7 STEPS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

I love the Psalms because they speak to where we live.  There are raw emotions expressed, and great questions asked.  If you want to know how to navigate your emotions well; if you want to know how to live life well; and if you want to find answers to the questions you are asking, read the Psalms.  

In Psalm 119:9, the psalmist asks this question: “How can a young man keep his way pure?”   That’s a great question. How do you live in such a way that you guard your life from sinning against God?  How do you guard your life in such a way that you avoid missteps that lead down a path of pain and destruction?  And, is that even possible?  Seriously, can I really live in a way where I do not give in to the flesh and its desires, and live in full obedience to God?

That question isn’t left for us to answer with human reasoning so as to justify our missteps.   I can hear the whispers and side-discussions even now, “We’re human; of course we’re going to sin.”  Or, “God knows we’re going to sin.”  I know because I’ve used phrases like that before.  It’s as though we try to dismiss a relentless pursuit of holiness because of our humanness.  The apostle Peter writes, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:14-16). Holiness isn’t gained by performing well.  It’s not about performance.  It’s about character.  Our conduct is always the overflow of our character.  Apart from Christ we are not holy, and we cannot pursue holiness.  But in Christ, His Spirit transforms us and conforms us to the image of Christ.     

This isn’t about becoming sinless, because we can’t.  We were all born into sin. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) There is not one of us who is righteous; not even one.  The only sinless One who has ever lived, or ever will, is Jesus.  But if you have placed your full faith and trust in Jesus as the sacrifice for your sin, the sinless One now lives, by the Spirit, in you.  So, even though you and I will never be sinless, we can sin less.  

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  (1 John 2:1)

If you’re like me, you want to quickly move to the second half of that verse . . . “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  Praise God for the second half of that verse.  He knows that we are weak, and that we can’t live rightly apart from the Righteous One living in us.  But, there is a reason that God speaks through John to say, “I’m writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”  When we walk in fellowship with God, our desire to sin is less because we want more of Him.  That word,“fellowship,” is a term that means “close relationship,” or even “partnership.” But what does it mean to walk in close relationship with God?  

If I am going to live in pursuit of the holiness of Christ, and live in such a way that I guard my life from sinning against God, then I need to take seriously what the psalmist writes about in Psalm 119, specifically verses 9-16.      

SEVEN STEPS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION . . .

Over the next few days, I’m going to go deeper with what each step looks like practically, but for now here are seven steps in the right direction:

1. I will seek God wholeheartedly.  (Psalm 119:10)

2. I will store up God’s word in me.  (Psalm 119:11)

3. I will speak God’s word to myself and to others. (Psalm 119:13)

4. I will take pleasure in God’s word.  (Psalm 119:14)

5. I will think deeply on God’s word. (Psalm 119:15)

6. I will focus intently on God’s ways.  (Psalm 119:15)

7. I will remember God’s word.  (Psalm 119:16)

As we make a habit of taking these steps every day, we will find ourselves loving God more and sin less.

STEADFAST LOVE

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!” Psalm 118:1

Five times, in this psalm, the writer speaks this as a refrain, over and over.  This song is a reminder that all through life, with its peaks and valleys, God’s love is never changing; it is steadfast; it is certain; it is lasts beyond this lifetime into the boundless realm of eternity.   

Such truth reminds me that I have never been unloved, although there have been moments, even days, when I have felt that way.  I have never been overlooked.  I have never been abandoned.  I have never been forgotten.  I have never been cast aside.  I have never been without a place of refuge.  I have never been rejected.  I have never been alone.  I have never been out of reach.  For those reasons, I can say that God really is good. 

His steadfast, firm, unwavering, unrelenting, and yes even reckless love–given that it would seem, if we’re honest, He is throwing His love away on those who take it for granted, reject it, ignore it, take advantage of it, and ultimately don’t deserve it–endures forever.  Forever.  He is good, and I should, throughout each day, give thanks.    

If my acknowledgement, or lack thereof, of His goodness is the measure of my understanding of such steadfast love, what does that say about how I understand and view God’s love toward me?  The love He has for me should cause me to wake up each day God graciously gives, with an eagerness to say, “Thank you that Your love has kept me through the night and will be extravagant toward me throughout the day!”

Daily I’m reminded by the Spirit of God, that I am as much loved by God as is Jesus, His Son.  Seriously think on that throughout your day, and it will change how you think, how you navigate feelings, and how you live.  I will never be more loved by God than I am right now because His love is steadfast, firm, and unchanging; His love for me lasts forever.  And the same is true of His love for you. 

He is so good.    

