Psalms Project: Psalm 1 – Planted or Seated?

Today, I am beginning a project I have wanted to do for many years – a journey through the Psalms. I have started before, alone, but I am hoping that the accountability of a blog (and your comments, etc.) will encourage me to keep going. I plan to write about every Psalm (150 of them) in order.

The stirring Psalm 1 (go read it first!) is my favorite Psalm (at least for now) and is an appropriate beginning to this collection of Israel’s praise and worship. In just six verses, the writer (who is unknown) paints a vivid contrast between the wise and the wicked. And he (or she) provides the wisdom and motivation we need for finding daily nourishment.

It becomes a simple question of whether we choose to be seated or planted. The unwise person is seated. There is a progression here. The unwise person begins walking with the wicked, then stands around with the sinners, and finally settles into a seat with the scoffers. Now the unwise has become wicked like those around him. As a result, there is no blessing from God. He or she becomes dry, useless, and blown away like chaff. There will be no place to stand in the judgment. The wicked will perish. Why would anyone choose this curse? Sadly, too many do.

The writer promises, though, that we will be blessed if we do not choose that dried-up doom. Instead, the righteous one is like the tree planted by the river, always nourished and never wilting. That is the life of blessing I want! How does it happen? I let God plant me in His Word (here called “the law”). I must meditate on it day and night. Meditation in the Bible is not the mind-emptying silliness practiced by eastern religions. Instead, Christian meditation is the active reflection upon and digesting of God’s truth. Like the tree in the picture, I should be leaning toward the water and sending out a multitude of roots into its quenching flow. I can study the Word; I can ponder its impact in my life; I can practice its rules and wisdom; I can mull its truths; I can recite it, sing it, memorize, and pray it. God’s Word imparts life, if I soak it in. It becomes an inseparable part of who I am. Thus, I am blessed and can expect to grow.

How about you? Will you choose to be planted into God’s life-giving Word today? Or will you sit down and dry up with those who perish?

Celtic Christian artist Eden’s Bridge has a lovely rendition of this Psalm called “Blessed is the Man.” Listen as you soak in the beauty of this first Psalm.

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Becoming a Dad More Like God

Me and Lincoln

I wanted to come back to Hebrews 13 to talk about dads. If God is a perfect heavenly Father, then His traits should guide my traits as a dad. Not all of His fatherly traits are here, but I think there are some good ones tucked in here. (In fact, Hebrews 12 is more direct about God’s fatherly discipline.)

A Dad Provides (for Needs)

“Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 (HCSB)

Dads sometimes get a bad rap for only being providers for their families. Certainly they should be more than “just” providers, but don’t discount this God-given task. As Christians, we should be free from the love of money. Why? Because our heavenly Father will provide for our needs. He won’t leave or leave us lacking. In the same way, dad should be good provider for the needs of his family.  (And I am not saying that moms can’t also be providers; they just aren’t the topic today.) There is a warning here, though. Dads should not be so focused on providing for wants (eg., the love of money) that he cannot do anything else. To do that, I need to follow this Scripture by practicing contentment and trusting God to provide my needs. The truth is that He is a good Father and gives me so many good things beyond my needs.

A Dad Perseveres (No Matter What)

This is really my point from the other day, so I won’t belabor it. But a dad’s continuing presence leads to the next Godly trait.

A Dad Helps

Therefore, we may boldly say:  The Lord is my helper   Hebrews 13:6a (HCSB)

 This is where dads usually get beat up. They don’t help. Not with the kids, the house, or all the other stuff. Maybe we do deserve some criticism here when we put our selfish desires ahead of family (though I think there is often an unhealthy dose of unexpressed expectations from both sides). If God is a helper, then I can be one, too. Spiritual leadership doesn’t mean I just give out orders. I can choose to be a helper. Let me be a helper upon whom my family can boldly rely.

A Dad Protects

I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?   Hebrews 13:6b (HCSB)

When I provide, persevere, and help, then my family will not be afraid. They will trust me that I am protecting them as much as I can. God’s promise is even better – the ultimate protection of the Creator. However, this is not a protection FROM bad things, it is protection THROUGH them. Until sin is removed, there will be pain and hurt. But God walks through it with us. As a dad, I cannot protect my children from all pain. But I can help them walk through it without fear, first because I am with them, but most importantly because I have shown them that God is with them. I want to be a dad who protects!

When you think of God as Father, which of his traits  means the most to you? If you are a dad, which traits do you want God to build up in you today?

A Dad Who Will Never, Ever Leave

I am a pretty easy-going guy. But there are a few things that get my blood boiling. Probably the most personal is “dads” who leave. My daughter, Gwendolyn (8), has a mitochondrial disease. There are no cures, and it will probably end her life early. We know many other families who are facing the difficulties of these diseases. In too many cases, though, “dad” has left. Now it is just mom handling a child (or children) with special needs. Like Gwendolyn, most of these children need 24 x 7 care. That’s a tough job with two involved parents. Some “dads,” I guess, bail out because they can’t fix the problem so they just move on.  It is abandonment.  I won’t mince words – that is evil.

