never actually obey them. James knew this:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror  and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25
James' "they will be blessed in what they do" echoes David's "delight comes from doing."

So, how can you work toward changing what seems to be an endless cycle? How can you shift toward actually taking steps down the path of obeying the commands?

The answer is to pray before you read the commands of God. Pray every time before you read the Word.
Lord, as I read your commands, plant them not only in my mind and in my heart, but in my feet! Guide me through your Word so I can explore practical ideas for living it out in my daily life. Help me to make plans and to carry out those plans to pursue the path you've laid out, the path that results in delight. Lord, I need some delight in my life. Shake me up so I stop ignoring the guidance you've provided in the scriptures.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Psalm 119:34 Making it Fit

Give me understanding, so that I may keep your lawand obey it with all my heart.

Psalm 119:34
I'm not very fond of shopping for new clothes.

Oh, I like having new clothes. But when I go clothes shopping I'm remind that I don't have the money to buy just whatever I want. I'm also reminded that I'm not a kid any more so I shouldn't buy things that will make me look like a silly old man. I get wound up in my own mind, thinking about what my son will think of what I buy, or my wife, or my co-workers.

But worst of all, shopping for clothes reminds me I'm over-weight. For years I've been right at that dividing line where many of the clothes stop at the size just below mine, or if they have my size, there's only one style or color for me to get. But I'm also at the size where the Big & Tall section also doesn't have much for me, favoring people either bigger or taller than I am.

The worst part of shopping for clothes is when I know I have to get new clothes because I've outgrown the clothes in my closet. When I was 8, that was great. It's not so great at 60.

And so, even though I really could use two or three new pairs of pants, I only get one, telling myself I'll work on getting back down into the clothes I already have (and the ones in that box up on the shelf that's labeled CLOTHES TO SHRINK INTO.

Woe is me. That which I want to do is not what I end up doing, and that which I don't want to do any more is precisely what I know I'll end up doing.

Some of us approach the Word of God the way I approach clothes.

Your life habits have slipped a bit lately, so you avoid those parts of the scriptures you know won't fit the current you very well. Or your thoughts about certain topics have shifted somewhat because of the pressure of the world and the popular culture, so you work hard at finding a different way to think about what used to be clear and plain in the Bible, but now you need it to fit into your evolving way of thinking about the world.

The best way to keep from trying to force the Word into fitting your way of thinking, rather than the other way around, is to pray every time you open the Bible to read. Every time.

Let the one who wrote the Word help you to be changed by the Word as it disciplines you for godliness.

Lord, Give me understanding so I can be all in. Help me to push myself to let the Word change me, to make me strong in the faith. Pull me back, Lord, from trying to fit the Word into the way I want to live. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Psalm 119:33 Through to the End

Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees,
that I may follow it to the end.

Psalm 119:33
I know the way from Columbia, Missouri, to Vandalia, Missouri. I don't need the GPS lady to tell me
Turn right on Interstate 70
Drive 24 miles
At Exit 148 Merge right on exit ramp
Turn Left on US Highway 54
Drive 45 miles 
I've driven that route - and back - nearly every Monday evening for the past 15 years, from my hometown of Columbia to the women's prison in Vandalia.

I could probably drive it with my eyes closed. That's actually not a good idea, although there are some late Monday nights on the return trip that I'm very grateful my tired mind knows the way without having to think about it much.

Beyond just knowing the directions, I understand why the route from Columbia to Vandalia follows its indirect path.

Because I've lived in this part of Missouri for over 50 years, I know that Highway 54 used to go through the tiny town of Auxvasse, with its speed limit and stop signs, rather than bypassing it to the east. I  know the highway also used to wind its way through Mexico, past two stop signs, two stoplights, over a railroad crossing (unless you were unfortunate to have to wait for the train to make its town-slow passage through Mexico) , and past several fast food places and other businesses that have disappeared since 54 was rerouted to bypass most of the town.

I know I can fudge the speed limit a bit on the way through Laddonia, but I have to be very careful not to take liberties on the way through Farber. I know the speed limit used to be flexible in Mexico, but that there's a county mountie who now likes to sit at the one spot most likely to tempt drivers to ignore the speed limit.

I know where the sharp curves are and where the long straight shots are. I know that the railroad crossing in Laddonia is a hump to be respected, but it's nothing compared to the undercarriage-killer at Rush Hill.

I pay attention to all these things because my goal is not to just take joy ride every Monday evening. No, I have both a purpose to achieve and a schedule to meet when I drive that route. No matter what time I finally load everyone into the van in Columbia, I need to arrive at the Vandalia prison no later than 6:30. Preferably a bit sooner. We have the chapel dedicated to the Lord's purposes from 6:30 to 8:30, and arriving late just won't do.

