Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thoughts on Psalm 119:14

14 I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
As much as in all riches.

For 26 years of my life I was afraid of the dark. I was actually afraid of many things - talking to people, taking risks, failing, being rejected, and many other specific things. But I think all of those fears can be generalized in that one irrational, illogical statement: “fear of the dark”. If the lights were out, I would get a chill down my spine. I was uncomfortable, afraid, tormented.

As a teenager, I watched a horror film at a friend’s house. Later that night, I walked down a dark hallway in my house and heard a creak or crack or some noise. My body instantly froze. I was literally paralyzed with fear. I was standing next to a light switch, but I simply could not move my hand to flip the switch.

I used to think that it was normal; that it was just my personality. It was just part of who I was.

That is, until Sunday, December 4th, 2005, when I read these words in the Bible:

Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who had the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Heb 2:14-15 NIV & NKJV combined

Like a 3D movie or magic-eye puzzle, 3 words seemed to hover just above the page, suspended in mid air. I rubbed my eyes wondering if I was seeing straight. But there they were: fear of death.

It was the first time in my life I heard God speak to me, and He had a simple but profound message: do not be afraid. My eyes were opened to the fact that I had been a slave to fear.

In that one sentence my condition was diagnosed, and the cure was prescribed! I received a revelation that Jesus' death enabled me to become free from fear - even from the worst possible fear I could imagine - death. He died so that I don't have to be afraid of dying, or of anything else!

It was as though I had received the cure to cancer, won the Powerball lottery, won the Super Bowl, the World Cup, and the Olympics all in that one instant. I could be free from fear! I was utterly overwhelmed. I slept maybe an hour that night out of sheer excitement.

How magnificent to think that the God of the universe spoke to me. After two and a half decades of living a life enslaved to fear, I began the journey to freedom, to experience the adventure of life.

And so my heart echos the psalmist’s words: I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies as much as in all riches. Thank you Jesus.

(I should also mention that I have since made the decision to never again watch horror films. I refuse to willingly subject myself to the slavery that comes through fear.)

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Thoughts on Psalm 119:13

13 With my lips I have declared
All the judgments of Your mouth.
This verse perfectly defines the word “confession.” 
Confession has often been associated with “confessing one’s sins.” That is - acknowledging to God that I have sinned and asking for forgiveness. And while there is a place for that, it is not the fundamental meaning of the word “confess”.
The greek word for “confess” is homologeo, which simply means “to say the same as another.” (homo = same, logos = word)
In our case, confession it is to “say the same as the word of God.” Exactly as the psalmist here says, “with my lips I have declared all the judgments of Your mouth.” 
This is a very simple concept, but when applied to spiritual truths has a profound eternal impact. Revisiting our recent example, God’s word says “you were a sinner, but now you are a new creation, you are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus” - if you say, “I am a sinner” then you are not confessing - you are not saying the same as God’s word.
This is an example of  true confession:
“I was crucified with Christ. I am dead to sin, so how shall I live any longer in it? I am born of God, and His seed remains in me, therefore I cannot sin. I am in Christ; I am a new creation. Old things have passed away, all things have become new. Jesus became sin with my sinfulness so that I could become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Gal 2:20, Rom 6:1-2, 1 John 3:9, 2 Cor 5:17,21
Recall the Parable of the Sower - one of the ground types that did not bear any fruit failed because it “lacked moisture.” Luke 8:6.  Confession - saying the same as God’s word - is one key way of watering the seed that has been planted in your heart.
When God speaks to us, He redefines what we thought to be true and gives us a whole new paradigm. The truth will set us free. But our current situation doesn’t look anything like what He speaks to us. Often the exact opposite of what He said happens (e.g.: Joseph dreams his brothers bow down to him, then he finds himself in a pit looking up at that them! Gen 37:7,24)
But the seed has only been planted. It needs to take root and be watered. 
Therefore let us water the seeds that have been planted by confessing - saying the same as God’s Word - until that seed grows and bears fruit - some 30, some 60, and some 100 times what was sown.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Thoughts on Psalm 119:12

12 Blessed are You, O Lord!
Teach me Your statutes.

The revelation that the word of God can deliver from the power of sin should result in praising God. Blessed are You, O Lord! Bless the Lord! Thank you Jesus!

But more than that, it should create a desire to learn. If this radical thought of living a life free from the bondage of sin is a reality, then I want to know more! Teach me, Lord, Your statutes!

Freedom is not found in a magic grace pill. It’s found in that implanted word seed - sprouting, growing, and producing fruit. And that growth process is a learning process.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age Titus 2:11-12 NIV

The grace of God teaches. It takes time to learn anything, and almost always requires countless repetitions: Learning, doing, applying, studying some more, try again, fail, study more, fail miserably, wallow in self pity, get up and dust off, pray, try again, do a little better, try again, fail, try again, do much better, fail, give up entirely… and then try again!

