The Battle Over Personal Sin

 How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh let me not wander from Your commandments! – Psalm 119:9-10

The psalmist presents a question which has been asked by countless believers, “How can I deal with all my shortcomings?” He answers himself with the conclusion, “by taking heed according to Your word. His point is we are to follow, submit to, and keep His Word.

But this isn’t just living by a list of rules or trying harder. This is a mindset; an understanding I have where sin is a problem and I need to deal with it directly. Further, it is coming to terms with the idea of His Word being the final authority and therefore I need to “heed” or follow what the Bible says before anything else.

When I accept the basic premise, the Bible is His Word, then my understanding of what He directs, through His Word, gives me a solid foundation. It becomes the bedrock of what I believe, think and act upon. If however, I do not come to Scripture with that understanding, then I have then elevated my opinion and my feelings above God’s standard.

From this verse – and many others – obedience would seem to begin with an understanding of His Word being the standard of conduct. I need to obey the teachings of Scripture, because those teaching are truth. Sin is fleeting but His Word is solid. I need to come to a point of surrender when I know this book, comes from Him and I must accept it as being His Word.

His Word is the lens I see the world through. By His Word I am able to discern His will. By reading and implementing the principles of His Word in my life, I can grow bold in my faith.

The Word is our anchor. It keeps us from wandering aimlessly and slowly moving toward anything contrary to His will. We usually are not tripped up on “big” sins in a surprise attack. It is my contention, early in that process of drifting, God’s Word takes a less relevant place in one’s life.

The man who has wrecked his marriage with an adulterous affair didn’t stumble into this sin as a random event one day. Rather, this was a slow drift. It was a series of little compromises which culminated in a disastrous liaison. Missing one day of personal Bible study probably didn’t push him over the edge. But a pattern of neglecting the Scriptures easily puts one in a vulnerable position. We must diligently maintain a commitment to His Word if we wish to walk in daily victory over sin and keep ourselves from drifting off course.

As believers, we are to know, follow, and submit to His Word.


For more teaching from Psalm 119, you can pick up my first book Our Most Valuable Treasure. It is available at Amazon.com

Advertisements

Challenge for 2019

The first of the year is often a time when we set goals for ourselves. You may want to lose weight or exercise more. Maybe your goal this year is to finish some project you’ve been working on or pursuing a dream of yours. While those are worthy goals, I wish to challenge or encourage you to make Scripture one of your goals this year. Not so much the amount of Scripture you read, but how deep the verses of the Bible sink into your being.

There is no better place to read about the Bible than the Bible itself and there is no better place in the Bible to read about the importance or value of the Scriptures than Psalm 119.

Make a point to read Psalm 119 this year – a lot. Go through it every month or even every week. Notice how what the writer thinks about God’s word, his emotional connection to it and the trust he describes he has of Psalm 119.

I’m going to present a series of posts about Psalm 119 to encourage you to immerse yourself into His Word; to allow His Word to infiltrate your life in such a way where you begin to “see” the world through the lens of His Word.

My goal isn’t to have you just read more, but it is to encourage you to allow the Scriptures to have more of you. To walk in the reality of God’s Word where upon your thoughts and actions reflect God’s character and less of your own; where you learn to trust Him and His Word above anything else.

A few years ago, after spending considerable time reading and thinking about Psalm 119, I wrote a book on it called Our Most Valuable Treasure. Many of the ideas (but not all) making up this series of posts will come from the book. The book is available on Amazon.

First Thing Priority

My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; In the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up.- Psalm 5:3

A little over six months ago, I was reading this verse and something struck me. David, the King, was making a point to acknowledge God early in his day. Twice in this verse he mentions how “in the morning” God would be the focus of his attention. I began to wonder if this is one way David heard and understood God so intimately. He made the LORD such a priority that his day had to begin with seeking Him. I was awestruck to realize the most revered king of Israel, made seeking God such an important part of his day.

