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EXPEDITION: Blessed is the one…   Psalm 1   Dr. Scott Wenig   (1st)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content}  Glad to see you all here today.  We’re going to do a short series on some Psalms, the next three weeks.  This is going to build a pathway toward our time as we prepare ourselves for Advent.  This morning, we’re going to be looking at the very first of the Psalms, Psalm 1.  Before we look at the Word of God, I’m going to invite us to bow briefly in prayer.  Father, thanks so much for the privilege we have to worship you and to gather together.  Lord, today, we just want to surrender our lives to you.  Lord, you are a gracious and kind and compassionate God who loves us and is calling us into a deeper walk with you.  I pray now, as we look into your word, that you would use this time and this text to encourage and teach us.  We pray all of this in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

As many of you may know, the largest city in the U.S. is New York which has about 8 ½ million people.  But what you may not know is that there are approximately 10 million cats and 12 million dogs who also live there.  When your pet dies in New York City, you can’t just go out and bury it in the backyard since most of the city is concrete, so the city authorities passed an ordinance that they’ll come by, pick up your deceased pet, and dispose of it for $75.   Well, a few years back, a lady came up with an enterprising idea to make some money.  She advertised that she would dispose of your pet for only $35 dollars.  What she’d do is buy a $2 suitcase at the local Salvation Army thrift store.  She’d then go and pick up the dead animal and put it in the suitcase and then hop on the subway.  Now, if you’ve ever been on the subway in New York City you know it’s really, really crowded…..and theft is a huge problem.  So the lady would set down the suitcase, intentionally look away, and wait for someone to steal it, and then she’d cry out….‘Wait…stop…thief!’  The authorities finally caught on to her scheme, but what do you charge her with?  And what about the thieves? How did they react when they finally opened the stolen suitcase only to discover that it contained something they hadn’t planned on?

I’d like to suggest that the thieves who stole those suitcases function as a metaphor for a lot of people in our society.  They’ve grabbed onto something thinking it will provide them with happiness, significance and fulfillment only to discover that it’s not so.  We live in the greatest civilization the world has ever seen and is known the world over for its technology, its affluence, and its mobility.  Yet I’m not sure that a majority of our citizens would say they’re really satisfied with life.  I know some people would say that it’s simply not possible to find fulfillment, contentment and satisfaction in a world filled with so much brokenness, misery, and suffering.

But Scripture seems to suggest that despite the presence of pain in our broken and fallen world, it is possible to find fulfillment, to find satisfaction, but that takes focus, dedication and perseverance over the long haul of life. That’s what the Holy Spirit wants to teach us in Psalm 1.  Look at the first phrase—Blessed is the one…

Literally the word ‘blessed’ means ‘to be happy;’ in the original text it’s ashre.  But it doesn’t mean happy the way most Americans would define it.  I don’t want to over-generalize, but I think that in our culture we think of happiness in terms of bigger houses, nicer cars, more exclusive vacations, comfortable retirements and excellent health with a minimum of pains and problems, for this you can Check out to find the best supplements for this purpose.  But ashre is different than that:  it does not mean having a problem-free life or getting to do whatever we want, when we want with no hassles or headaches or heartbreaks.  Ashre literally means to be satisfied, to be whole, and to be blessed.  It could be mostly accurately described as having a sense success, a feeling of fulfillment.

I think all of us in this room have felt that way at certain points in our lives.  You probably felt that way when you worked really hard and finally completed a degree program at college or grad school.  Maybe you felt that way after you finished a long term project at work and it came off really, really well.  Maybe you felt that way after you did a long-term remodel of your home and it turned out exactly how you wanted.

Melanie and I have some friends and a couple of years back, they successfully launched their oldest son off to college.  They felt success, they felt fulfillment, so after they dropped him off, they went to a restaurant and then posted this picture on Facebook.    They entitled it “Heartbroken!”  Well, that’s the blessedness, friends, that the psalmist is describing here in Psalm 1; feeling complete, satisfied, and fulfilled. Men and women are intrinsically wired to seek that out.