You can read the Bible in a willy-nilly manner, just grabbing a few verses here and a few others over there. You can read quickly with no purpose other than to make yourself feel good about havign read your verses for the day and mark them off your chart.

Or you can read the Bible to understand its ways, settling in for the long haul, to reach the goal of knowing the heart of God and learning how to walk with Him all the way to the end of the 1 road.

One way to make sure you do this is to pray before you read the Bible. Every time. Talk to the God who wrote what you're about to read.
Lord, teach me to understand the ways, the whys, the flow of your decrees. Help me to not pick and choose favorite phrases or verses, but to pursue the thread of what you're saying all the way through to its end. Grant me the diligence I lack. Settle my mind, away from the rush and hurry of daily life, so it can take a leisurely walk through your Word

Monday, November 27, 2017

Psalm 119:33-40 ה He

I have a list of 100 Ways to Meditate on the Word that I use every two or three years in the prison ministry, to give the ladies some practical and creative ideas for their Bible reading and study.

It includes some extremely practical things, like...
  • Look for Key Words and Phrases in the Word. Most Old Testament books of prophecy (Isaiah through Malachi) and most New Testament epistles (Romans through 3rd John) are written with one or more key words or phrases repeated. By discovering those key words, you will better understand what the entire book is about. For example, a key word in Philippians is “joy” and a key phrase in Philippians is “in Christ/through Christ/for Christ” 

  • Look for Connecting Words in the Word. therefore, but, and, because, if – these can be key to understanding the meaning 

  • Look for Cause and Effect in the Word. Understand how decisions and actions have consequences

  • KISS the Word. “Keep it simple, Stupid” is a good thing to remember in Bible Study. Don’t try to find complicated, obscure meanings for simple, straightforward scriptures
It also includes some creative and startling ideas, like...
  • Sketch, Draw, Paint, Sculpt the Word. Artistically express what you read

  • Wrestle With the Word. When you read something in the Bible you don’t agree with, or would rather not go along with, talk to God honestly about it. Wrestle with the text, wrestle with your own stubbornness and opinions, and wrestle with God’s authority. Refuse to let go until the Word blesses you.

  • Butcher the Word Like a Buffalo. The Native Americans made use of every part of the buffalo carcass, even “useless” parts. Take care not to discard the “useless” parts of the Word
But over and over again, scattered throughout the list, I keep coming back to one of the most important keys to meditating on the Word:
  • Pray Before Reading the Bible. The Bible is the one book you can read while talking to the Author

  • Study Hard, Think Deeply & Pray Long to Align Your Heart with God’s Heart. Seek to become a person who loves, hates, prioritizes, and spends time the way Jesus and God do

  • Pray the Word. Pray about the verses you are reading as you read them. For example, try praying Psalm 23 – Lord, thank you for caring for me like a shepherd cares for a sheep. Help me to rely on you like a sheep does, and help me to not be as stubborn as a sheep. Father, I want to rely on you for all my wants and needs, and not get stressed out by worry. . . 

  • Feed on the Word Until You’re Full. It’s good to sometimes read and read and read (and pray and pray and pray) for a long period of time, like a 12-course gourmet meal.

  • Pray After Reading the Word.
The Psalms is a textbook for how to pray.  In this section of Psalm 119, David teaches us to pray about God's Word.
33 Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees,
that I may follow it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
35 Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
36 Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
preserve my life according to your word.
38 Fulfill your promise to your servant,
so that you may be feared.
39 Take away the disgrace I dread,
for your laws are good.
40 How I long for your precepts!
In your righteousness preserve my life.

Wednesday, November 22, 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

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.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Psalm 119:25-32 Daleth

In the majority of Psalm 119's acrostic octets, he chooses from among a wide variety of possible words beginning with the chosen letter of the Hebrew alphabet, so that the defining letter doesn't greatly drive the topic at hand, but is just a poetic feature.

But occasionally, the chosen letter dictates the chosen topic.  Bear with me as I take a little journey through the details of how David constructed Daleth, the fourth octet of Psalm 119.

In Daleth, David begins 5 of the 8 verses with the very same word, derek. 

According to the concordance, that word is translated as "way" 590 times, "toward" 31, and "journey" 23 (plus 53 other miscellaneous translations).

It's used 45 times in Psalms.

