Friday, September 18, 2020

EmmDev 2020-09-18 [Walk between the Lines] Learning from Temptation and Pain


Learning from Temptation and Pain

The ninth stanza's lines all start with the Hebrew letter "teth" which looks like a coiling and twisting serpent. One can't help but wonder if the Psalmist had Adam and Eve and the tempting serpent in mind when he wrote this stanza...

For Adam and Eve, the results of giving into temptation were banishment from the Garden of Eden and the brokenness that was unleashed in the world.

This stanza has has two references to the theme of affliction and it appears that the psalmist sees the painful times in his life as opportunities to bring him back to God's Word. It could very well be that the psalmist drifted into a sinful lifestyle which had negative outcomes for him. These consequences and outcomes showed him that God's Word and the warnings it gives were valid and important.

But... now that he is "back on track", he finds himself in a situation where he is being attacked by the arrogant (even though he's walked blamelessly) and it seems he is being tempted to give up the "good fight". He leans heavily on God's word to carry him through this time. To him God's Word is more precious than silver or gold.

As he faces the coiling serpent of temptation, God's Word teaches the Psalmist two things:

  1. Going astray can lead to negative consequences.
    Scripture has numerous warnings about this.
  2. God's Word can "school" us when we face temptation so that we can stay on track.

    Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I obey your word.
    You are good, and what you do is good;
    teach me your decrees.
    Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies,
    I keep your precepts with all my heart.
    Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,
    but I delight in your law.
    It was good for me to be afflicted
    so that I might learn your decrees.
    The law from your mouth is more precious to me
    than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.      (Psalms119:67-72)


Thursday, September 17, 2020

EmmDev 2020-09-17 [Walk between the Lines] Considered


Considered

In the eighth stanza, our line-starting letter is "Cheth" which represents a closed system: a fence, an inner-room or chamber that separates, cuts off or protects...

Many people think that rules constrict, but they can often provide a safe space in which one can play and work without fear.   The best analogy of this is of the dad who didn't know the rules of soccer well, but had to take over his son's practice when the coach was late. He didn't demarcate the teams and goals well, he didn't have a whistle and couldn't control the game. Soon it became a frantic free for all with little boys who progressively got angry and miserable. Then the coach arrived, and when he applied the rules and boundaries, the boys had a wonderful time...

Today's stanza gives a picture of a life happily lived in the safe space of God's guidance and provisions.

The Psalmist starts off by affirming that he is not a legalist, but that God is His portion and that he will seek God's face with all his heart. He does, however, understand that God's ways are found His laws and statutes.

And so he does the important thing: He considers his ways in the light of God's statutes and this defines his priorities and his relationships.

Life is too precious to rush through unconsidered. Throughout ages and cultures, wise people have commented that it is really important for us to "consider our ways." When we fail to reflect on life's meaning and purpose, we run the risk of a life that lacks depth.

But reflection on its own can be a very self-centered, self-referencing and ego-based exercise. That is why the psalmist's reflection leads him to "turn his steps" to the principles and values of God's Law.

For our lives to have real value and impact we need to consider our ways. The Scriptures give us a safe space within which we can play...

You are my portion, O LORD;
I have promised to obey your words.
I have sought your face with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
I have considered my ways
and have turned my steps to your statutes.
I will hasten and not delay
to obey your commands.

Though the wicked bind me with ropes,
I will not forget your law.
At midnight I rise to give you thanks
for your righteous laws.
I am a friend to all who fear you,
to all who follow your precepts.
The earth is filled with your love, O LORD;
teach me your decrees.      (Psalms119:57-64)


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

EmmDev 2020-09-16 [Walk between the Lines] Comfort


Comfort

The seventh letter is Zayin which represents a sword or axe which cuts and pierces. This makes us think of Hebrews 4:12: "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
But it also reminds us of a broken world that cuts and pierces us.

This strophe explores the reality of suffering and brokenness in the world. The Psalmist is thinking about suffering, about the arrogant who mock without restraint and the wicked who have forsaken the law.

The Scriptures are his weapon to pierce the brokenness and they are his comfort when he is threatened.

For the Psalmist the Bible is not just a source of academic knowledge. He finds comfort in the Scriptures. Scripture abounds with the promises of God that apply to the good and difficult times of our lives.

But The Bible is not a book of spells to ward off evil. It is not a collection of incantations to ensure good fortune. It is not a self-help tool that gives you eleventeen tips to a happy life.

