3. Two Worlds

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 3. Two Worlds (End of Psa 1)

Col 1:13   he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves

Psa 1:6   For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, /  but / the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Wrong Understanding: “We’re all the same,” and, “Who are you to say I am inferior?”  Two comments that can be heard when the Gospel is shared. Both are defensive and both misunderstand the truth. The apostle John in his first letter full of love has an unnerving verse near the end: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19) It’s that latter part, about Satan ruling over the unbelieving world. John isn’t saying that you and I who are Christian believers are under Satan’s rule but we do live in a world surrounded by people who are.

Distinction: The last verse of Psalm 1 makes a very clear distinction if we hadn’t noticed it before: the righteous and the wicked. There are no in-betweens in the mind of the writer. You are either ‘righteous’ or you are ‘wicked’. Now if you look up modern synonyms for ‘wicked’ you come up with ‘cool’, and ‘terrific’ and ‘fabulous’ which only goes to show how the world has completely reversed the meaning of this word which means evil or immoral or dishonest or corrupt.

Righteous? How can anyone declare they are righteous? What does it mean? A dictionary definition is simply ‘morally correct’.  I would add, ‘one who is morally correct because they are in line with God’s declared will or God’s design’. In his famous treatise on righteousness in his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul first declared that naturally no one is righteous (Rom 3:9-20): There is no one righteous, not even one,” (v.10) and no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law.” i.e. keeping the rules is not the way because a) we always fall short of perfection and b) such rule keeping is always self-centred. But then he states what righteousness means in God’s sight: “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” (v.22) and “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” (v.28) So faith, simply believing what God has said, is what is righteousness according to God. For someone like David, living years before Jesus came, the belief was in the Law, that it was the expression of God’s will, declared through Moses, and was to be the basis of the life of the Israelite; that was faith, that was righteousness, even though none of them kept it fully.

Distinction again: Now in this Psalm, ‘the righteous’ as such is only mentioned once, although there is much about the righteous. However ‘the wicked’ are mentioned four times (verses 1,4,5, & 6). When we group verses together there is a clear distinction. First the righteous (implied): Blessed is the one …. whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night…. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither -whatever they do prospers.”  Then the wicked: “the wicked ….. the way that sinners take…. the company of mockers… Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.” It is like there are two different sorts of people, two different communities, two different countries almost.

In our starter verses above, I included, “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”  (Col 1:13) There Paul makes this same distinction between two different administrations, if we may put it like that, one presided over by Satan, the other by the Son of God. The unpleasant truth for many is that if you have never made Jesus Saviour and Lord, then you are under the administration of Satan, you are living according to his ways and his dictates, you are living a godless, self-centred life that leads to unrighteous thoughts, words and deed. This is the reality about those who are not believers, but it is not because I say so but because the Bible clearly declares it.

The Ways of the Wicked: In verse 1 there are three associated words: wicked, sinners & mockers. They are all expressions or descriptions of godless, self-centred unbelievers. There is a progression there. It starts with keeping in step with the wicked, being associated with them as they walk. But then their walk is purposeful, going somewhere like a path, the way they take, these sinners. But then they have a destination, a place of agreement, of ‘fellowship’ almost where they settle, they sit and they discuss and they mock the faith of believers. Go onto a website (but don’t!) of followers of some of the key crusading atheists and you find this there. It’s a nasty place.

The Outcome for the Wicked: Their outcome is stated clearly in a threefold way. First a general description: They are like chaff that the wind blows away.” (v.4) i.e. they have no future. Second there is a double declaration of their future experience, for they, “will not stand in the judgment, nor …. in the assembly of the righteous.” (v.5) There will come a time after death when they will have to stand before God and explain themselves and they will not be able to count themselves as part of the congregation of the righteous. Thus finally, this walk, this way, this destination ultimately, “leads to destruction.” (v.6) The Bible, in picturesque language, seeking to convey the awfulness of it, speaks of ’a lake of burning sulphur’ or ‘a lake of fire’. (Rev 19:20, 20:10,14,15). Only the devil, the beast and the false prophet, are spoken of as being there tormented ‘for ever’ and unbelievers are simply cast in for destruction (no mention of ‘for ever’.) The implication is clearly for destruction as we find at the end of this Psalm.