It's used in the 40th chapter of Ezekiel a dozen times, always as "toward", repeatedly using it to describe the layout of temple, as in "there was a gate to the inner court toward the south: and he measured from gate to gate toward the south a hundred cubits." (v. 27)

In those 5 verses of Psalm 119:25-32, David references the way or the direction of himself (v. 26), the way of God's precepts (v. 27), his own way of falsehood or deceit (v. 29), his own way of faithfulness (v. 30), and the direction of God's commands (v. 32).

Two of the remaining verses begin with a description of what his soul is doing.

His soul clings to the dust (v. 25) and is weary (v.28). In the remaining verse he asks the Lord that he not be put to shame (v. 31)

It's not too difficult then, to get the drift of what David is talking about in this octet of verses. He's taking measurements,  comparing his own ways to God's way, and his soul is coming out on the short end of the deal.

Isn't that how life often goes? Our choices of how we live our daily lives can come down to a simple matter of choosing the right direction - leading to good results - or choosing the wrong way, which generally doesn't end well for us.

It's no different than if you're trying to tighten or loosen a screw and you expend your time and energy and elbow grease into rotating the screwdriver in the wrong direction, you'll not only fail in your task, put you're liable to strip out the head of the screw.

It's important to pause in your life occasionally and check to make sure you're putting your effort toward the right things and the right direction. As David discovered, you might feel better for it, deep down in your soul.
I am laid low in the dust;
   preserve my life according to your word.
I gave an account of my ways and you answered me;
   teach me your decrees.
Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
   that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.
My soul is weary with sorrow;
   strengthen me according to your word.
Keep me from deceitful ways;
   be gracious to me and teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
   I have set my heart on your laws.
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 119:25-32

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Psalm 119:24 Who Are Your Counselors?

My day job involves a lot of customer service. I receive dozens of e-mails every day, asking me to fix this or answer that or help with something else.

I also get these kind of questions every day:
"Can you change the name of who is required for approval of my requisitions?"
No, you need to contact Accounting for that.
"I need to buy something from a new vendor. Can you build that vendor in the system?"
No, you need to contact the Finance Support Center for that.
"I need to know when I'm going to get my weekly warehouse order. "
You need to contact the Warehouse for that.
"Can you tell me who I should order these Wangenstein devices from?"
No, you need to call your buyer in Purchasing for that.
"What's the lunch special today?"
I'm sorry but this isn't Ernie's Diner.

I actually did used to get that last call somewhat frequently. The diner's phone number was very similar to my office number. One time I rattled off a detailed description of a sumptuous diner-style meal and then said, "and it's only $4!"
"I'll be right over!"
I'm guessing they were disappointed when they arrived for lunch.

Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.

Psalm 119:24
When you need help with life, who do you go to for counsel?

A self-help book? Facebook? Your co-workers? Or maybe it's your preacher. Or some other wise Christian. That's certainly a better choice.

But there's a better choice yet: The statutes of the Lord.

Many people don't choose the Bible as their first source of counsel because they aren't using the scriptures properly.

They'd go to the bible more often, perhaps, if it were organized more topically.
Problems with your kids? 
There's a chapter for that!
Need to know how to effectively share the gospel at work? 
There's  chapter for that!
Trying to quit smoking? 
There's a chapter for that, too!

No, it doesn't work that way, does it?

For the Word of God to really be an effective counselor, you've got to delight in it, as David says. That means you're eager for the time you get to spend each day reading the Word. Instead of looking forward to your favorite TV show or whatever else you're currently delighting in, how about delighting in the Word?

It takes practice. Your TV watching habits or other habits were developed over years. It will take time and diligent practice for the Word to be what you automatically turn to in your free time.

The rewards will be fantastic. The scriptures still won't be organized by topic, but the more you delight in them, the answers will be written on your heart, accessible when you need them.

Try it out. You'll discover that treating yourself to the Word as often as possible is a true delight.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Psalm 119:23 Active Meditation

Though rulers sit together and slander me, your servant will meditate on your decrees.

Psalm 119:23

If you're a Republican, you likely thought the eight years of the Obama administration was an endless onslaught against Christians. I lost track of how many times I was told by otherwise loving and patient fellow believers that President Obama had not earned the right for them to speak respectfully of him, because he had not treated Christians with respect.

If you're a Democrat, you likely think Donald Trump is a blowhard, a liar, and a slanderer of anyone who disagrees with him, including any Christians who fail to fall in line with his overwhelming support among Evangelicals. And you may be appalled at that overwhelming support.

Or, if you're like me, you probably think both of these generalizations have a lot of truth to them, and that's generally what people in power do. They spin the truth (aka lies and slander) about anyone or anything that doesn't fit tidily into their agenda.