It is probably more personal to me because I didn’t have a dad that stayed either. My parents divorced when I was 7. I saw my dad each summer for a few weeks, but that was it. (We have built a better relationship as adults.) My mom remarried, and my stepdad did stay for awhile. He was an angry man, though, and the relationship was never strong. After I was gone, my mom divorced him. Anger was not his only problem, though I don’t know all the details. The strongest male figure in my life was my grandpa. I am so thankful for the investment he made in my life as a young boy and teen. However, I do sense that “something is missing” because dad was not around.

The Scriptures reveal to us a greater dad – our Father in heaven.  Listen to the promise quoted in Hebrews 13:5:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  (NIV – emphasis mine)

 Those “nevers” are even more emphatic in the original Greek language, with multiple negatives stacked together. It could be paraphrased as “I will never, no, not ever, no never abandon you.” There is no doubting the intent of this promise. God is a Father who says He will never leave, no matter what.

Can we trust Him that it is true? My experience says, “yes!” When I walked away from God, he did not leave. When I have disobeyed him directly, He did not abandon me. When I shouted “WHY!?” He patiently listened. When I need Him most, I find Him. He has been true to His promise even though I have never deserved it. You can trust Him too!

How have you found God faithful to this promise to never leave? In my next post, I will talk about the results of this ever-present fatherhood.

Thomas Kinkade and the Gospel

I love Thomas Kinkade’s art. It is beautiful and usually proclaims a message of Christian hope and light. Apparently the art critic snobs did not agree with me. Kinkade died last Friday, and the art world is still bashing him. Kinkade didn’t care what the experts said, though. He just kept painting and selling. And he made millions because the public loved his light-filled work and message.

Why did the critics sneer? They called it kitschy, unoriginal, and pandering to the unwashed public. They didn’t like his idyllic subject matter, the deliberate Biblical message, or his technique. It just wasn’t sophisticated enough or avant-garde enough for their taste. Give them a blasphemous or inexplicable piece any day.

I am not here to debate Kinkade’s art. But the fuss reminds me of the gospel. The gospel is simple. Paul distills it to this: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” I Corinthians 15:1-4 (NASB) Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah (or Christ), died for our sins and rose again.

That’s it. Simple enough for a child to understand, yet despised by the sophisticated. It is too crude, too simple, too easy for them. It panders to the masses of non-elites. The Pharisees couldn’t stand it then. They got Jesus killed and then stoned Stephen for preaching a resurrected Jesus. And the snobbery continues today. Just look at the elite academics’ attacks on the Bible for one example.

Go ahead, call me simplistic, foolish, and unoriginal. I will still declare that God loves you and Jesus died for you. It is the absolute truth. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ” I Corinthians 1:18 (NASB)

I Hate Easter

I hate Easter. When I walk into the Easter section of a store like Target or Walmart, I see plastic eggs, candy and sugared marshmallows, stuffed bunnies, and pastel “spring” items. There are no crosses, no empty tombs, and nothing about the resurrection. Then there are the egg hunts, except when parents are so aggressive fighting for fake eggs and cheap candy that the whole thing has to be canceled. What are we doing? We have lost the whole meaning of Easter.

Easter also brings out the annual attacks on Jesus, Christians, and the church. This year it is Andrew Sullivan’s cover story in Newsweek, “Christianity in Crisis“. He would argue that he defends the “historical” Jesus, but he can’t attack His bride (the church) without attacking Him. However, the original Easter was an attack on Jesus, too, so maybe this is “appropriate.”

Easter, or as I prefer, Resurrection Day, is about Jesus (God in the flesh) rising from the dead. It is a remembrance of the central truth of Christianity. If there is no resurrection, Christianity is worse than a farce. Paul summed it up in I Corinthians 15:16-19:

” For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” NASB

The resurrection is literally true. The whole New Testament testifies to this central fact. If it could be proven false, there would be no Christianity. Skeptics like Frank Morison and Lee Strobel set out to disprove it, but ended up as believers. The evidence really is overwhelming.

So, yes, I hate the plastic substitutes we call “Easter,” but I love the Jesus who died for me and rose from the dead.

In our family, we try to keep to the true meaning of the Easter season. In our nightly devotions we read through Mark’s account of Jesus’ last week before the crucifixion. We put a cross in our yard for the week leading up to Easter. On Good Friday, we drape it with black cloth and read about the crucifixion with our children. Then, early on Easter morning, we take off the black and drape it with glorious white as we read about the resurrection.  What does your family do to emphasize the true meaning of Resurrection Sunday?