A Treacherous Trap

I read recently of a woman who was enjoying time with her family one evening. Quite suddenly she started experiencing some mild stomach pains. 24 hours later, after taking some over-the-counter stuff for flu, the pain persisted and got sharper so she went to her doctor. The doctor gave her some flu medicine and told her it was nothing to worry about. A week passed with the pain continually worsening, until finally one evening it was intolerable. Going to the emergency room, the on-call surgeon took and studied her x-ray. He then ordered she immediately be prepped for surgery. The x-ray revealed that her appendix had burst several days previously and poison was slowly killing her.

Greed: avarice, particularly for wealth and things. Greed is analogous to that burst appendix spreading poison. There was a time early in my Christian journey where I was driven by greed. My lust for things started off small. As I spent money that I could ill afford on things I wanted but did not need, I would get annoying little twinges of guilt. Like any sin, greed is never content. During that time in my life I was never satisfied with what I had. As my friends bought new things, I just had to get those same things or even better things so I could stay up with them. The focus of my life was to grab all that I could get even if it meant going further into debt.

Greed warped my personality. I became jealous of my friends for the things that they had and even the positions they held in work and church. I developed an insatiable desire on having my own way. I started to be quarrelsome. Jealousy turned into conceit. I began looking down on those who did not have the things that I had. Looking back, I was struggling for pre-eminence in all that I did, even in the church. I choose to ignore that there is only One who is qualified pre-eminent. I claimed that Jesus was pre-eminent in my heart but that was a deception. Greed was the driving force in my life. I became ego-centric, not thinking about others and did lots of damage relationally.

Here are seven specific things I have learned about greed:
1. Greed is destructive to me and those around me.
2. Greed hinders honest prayer.
3. Greed is offensive to God who is unrelenting in His giving of Himself to me.
4. Greed cannot be reformed by more religious activity.
5. Greed insists on growing over time.
6. Greed breeds injustice and inequality.
7. Greed is the worship of me instead of my Creator and is therefore the highest level of treachery against the King of Kings.

The Bible and Jesus in particular, have some pointed things to say about greed. Jesus combined hypocrisy and greedy self-indulgence together. Matthew 23:25 God warns us that unchecked greed will turn a man of God into a sworn enemy of the Gospel, hindering God’s intended salvation, keeping men from believing in Jesus. Hypocrisy fueled by greed will cause men to take great pains to appear Godly but they are living a life of extortion and excess at the expense of the poor. It is a treacherous trap.

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It’s Not Magic

It’s Not Magic. We all have one thing in common, how to keep sin out of our lives? Even the Psalmist asked the question: “how can a man keep his way pure?” [Psalms 119:9 NIV] Then he turned right around gave the answer by saying “by living according to your word.” Our world is full of “how to” books and seminars. The most consistent answer to living as God would want us to live, is by realizing that it’s only by a divine intervention that man can shape his character so that is pleasing to God. God has provided us that divine intervention. It’s not magic. How do we do it? Be intentional about living according to God’s word. We start the process and God does the rest.

For example, suppose at the beginning of the New Year I make a resolution. I am never going to look at pornography again, ever. But that resolution soon gets broken. The problem is I am seeking God with my head and not my heart. It’s easy to agree with God’s word in my head. But it’s in the heart where God makes the changes. Jesus makes it clear that it is from the heart where the “want” to look at pornography comes from, along with every other sin. God has the solution for us.

Memorization is one of the most effective tools God provides for us in combating sin. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” But you might say “Well memorization is something you do with your head.” And you’d be correct. But here’s what happens. As we memorize God’s word we are actually hiding it in our heart. The Holy Spirit can remind us of how He wants us to live. It’s at that point that we have the opportunity to meditate on what we memorized. IF we choose, we can apply it to our lives. As we go through the process of considering what we memorized and considering what God is telling us, we gain the opportunity to try to apply it to our lives. And here is what’s really cool. One outcome is discovering that we are changing. We start delighting in reading His word. And the more we work the process the more we find that we will not neglect finding time get into His word.