It's hard to keep a civil tongue, let alone a kind and enemy-loving tongue, in the face of slanderous leaders. Read through the entirety of the Psalms and you'll see David struggling mightily - and frequently failing - to deal with his enemies appropriately.

So what does David say here in Psalm 119:23 about how to respond to conniving and slanderous leaders?


Pause for a moment and think about that. Meditate on it, if you will.

Breathe in David's counter-intuitive approach. Let it fill your soul and push out the knee-jerk reactions that have been clogging up your spirit.

David shares more of his thoughts on how to respond to bad people in Psalm 37.
Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.

Psalm 37:1-4
First, he says to just chill. The bad guys in your life are only temporary.

I wish more Christians could just chill when it comes to politics in America.

Don't fret because the wrong people get into office. Don't be envious of the voting bloc that won that election. For like the grass they will soon get blown in a different direction depending on the whims of public opinion, and their power will soon wither and die away and another election cycle will come.

The only way you can develop that sort of attitude toward politics and toward political movements and leaders is to take David's advice. When you see things happening that frustrate you and make you angry, don't fret. Meditate.

Meditating on the Word is the only way you'll train your heart to trust in God and let him take care of such things.

Habitual and prolonged meditation is what led David to say, in Psalm 37:3-8, that instead of fretting we should follow this maddeningly non-reactionary 10-point plan:
  1. Trust in the Lord and do good
  2. Dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture
  3. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart
  4. Commit your way to the Lord
  5. Trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.
  6. Be still before the Lord
  7. Wait patiently for him
  8. Do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked scheme
  9. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath
  10. Do not fret—it leads only to evil
He has a lot more advice on the matter. You should turn to Psalm 37 and read the whole thing. Meditate on it. Let it dwell in you richly and change your heart.

One last thing. Lest you look at David's plan and dismiss it as much too passive, look again. Meditate a bit longer on Psalm 37.

Every one of those points begins with an action. Actively trust in the Lord. Actively dwell in His land. Actively choose to delight in the Lord. Actively do the hard work of committing your way to the Lord. Actively return continually to trust as the thing to do. Actively choose stillness and waiting.
Intentionally choose to not fret and get all worked up about things. Intentionally refrain from anger, and actively turn away from wrath to something better. Again, actively find something productive and missional to do besides sitting and fretting about things.

It's difficult to do. It only comes as a result of meditation.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Psalm 119:22 Guilty of Contempt

Remove from me their scorn and contempt, for I keep your statutes.

Psalm 119:22
Scorn and contempt are contagious.

If you doubt me, take a few moments to read through the trending topics on Twitter right now. I don't even know what the Top 10 trending topics will be when you read this, but I can guarantee that at least a few of them will consist of people tweeting back and forth to another with scorn and contempt for each others' opinions.

The same is true of any controversial topic on Facebook, or the comments section on any online newspaper article about any topic even remotely controversial. In 21st century America, scorn & contempt is the universal language.

As a Christian, how do you respond when people oppose you with scorn and contempt, whether in person or online?

Remember. And beware. Scorn and contempt are contagious. The very scorn and contempt you find so distasteful in those who oppose God can easily rub off on you, in your distaste for their ways and their words.

From what I've observed, there are few believers who can honestly say they've never succumbed to the temptation to respond to anti-Christian rhetoric by answering sarcasm for sarcasm. Or returning stereotypes for stereotypes. Applying labels for labels. Tossing out dismissive generalizations for dismissive generalizations. Anger for anger. Scorn and contempt for scorn and contempt.

 In Psalm 79, David comes perilously close to adopting the attitudes of the enemies of God in his expression of anger toward them.

O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble. They have left the dead bodies of your servants as food for the birds of the sky, the flesh of your own people for the animals of the wild. They have poured out blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there is no one to bury the dead. We are objects of contempt to our neighbors, of scorn and derision to those around us.>

Psalm 79:1-4
In the end, though, he understands that all their scorn and contempt, while it appears it's directed toward God's people, it's actually directed toward God himself.

And God is one who will answer them.
Pay back into the laps of our neighbors seven times the contempt they have hurled at you, Lord.

Psalm 79:12
When we give in to expressing our scorn and contempt for the enemies of God, that's when we should realize we're no longer keeping his statutes.

There is nothing the world can throw at us that will ever justify our defending God and his statutes in a way that goes against his statutes.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Psalm 119:21 Stray Cats

You rebuke the arrogant, who are accursed, those who stray from your commands.

