More Suffering?? (Nun Year 3)

Psalm 119:107: “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!”

Ladies, what a paradox — the Christian life is a life of blessing, and it is also a life of affliction.  Affliction comes in many forms.  There is the impersonal suffering of disease and disaster, common to all humanity.  There is the personal suffering of abuse and persecution, sometimes as a direct result of our faith.  And then there is the call to sacrificial service, where we voluntarily set aside our comforts for the sake of others.

So how do we keep from being overwhelmed?

Stoic resignation is not the answer.  The psalmist cries out to God, “give me life!”  He holds God to the promises in his word, that this present affliction is not the end.  He trusts God’s word, that obedience will bring blessing. 

We see now what the psalmist saw only dimly:  Jesus, the fulfillment of the Old Testament, the word-made-flesh, conquered death and bought us life.  And in some mysterious way, our sufferings are counted with the sufferings of Christ, necessary for the church (Colossians 1:24). 

Paul says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”  (2 Corinthians 4:7-10).  The power of God shines in our weakness, though we are but pots of clay.  And so we look forward to the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” where we will rejoice that all things have worked together for our good.

More Than Our Teachers (Mem Year 3)

Psalm 119:99:  “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.”

Ladies, does the psalmist sound a little arrogant to you?  How can he say that he is smarter than his teachers?

We know that God’s wisdom is not the wisdom of the world.  Many times, the most educated and most respected among us, are also the most foolish. “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”  (1 Corinthians 1:20).  This can be true even for purported Bible teachers.  The Pharisees studied the Scriptures diligently, seeking eternal life.  Yet because they denied Christ, the Word made flesh, God’s word did not abide in them.  They would never find the life that they were seeking.   (John 5:38 – 40).

Today, many of our teachers proclaim a false gospel.  They use terms that sound good, like “diversity,” or “economic justice,” or “inclusion.”  You may sense that something is wrong, but you can’t quite figure it out.  You may not feel qualified to challenge the teachers.

But the psalmist tells us, God’s word will qualify us.  If we meditate on God’s word, we will be able to spot false teaching.  If we turn to God in faith, asking him for wisdom, he will give it to us (James 1:5-6).  Luke calls the Bereans “noble” for their practice of examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether the apostles’ teaching was true (Acts 17:11).  Especially when false teaching is rampant, it is our duty as believers to make sure God’s word is abiding in us.

No, the psalmist is not arrogant.  If he were boasting in his own wisdom, that would be foolish.  (Jeremiah 9:23).  But this is not what he is doing.  The psalmist is boasting in his knowledge of the Lord, the God of steadfast love, justice, and righteousness (Jeremiah 9:24).  This knowledge is available to all who meditate on God’s word, who see Christ there and believe.

Not Retired (Lamedh Year 3)

Psalm 119:91: “By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants.”

Ladies – after creating the world, God rested.  But he did not retire!  As Paul told the Athenians, “In him we live and move and have our being” – current day, present tense (Acts 17:28).   By God’s appointment, by God’s laws, creation still stands.

Yet God does not perform his sustaining work as some impersonal force.  He tends his creation with the loving care of a Father.  God leads the singing stars! He swaddles the ocean in its tantrums, rouses the morning sun.  God hunts with the lion, frees the wild donkey. He even ordains the day when the mountain goat gives birth.  (Job 38-39). 

And nothing compares to how God tenderly watches over his people, down to the hairs on our heads (Matthew 10:30).

The psalmist tells us all nature serves this kind and mighty God.  How can we not serve him also?  Surely it is foolish to deny God (Psalm 14:1).  How could we rebel against God’s law, the very law that gives us breath?

Dry Skin (Kaph Year 3)

Psalm 119:83:  “For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes.”

Ladies – dry air has a profound impact on skin.  We discovered this moving from Louisiana to Idaho in the dead of winter (not recommended).  The wood stove, which we use for heat, exacerbated the effect; our skin cracked and bled.  To get relief, John and I must continually grease ourselves with thick lotion.

The psalmist calls himself a “wineskin in the smoke.”  He feels dried out, cracked, neglected.  Without care and conditioning, a skin bag will become less and less useful, unable to hold wine without leaking or bursting.  It is ironic that wine is meant to refresh and gladden the heart (Psalm 104:15), while our wineskin psalmist feels old and worn out.

And yet the psalmist does not despair.  Instead, he remembers God’s law, the law that tells us of Jesus the suffering servant.  Jesus hung thirsting on the cross, his strength dried up like broken pottery (Psalm 22:15, John 19:28).  Yet this same Jesus is the fount of living water, filling believers with his Holy Spirit, so that we can refresh others (John 8:37-38).