The psalmist affirms that search; he says it is possible to find that but we have to do TWO things, the first of which he describes in the rest of verse 1 — Blessed is the one who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the path of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.   First of all, the psalmist tells us that what we need to do is boundary the bad.  We need to put up some guardrails in our life against the wrong kinds of influence.  When we were growing up, most of our parents rightly told us to be careful who we made friends with because those friends would influence us.  Well, the psalmist is pretty much doing the same thing.  He’s instructing us to be careful with who and what we let into our hearts and our minds and our lives.

To reinforce that, he describes a downward progression of bad influences.  It starts with the counsel of the wicked, and then it moves to the path of sinners, and then it ends up in the seat of mockers. Let me translate this for us and put it in the vernacular.  It begins with the UNDUE influence of ungodly information, which over time, if we allow that into our lives, leads to a series of immoral choices, which ultimately leads to the stubborn habits of opposing God and rejecting everything that His kingdom represents.  Now I think sometimes, in church world, it’s tempting for us here to think this downward progression only describes really nasty people like drug lords, dictators, or gang members.  But the psalmist is using these phrases, friends, to refer to ideas, people, and practices that reject God and oppose His truth. Collectively, I like to describe this and put it under the label of Practical Atheism.  It’s the belief and philosophy that life can be interpreted and then lived without any reference to God and the way He’s created reality.  In other words, God is just not part of the picture.

We all know that one of the most powerful forces in our lives and our culture today is the media.  It reaches all the way from Hollywood and New York to network TV to the information we download on our phones. There are exceptions to this so I don’t want to overstate it.  Generally speaking, friends, in our culture the media never lets God into the room.  I really like the show “Elementary.”  It’s basically a TV show about these detectives that solve murders; I like Sherlock and I like Joan and I like Captain Gregson and I like Marcus, but God is never, ever a part of their worldview.  He’s never, ever a part of their life.  God simply is never in the room.  While I like the show, I have to be careful to think that through.  What’s probably closest to reality in that show is that no one in that show ever smiles very much.  They don’t seem to be very joyful or fulfilled.  Maybe only for a brief moment when they catch a bad guy.

I know there are some folks who would argue that we should withdraw from the culture in order to avoid that kind of thinking and living.  But the psalmist doesn’t say we can structure our lives in such a way that we never encounter those kinds of people, practices and ideas; that wasn’t possible in ancient Israel, in the era of the early church, and it’s certainly not possible in 21st century America.  What the psalmist is telling you and me is that if we want to find fulfillment and satisfaction in life, the first thing we have to do is to boundary the bad.  The second thing though, and this is even more important, is we need to grab the good.  Look what he says here:  Blessed is the one (blessed is the man…blessed is the woman)….who delights in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

The word that’s used here in this context for ‘law’ originally meant all of the Old Testament scripture, from Genesis up to Malachi.  But from the perspective of the New Testament, we would need to interpret it as ALL of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.  The psalmist is telling you and me that the blessed person—the person who finds success, the person who get fulfillment in life—is someone who takes this book—they LOVE this book, they READ this book, they STUDY and MEDITATE on this book.  In other words, the psalmist is saying that for the blessed person, God’s word and the study of God’s word and thinking about God’s word, is the foundation of their lives.  As the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16:  All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in right living so that the man and woman of God may be adequately equipped for every good work.

G.K. Chesterton was one of most articulate and thoughtful Christian writers in the first half of the 20th century.  On one occasion someone asked him, “If you were marooned on a desert island and could have only one book with you, what would you choose?”  Naturally, everyone thought that he would say the Bible, but he didn’t. Chesterton said that if he were marooned on a desert island the one book he would want is “Thomas’ Guide to Practical Ship Building”.  That makes sense, doesn’t it?  If we’re trapped on an island, we’d want a book that will help us get off the island. We don’t want to be entertained or just informed, we want a book that will show us how to be saved.

