The Longest Chapter – Part 12 March 29, 2016

Your eternal Word, O Lord, stands firm in heaven.

Your faithfulness extends to every generation, as enduring as the earth You created.

Your regulations remain true to this day for everything serves Your plans.

If Your instructions had not sustained me with joy, I would have died in my misery.

I will never forget Your commandments for by them You give me life.

I am Yours; rescue me! For I have worked hard at obeying Your commandments.

Though the wicked hide along the way to kill me, I will quietly keep my mind on Your laws.

Even perfection has its limits but Your commands have no limit.

Psalm 119: 89-96

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Eternal – for us who are bound by time, ‘eternal’ captures our imagination.  It is defined as ‘lasting or existing forever; without end or beginning.’  As God is eternal, so must His Word be also.  Therefore, when the next verse continues, ‘Your faithfulness extends to every generation’, that is the natural progression of the truth that His Word and therefore, God Himself, is eternal.  But what does that mean for us?

The Hebrew word translated “faithfulness” means “steadfastness, firmness, fidelity.” The direct opposite is to be constantly changing or wishy-washy.  God speaks never-ending truth. If God spoke something a thousand years ago, it still stands as new and as fresh as if He spoke it this morning. He is faithful to His Word, because His Word is an expression of His character. Malachi 3:6 tells us that He never changes and therefore, His promises hold true.

We learn to trust the character of a person by getting to know that person. And we get to know God through studying His Word.  We learn that God never changes and never lies (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29). We learn through Scripture that God has never failed in the past (Isaiah 51:6). He was always true to His Word as He worked in the lives of the children of Israel. When He said He would do something, He did it (Numbers 11:23).

The more we learn of His Word, the more our trust grows for His proven character testifies of His faithfulness.  He will never cease acting like God. He will never cease being sovereign, being holy, or being good.

When we reflect on our own life, we realize how faithful He has been to us personally. God commanded the Israelites to “Remember” (Deuteronomy 8:2; Isaiah 46:9). He knew that when they called to mind all that God had done for them in the past, they could more easily trust Him for the future. Like the Israelites, we need to regularly stop and give thanks for all the ways God has cared for us, provided for us and delivered us throughout our life.  A very effective means of strengthening our sense of gratitude and remembrance is to keep a prayer journal. As we review all the ways God has answered our prayers, and all the lessons we have learned through His Word, we are energized to continue to trust and obey Him. We learn to trust God’s future faithfulness by remembering His past faithfulness.

Biblical Faith is trusting in the character of God before we see how He is going to work things out.

He has given us His Word, and His promises still stand. As we see the ways He brings His promises to fulfillment, our trust in His faithfulness grows. Just as our trust in other people grows with daily interaction, our trust in God grows the same way. We trust Him when we know Him, and to know Him is to trust Him. When we know Him, we can rest in His goodness, even when we don’t understand the circumstances that seem to contradict it.

God’s plan for us will prevail. Look at what the prophet Jeremiah wrote:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will find Me. I will be found by you.” Jer. 29: 11-12

Whatever your circumstances or challenges in life may be at the moment, may the cry of the psalmist and the words of Jeremiah encourage and strengthen you this day to seek the Lord and His Word with every increasing devotion.

Til next Tuesday, God bless….

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The Longest Chapter – Part 11 March 22, 2016

Psalm 119: 81-88

I am worn out waiting for Your rescue, but I have put my hope in Your Word.

My eyes are straining to see Your promises come true. When will You comfort me?

I am shriveled like a wineskin in the smoke, but I have not forgotten to obey Your decrees.

How long must I wait? When will You punish those who persecute me?

These arrogant people who hate Your instructions have dug deep pits to trap me.

All Your commands are trustworthy. 

Protect me from those who hunt me down without cause.

They almost finished me off, but I refused to abandon Your commandments.

In Your unfailing love, spare my life; then I can continue to obey Your laws.