LAMENTING

I am the man who has seen affliction
    under the rod of his wrath;
he has driven and brought me
    into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
    again and again the whole day long.

He has made my flesh and my skin waste away;
    he has broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
    with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me dwell in darkness
    like the dead of long ago.

He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
    he has made my chains heavy;
though I call and cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
    he has made my paths crooked.

He is a bear lying in wait for me,
    a lion in hiding;
he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces;
    he has made me desolate;
he bent his bow and set me
    as a target for his arrow.

He drove into my kidneys
    the arrows of his quiver;
I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,
    the object of their taunts all day long.
He has filled me with bitterness;
    he has sated me with wormwood.

He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
    and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
    I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
    so has my hope from the Lord.”

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man that he bear
    the yoke in his youth.

Let him sit alone in silence
    when it is laid on him;
let him put his mouth in the dust—
    there may yet be hope;
let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
    and let him be filled with insults.

For the Lord will not
    cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
    or grieve the children of men.

To crush underfoot
    all the prisoners of the earth,
to deny a man justice
    in the presence of the Most High,
to subvert a man in his lawsuit,
    the Lord does not approve.

Who has spoken and it came to pass,
    unless the Lord has commanded it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    that good and bad come?
Why should a living man complain,
    a man, about the punishment of his sins?

Let us test and examine our ways,
    and return to the Lord!
Let us lift up our hearts and hands
    to God in heaven:
“We have transgressed and rebelled,
    and you have not forgiven.

“You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us,
    killing without pity;
you have wrapped yourself with a cloud
    so that no prayer can pass through.
You have made us scum and garbage
    among the peoples.

“All our enemies
    open their mouths against us;
panic and pitfall have come upon us,
    devastation and destruction;
my eyes flow with rivers of tears
    because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.

“My eyes will flow without ceasing,
    without respite,
until the Lord from heaven
    looks down and sees;
my eyes cause me grief
    at the fate of all the daughters of my city.

“I have been hunted like a bird
    by those who were my enemies without cause;
they flung me alive into the pit
    and cast stones on me;
water closed over my head;
    I said, ‘I am lost.’

“I called on your name, O Lord,
    from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, ‘Do not close
    your ear to my cry for help!’
You came near when I called on you;
    you said, ‘Do not fear!’

“You have taken up my cause, O Lord;
    you have redeemed my life.
You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord;
    judge my cause.
You have seen all their vengeance,
    all their plots against me.

“You have heard their taunts, O Lord,
    all their plots against me.
The lips and thoughts of my assailants
    are against me all the day long.
Behold their sitting and their rising;
    I am the object of their taunts.

“You will repay them, O Lord,
    according to the work of their hands.
You will give them dullness of heart;
    your curse will be on them.
You will pursue them in anger and destroy them
    from under your heavens, O Lord.”

Lamentations 3:1-66

WORTHY

Thinking on the truth and hope of this song this morning.  Apart from Christ I am a wretched fool and hopeless sinner.  But in Christ, I know the full extent of His love, and am full of hope.  He is worthy.

Is He Worthy? ( by Andrew Peterson)

Do you feel the world is broken? 

We do.

Do you feel the shadows deepen? 

We do.

But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through? 

We do.

Do you wish that you could see it all made new? 

We do.

Is all creation groaning? 

It is.

Is a new creation coming? 

It is.

Is the glory of the Lord to be the Light within our midst? 

It is.

Is it good that we remind ourselves of this?

It is.

Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?

Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?

The Lion of Judah, Who conquered the grave,

He is David’s root and the Lamb Who died to ransom the slave.

Is He worthy?

Is He worthy of all blessing and honor and glory?

Is He worthy of this? 

He is.

Does the Father truly love us? 

He does.

Does the Spirit move among us? 

He does.

And does Jesus our Messiah hold forever those He loves? 

He does.

Does our God intend to dwell again with us? 

He does.

Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?

Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?

The Lion of Judah, Who conquered the grave,

He is David’s root and the Lamb Who died to ransom the slave.

From every people and tribe, every nation and tongue,

He has made us kingdom priests to God to reign with His Son.

Is He worthy?

Is He worthy of all blessing and honor and glory?

Is He worthy of this? 

HE IS.  

HIS GOODNESS IN OUR GROANING

I’m posting this because it may be as timely for you as it was for me. If you have been in a season of lament, it is not without purpose. Mark Vroegop, in his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, writes, “The space between brokenness and God’s mercy is where this song (of lament) is sung.” So true.

I encourage you to listen to this message from my pastor, friend, and mentor, Bill Elliff. And I pray that you are as encouraged by the goodness of God in your groaning as I have been.