The Bible is a guide to a relationship with our Father God who loves us enough to give us the freedom of choice and places us in a world where our choices can make or break our lives and the lives of those around us. But He also loves us too much to leave us simply at the mercy of our choices and so He is present in our joys and our heartaches with comfort, strength, guidance and the awesome power that transforms the gloom of Crucifixion Friday to the glory of Resurrection Sunday.

The psalmist has not been sheltered from suffering. He has experienced the reality of tragedy and evil and he has found himself in need of comfort:
- Comfort that he is not alone.
- Comfort that trouble will not endure forever.
- Comfort that the scales will be balanced.
- Comfort in that he can find a way out of trouble.
- Comfort that trouble does not have to scar him.
- Comfort that all of heaven is behind him working out God's perfect plan.

Fortunately he knows where comfort is to be found: in the tried-and-tested truth and wisdom of the Scriptures.

My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life.
The arrogant mock me without restraint
but I do not turn from Your law
I remember Your ancient laws, O LORD
and I find comfort in them.
Indignation grips me because of the wicked,
who have forsaken your law.
Your decrees are the theme of my song
wherever I lodge.
In the night I remember your name, O LORD,
and I will keep your law.
This has been my practice:
I obey your precepts.      (Psalms119:50-56)


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

EmmDev 2020-09-15 [Walk between the Lines] Credible


Credible

The sixth letter, "Vaw", is shaped like a nail or a hook. It appears very often in the OT because it is used to the form the word "and".
As such, this letter literally joins things and events together. It is this sense of binding and securing that is evident in this strophe of the Psalm...

Wisdom is a rare commodity. Some say that wisdom only comes with age and experience, but the psalmist argues that a solid foundation in Biblical Truth can give one credibility in the presence of significant people - even kings.

When we read Scripture regularly and prayerfully, we will find the balance and wisdom that we need. We will find that our priorities are realigned, we will get our picture of God clear again, our own sense of "I-am-frail-yet-valued-by-God" will be affirmed, and we learn from the experience of others in Scripture.

Paul puts it well when he writes "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (Rom15:4)

Not only should we read the Bible on our own, but we should seek to place ourselves in contexts where we can learn more about Scripture. Church and Bible Studies are good places to start.

But a warning is a appropriate here: collecting facts and knowledge about the Bible isn't enough. Academic study is not sufficient: Good Bible Study is a dialogue: God speaks through the Bible and we must answer with our lives.

When we obtain wisdom from God's Word we can
- experience God's love and salvation through His promises.
- answer those who taunt us.
- walk about in the freedom of His precepts that guide us.
- stand before kings and not be put to shame.

May your unfailing love come to me, O LORD,
your salvation according to your promise;
then I will answer the one who taunts me,
for I trust in your word.
Do not snatch the word of truth from my mouth,
for I have put my hope in your laws.
I will always obey your law, for ever and ever.
I will walk about in freedom,
for I have sought out your precepts.
I will speak of your statutes before kings
and will not be put to shame      (Psalms119:41-46)


Friday, September 11, 2020

EmmDev 2020-09-11 [Walk between the Lines] A Bible Reading Prayer


A Bible Reading Prayer

The letter "He" looks like a house with an open window. The letter implies "showing" and "revealing" or "to behold." It is then quite fitting that the Psalmist prays for understanding, direction and a teachable and "turnable" heart.

This stanza reminds us that the Bible is best read prayerfully asking God to reveal Himself through the window of His Word.

There are attitudes that can benefit or detract from our Bible reading experience. The Holy Spirit is able to assist us as we read.

The couple of verses that we look at today constitute a very valuable prayer to pray whenever we read the Bible.

I've paraphrased them as follows:

  1. Give me a teachable heart so that I am willing to learn from the Bible AND put it in practice!
  2. Give me the understanding I need to practice what I read. We need help to interpret David and Goliath or the parable of the seed and sower in the light of our situations.
  3. As I read direct me so that I see what You want me to see and do, because I know that will be best for me.
  4. Give me a compliant heart because I am so tempted toward my own selfish agenda.
  5. Keep me from the distraction of that which is passing and let me build my life on the real values of Your Word.

It's very helpful to pray something along these lines before we read the Bible each day!

Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees;
then I will keep them to the end.
34 Give me understanding, and I will keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
35 Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
36 Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
preserve my life according to your word.      (Psalms119:33-37)


Thursday, September 10, 2020

EmmDev 2020-09-10 [Walk between the Lines] Free!

My apologies for the gaps in the edevs, I've had a bit of a chaotic time.

Free!

The fourth stanza is based on the letter Daleth which looks like and symbolises a door. A door represents a boundary but also an opportunity. It closes certain things out but opens up to a new world.