Friends, we have a fallen nature and we live in a fallen world, so we need a book that’s going to point us to the Savior, Jesus.  He’s the one who saves us.  We need a book then that tells us here’s how you want to live if you want fulfillment, if you want satisfaction, if you want some success in life. And that book’s the Bible.  If we delight in it, if we study it, and we meditate on it, over time it will change our lives because it points directly to our Savior, and shows how to live in a way that leads to satisfaction.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to make a couple of suggestions for us as we study the Scripture.  These are just suggestions, if they’re not helpful to you, you can disregard them.  Here’s what I’d like to suggest—when reading the Scriptures, first of all, do so at your best time. Some of us are morning people, some of us are evening people.  Some of us get our mojo from noon to one, whatever it might be.  Friends, I want to suggest that you find your best time of the day and take a little bit of time to read the Scripture during your best time.  I’m a morning person.  I need to read the Bible in the morning; if I try to read the Bible at night, I guarantee you I’m going to fall asleep, that’s not just a good time for me.  Find your best time.

Secondly, I’d like to suggest that as we read the Scriptures we go slower and we go deeper. I know some folks want to encourage us to read the whole Bible in a year and that works for some people.  Most of us, I’d like to suggest, are much better served by going slower and deeper.  I like the way 17th century writer Madame Guyon put it:  “If you read quickly it will benefit you little.  You will be like a bee that merely skims the surface of a flower.  Instead, in this new way of reading with prayer, you must become as the bee who penetrates into the depths of the flower.  You plunge deeply within to remove its deepest nectar.”

Friends, let’s pause here for a moment and let’s review.  In these first two verses the psalmist has argued that if we want to find fulfillment in life we need to boundary the bad and then grab the good.  He’s saying we need to guard against the influence of practical atheism and then build our lives on the Bible.  And yet, in all honesty, that approach strikes us—at least sometimes—as naïve at best and as untrue at worst.  Let’s be honest, we look around and see sports stars, music celebrities, hedge-fund managers and politicians, and they could give a rip about God.  They mock Jesus and yet they’re prospering like crazy.  On the other hand, there are thousands of our brothers and sisters around the world today who are suffering pain and persecution.  In fact, in your life right now, you may have a neighbor, or co-worker, or somebody you sit next to in school who wants nothing to do with God and yet they appear to be healthy, wealthy and happy.  And so, while we may not voice it in Churchworld, deep down we wonder if the psalmist was deluded or if he was living in some kind of spiritual bubble.

The reality is that sometimes God’s people do really suffer and the ungodly do prosper; you’ve seen that and so have I.  But over the long haul of life those results are almost always reversed and that’s why the psalmist tells us to build our lives on God’s Word.  Look what he says in verse 3:  That person (the person who builds their life on the Bible) is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.

The psalmist uses an agricultural metaphor to prove his point.  He says that the person who builds his or her life on Scripture will be like a tree planted by streams of water; it nourishes and refreshes their life.  He lived out in the Judean desert and it was completely dry there, so any kind of a stream of water was viewed as a source of life.  Any of us who live here in Denver realize that this is a high desert as well, so we love water.  You need water to nourish trees.  And sticking with the metaphor, you know that trees require lots of water and even with lots of water they always take TIME to grow.  And let’s remember that fruit trees—whether its oranges, peaches or apples—only bear fruit in their season.  Friends, the psalmist uses this picture to let us know that we will have a positive impact on our family, friends, and communities, and we will find fulfillment, success and satisfaction, but always, always, always takes time.

I think there’s another reason we tend to dismiss this kind of teaching, when it comes to the Scriptures, because we all live in a society with tons of technology and everything happens NOW!  Years ago, when I was in grad school, I worked part time for Dominos Pizza and that was when they promised 30-minute delivery. They even had an ad campaign that said, “We don’t sell pizza, we sell delivery!”  And if you’ve ever eaten Dominos pizza you know that’s true!  That was a long time ago.  Our society is far more fast-paced and impatient now than it was then.  Think about it, you order something from Amazon and it’s here in one day.  You go to Starbucks and it’s up for you in one minute.  You Google something and it’s…..NOW!

So, from the perspective of American culture, it’s hard for us to wait and see the Lord bring fruit into our lives, but my experience and observations over the years tells me that the Psalmist is right—it always takes time. One of the wisest, most productive people I ever met in my life is a woman in her late 80s in a senior care center.  She came from a hard background; never knew her mother who died when she was a little girl.  She was raised by her dad and uncle, in poverty.  She eventually climbed her way out and got her undergraduate degree and also a couple graduate degrees. She went into ministry and counseling.  She was one of the wisest people I’ve ever met. I asked her one time,  “How did you gain such wisdom?”  And she said, “I’ve been studying two things for over 40 years:  people and the Scripture, and when you study those two things for that long, you learn a lot.”