Psalm 119:21
It may seem, if you've been reading my blog posts thus far, that I tend to ignore the laws of God against sinners, against people who aren't following God at all. In my rush to pick on my fellow believers, it can seem like I'm ignoring the sins of the world.

Quite to the contrary, I'm quite aware of the large number of people in our culture who are wantonly trampling on the laws of God. In verse 21, David triples down on the people who are worthy of God's rebuke.

The arrogant:  As Paul describes in Romans 1, there are many people who, even though the evidence of God is clear, are too proud to submit to Him. Instead they worship themselves and everything they can do or possess.

The arrogant unbelievers are a tough nut to crack, because they're going to have to come to a point of doubting their own self-sufficiency before they will even consider acknowledging a Lord outside of themselves. Times of crisis can present the best possibility of a turning point for them.

The accursed: Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the accursed are those who have violated the laws of God to such a degree that both God and His people consider them to be "cast out" from their presence. Jesus makes clear that in His church this is to be done only after an earnest attempt has been made to redeem them, to bring them back into a reconciled relationship with God and with the community of believers (Matthew 18:15-20)

Paul takes that principle a step further and makes it clear that the purpose of banishing someone to the outside of God's community is to bring them to their senses. The hope is that they will return repentant and both God and the church will then forgive. (II Corinthians 2:1-11)

The strays. Did you know there's a difference between a stray cat and a feral cat

"A stray cat is a cat who has been socialized to people at some point in her life, but has left or lost her domestic home, as well as most human contact and dependence. Over time, a stray cat can become feral as her contact with humans dwindles. Under the right circumstances, however, a stray cat can also become a pet cat once again."

"A feral cat is a cat who has either never had any contact with humans or her contact with humans has diminished over time. She is fearful of people and survives on her own outdoors. A feral cat is not likely to ever become a lap cat or enjoy living indoors." (

The spiritual parallels are clear. For those who are wandering far from God, understanding whether they are a stray believer or a feral unbeliever is crucial. People are not cats, and both can be redeemed by the grace of God and the love of God's people. But a different approach is required for stray vs. feral wanderers.

As Christians, we need to see the arrogant, the accursed, and the strays (and ferals) the same way God sees them.

It is true, though, that I tend to not write as much about how horrible such people are. I tend to take that for granted. We're all horrible people. We all lean toward arrogance, are deserving of being accursed, and prone toward straying from the loving arms of God.

What I see, though, is that among believers there is a terrible tendency to point the fingers of rebuke at other people who are arrogant, accursed, and straying. We're much more interested in rebuking the wrong we see outside our Christian community than we are in responding the way God intends. 

In our religous arrogance, we take it upon ourelves to rebuke others, rather than trusting God to rebuke them.

We tend to talk about "those sinners" with sanctified curses, wrapped in religious language, rather than allowing God to be the one who rebukes.

We tend to treat the church's strays the same as we treat the feral sinners of the world, without carefully considering the best way to help each individual. Instead we rebuke them all as members of "not us".

David doesn't say, "I rebuke the arrogant." Nor is he commanding or recommending God rebuke the accursed. He is humbly deferring to the Lord, who alone has the right and the wisdom to rebuke the strays. 

By all means, we need to recognize the arrogant, the accursed, and the strays for what they are. And then let God decide when and how to do the rebuking, while we go about doing the job He gave us, which is to draw them toward Him.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Psalm 119:20 At All Times

My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times. 

Psalm 119:20
At all times?

Are you sure you're consumed with longing for God's laws at all times? For all of God's laws?

Are you consumed with longing for His laws when someone has disrespected you, robbed you, or abused their authority over you? No, I don't mean the obvious laws against disrespect, robbery, and abuse of authority. How about this law:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-42
Are you consumed with longing for His laws when non-believers treat you poorly and make it difficult for Christians to practice their faith freely? Again, I'm not talking about the laws condemning persecution of God's people. Those are too obvious. How about these principles:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything
. . . Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

James 1:2-4,12
Are you consumed with longing for His laws when you're deeply troubled by the actions and words of the president (either the current president or previous ones)? I besides the laws against whatever ungodly policies or behaviors are troubling you most. Instead, check yourself to see if you long for these laws:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

I Timothy 2:1-4
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

I Peter 2:13-17

Are you consumed with longing for the laws of God when you see people who are enemies of God and all righteousness being praised and granted special rights and privileges? No, I'm not talking about the obvious laws against their unrighteousness. I'm talking about the laws spelling out the righteous response you should have toward them:
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

Luke 6:35
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing

I Peter 3:9

Dear Lord, plant in our hearts a deep longing for all of your laws, at all times, especially when we'd rather pick and choose which laws to follow.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Psalm 119:19 Stranger for God

I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me.