The psalmist waits in hope for his salvation.  He knows that, in our dried-up state, we are helpless, unfit vessels.  As Jesus told the Pharisees, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins.  If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.” (Luke 5:37). This is why God must replace our hard hearts with soft ones that can hold his Spirit (Ezekiel 37:26-27).  Only then will we experience the power to walk in obedience.

Wounds from God (Yodh Year 3)

Psalm 119:75:  “I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.”

Ladies – in 2014, one of our sons contracted a cruel disease.  His suffering – and ours – was often beyond comprehension.  I wrestled with God in prayer for five years.  God’s sovereignty terrified me.  When it came to my beloved son, God was going to do what he wanted, not what I wanted.

How in the world does Job say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21)?

In his affliction, the psalmist reaffirms that the rules of God are righteous.  God is righteous, he speaks righteousness, he orders the world in righteousness.  “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6-7).  God’s righteousness – his goodness — is eternal and essential to his character, just like his sovereignty.

Yet God’s goodness is not an abstraction, but intensely personal.  God cares deeply about his people and knows our needs (Matthew 6:25-32).  Even more, Jesus is our faithful friend, who suffered for us and suffers with us (John 15:13-15).  “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” the Proverbs tell us (Proverbs 27:6).  When God permits our wounding – even wounds us himself – we can trust that he is faithful. 

In 2019, we found a last-ditch medication that has given my son relief.  We cannot know the future, but we are profoundly thankful for the present.  I am also thankful for this passage in Psalm 119, which remains both shocking and precious to me.

I hope you enjoy this original song based on Psalm 119 (Yodh).

One Reason Why (Teth Year 3)

Psalm 119:67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.”

Ladies – the older we get, the more familiar we become with pain.  This includes physical pain, for sure – achy backs and creaky knees are no joke!  But it also includes the pain of dashed hopes and broken relationships.  I have experienced both natural childbirth and deep heartbreak, and I can tell you the former is easier to bear.

During these seasons of affliction, we often ask, “Why, Lord?” 

God has many reasons for sending trouble our way.  Some of his reasons are revealed in scripture, while others remain a mystery.  We know one of God’s reasons, is to keep our hearts and minds turned toward obedience.  When things are good, it is easy to become prideful or complacent, and to go our own way (Deuteronomy 6:12).  When things are hard, we remember that God is sovereign, and he is our only hope.

Despite what the parenting blogs say, good parents discipline their children regularly, out of love.  God, our Heavenly Father, treats us the same way.  We are his beloved children, therefore he disciplines us (Hebrews 12:6).   And this discipline leads to our good.  Hebrews reminds us, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11).

We love God’s promise that “For those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).  We have an idea of what we think is “good.”  But one of the best “goods” that affliction brings, is a renewed relationship with Jesus.  Let us respond to trials with soft hearts, like the psalmist, in saying “now I obey your word.”

Self-Assessment (Heth Year 3)

Psalm 119:59:  “When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies.”

Ladies – in my work as a labor lawyer, I often review personnel files.  Some companies require a self-assessment as part of their annual employee evaluation process.  The funny thing is, not many of these self-assessments are accurate.  They are more like self-promotions. 

When the psalmist considers his ways, how he has been walking lately, he is not focused on self-promotion.  He is not even thinking about self-improvement.  Instead, he is looking for where he might have gone off God’s path, and how he can turn his feet back.  This is not always easy, because our hearts are deceitful.  We far prefer self-promotion and self-improvement over self-denial.

Fortunately, God doesn’t leave us alone in our reflections.  God’s Holy Spirit guides us into the truth, including the truth about ourselves.  We can pray like David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!… And see if there by any grievous way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24).  Only then can we think of ourselves rightly – not more highly than we ought to think – but with “sober judgment” (Romans 12:3).

Regular, sober self-reflection is important in the life of a believer.  We are called to confess our sin, so that we can stay in fellowship with God and others (1 John 1:9).  At the same time, we should not allow our self-assessment to degenerate into tossing and turning and ruminating over all the things we have done wrong.  God has forgiven us in Christ, and there is no one who can condemn us, not even ourselves (Romans 8:1).

The psalmist uses self-reflection to assist him in personal holiness, in faithfully walking the path of obedience.  But the encouragement to “think on our ways” also has an outward component.  We are called to identify and use our different gifts to build up the church body (Romans 12:4-8).

This New Year, take some time for self-assessment.  As the Spirit reveals sin to you, confess it and receive God’s forgiveness.  Then rise up and use your gifts.  The people of God need you!

Don’t Soften Your Accent (Zayin Year 3)

Psalm 119:51:  “The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law.”

Ladies — when I was 15, I left my home state of Louisiana to attend boarding school in New Hampshire.  I was surprised to discover that Southerners were generally considered backwards and ignorant.  And every time I opened my mouth, my accent betrayed me as a Southerner.  People would laugh and ask me, “Where are you from?”