Therefore, I embarked on a Biblical experiment. I have made a point to make my first conscience thought in the morning a brief offering of thanksgiving to God. Before I turn my body to get out of bed and before my feet hit the floor, I say “thank-you God for getting me through another night.”

If I am successful on this little exercise, I believe I am operating in the same vein as King David where seeking (thanking, praising) God is a priority for my day. Before I have done anything else, I have made a point to speak to Him. I am putting Him first in my day.

This is harder to do than you would think. I tend to wake up with the days tasks on my mind. But over the last few months, I have found that setting those first few seconds of the day aside to worship, thank or acknowledge Him tend to order the rest of the day. It is first things first.

Make Him the priority of your day. Make your first intention thought to be about Him. Thank Him for getting you through the night and waking you in the morning. Praise Him for His faithfulness and tell Him you are looking forward to what He has for you this day.

If King David began his day with seeking God, I think we might find a lesson for us to follow. Make Him the priority of your day, and make Him your first action of the day by thanking Him first thing in the morning.

 

Repeat The Sounding Joy – Again!

This is a slightly re-edited post from December of 2016

Way back in 1719, Isaac Watts penned the words to a favorite Christmas song, Joy To The World. The familiar tune paired with Watts’ prose was written by George F. Handel, famous in his own right for well-known oratorio, Messiah.

While the verses of Joy To The World are more reflective of Christs’ triumphant return, it became a popular song attached to the celebration of His birth. So much so, that by the end of the 20th century it may be the most published Christmas song in North American, according to hymnary.org.

Recently, as we were singing this in church, I took special notice of verse two.

Joy to the earth, the savior reigns     

    Let men their songs employ

 While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains

     Repeat the sounding Joy!

 The use of the word “employ” here can be defined as “to use something as an instrument of means.” One would “employ” or “use” a saw for cutting or a pen for writing. Watts is stating men would use or “employ” songs to praise the reign of their savior.

Do “fields, floods, rocks and hills” sing joyful praise? There is a temptation to dismiss this as hyperbole, an exaggerated expression of an overzealous song writer, but I wonder if there is more to this concept of God’s creation praising Him.

Notice how Psalm 96 conveys this same message;

Let the Heavens be glad and let the Earth be rejoice

    Let the sea roar and all that fills it

And the field exalt and everything in it.

    Then shall all the tress of the forest sing for joy before the LORD. – Psalm 96:11-12 ESV

As time goes on, I am becoming more convinced that we do not understand praise. We think of praise or worship as a thing we periodically do. But I wonder if praise is supposed to be our normal way of life.

Isaac Watts seemed to think the “fields, floods, rocks and hills” would “repeat the sounding joy.” If God’s creation is singing praise, shouldn’t we, His people, be living our life full of praise? Maybe praise may not just be a thing we do but a state of who we are. Living our life in such a way that we praise Him in everything we do.

Unfortunately, too many relegate praise to a Sunday morning activity.  Thinking a twenty minute time of music somehow is an adequate amount of worship due the Creator. I think we cheat ourselves of the experience of walking in the joy of the LORD when we cheapen praise to a small blimp of activity limited to the first day of the week.

During this Christmas season, take time to praise Him. Take a cue from the “rocks and hills” and make your existence an atmosphere of praise. When you wake up in the morning, praise Him. When things go well for you, praise Him.  When you run into disappointments, praise Him. Praise Him for all His provisions and the end of the day,  praise Him. But most of all, praise Him for coming to us as that helpless infant and growing to become a man who paid our sin debt and is now reigning as our savior!

Joy To The World and Merry Christmas!

-jm

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Like most people, I enjoy Christmas carols – some more so than others.  For example, while cute, I find We Three Kings as one of the more unbiblical songs we traditionally sing (the magi weren’t kings and they weren’t from the Orient). Joy To The World is wonderful, but it really isn’t talking about the first coming of the Messiah. However, there is nothing wrong with singing those songs and if they brighten your Christmas season, go right ahead and enjoy them!