Psalm 119:19
Some days I feel more like a stranger on this earth than on other days.

The one day of the week I generally don't feel like a complete stranger on earth is Monday. That's the day Karen and I get to go to a women's prison and share worship, teaching, discussion, and counselling with a chapel full of convicted criminals.

Karen gleefully calls it her "happy place," a statement that causes the prisoners to just shake their heads. Some of them roll their eyes.

Oh sure, we hear some stories there that shock us, make us shudder, and even cause us to weep.

But it really is our happy place, and the one place all week where we feel like we fit in.

Don't you dare roll your eyes at me. It's true.

That prison chapel is the one place I can always count on people to not be deluding themselves about how good they are. In that place, we're all sinners, all bowing at the feet of the God of holiness, crying out for mercy. We cling to the commands of God as lifebuoys and boundary markers, rescuing us and protecting us from our worst selves.

Monday evenings in prison help me deal with the almost overwhelming feeling of being a stranger during the rest of the week out in the "free" world.

When I encounter co-workers, friends, and total strangers whose daily lives are filled with chasing after shockingly unwholesome desires, my temptation is to lead with "wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it" (Matthew 7:13).

But, as true as that verse is, my Mondays have taught me to lead with the equally true "there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

That's right. We're all on that same broad road, and we're all in need of mercy. Perhaps the people in my life need me to interact with them as someone who shares our predicament and our common need for grace.

Dear Lord, this world is strange. Help me to see all your commandments, and to not ignore the ones that bring us together as fellow sojourners and seekers.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Church That Does the Recovery Program: Writer's Notebook

A few of the FCC-Belle Celebrate Recovery peeps
The story behind The Church That Does the Recovery Program, my current article in the October issue of Christian Standard magazine, begins nearly two years ago when I was doing research for a different story for Lookout magazine. My Lookout editor, Kelly Carr, wanted a listicle about rural and/or small churches reaching out to help their communities (Small Churches -- Big Impact, 2/12/17).

I sent out private Facebook messages to several preachers I know from our days together at Central Christian College. I wrote several more blind private messages and e-mails to churches in rural Missouri that I found in the Directory of the Ministry.

 I also reached out to David Fincher, President of Central Christian College, to ask if he knew of any such community outreach programs among CCCB's supporting churches. I've gotten some of my best story ideas from David, and he didn't let me down this time. He sent me a short note in response:
"You should talk to Mitchell Seaton at First Christian Church in Belle, Missouri. They have had a great outreach to many of the hurting people in their community."
So I wrote an e-mail to Seaton and received back an 800-word detailed description of First Christian Church's experience with Celebrate Recovery (CR), a very small part of which was included in that article.

I knew, though, that the time would come when I would tell that story in more detail.

A Sunday morning drive through the hills and hollers of the Ozarks followed. Mitch invited Karen and I to "interview" the members of one of the Sunday School classes. There wasn't much interviewing required, as this crowd of friends, all involved in one way or another in the Celebrate Recovery program, led me through a wild and crazy hour of stories and confessions and tears and laughter.

My editor, Michael Mack, after reading the finished manuscript, told me "Dude, love the quotes. Very compelling and I laughed out loud several times."

There were plenty more quotes that didn't make it into the 1,500 word article.  So here's your chance to hear more from the people at First Christian Church in Belle, MO. You will laugh out loud, you will be challenged, and you might even cry.