Not many people would put "commands" and "free" in the same sentence. We associate law with boundaries and a lack of freedom. We tend to think that rules stifle creativity and structure limits expression.

The Psalmist has learned otherwise: The rules on a soccer field make the game more fun. The structure of society can engender safety and productivity. The laws of physics ensure that a hang-glider behaves consistently and we can enjoy the ride. Children play safely in a playground that has a fence. Rules, laws and structures do not have to be limiting factors.

The same is true of God's laws: They are there to help, protect and teach us. We have the freedom to run in the path of His commands.

But the Psalmist is saying more than just "rules can be a good thing..."

The psalmist runs in the secure pathway that structure gives, and he does it with a FREE HEART. A heart that is forgiven and free of guilt. A heart that is secure in the knowledge that we are loved and valued by God. A heart that knows: "I am fearfully and wonderfully made and all the days of my life are in the book of my God. (Ps139)"

When our hearts are not free God's commands are a cage. For those whose hearts are free the God's ways are a pathway and we can run along their paths!

I have chosen the way of truth;
I have set my heart on your laws.
I hold fast to your statutes, O LORD;
do not let me be put to shame.
I run in the path of Your commands
for You have set my heart free.      (Psalms119:30-32)


Friday, September 4, 2020

EmmDev 2020-09-04 [Walk between the Lines] Attitude


Attitude

The third letter of the Hebrew alphabet is Gimel. Gimel looks like a camel rising from its knees and the letter is seen as a symbol of willfulness or pride.

Arrogance and willfulness are temptations for us as human beings. Especially when we gain knowledge or experience success. Arrogant people often see God's law as a limitation, but the Psalmist sees God's law as a source of guidance and counsel.

The Psalmist is committed to living "between the lines". He chooses the posture of a life-long student ("Open my eyes that I may see the wonderful things in your law.")

He realises that God's law is the "safe space" in which he can move. Choosing to live a disciplined and principled life protects him from pride and God's statues are the "measuring stick" that he uses to guide his life.

It's all in the attitude:
The Psalmist doesn't see God's Word as a set of limiting rules, instead He sees God's Word as
- a source of wonder (v.18)
- a companion and guide (v.19) for a stranger
- the satisfaction of his restless soul's longing (v.20)
- the perspective that keeps him from falling into pitfalls (v.22-23)
- his source of wisdom and guidance (v.24)

Camels are notorious for their willfulness and stubbornness - human beings can be the same. Adopting the posture of a life-long student who has much to learn from the wealth of God's word can keep us safe from the way of the camel.

17 Do good to your servant, and I will live;
I will obey your word.
18 Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law.
19 I am a stranger on earth;
do not hide your commands from me.
20 My soul is consumed with longing
for your laws at all times.
21 You rebuke the arrogant, who are cursed
and who stray from your commands.
22 Remove from me scorn and contempt,
for I keep your statutes.
23 Though rulers sit together and slander me,
your servant will meditate on your decrees.
24 Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors.      (Psalms119:17-24)


Thursday, September 3, 2020

EmmDev 2020-09-03 [Walk between the Lines] Wise heads on young shoulders


Wise heads on young shoulders

Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel were young men who were considered to have "wise heads on young shoulders." The answer to this phenomenon is in today's verses which come from the second strophe where the lines begin with the letter "Beth" which symbolises "house/tent/body/family" and that which is "within".

The Scriptures are our guideline for faith and life. While Scripture does not talk about the internet or genetic engineering, it contains principles and guidelines that are timeless and trustworthy. We find wisdom and guidance available to those who love God's Word, read it and reflect on it.

We can read about Saul and learn from his mistakes.
We can be inspired by David's single-mindedness.
We can be moved by Peter's proud fall and Jesus' loving restoration.
We can meditate on the ten commandments and see the values and balance of life reflected in them.

For young people (and I'm not old yet!) there are powerful forces that want to shape our thinking in consumerist, self-centred, self-gratifying ways. I was fortunate that the people who led me to Christ also led me to love the Scriptures.

But the study of Scripture is not an academic exercise, it is a process of longing: "I seek You with all my heart". Throughout the psalm, the psalmist interweaves comments about Scripture with prayers to God. This is right. Bible Study without prayer is an academic exercise. The Bible is never an end in itself. In its pages we meet a living, loving, speaking God who is in dialogue with us and we answer with our lives.

If we want to build solid houses and have healthy "inner" lives, God's word will help us with that...

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to Your Word.
I seek You with all my heart,
do not let me stray from Your commands.      (Psalms119:9-10)



Wednesday, September 2, 2020

EmmDev 2020-09-02 [Walk between the Lines] Blessed

My sincere apologies for the gap in devotions - I've had a bit of a chaotic time.