We can conclude from these verses that the psalmist has encountered persecution for his devotion to the Holy One of Israel.  He refers to ‘arrogant people who hate Your instructions’ and asks when the Lord will take up his cause against those who criticize, malign and/or denigrate him because of his faith.  He acknowledges that he has been wearied by their opposition for he says ‘they almost finished me off’ and then continues with the inspiring words: ‘but I refused to abandon Your commandments.’

I am reminded of three young men in Babylon in the days of Nebuchadnezzar; three young Hebrews who refused to bow to a golden statue the king had made as an object of worship.  When challenged for their refusal to bow, they replied: ‘Our God is able to deliver us and He will deliver us out of your hand, O King, but even if He doesn’t, we will not bow.’

What makes their ‘refusal to abandon’ their faith and obedience to God so impacting is that they were three among some 4600 Jews living in Babylon at the time.  According to Daniel 3: 17-18, only four out of those 4600 exiles refused to compromise their faith.  That’s astounding, particularly considering that Jewish life flourished in Babylon.  The communities were large and prosperous, yeshivas (seminaries) were built and maintained, even the Babylonian Talmud was written there.  Yet when the King demanded worship to a statue, only four – these three young men plus Daniel, refused to bow.

Persecution is a fact of history and continues to this day.  Consider the wholesale slaughter of Christians happening now in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and more, a slaughter finally recognized as genocide by the U. S. State Department.  In the midst of it, like in the midst of the Inquisition in Spain and the Holocaust during World War II, testimonies emerge of valiant souls who in the face of the most brutal persecution, refuse to bow to anyone but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Almighty, Everlasting One.

We live in a world today where the biblical and moral values cherished by millions in the past are being challenged in the halls of academia and government.  Not only there – but even in religious settings, compromises abound and dismissal of fundamental truths by which our parents and grandparents lived are being cast aside.

Will we, like David, like the heroes of Faith throughout the centuries, stand firm on the truth of God’s Word? Or will we cave to societal pressure and hide our convictions behind closed doors and drawn curtains to compromise our stand externally to avoid ‘persecution’?

Anti-Semitic violence against Jews is increasing in many countries along with persecution of Christians. To the enemies of God’s Word, to the ‘arrogant who hate’ the Bible and all it stands for, both groups are as one: they call us ‘the people of the Book’.

May we this day stir up our courage – like the psalmist – to pray:

All Your commands are trustworthy. Protect me from those who hunt me down without cause.

They almost finished me off, but I refused to abandon Your commandments.

In Your unfailing love, spare my life; then I can continue to obey Your laws.

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The Longest Chapter – Part 10 March 15, 2016

You made me, You created me.  Now give me the sense to follow Your commands.

May all who fear You find in me a cause for joy for I have put my hope in Your word.

I know, O Lord, that Your regulations are fair; You disciplined me because I needed it.

Now let Your unfailing love comfort me, just as You promised me, Your servant.

Surround me with Your tender mercies so I may live for Your instructions are my delight.

Bring disgrace upon the arrogant people who lied about me; meanwhile, I will concentrate on Your commandments.

Let me be united with all who fear You, with those who know Your laws.

May I be blameless in keeping Your decrees; then I will never be ashamed.

Psalm 119: 73 – 80

Lest we forget, the psalmist reminds us that it is God who created us, who gave us life, who sustains that life and the only reasonable response of gratitude for being alive is to live according to the will and ways of the our Creator.  Simple enough, right? Perhaps not.

Like him, our heart’s desire should be that our life inspire others; that whatever we do should have a positive impact on those around us, particularly those who, like us, revere the Lord.   Yet we fail from time to time and the discipline of the Lord draws us back to Him.  Let’s be honest – we don’t like discipline.  We don’t enjoy being corrected, unless, that is, we have learned – as we all must – that the discipline of the Lord is a mark of His love.  Like a father who sternly rebukes his young son for running out in the road where he may be injured or killed, the discipline of our heavenly Father is motivated by the same kind of love.  It is His concern for our spiritual well being that stirs the Father to discipline us when we are straying from the path of His Word.