Tim Long 3, on what happened after he got arrested in the parking lot of the church after a Sunday morning service:
“I came back the following Sunday to church. I couldn’t take it no more. June 14, 2014, was my first day clean and sober. It was Father’s Day. I went to church because my daughters had asked me. 
I said, I’m done. I was done with it at that point. 12 days later they start the recovery program and I’m in jail again. I had warrants that I was still cleaning up. It took a while to clean the mess up that I had created behind me. . .  I felt God’s hand on me when I was in jail, I said we’ll work this out. I’ll sit here, I’m good. I’ve run out of options. 
The following week I came to the recovery program. I was at the ground level. The second week of the program they handed me a book and said, here, why don’t you do the lesson. I kind of giggled a little bit. “You know who you’re handing this off to?” 
I’m in a position now as ministry leader of CR, and I get to watch what guys like Kevin, Tony, and Mitchell got to watch through me, those aha moments. I get to watch them through guys like Todd and Pete, not just their recovery from drug addiction, but their recovery from life, moving forward, being the men and women god has intended them to be. When you’re going through it yourself, you don’t see it, but people like Kevin can tell me about the progression he sees people go through. 
The church people have been 100% supportive, and they’re not afraid to let you know where you’ve fallen short, or what you need to work on or give you the praises that keep you pushing forward."
Anna Long:
"I told him (Tim 3, her husband), he said he was coming to church, and I said, if you have a warrant, Tony will arrest you. I warned him and he said, I don’t but if I do I’ll deal with it. 
I came in a year before the recovery program started. I came here as a child, and then came back. I came in because I was at a low point in my marriage and everything else and needed to be around people. There was a lot more space in the pews. This Sunday School class at the time, there was like five of us. The stories that people were willing to share helped so much. 
CR has opened things up. We’re a little louder, so it opens it up to talk to everybody. We’re kind of loud and crazy but we love Jesus.
A lot of times people will come to CR first and then everyone tells them, come to our church. It doesn’t matter if you’ve tried church before, try our church. And then a lot of times then, again, Mitchell’s sermons are very relatable and they feel welcome and accepted when they come in the door."
Tim Long 2 (Tim 3's dad):
"Yesterday is 21 months clean and sober. I spent over 40 years out on the dark side, doing my will only. When i was a kid I used to spend my collection money by skipping church and going to the bowling alley. 
First time I came in here I heard Mitchell speak and he was right in my head talking to me. I even asked him, what did they teach you at that college, mind reading? You need to stay outta there! 
I came to CR to see about getting rid of my addiction, and I was in it for a while and then I asked Jesus Christ to take my addiction and he did. It’s now not about the addiction anymore, it’s about the recovery to change my life and living my life the way Christ wants me to live. 
That’s why I’m here. All these people here, the whole church they work with you, they help you, they lead you. The whole church is my accountability partner now. 
When some of us started coming, we asked Mitchell, are you going to be able to keep your job with all these rough people coming in? He said ‘This is a hospital for sinners, not a house for saints.”
Celebrate Recovery members playing with kids at FCC-Belle VBS
Denene Gehlert:
“When I came to CR, I’d been an addict my whole life. It was OK to come. I felt like everybody from all walks of life are being real here. 
It’s OK for me to come in and talk to others. They’ll help you through it and carry it. 
The realness of other people helps because people come in and think that can’t tell their story because their problem is so dark CR has made it OK for people from all walks of life to come in and be accepted. These are good Christian people who will take you as you are and say, we’ll help you with this. We all have problems and everyone can see. 
Tony Baritech:
It’s OK if you’ve got a problem. This is where you should be if you’ve got a problem. Romans 3:23. I’m one of those people. We’re family here. We walk through it all together.
Mitchell Seaton:
The impact and scope of CR:  “It's been an adjustment for sure. And we're still adjusting. But they're still coming, and they're lives are being changed by the power of Christ. This has brought on all kinds of changes to our approach. it's not just addiction. But really any of life's "hurts, habits, and hang-ups" (which is a Celebrate Recovery line). Depression. Anger. Sexual Addiction. Codependency. 
Church discipline: "Though we are patient to allow God's Spirit to convict, we also know we must play a role in that, too."
Clayton Johnson:
"Before I started coming to CR I was an atheist. I didn’t believe in Christ. The only time I went to church was for a wedding or a funeral, and I thought I was going to get struck by lightning for walking through the doors. 
I had multiple people tell me to come to CR and through CR I found Christ, I started coming to church, I’ve been baptized, I’ve been redeemed. 
Becoming one of the leaders for CR, as encouragement leader, has been wonderful. I believe last year we had more CR baptisms than we had baptism out of the regular church program. It’ changing lives. It changed mine. I went from a non-believer to a faithful, grateful believer, and I tell everybody now.".
Sundi JoGraham, on the close-knit community of CR and FCC-Bel:
"A friend said, the other day, I feel like the Sunday School class is the church. The people in this room, we do life together. 
We go to Carrie and Kevin’s to play whiffle ball. I remember going to my first whiffle ball game and seeing all this diverse group of people from all walks of life. You’ve got ex-convicts and ex drug dealers and a cop, you’ve got all these people. We were all playing whiffle ball together and eating hot dogs together. That’s the body of Christ, is doing life together. We have cried in this room together, we’ve been real and raw. It’s been amazing to watch. 
Margie Baretich:
"When I came there was maybe 50 or 60 people. Now we have probably as many children here as we did adults back then. 
The CR program here, I can’t even express the amount of hope that it gives me. 
We have a boy that’s in prison. Watching the transformations that I’ve been to see, gives me hope that’s still possible for my son. 
It has given me a different perspective in my work as well. I’m a paramedic, 28 years, and I go get the same people time after time after time for the same abuses, the same drugs, or for the same beatings from the same person and I have been jaded in the past. Here we go again. 
Now I understand addiction so much better and the life struggles than I did before. Now I have a diff perspective in my work. I can say with all honesty now, when I’m picking up somebody for the 43rd time, there really is hope. I know it’s there. 
Contact CR in your areas and give it a chance, you’ve got everything to gain."