And So? No, we are not all the same and, no, I am not claiming special status, but the Bible – here and many places elsewhere – makes this very obvious distinction between the ‘righteous’ and the ‘wicked’.  ‘Wicked’ is measured in terms of self-centred godlessness while the ‘righteousness’ is about relationship that comes about from having heard God’s word about out state and about His provision in the form of the work of Christ on the Cross and believed it and responded to it and live by it. The ‘wicked’ develop and establish their godless, self-centred lifestyle and when they eventually come face to face with God, will acknowledge they are not part of the congregation of the righteous and face destruction, no wonderful future in eternity with God and all the blessings He has for believers. By contrast – and it is a big contrast – the righteous delight in the Lord and in His word and His will, and as they meditate, reflect on, study and feed on His word they are resourced with ‘life’ and they grow, flourish and are fruitful and prosper, while their Lord watches over them and blesses them. It sounds too good to be true, but this IS the reality that the word of God declares. Hallelujah!

1. Introduction – Blessed

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 1. Introduction – Blessed (Psalm 1)

Psa 1:1,2  Blessed is the one ….. whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law, day and night.

Approach: I have a number of times in the past dabbled in Psalms in various ways and using different approaches but never as a straight forward commentary-cum-meditation approach. Now what I mean by this is that I want to see what it actually says and then, even more, I want to ponder and think about what it means and how it can be applied to you and me in our twenty-first century lives, perhaps reflecting more generally on the teaching that comes out of them.

How we view Psalms: Now I confess to having had a love-hate relationship with the psalms over the years: love because they have many times blessed me as I have read individual psalms, pondered on individual verses or phrases, and used them in personal devotions; hate because they are such a hotchpotch of songs, prayers, pleadings, different writers, unknown circumstances and unanswered questions. The modern cheat’s approach is to look up Psalms on Wikipedia, often helpful, not guaranteed to be reliable always, but laying out some useful structure.

Whatever reading you do in commentaries, you conclude that scholars and cultures are at odds over the number, the use, the order etc. etc. of the psalms. I have recently been reading a not-quite-a-commentary on psalms which frustrated me as the scholarly approach was good in the big overall sweeps but said little about detail. It also made me realize that anyone trying to make sense of the order of the psalms and their relationship to one another, let alone the way they fit or don’t fit into history, comes up with a lot of assumptions or suppositions that may or may not be true.

What all of these suppositions, theories and possibilities can end up doing is hide the lessons and challenges of the text. So, not because I reject scholarly helps but because I want to focus on the meaning of the texts, I am going to try at least to sit before the psalms, read them, mull over them, chew over them (that’s meditation), and see what they might say to me today. Because such an approach is a very personal thing, if you did the same, you would almost certainly come up with a different end product.  All I can invite you to do is peer into my mind in the coming days to see the things that surface there, and hopefully find something of use emerging.

Length of studies: I have also struggled over the years with what length to make any particular writing. I am aware that I have often gone for the longer meditation approach but realize that this makes large demands on readers who want something short and pithy for, say, a quick morning reading. So then I have swung to the opposite extreme and produced ‘short meditations’, usually based on a single verse each day, but these have often left me feeling they are very superficial. I have also tried meditations that fit somewhere in between but they have left me feeling personally frustrated, being neither one thing nor the other. So here’s my health warning: these are going to be the slightly longer style meditations, so apologies to those who want short and pithy. These I hope might have an element of deep and meaningful (time will tell).

Having said that, I am going to limit this ‘series’ to just the first four psalms in the psalter, simply to make it easier to identify them and recover them in the future. I may well go on later with further psalms but this ‘block’ will cover at least twenty studies. So let’s start in on Psalm 1.

Blessing? Blessed is the one” (v.1a) Well, this is supposed to be just an introductory ramble as we gaze out over the vista before us, but if we want something spiritually meaningful even from such a page, we should perhaps ponder a little on just why we will bother with this exercise. The answer has to be in the words of our introductory two verses of the first psalm that I have reduced to, “Blessed is the one ….. whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law, day and night.  I don’t count Psalms as part of the Law but in as far as they are part of the canon of Scripture they must, surely, fit within Paul’s description: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16,17) Thus, as we ponder on these psalms we will be blessed (made to feel good) because surely within them we will find chastening, correction, and training to be godly, and we will be better people because of that.

Delighting? But I note a condition that is imposed: “who delights” and who “meditates… day and night.” Perhaps a short cut would be to say the person who will be blessed by these psalms will be the person who hungers after the word of God, and to expand on that, it will be the person who acknowledges the Bible as from God and whose heart yearns to read it, study it and meditate upon it, who will be blessed. The starting challenge is, therefore, all about the state of my heart. John Piper wrote, “to ‘love God with all your mind’ means engaging all your powers of thought to know God as fully as possible in order to treasure him for all he is worth.” That, I suggest, comes when we delight in Him and in His word and spend time in it regularly, with a hungry heart.