There are some carols where Biblical truth is told.  Silent Night and O Holy Night are both great examples of Christmas carols with a Biblical message.  But maybe the song I find the most fascinating is God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

As stated by wordwizehymns.com,

“The author of this carol is unknown.  It may have originated some five centuries ago.  The song was published by William B. Sandys, an English solicitor, in his 1833 volume, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern.”

In the 15 century, most commoners were illiterate and therefore music played a large role in teaching Biblical stories.   So this carol tells the Christmas account and gives the story application to all who hear its prose.  While most often only 4 verses are used, there are at least 7 in the form of the song from the early 1800’s.  Each verse tells a portion of the story and has a lesson for us.  I’m not going to expound on every detail, but I will point out a few lessons from this carol found within these verses.

First, we lose of the meaning of the opening line when we miss the comma between “merry” and “gentlemen.”  The song isn’t speaking of how a giddy group of fine English men were to relax.  Further, the word “rest” has a different meaning now than it did 500 years ago – at least in this context.

The term “rest” meant “make” or “keep.”  Again, from wordwizehymns.com,

“A modern paraphrase of the words might read: “May God keep you joyful gentlemen.”

But from the first verse we learn the source of our joy.  We are saved from Satan’s power.  We were gone astray, but God sent a way to redeem us.  Sounds much like what the angel told Joseph, “You shall call His Name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21b).

Verses 2 through 6 tell the rest of the story.  In verse 2 we are told He is born in Bethlehem and was laid in a manger.  Verse 3 states how an angel came to the shepherds and the Child was called the “son of God.”  Verse 4, says He was born of a virgin and that the shepherds were not to be afraid.  In verse 5 they rejoice, went to Bethlehem seeking the Child.  Finally in verse 6, they find Him, in a manager (just like the angle told them) and how Mary was kneeling worshiping the Child she just gave birth too.

Finally in verse 7, we are told “To all who are in this place” must love each other.

This carol covers the Christmas story as it is told in the Scripture without extra characters (ie a little drummer boy) or talking animals (“said the little lamb to the shepherd boy…” from Do You Hear What I Hear?).

So enjoy all your Christmas carols and look at the Christmas story afresh as retold in this song.  I wish you “comfort and joy” as stated each verse of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen this Christmas season.

This is a slightly revised version of a post from December 2016.

 

Foundational Principle #10

Don’t Settle For Stew

 And Esau said, “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me? Then Jacob said, “Swear to me as of this day.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. – Genesis 25:32-33

 The brothers, Jacob and Esau, were in constant conflict with one another. Even before their birth, they struggled together. Their mother was so distraught with her pregnancy she goes to the LORD concerned about the children within her womb.

When the boys were born the younger, Jacob, grabbed his older brothers heel, hence his name “Jacob” meaning, “One who Supplants” or “Takes the Heel.”

As they grew, their differences became more apparent; both in their looks and personalities.

As the eldest, Esau would gain all the privileges of the first-born. Jacob, looking for a way to take the position from his brother, sees an opportunity when his brother returns from one of his hunting exploits.

Jacob prepares stew. Esau comes in from the field and requests to be fed some of Jacob’s meal. Jacob asks Esau to “sell” him his birthright. Esau, only being concerned about his immediate need for food and finding his hunger overwhelming, agrees and maybe makes the worst sales deal in all of human history.

Esau settled for stew. He didn’t wait for God’s best for him but let his flesh control his decision.

It makes me wonder, how many times we do the same thing? Settle for meeting a perceived immediate need at the loss of something much better that God had for us.

Not all bad decisions are a result of settling too soon on something and getting ahead of God’s plan, but many of them are. Since God’s timing is rarely our timing, we become impatient and convince ourselves we need to do something NOW when many times, we end up settling for much less than what God had for us.

Don’t settle for stew.

It might be tempting to move ahead, the offer may seem good on the surface. But have you brought it before God? Have you really made seeking His will on the situation or just offered a simple, “Bless my efforts” prayer and settled for less than His best?

Did you make your decision based off His Word or the desire to fulfill something of your flesh? To find immediate gratification as opposed to waiting on His best?