The weird thing is, without any conscious effort on my part, my Southern accent began to soften.  By the time I entered law school, about 7 years later, people assumed I was from somewhere in the Midwest.

When Christians speak the word of God, we have an accent.  The world finds this accent backwards and ignorant, even hateful.  They mock and deride us.  But we should not be surprised.  Jesus said the world will hate us, because it hated him (John 15:16-21).  In fact, Jesus called his followers blessed when they experience persecutions (Matthew 5:10-12).

The temptation, when we experience a negative reaction to God’s word, is to soften our accent.  We downplay or excuse the hard edges in the Bible (for example, the ones that talk about sex).  We act as if God needed our help with social media marketing.  But this is not the path of obedience.  The world (God’s world) must conform to God’s law, not vice versa.

The psalmist, when faced with mockery from the world, is not intimidated.  He recognizes the folly and arrogance – insolence – of refusing to bow the knee to the Creator God.  And instead of softening his accent, the psalmist boldly states, “I do not turn away from your law.”

May we have courage to walk the path of obedience, in the face of the disapproval of God’s enemies.

In My Mouth (Waw Year 3)

Psalm 119:43:  “And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules.”

Ladies, I think this verse is a little weird.  What does it mean for God’s word to be in our mouths?  And how can it be taken out of our mouths?

I believe there is a connection here between the “word of truth” and the Holy Spirit.  In his last words to his disciples, Jesus promises that the Father will send the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit will “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all I have said to you,” i.e., God’s word  (John 14:26).  The Spirit is also called the “Spirit of truth” who “will guide you into all the truth.”  (John 16:13).  

The psalmist realizes that the word of truth is more than just dusty parchment.  The word of truth is alive, breathed out by a real Person, the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16).  When the psalmist prays for God to “take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,” he is echoing David’s prayer in Psalm 51: “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.”  (Psalm 51:11).  God’s word is the manifestation of his presence. 

What about the word of truth being in the psalmist’s mouth?  The most straightforward reading, perhaps, is that the psalmist is speaking the word of God to others, and doesn’t want to speak falsely.  (Perhaps the psalmist senses that he is writing inspired Scripture himself.)  The mouth reference could also mean that the psalmist is feeding on the word of God.  As Jesus told Satan, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). 

I think there may be a further, and weirder, mouth allusion. Both Scripture and the Holy Spirit are described as a sword, convicting the world of sin (Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12-13, John 16:7-10).  This sharp sword is found in the mouth of Christ when he comes in judgment (Isaiah 49:2, Revelation 1: 16, 19:15).  Believers who have the word of truth in their mouths, do not need to fear the sword of judgment from the mouth of Christ.  In fact, we participate in his victory over the world.

No wonder the psalmist clings to the word of truth, praying that God not remove it from his mouth.  No wonder the psalmist is hopeless without it.  The good news is that, as New Testament believers, we have the assurance of God’s Holy Spirit at all times (Joel 2:28-29, Matthew 28:20).  But do we value the word of truth like the psalmist?

Don’t Follow Your Heart (He Year 3)

Psalm 119:35: “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.”

Ladies, I’m sure you are familiar with the Disney life message:  Follow your heart.  There are many forces that keep you from your dreams, including family, social pressure, and practical considerations.  Ignore them!  To be truly happy, you must follow your own desires, wherever they may lead.

This works out well in animated movies, but not so well in real life.  The Bible tells us that our hearts are deceitful and wicked, not to be trusted (Jeremiah 17:9).  We all want to be happy, but we cannot find true happiness on our own.  The Lord must guide us on the path of delight.

Psalm 23, that most famous and comforting psalm, says that God “makes me lie down in green pastures” and “leads me beside still waters.”  (Psalm 23:1-2). On our own, we would stumble around and eventually die of hunger and thirst. Yet these paths of delight — with lush grass and refreshing streams — are none other than the paths of righteousness. (Psalm 23:3).  God promises that righteousness – i.e., obedience to God’s commands — will surely lead to blessing and the eternal presence of the Lord (Psalm 23:6).

Are you weary of showing hospitality, of serving your husband and children day after day?  Do you long to indulge selfishness, just for a moment?  We think, if only we could sleep in, or schedule that much-needed pedicure, or spend an evening reading by the fire with a bowl of kettle corn, we would be happy.  That’s not asking too much, is it?  (Perhaps some of your dreams are more ambitious than mine!) 

As a disclaimer, we know rest is a good gift from God, when received with a thankful heart.  By all means, take time to rest. But when we pursue comforts for their own sake, they become empty.  They don’t give delight.  For true happiness, we must submit our hearts to the Lord.  We must follow where Christ leads, in the path of God’s commands.