The psalmist appreciated it and so must we.  It is the mature person who acknowledges without excuse, ‘You disciplined me because I needed it.‘  In other words, I recognize that I was drifting away from intimacy with You, my God, and I thank You for loving me enough to nudge me back.  This is what repentance is all about:  acknowledging our failures honestly and then turning away from them, making a new start.

God’s response is to then re-assure us of His unfailing love.  Do you realize there is nothing – absolutely nothing – you or I can do that will make God stop loving us?  That’s what unfailing love means.  We can displease Him by wrong choices and sinful behavior, but He never stops loving us, which is precisely why He will correct and chasten us to draw us back to Himself.

He surrounds us with His tender mercies so we may live and not perish, spiritually and at times, even physically. And wonder of wonders, because of His forgiveness, we can pray like the psalmist, May I be blameless in keeping Your decrees; then I will never be ashamed.

Blameless – do you know what that means from a biblical perspective?

Guiltless, above reproach, faultless.  How can that be when I know I’ve failed?

Because to live a ‘blameless’ life before God means that we consistently seek to follow Him and when we do miss the mark, we are quick to repent, ask His forgiveness and turn back towards Him without delay.

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God says:

Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them as white as snow.  Isaiah 1:18

And again,

As far as the east is from the west, so far will I remove Your transgressions from you.

Psalm 103:12

May we all pray as the psalmist does in verse 80:

May I be blameless in keeping Your decrees; then I will never be ashamed.

And besides that, may I add: and then I will follow You wholeheartedly.

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Til next week, may Your days be filled with the joy of His presence.

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The Longest Chapter – Part 9 March 8, 2016

Another Tuesday and what a busy day it’s been.  I’ve been trying to get to this post for a few hours and there seemed to be no end of unexpected interruptions.  But here we are, so let’s look at the next section of Psalm 119

You have done many good things for me, Lord, just as You promised.

I believe in Your commands; now teach me good judgment and knowledge.

I used to wander off until You disciplined me; but now I closely follow Your word.

You are good and You only do good; teach me Your decrees.

Arrogant people smear me with lies, but in truth I obey Your commandments with all my heart.

Their hearts are dull and stupid, but I delight in Your instructions.

My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to Your decrees.

Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver.

Psalm 119: 65- 72

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With a burst of gratitude the psalmist begins this section, acknowledging all of the blessings of God in his life.  Gratitude is one of the most powerful of character traits and saves us from complaining, negativism and depression.  To wake each morning, thankful for a new day, thankful that God’s mercies are new every morning and His faithfulness is great is to awaken with a grateful heart, ready to do His will.

There is an important life lesson that follows.  The psalmist declares that on his own he had wandered away from God’s ways but he is thankful that God’s discipline brought him back to right living.  The word ‘discipline’ can conjure up negative thoughts but in reality, when God is the One disciplining, it is always – always – an act of His love.  At the time, being disciplined by God may seem difficult but when it brings us to a place of humility and repentance, the fruit of that discipline is indeed priceless, for we draw closer to Him through it.

David asserts that all that God does is good and through everything He allows into our lives He is teaching us.  In fact he goes so far as to say that his suffering was ‘good for me’.  It takes some maturity to recognize that and to publicly admit it.

Suffering – whatever form it takes – can make us bitter or better: the choice is ours. I have known people – and you probably have, too – whose self-centered attitude blinds them to the power of forgiveness and humility.  On the other hand, I know some – and you do, too – whose suffering has brought them forth like ‘gold tried in the fire.’ They are sweeter, kinder, more compassionate, more humble not in spite of but because of their suffering.  Such men and women are precious in God’s sight and often in ours.  They exemplify the best of virtue and courage in a world deeply needing such role models.