We rarely get ourselves in trouble for moving too slow on things, but we often find ourselves regretting those decisions when we took the easiest and quickest route. We settled for stew.

Waiting for God’s best is trusting Him. So much of being a mature believer is learning to trust Him which often is demonstrated by waiting on His best. It’s easy to settle for stew, but when we trust and wait on Him, we’ll find He has much better things for us than what we can envision for ourselves. Notice how Paul describes this:

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21

 If you can imagine it or think of how better your situation could be, chances are this is NOT the best of what God has for you. His blessings for you are beyond your limited ability.

The lesson is; don’t settle for stew. He has something much greater for you!

The Role of Food Within Scripture

As you get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving later this week, take a moment and consider the role food plays within the Bible. From the opening pages in Genesis, some of God’s very first words to Adam were about food. On day six of creation, God tells the newly created man, “See I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food” (Genesis 1:29, emphasis mine). This need of ours for sustenance is not a result of sin or a byproduct of the curse of Genesis 3.

The Bible mentions food many times. often as part of prominent events.. While this is not an exhaustive list, here are just a few special events around food as found in Scripture.

  1. Israel celebrated seven feasts and the details for those celebrates are rather elaborate as described in Leviticus 23 and other places in Scriptures. Some of those feasts lasted for over a week. What both Catholic and Protestant churches everywhere celebrate as Communion, came from one of those feasts, the Passover Meal.
  2. Many teachings of Jesus take place during a meal; including the call of Levi found in Mark 2:14-16, and the conversion of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. No less than four entire chapters of Gospel of John (John 13 through 16) take place around a table as Jesus and the disciples celebrate Passover together, what we traditionally refer to as the Last Supper.
  3. While the inclusion of food isn’t mentioned, how many weddings have you attended where there wasn’t any food present? His first miracle described in John 2:1-11 is at a wedding.
  4. Other than His resurrection, no miracle of His appears in all four Gospels except the Feeding of the 5000.
  5. Many would say one of the first events which occur when we reach Heaven is a meal! The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is mentioned in Revelation 19:9.

Three Observations About Food

 Food is a constant reminder of the frailty of our bodies.

Our world quickly becomes out of balance when food isn’t included in our routine. Every four to six hours you can count on a reminder of how frail we are as we begin to crave food. While we all need oxygen, we don’t need to hunt, gather, grow, or store it. Eating is different as we must intentionally make a point to stop whatever task we are performing and take in food. The necessity of human beings to make the ingesting of food part of our daily tasks is a reminder of how we are to be looking to Him for provision and to be thankful. He provides a built in alarm for us to thank Him, multiple times every day. If you don’t already, get into the habit of thanking God every time you eat.

Food has a comforting and welcoming quality.

When we want to help a grieving family upon the death of a loved one, what is often our first response? Many times we provide food for them. It is the same if one experiences significant time in a hospital, often meals are provided. Providing food is a way we offer comfort to each other. We communicate to each other our sorrow, understanding and empathy by providing food for each other in times of stress. Many churches and communities use some sort of food as a welcoming gift. A small loaf of bread or a homemade pie are sometimes part of the opening gestures of friendship or gratitude.

Food creates closeness among people when we eat together.

We have a natural God-given desire to eat and engage in the task with others. It opens the doorway to conversations and brings people together. I cannot count how many times I have needed to talk to someone or someone needed to speak to me, and we met together. But we didn’t meet at a church, library, golf course, or a bowling alley. We meet at some restaurant for a meal.

My wife and I have been part of the same small group Bible study for nearly ten years. Yes, we always spend time studying the Scriptures and sharing prayer requests. But our best conversations take place around a dining room table at our host’s home. We eat, we laugh, we talk, and we grow closer to each other. While we do enjoy our Bible studies, I am convinced the closeness of those in our group has been built around that table as we enjoy each other’s company while we eat together.

So go ahead and have another piece of turkey! Celebrate God’s faithfulness and remember, every day – not just Thanksgiving Day – you have a built in reminder to thank God for His provision.