To Ministries: A word to preachers and teachers: if you don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible (not just for preparing sermons) and you don’t hunger for the word of God and for God to feed you through His word, keep out of the pulpit. People’s lives will be changed by the preacher who speaks with authority (because they have spent much time in His word) and with anointing (because they have spent much time in His presence). If these are missing, either stop preaching or start changing. A word to prophets: exactly the same thing applies to you. Without that authority and anointing your words will often be shallow or empty. A word to evangelists: exactly the same applies to you. Without that authority and anointing your words will come has human endeavor and the fruit will be limited.

And Us? A word to each and every one of us who call ourselves Christians. The word of God is the foundation upon which our faith is built and without it, our thoughts about God will be pure speculation, our knowledge of Jesus and our salvation will be absent and the life we live will be built on human wisdom and endeavor. When we read it, study it and particularly meditate upon it, it will feed us and change us and be the instrument the Holy Spirit will use to release faith in us and empower us.  If you don’t read it meaningfully and pray over it every day, may I encourage you to do that and pray, “Lord, make me hungry for your word and for your presence. I need your help.” Let’s let the Lord change us though His word, bless us with it as we delight in it and meditate on it daily. Amen? Amen!

5. Pursued

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 5 :  Pursued  – Psa 7

Psa 7:1   O LORD my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me

Two things to note before we get under way: first, the title over this psalm says it is one David “sang to the Lord concerning Cush a Benjamite”. Now of course Saul came from the tribe of Benjamin (1 Sam 9:1,2) and so some suggest Cush was a follower of Saul who was causing David trouble. The second thing: often we fail to associate the things going on in David’s life with our own and thus fail to catch the full significance of what he was feeling. Let’s try to remedy that.

He starts out O LORD my God which the bold letters tell us will mean, “Great I AM, the Eternal One, you are my God”. Always there is this reminder of who the Lord is when He is addressed like this. This Almighty One is the one in whom David finds refuge. He calls on Him to save and deliver him from people who are pursuing him. This suggests it is the time in his life when Saul was chasing him around the country.

He fears the outcome of this pursuit if the Lord does not step in on his behalf: or they will tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.” (v.2) he’s thinking in the back of his mind, this isn’t much different from the times when I was looking after my father’s sheep and a lion or bear would come after me!

He then does what he often seems to do – seek to check his own righteousness before the Lord and see if there is any cause he needs to deal with that indicates that what is happening is the Lord’s discipline: “O LORD my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands (v.3) — if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me or without cause have robbed my foe (v.4) — then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust.” (v.5).  “If there is guilt on my hands” – i.e. if I have done anything wrong. if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me or without cause have robbed my foe  i.e. if I have treated others wrongly. If I have done any such thing then I deserve chastisement, so bring it on!

But deep down David knows that that is not so. He has got unrighteous enemies raging against him for no good reason and so he calls to the Lord to bring justice: “Arise, O LORD, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice.” (v.6) Very well, he continues, gather the onlookers of the world around you as you make judgment, let them all see it (implied): “Let the assembled peoples gather around you. Rule over them from on high,” (v.7) yes, let the court of heaven be open to judge and weigh me, to assess my righteousness and my integrity – “let the LORD judge the peoples. Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High.” (v.8) What a confidence in the Lord and in his own righteous relationship with the Lord he has!

He continues: “O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure.” (v.9) Lord, you see everything and read every heart and mind, come and judge the wicked and make those of us who hold to your righteous ways secure.

He affirms his position in God: “My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart.” (v.10)  He is secure and protected in the Lord because of who the Lord is. First, the Lord is all-powerful and, second, He is concerned for right and wrong and so does come and save those who are ‘upright in heart’.

He pictures the Lord as a judge who not only makes decisions but who also comes to execute the judgment of those decisions: “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day. If he does not relent, he will sharpen his sword; he will bend and string his bow. He has prepared his deadly weapons; he makes ready his flaming arrows.” (v.11-13)  The Lord decrees what is righteous (it is what conforms to His perfect design for the world He made) and therefore He assesses everything on the basis of His perfect will, His perfect design, and He moves out against what is evil to destroy it.

David ponders on those who do evil and how it comes back on them: “He who is pregnant with evil and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment. He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made. The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head.” (v.14-16) Sometimes the Lord comes with specific judgments on people but more often He simply stands back and lets the trouble they have created come back on them. Paul had this same idea in Romans 1 when three times he says “God gave them over.”  i.e. God stepped back and removed His hand of protection so that the sin of these people would run rife and bound back on them.