The process memorizing, meditating and applying God’s word is much like the old illustration but we’ve all heard. A glass of muddy water stands on the counter. Move the glass under the tap and let the tap run water into the glass. Eventually the running water will push out the dirty water. As we fill our life with God’s words, the pressures of sin become negated and pushed away, replaced by God’s word. “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” [Psalm 119:15-16 ESV]

Here are four things that from my experience I can count on:

  1. When I meditate on God’s precepts [directions for living] this affects my thoughts.
  2. When I fix my eyes on God’s ways this changes my attitude.
  3. When I delight myself in God’s statues [God’s permanent rules established to govern my internal life] this affects what I strive for.
  4. When I make a conscious effort not to forget God’s word, this changes what I remember; old things get nailed to the cross and God makes things new in my life.

Like I said the beginning this is not magic. God wants to support me changing my life. All He wants me to do is to start the action. Listen to the Psalmist: I seek…, I have hidden…, I rejoice…, I meditate…, and I delight. [vs. 10, 13, 14, 15 & 16] Only I can start the process of exchanging my dirty undrinkable water with His clean living water, Jesus. What are you waiting for?

Too Long?

Did you know that Psalm 119 has 10 synonyms for the word of God? Having lived three score and 10+ years I can honestly say that the Bible is God’s medicine chest for me. It contains every medicine I will ever need to cure any spiritual disease I might have. Check out these synonyms:

Way: a particular course or direction set for us to follow.

Law: a rule of conduct or procedure to govern me along the right way.

Testimonies: evidence from real people in real situations telling me how to live in story form.

Precepts: a principle that takes precedent over cultural norms of society that helped mold me.

Commands: directions given with irreversible authority directly telling me how to live.

Statutes: guidance from the collection of rules established by God’s authority.

Judgments: a testing my faith to strengthen it.

Word: speaking to my heart by the Holy Spirit comfort and contentment.

Righteousness: setting a standard for me, that if I apply, will set me living without guilt or sin.

Truth: the supreme reality; the ultimate meaning and value of existence.

There are 162 verses in Psalms 119 and many have said that is just way too long. Robert D. Foster tells this story about Psalm 119:

“The Bishop of Edinburgh, unwilling to yield to the king of England, found himself on the hangman’s scaffold availing himself to the custom of the times, he was permitted the choice of a song to be sung before his death. He selected Psalm 119. Before two-thirds of the song had been sung, a pardon arrived and his life was spared.” [The Challenge, January 1, 2007] Sometimes longer is life-saving!

Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17 MSG)

Road Map

It is not hard to see that we live in a world with decreasing standards. I love that I can count on the Bible to give me rock solid foundation for living. In my journey through life toward the city of God, the question I have often asked myself is simply “how can I remain uncontaminated. I can’t speak for anyone else but in my experience, but my road can get really muddy or really dusty. It is hard to keep from getting muddy or dusty at times. And there is only one way that I know of to keep from getting dirty and that is walking according to the principles that God has so clearly laid out for us as a road map, no matter what the conditions of the journey. “Blessed are those who live without blame. They live in keeping with the law of the LORD.” [Psalm 119:1 NIrV]

Ed Nobel talked a lot about habits this past few weeks. One of the important habits is consistently obeying God’s rules for conduct. There are just two basic rules for living. First, have the right attitude toward God. Second, have the right attitude toward man. And where do I learn what that attitude should be? By reading and applying what I read. Psalm 119 is a great place to begin. I have learned that I experience the most happiness and contentment when I learned to become habituated to consistent listening and responding to God in obedience.

Make no mistake. I am not talking about religious habits that make us think that we are something special to God and therefore have a certain holiness by obeying certain rules. What I am talking about is having conversation and action that is without hypocrisy. What I desire is that my will should be brought into alignment with God’s purpose. I want to experience unbroken fellowship with Jesus. Psalm 119 is the possibility psalm. It is really a clear statement of what I can experience when I believe what God says and then walk by faith according to his promises. God promises that my life will be blameless in His eyes if I follow His lead.

All people have the possibility of genuine contentment but few take the right way that God has laid out for us to follow. God has established a hedgerow for us to live within and when we get obstinate and break out of the hedgerow by doing what we shouldn’t we end up with consequences not to our liking. And then we blame God or others.