The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. Prov 24:16 NLT

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him with His hand. Ps 37:23-24

Have you failed? Count it as a learning experience. Jesus delights in your way, and He is still teaching you. He isn’t mad that you tripped and fell -  any more than a father teaching his toddler to walk would get mad if he fell on his butt. Rather, he picks him up, kisses him, sets him down and says, “Come on! You can do it! Try again! You’re my son, and you will learn to walk!”

Have you wallowed in self pity? Have you given up entirely? God hasn’t given up on you! Though you fall, you shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholds you with His hand!

Sin shall not have dominion over me, for I am not under law, but under grace! Rom 6:14
Whatever is born of God overcomes the world! 1 John 5:4
I am more than a conqueror through Him who loves me! Rom 8:37
Now thanks be to God who always leads me in triumph in Christ! 2 Cor 2:14
All things are possible to him who believes! Mark 9:23

Blessed are you, O Lord! Teach me Your statutes!!

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Thoughts on Psalm 119:11

11 Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.

Some situations seem hopeless. The ravages of sin - abuse, fear, pain, addiction, selfishness, bitterness, unforgiveness - have so marred a situation or a life that any signs of hope have long ago faded away.

Sin is devastating. It’s effects are disastrous. Sometimes it can seem harmless, or even funny at a distance - as movies and media often portray it. But when a family is torn apart, it’s not funny. Sin always results in death in some form (Rom 6:23). And sometimes it gets to the point where it seems totally unresolvable - utterly hopeless.

The psalmist here claims that when the word of God is hidden - planted like a seed - in the heart, it contains the power to deliver from sin.

And that really is the first step to freedom - to believe that it is possible, and that the word of God can do it. The Bible claims that it is possible:

Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. 1 John 3:9

That’s worth reading a few times.

Let’s apply the Parable of the Sower - this is a seed: whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.

This seed is good. It is the ground that determines whether or not the seed produces any fruit. But the seed contains the very life of God.

This idea of being free from sin was the central theme of Jesus’ life and why He went to the Cross - so that we could be forgiven and set free.

For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. John 18:37

His very purpose for coming to earth was to teach us the truth - and what impact will that have on us?

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. John 8:32

Free from what?

Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.John 8:34, 36

Thank God that there is hope! No matter how desperate a life or situation looks - the word of God has the answer!

It takes time for the seed to germinate, sprout, grow, and produce fruit - but when planted in good soil, it will always produce fruit.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thoughts on Psalm 119:10

10 With my whole heart I have sought You;
Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!

Jesus taught many things, but there was one teaching that He set apart as most important. After He told a particular parable, His disciples came and asked Him what it meant. He said, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?Mark 4:13

In other words - this specific parable is the key to understanding all of His teachings (we might say the entire Bible). If you don't understand it, you won't understand anything else. But if you do understand it, you can understand everything.

It is the Parable of the Sower, found in Matt 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8.

The story is of a farmer sowing seed, and the seed falls on 6 different types of ground. Three types of ground don't produce any fruit, and three types do produce fruit, but in varying amounts. There is no difference in the seed sown, but there are wildly different results in the harvest due to the condition of each type of ground.

The Lord unveils this parable, “The seed is the word of God.Luke 8:11

The word of God is powerful like a seed is powerful. A single grain of wheat has within it the capability to feed a nation. A single seed from a pine cone has the power to create a forest which could supply oxygen, building timber, firewood, etc. indefinitely. That is the power of a simple, tiny, unassuming seed. And God’s word is such a seed: incorruptible and eternal. (1 Peter 1:23).

But in order for it to have any effect, it must be planted in good soil. And what is the soil that the word of God is to be planted in? Once again, Jesus doesn't leave any question: “the word… was sown in their hearts.Mark 4:15

Your heart is the destination intended by the Lord for the seed of His word.

These words of the Bible - so simple, so small and unassuming - have the capacity to deposit the very life and nature of Jesus Christ inside of the heart, growing and transforming a life into one that looks just like Him. But how? They are “God seeds” containing the life of God: “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life”. John 6:63

But this seed requires good ground. It needs moisture and sunlight to grow. It must be free from weeds. It must be sought, as the psalmist says, with the whole heart.

Understanding the Parable of the Sower is vital to unlocking the power of the word of God.
Here is a link to all 3 Gospel accounts of this parable on one page.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Thoughts on Psalm 119:9

9 How can a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed according to Your word.

The simplicity of the Word of God is often very refreshing. In this verse, the psalmist presents a very plain question that could fuel endless debate on a vast topic: how can young people today live a pure, clean life?

Anyone who has ever been a young person, I am certain, is aware that there is no shortage of perverse temptation in this world. Today, the internet alone is a massive pipeline through which profanity, lust, hate, fear, etc., are but a click away. It would be very appropriate for a young person to ask, “Is it even possible to live a pure life, free from all this junk?”