He concludes by praising God for all His right dealings: “I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.” (v.17)  He could trust that the Lord would always do what was right – and that therefore included dealing with the unrighteous ones who pursued him – and that left him praising the Lord.

Now let’s apply this to our own lives. When things go wrong – whether it is people against us, or circumstances just going badly – it seems those things pursue us. We cannot escape them, and worry or anxiety because of them, haunts us. But if they are wrong things – people speaking or doing wrong towards us, or things happening because it is a fallen world that goes wrong – when we turn to the Lord, we need to remind ourselves that He is righteous, which means that He ALWAYS is working to do what is right. Thus when we call upon Him we come to see what He feels about the situation and we can wait on Him to deal with it in the way He sees is right. Now, can we rest in that?

Shadow of Death

WALKING WITH GOD. No.43

Psa 23:3 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

Life in this Fallen World is a complete mix. There are mixes of people. There are some who are incredibly rich and have everything the rest of us could dream of. There are some who are poor and don’t know how they will make it from one day to the next. But there are also varieties of experience within an individual life. There are times when we are healthy and everything seems to be going well, times when we are happy and contented with not a worry in the world. Then there are times when our health deteriorates and we feel low and every step of life seems hard and difficult. And then it gets worse and before we know it we are walking in the shadow of death. Illnesses and accidents occur and what makes it worse, they come with no warning. It would be so much easier if we received a letter from heaven that said, “In two weeks time we have seen that you will be having a serious accident but don’t worry you will be over it in a month.” But we don’t and so we didn’t expect it and we don’t know how it will work out or how long it will take. The absence of those things makes serious illnesses or serious accidents such harrowing experiences. The walk through the valley of the shadow of death is not a pleasant one!

The description of this experience that we have just used, and which David uses in this psalm, is very graphic. A valley by definition is a low place with high sides where you can feel shut in. In a valley sometimes the sun is shut out and so there are shadows so that part of it seems in semi-darkness. David speaks of the shadow of death, a shadow of darkness that seems to hang over you, threatening to completely obliterate the light from your life, when death comes.

You may find in your Bible a note next to the phrase, valley of death, indicating an alternative rendering, through the darkest valley. It may not be death that threatens; it may be a variety of other things. In our nation we live in confusing times. The news recently was of a couple who were falsely accused of child abuse and for two years their children were wrongly taken from them. For two years they walked through a very dark valley, a valley filled with the darkness of frustration, anger, fear, anguish and so on. It was a horrible time. A woman can accuse a man of assault at work and before he knows what has happened he is suspended pending an investigation which may take months. Whereas we once had a society where you were innocent until proved guilty, there is now, in these sorts of cases, implied guilt until innocence has been proved, and those waiting times are times of immense darkness.

It may be that we have fallen and society is not forgiving. We have done something wrong, sincerely regretted it, asked forgiveness of offended parties, but still the Law is going to take its long, slow process, and while it does, we walk through a very dark valley. We wonder how we could have been so stupid, we wish it had never been found it, we wonder what will happen to us, and we wonder is there any hope of being ever able to walk an ordinary, good life again? These are some of the dark valleys that we find ourselves walking in, and in them we even despair of life itself. What help is there?

David had one hope, one help, “you are with me.” The presence of the Lord, the knowledge of His love, those were the things that kept David going. The concept behind the whole psalm was what upheld David – The Lord is my shepherd. David saw that in life, it was the Lord who led him and therefore if, in their walk together, it involved walking through a very dark valley, David would not worry because his shepherd was there looking after him, guiding him, providing for him, protecting him. As one of God’s sheep he knew the security that, although the place or circumstances of the walk may be temporarily dark, it was temporary and even while they walked it, it was as they walked it together. He was not alone and the One who walked it with him was much bigger than the circumstances and would see him through them.

Because such a thing is so common to the human experience, it is quite possible that you are going through a ‘dark valley’ time. Key questions! Do you know that you are one of God’s sheep, one of His children? Do you know Him as your shepherd who is there for you, looking after you in the midst of the circumstances, providing for you and protecting you? It is this knowledge that enabled Paul to instruct, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:18), but note what he says. It is not give thanks for all circumstances but give thanks in all circumstances. You can give thanks that God is there with you and as you put your life in His hands He will provide all you need in that valley to bring you through until you come out the other end. There will be an end, and until you get there, remember, you are not alone, The Shepherd is there with you in it.