‘Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls,’ someone has written, ‘the most massive characters are seared with scars.’

This week let us ask ourselves: Have I allowed the difficult things I’ve experienced or any suffering I’ve endured to make me a better person?  Do I harbor deep-seated resentments, a proverbial ‘chip on my shoulder’, hatred or jealousy?

Whatever you might describe as ‘suffering’, settle the question that difficult times are part of everyone’s life.  No one is immune and every trial, challenge, humiliation, or pain carries within it the opportunity for greatness.

It’s up to us to turn to God in times like these, seek His help, His wisdom, His understanding and most of all, His grace to see us through to a spiritually positive conclusion of the matter.  The Bible doesn’t sugarcoat pain and suffering; it gives us guidance on how to navigate through it.

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The Longest Chapter – Part 8 March 1, 2016

A blessed Tuesday to you – we’re up to the eighth section of Psalm 119.  In some of your Bibles you may see it divided according to the Hebrew letters, beginning with Alef and ending with Tav.  This week’s section is ‘Het’ if your Bible is so arranged, verses 57 – 64.

Lord, you are mine! I promise to obey Your words!

With all my heart I want Your blessings.  Be merciful as You promised.

I pondered the direction of my life and I turned to follow Your laws.

I will hurry, without delay, to obey Your commands.

Evil people try to drag me into sin, but I am firmly anchored to Your instructions.

I rise at midnight to thank You for Your just regulations.

I am a friend to anyone who fears You – anyone who obeys Your commandments.

O Lord, Your unfailing love fills the earth; teach me Your decrees.

Do we realize what an amazing thing it is to be able to say ‘Lord You are mine!‘ knowing that is absolutely the truth?  Our uncompromising faith in Him means just that – that we are His and He is ours.  The Creator of the entire universe chooses to be in relationship with those who place their faith and trust in Him.  Just pondering that for awhile should be eminently uplifting!  The only logical response to such love is contained in the second half of the verse: I promise to obey Your words!

The psalmist continues, With all my heart I want Your blessings… for he is fully aware that blessings follow obedience to God’s Word.  Therefore he declares, I pondered the direction of my life and I turned to follow Your laws.  You see, it wasn’t some automatic thing; he pondered – which means, he thought about it, weighed his options and concluded that for his life to be a success, it must be founded on obedience to God’s commandments.

People define success in various ways depending on their definition of ‘life’.  If life is defined by the number of years they will inhabit this planet, the notion of success takes on a very earthy and material definition.  But for people of faith, it is not so.

Life from a biblical perspective is eternal; our time on earth is temporary at best.  We are here, according to the scriptures, as ‘foreigners’ and ‘exiles’ for our true home is the eternal Abode where God Himself dwells. Each of us came from Him, sent to this earth with a purpose and a destiny and at the end of our allotted years, will return to Him to give an account of our ‘mission’.  Viewing ‘life’ from this perspective yields an entirely different  understanding of the purpose and value of life.  A Jewish proverb from the Ethics of the Fathers says it this way:  This world is the lobby for the world to come; prepare yourself in the lobby to enter the banquet hall of the King.

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Are you a friend to anyone who fears the Lord? To anyone who obeys His commandments?  David says he is in verse 63.  Friendships are one of the great gifts we enjoy in this life and have a powerful effect on our quality of life.  The Bible warns us about choosing our friends carefully and this portion of Psalm 119 reminds us that true friends are those who support, encourage and inspire us to greater spirituality, to a deeper relationship with God.  To have even two or three friends in one’s life who do so is one of heaven’s greatest gifts.  If you have one or more such friends, be immensely grateful for their presence in your life.

And…may you and I, in fact, be such a friend to others! Inspire, encourage, exhort and support them to walk with God, to learn His Word, to hide it in their hearts and to live, like David did, ‘firmly anchored to His instructions.’  There is no greater life to be lived.

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