And I suppose that it is probable for anyone who has survived adolescence, once far enough removed from it, to look upon today’s youth and think, “Is there any hope for them?”

Not a new question, the psalmist sang about it thousands of years ago.

And how powerful it is that he answers himself in seven simple words! Yes! There is an answer to juvenile delinquency. Yes! There is hope for a fatherless generation. Yes! It is possible for a young person to rise above the expectation of society and their peers and to experience a life of freedom, purpose, integrity, and love. By taking heed to the word of God!

To “take heed” simply means to “pay careful attention to.” So the solution is:

By paying careful attention to the word of God.

In this Living Book are the answers to the problems that young people face. The way of escape from every temptation is there. The strength to say “no” is there. The wisdom to avoid the path of evil, the man who speaks perverse things, the seductress, the ways of darkness (see Prov 2) - it’s all there. It is simply a matter of paying close attention.

The Holy Spirit speaks to young people, affirming that the word of God gives this strength to live a clean life:
I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one. 1 John 2:14

The Father entreats His children:
Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding;
For I give you good doctrine [teaching]: do not forsake my law. Prov 4:1-2

And Jesus declares the cleansing power of His word:
You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. John 15:3

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thoughts on Psalm 119:8

8 I will keep Your statutes;
Oh, do not forsake me utterly!

Free will. The power to choose. What a glorious thought: that God created man and gave him the ability to choose. That is a gift that each and every person alive has - the freedom to make a decision.

There is a great deal of dependency required in keeping God’s word. Every command is impossible. Some years ago, I had 1 Corinthians 13 (the great Love chapter) posted on my wall. Someone read it and said, “that’s impossible. No one can do that.” And he was absolutely right. No one can - apart from the supernatural empowerment of God! (see  Ps 119:4)

It is error to think we must keep God’s word in our own strength. But it is equally in error to think that God just magically takes control of us and forces us to do His will. He never overrides our free will. He desires for us to submit that free will to His will, to His word. To align ourselves by our own volition.

God made me do it.    The devil made me do it.    He/She made me do it.

Each of those statements is a lie. God made us free will creatures, and nothing can change that. No one can make us do anything. We can be presented with situations and emotions that would urge us one way or another, but the decision rests with each of us in the area of our will.

This is evidenced from the beginning. When Adam and Eve sinned and rebelled against God’s word, the devil didn’t make them do it. He didn’t and doesn’t have that power. He could not override their free will. Nor can he override yours. All he can do is try and get you to believe a lie. Eve said, “the serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Gen 3:13

Jesus says, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.John 8:32

The psalmist says, “I will keep Your word.” He made the choice to align himself with God’s commandment. In total dependence on God to empower him to do so, he took hold of God’s word and said, “yes, I will.” Everyone has the freedom to say “no.”

This one simple verse has such a beautiful balance of that personal commitment and a wholehearted reliance. “I choose to do it, but I absolutely need Your help.”

God has already answered the second half of that verse to everyone who is willing: For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Heb 13:5.

The question is, then:  will you choose to keep His word?

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Thoughts on Psalm 119:7

7 I will praise You with uprightness of heart,
When I learn Your righteous judgments.
There are two words that are worth focusing on here: heart and when.

I will praise You with my heart. Praise is not a ritual, nor a penance, nor a stern commandment from a dictatorial God who is looking for an ego-boost. Praise is an outward expression of something that has happened inside of the heart.
Which brings us to when: when I learn Your Word. That is the “something” that happens in the heart - it’s not just an accumulation of facts and information in the brain that results in praise. It’s learning it in the heart that will overflow out of the mouth in an eruption of thanksgiving and honor. It’s an experiential knowledge that imparts the Life of God into the heart of man. Psalm 33 elaborates:

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful.
Praise the Lord with the harp; make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings.
Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy.
For the word of the Lord is right, and all His work is done in truth. Psalm 33:1-4

Praise is beautiful. It’s rejoicing, it’s singing, it’s shouting for joy. And why? Because “the word of the Lord is right.”

Praise is actually a very natural, normal response. It’s not something one should have to work up in their emotions. If someone cooks you an amazing meal - you can’t hold yourself back from praising them: “Wow! This is so delicious! You should open a restaurant!” It would be unnatural to drably say “thanks for the food.” Unless, that is, you didn’t eat any of it. Selah. (Think about that)

Jesus pointed this out this when He healed 10 lepers. They cried out to Him, and He told them to go show themselves to the priest - the law prescribed this in Leviticus 13. On the way they were healed and:
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?Luke 17:15-18 NIV

Jesus didn’t rebuke this man for being a fanatic. He didn’t call him a “holy roller” for falling at His feet. He actually expected them all to “disobey” (so to speak) His commandment (and the law) to go and show themselves to the priest - because they had been touched in a powerful way by God! They had been healed of a horrible skin disease that had isolated them from society!

But only one was touched in his heart by the word of the Lord, and he came back to praise God with a loud voice. And the Lord honored him.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.