An exchange during the group decision that highlights the unexpected and extraordinary relationships developing at FCC-Belle:

Tim Long 2: We tried to get Tony to come work for us, but he wouldn’t. 
Tony Baretich (police officer): No joke, I was offered a large monthly stipend to look the other way, but no. 
Tim Long 2: And now we got motorcycles and Tony don’t. 
Tim Long 3: I’m very happy that you didn’t take that offer.
Tim Long 2:
Broken Chains is part of CR, a Christian biker program. It brought me in to where I could have a bike again. I got rid of my bike and wasn’t going to get another one because of the lifestyle, but it’s allowed me to do other ministry work. 
That’s one of the things that is really amazing me is doing ministry work. When I was new, Mitchell would talk about ministry work. The other day I was standing around talking to guys about Jesus and a few months before I would have rather hit you than to talk about Jesus. I came on kind of fast. 
It’s crazy, the transformation is totally amazing. The acceptance and guidance they give is great. I’ve never met people like that my whole life.

Kevin Brown:
We came to FCC 5 or 6 years ago. Tony invited Morgan (his daughter) to come. I wasn’t sure how we would be accepted, because I had been divorced, twice. At that point there was 70ish attendance, probably. 
I’m thrilled we started at that point. I believe we were put here at that certain time. I didn’t even know Mitchell, but we hit it off immediately and became really good friends after some earnest conversation. It was good. 
So we were able to see the beginning and to see the wave start to swell. It was phenomenal. 
Everything they’re saying is 100% true. There was hardly nobody in this classroom. 
If you can help one person, and I believe there’s been more than one person that’s been helped, that gives me hope. 
Yes, we have people out for whiffle ball because God has blessed us to have a place where we can do that, and we absolutely love it. It’s not the whiffle ball, it’s the talks after whiffle ball. That’s the cool part. 
I was on vacation and met someone from Redding, CA. They’re from a Christian church out there, and they’re going to start a CR program. I said, that’s fine, but get ready to get your heart to broken. It’s been a huge blessing and it’s been quite the ride.

Margie Baretich:
When our boy was arrested, if that would have happened when I was in that plastic church we used to go to, I would not have had this acceptance, this love, this encouragement. I would have had to hide that, to put on a brave face or go elsewhere. But here, we’re not looked down upon because of what our child did, we’re love and accepted and carried through.
Tony Baretich:
The day before he left to go to prison, 30 some odd people from this church showed up. Mitchell got permission from the county sheriff and everybody got to say their piece and I love you’s and the body of Christ was alive and active. It wasn’t just words, they showed up.
 Tim Long 3:
Everybody’s situation, everything that has happened, is a chaotic mess of just beautiful. 
I couldn’t be where I’m at today without Tony and Marge’s struggles. It brought a whole new light. 
I always frowned upon . . the way I grew up there was only one way to handle that kind of situation, what he did. But what he did is a sin, but it wasn’t any difference than me being a drug dealer, spreading poison on the street. God used that to open my eyes. I’m on the register to go and see him. 
Each person’s struggle is unique, but if you can look at it and put it into perspective of what you’ve done, and the forgiveness you’ve accepted and offered, there’s nothing out of God’s grasp.
Clayton Johnson:
A sin is a sin is a sin. God still loves you, god works with sinners. There’s an acceptance for the many different walks of life that everyone has come from. I’ve buried two daughters, I’ve buried my parents. I’ve lost a whole lot in my life. Whenever I was going through all of that, I stayed so far gone, I didn’t know who I was. I literally did not recognize myself looking in a mirror.
Sundi Jo Graham:
People don’t let you stay stuck where you are. I was going through a bad time a few months ago. I teach people how to have healthy coping mechanisms and how to talk about their problems. But Tony and Mitch showed up to ask what was going on, to tell me I couldn’t lock myself off like that. If you hurt I’m going to hurt with you. If you celebrate I’m going to celebrate with you. 

Tony Baretich:
I love Mitchell so much; I’d bury a body for him. There have been leadership issues, but the one constant is their obedience. Mitchell doesn’t take the easy way out. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s how to have healthy confrontations with people.

If you would like to learn more about the Celebrate Recovery program, go to