One of my mentors was raised in poverty.  His mom died when he was young. He tried to navigate life and it was challenging, but he eventually became known as a very great Bible scholar and preacher.  But along the way he had horrible charges against his character.  It was very wounding to him.  Before he died, just a couple years ago, he had literally blessed thousands and thousands and thousands of people through his ministry of teaching in the Scriptures.

Men and women like that are illustrations of what the psalmist describes here:  their leaf does not wither. That doesn’t mean that circumstances don’t affect them; they do—just like moving from summer to fall to winter affects the leaves on a tree.   Those leaves will fall off, but in the spring they always come back.  Those kind of men and women have built their lives on the Word of God and they’ve set up some guardrails against the bad influences.  There’s a sense of stability and satisfaction and peace in their lives because they know that the Lord is with them.

The psalmist goes on and says whatever they do prospers.  He’s NOT saying that if we just read the Bible we’ll eventually get rich. He’s not saying that at all.  What he’s saying is if we study the Scripture, and we think about the Scripture, and we meditate on the Scripture, and, by the grace of God, in time we will become the men and women He has called us to be.  Men and women who are filled with satisfaction, fulfilled with the life that God has called us to.

A while back I heard about man who was doing a road trip across the country.  He stopped in the middle of Kansas to stay with his friends overnight; his friends were farmers.   As they chatted over dinner, the visitor asked his farmer friends about their two sons, each of whom was serving in the U.S. Navy—one on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, the other on an intelligence gathering destroyer stationed in the South China Sea.  And the parents said both boys were doing really well and loved their lives in the Navy.  Upon hearing that, the man who was visiting asked this couple how it was possible to raise two sons in the middle of Kansas who now love serving on ships in the U.S. Navy, thousands of miles out at sea.  And the couple smiled, laughed and said, “We’ve asked ourselves that same question a thousand times.” Well, the next morning, at breakfast, the visitor said to his hosts, “You know last night when you said you weren’t sure how it was possible for you to raise two sons who left here to go to the Navy?  Well, I think I have a possible answer for you.”   He took them upstairs to the bedroom he had slept in, which years before had been bedroom of those two sons and which the parents pretty much had left as it was when the boys lived there.  As they walked in the room, the visitor pointed to the ceiling, which had this huge poster of a Navy battle group sailing at sea.  And then they walked in the bathroom, which had a poster from the movie “Top Gun” with an F-14 taking off from that aircraft carrier.  Almost the first thing those boys saw every morning and the last thing they saw before they went to sleep at night were the pictures of those Navy ships sailing out at sea and that F-14 launching off that carrier.  If every single day you see ships at sea, and think about ships at sea, and reflect on the ships at sea, over time, you may become a sailor.

If you think about the Scripture, and you meditate on the Scripture, and, by the grace of God, you try to live out the teachings of the Scripture, over a long period of time you might become a saint.  But that’s not true of those who go the other direction.  Over the long haul those who live a life of practical atheism end up in a bad place.  Look what the psalmist says here:  Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.  

Once again, the psalmist draws a picture from the agricultural setting he lived in. This is a reference to a threshing floor of a barn at harvest time.  In ancient Israel, the sheaves of grain were brought into the barn, laid on the floor, and a large wooden sled, like a big rolling pin, was rolled back and forth across the sheaves breaking open the grain.  Then the sheaves were tossed into the air by farmers with pitchforks and the grain fell to the floor.  And the wind caught the chaff of the remains of the empty stalks and blew them away like dust.  The psalmist wants you and me to know that people who leave God out the equation—who live lives of practical atheism—will become exactly like that. They were created to serve God, love Him, and help others, but they decided to serve themselves so over time, as life draws to a close, it becomes apparent that much of what they’ve done and accomplished is nothing more than a colossal waste of time and talent and treasure.  As the rock group Kansas sang years ago, “They’re just dust in the wind.”