Two weeks ago I started a series on the importance of Bible Reading. We're going to look at Psalm 119 and a few other passages...

Just a refresher on Psalm 119...
Psalm 119 is a wisdom psalm which means that it is about our relationship with God and a practical guide to life. It is an acrostic poem with 22 stanzas of 8 verses each. (This makes it the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible!)
Acrostic means that the poem follows the Alphabet: in stanza 1 all the verses start with the first letter of the alphabet, in stanza 2 the verses start with the second letter of the alphabet and so on. This was done to aid memorization and to imply a full and thorough treatment of the subject.

We'll take a thought from each stanza, thereby going from Aleph to Taw in the Hebrew Alphabet.

Blessed

In English rhyming is considered to be a poetic device. Hebrew poetry doesn't rhyme, but OT poets used parallel lines to say things more fully. 


This psalm starts with a strophe of lines beginning with Aleph, the first letter of the the Hebrew Alphabet. 

Parallels are either complementary or opposite:
One line expands the other
or one line contrasts the other.

We're going to look at two complementing couplets.

Who are blessed? Those whose ways are blameless.
How do they become blameless? They walk according to God's law.
Who are blessed? Those who keep His statutes
How do they keep His statutes? They seek Him with all their heart.

Blessing is more than financial prosperity or the absence of trouble. Blessing is the result of a life lived in the deep comforting awareness of God's presence. Sometimes people with all the material comforts of the world are not at peace while people who are going through hardship or illness have a "peace that passes understanding." Blessedness is not about circumstances, but about relationship.

Psalm 1 very powerfully begins with the premise that the love God's Word is a critical key to a blessed journey through life.

To sum up:
Blessedness is found in a life well-walked.
God's Word can show us how and where to walk.
But blessedness doesn't come from Biblicism (just worshipping the Bible), it comes from a passionate relationship with God.
We must seek Him with ALL our heart.

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless
Who walk according to the law of the Lord
Blessed are they who keep his statutes
and seek Him with all their heart.      (Psalms119:1-2)


Thursday, August 20, 2020

EmmDev 2020-08-20 [Walk between the Lines] The Lines


The Lines

We start a new series today.

The Bible Society celebrates 200 years of work this week!

So I'm going to spend a bit of time reflecting on the importance and value of God's Word in our lives...

I want to start with Psalm 119 which is all about God's Word. It is a wisdom psalm which means that it is about our relationship with God and a practical guide to life. It is an acrostic poem with 22 stanzas of 8 verses each. (This makes it the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible!)

Acrostic means that the poem follows the Alphabet: in stanza 1 all the verses start with the first letter of the alphabet, in stanza 2 the verses start with the second letter of the alphabet and so on. This was done to aid memorization and to imply a full and thorough treatment of the subject.

The subject of the Psalm is the value, relevance and blessing of reading, knowing and loving God's Word.

When I was at University, the gospel singer, Russ Taff, put out a song entitled "Walk between the Lines". In an environment that sometimes put intellectualism before simple faith, Russ's song was a great reminder that everything goes back to God's word...

Here's the lyrics of his song and the first 8 verses of Ps 119.
Enjoy!

WALK BETWEEN THE LINES
(Written by David H Perkins, performed by Russ Taff)

When the night breaks in I won't spin
Far away from what I know is real
In this heart of mine - Light will shine
For I have found my chart to pilot me

Walk between the lines
Through this life and times
My heart is hitting hard upon the Word
Walk between the lines - seeing surer signs
My heart is hidden deep between the lines

When the days ahead seem full of dread
And I'm afraid of what the future finds
There's this place I know I can go
I'll find the peace to clear my clouded mind

Walk between the lines
Through this life and times
My heart is hitting hard upon the Word
Walk between the lines - Finding deeper finds
My heart is hidden deep between the lines

(To a secret place)
(Protected, protected in your arms)

When the night breaks in I won't stay
So far away from what I know is real
If my friends turn away I won't sway
For I have found my chart to pilot me

Walk between the lines
Through this life and times
My heart is hitting hard upon the Word
Walk between the lines
Finding deeper finds
My heart is hidden deep between the lines
Walk between the lines
Through this life and times
My heart is hitting hard upon the Word
Walk between the lines
Seeing surer signs
My heart is hidden deep between the lines

You can listen to the song at: https://youtu.be/h1g7VKYVpuA

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
2 Blessed are they who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart.
3 They do nothing wrong;
they walk in his ways.
4 You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
5 Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
6 Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
8 I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.      (Psalms119:1-8)