Friends, you don’t have to be a drug addict, or a bum on Skid Row, or member of a drug cartel to waste your life. I’ve seen people, I’ve known people who were decent folks and had careers, raised families, and paid their bills, but God was never part of the equation.  When retirement came, they played golf, they played bridge, they played shuffleboard, and began to ask over and over, “Is this what life is all about?”  And the answer to that is NO, because someday judgment will come and all of us will be evaluated on whether or not we knew Jesus and what we did with what God entrusted to us, whether large or small. Those who lived lives of practical atheism will see their lives as chaff and that’s why they won’t, as the psalmist says here, stand in the judgment or in the assembly of the righteous, those who have been made righteous by Christ.

But those who have professed faith in Christ, trusted in His grace, and then built their lives on the Bible—they’re part that enormous crowd of righteous men, women, and children, who are happy, satisfied, and fulfilled. They’re visualized for us in the book of Revelation, and they will be filled with joy and wonder and satisfaction for all eternity.  See, if you want fulfillment NOW and you want heaven THEN, you need to trust the Incarnate Word of God, who is Jesus, and then build your life on the written Word of God, which is the Bible.

Now, neither Jesus nor the rest of Scripture ever promise that we’ll have an easy path.  They both tell us that our Heavenly Father will provide His Providential Protection as we build our lives on that foundation.  We see that in Psalm 1:6 —  For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction. The psalmist drives home the point he’s been making through this entire Psalm: there are two roads in life, two paths people take which over time lead to two very different destinations.  One road is built on the spiritual and moral independence of people who foolishly leave God out of the equation because think they’re the masters of their own fate, the captains of their ship, the shapers of their own destiny, but that’s a dead end road leads to destruction.  Jesus said the same thing.  But the other road is built on the love of Christ.  He’s the one who makes us righteous.  And it’s built on trying to live by His grace according to the truth of His Word.  The psalmist says if we do that the Lord, in His mercy, will watch over us who choose that path.  He will give us fulfillment and over time He will change us into the people that He’s called us to be.

Friends, I don’t know where you’re at today in terms of a personal relationship with Christ.  I don’t know where you’re at in terms of your own personal commitment to building your life on His Word, but I do know it’s never too late to move those directions. Today might be the day that you give your heart to Jesus and you submit to Jesus and you surrender everything to Jesus.  Or maybe, maybe, maybe you’ve known the Lord a long time and today the Holy Spirit is whispering to you, “Build your life on My Word, study My Word, commit yourself to becoming a meditator on My Word.”  Friends, if we do that, over time, Christ will be at work in our lives and we will be blessed!

Christian author and speaker Tony Campolo told about a friend of his who pastored a small church in downtown New York City back in the 1980s. The AIDS crisis had broken out and one day two young gay men showed up at this man’s church and asked him to lead a memorial service for a friend of theirs who had just died of AIDS.  So, they planned the service, which they wanted held at the graveside.  It was to have a couple of songs and a short homily and a prayer by the pastor.  When the day came there were about 25 gay men and some family members who attended.  After the service, almost everyone was crying, so the pastor asked, “Is there anything I can do to help you?”  One of the men said, “When I was little my mom took me to church and they always read Psalm 23.  Would you read that please?”  So he did.  After that another man said, “I know there’s a saying somewhere in the Bible about ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God.’ Would you read that?” So, the pastor read Romans 8:28-32.  And for the next half-hour the pastor read Scripture after Scripture after Scripture to them.  A few days later those two men showed up again at the pastor’s door and said they wanted to hear more about Jesus and His Word, so he started to meet with them every week to study the Scriptures.  Eventually they gave their lives to Jesus and, over time, they started to align their lives with His Word.  Friends, if you want fulfillment now and heaven then, we need to do the exact same thing those two men did. We need to give our lives to Jesus, and then we need to make a full heartfelt commitment to building our lives on His Word.

We’ve looked at the Word of God, now we’re going to participate in the Table of God.  Let me pray for us as we prepare ourselves to do that.  Holy Spirit, you know where we’re all at today; may you reach deep, deep, deep down into our hearts and our lives.  Draw us close to you because you love us so much.  Help us to understand and know and experience that.  We pray that in Jesus’s name.  Amen.