Wednesday, September 16, 2015

One more devotional in Psalm 119

We usually study the Bible at Providence Church. Right now we're studying about the Bible. While doing so on Sundays, on the weekdays we're devotionally studying the longest chapter of the Bible, Psalm 119. It, too, is about the Bible

Today’s stanza, perhaps more than any other in this longest of the Psalms, shows the great stress the psalmist is feeling. Reading the first half of the first six verses makes this clear. 

145With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord!
146I call to you; save me,
147I rise before dawn and cry for help;
148My eyes are awake before the watches of the night,
149Hear my voice according to your steadfast love;
150They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose;

The psalmist sounds desperate! He is being hounded by people who want to hurt him. He is pleading with God to hear his cries and save him. He can’t sleep at night. His is a vivid description of situations that many of us have faced. 

Have you ever had people at your workplace try to ruin you? Have you ever been falsely accused? Have you had a boss who made you the scapegoat? Have you been the subject of a frivolous lawsuit, or a malicious rumor, or a cruel joke? Then you, no doubt, can relate to the psalmist. I can definitely relate. 

His response? 

145…I will keep your statutes.
146…that I may observe your testimonies.
147…I hope in your words.
148…that I may meditate on your promise.

He’s determined to hold firmly to God’s word, no matter what. And he is convinced that this trial is only going to give him an opportunity to know God through his word even more.

149…O Lord, according to your justice give me life.

Because he knows God’s word, he knows God’s character. God is just. He will have the final say.

But there is one more thing he knows. And it is something that we all learn when we face trials while clinging to God’s word. He is close. Listen to how the psalmist ends this otherwise intense stanza:

151But you are near, O Lord,
    and all your commandments are true.
152Long have I known from your testimonies
    that you have founded them forever.

Wow! That is a great truth. No matter how hard life gets—no matter how unfairly or cruelly we might be treated—God is near. We sense his nearness most when we hear his voice. We hear his voice when we read his word.

For Christians, hardships and injustice do not make us victims. They bring us closer to to our God who loves us. They make us better.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Another Psalm 119 Devotional

Psalm 119:105-112 (Nun)
This stanza of Psalm 119 begins with verse 105:

105Your word is a lamp to my feet
    and a light to my path.

It’s probably the most familiar verse in this, the longest of the Psalms. Songs have been written that quote that verse as the primary line. One in particular came out in the 1980s that was written by Michael W. Smith and performed by Amy Grant. It was sung by a generation of Christians in worship:

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.
Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

Verse 1: 
When I feel afraid, 
And think I've lost my way 
Still, you're there right beside me 
Nothing will I fearAs long as you are near; 
Please be near me to the end.


Verse 2:
I will not forget 
Your love for me and yet, 
My heart forever is wandering. 
Jesus be my guide, 
And hold me to your side, 
And I will love you to the end.

It’s amazing that a line of a Psalm written 3000 years ago can still resonate so profoundly in our hearts today. It’s because it is SO true. When I read and know God’s word, I am not stumbling in the darkness. I know there is meaning to this path I’m on. I see where I’m going. No matter what the circumstances, God gives me his light and confidence that it’s all in his plan. It’s going to be ok.

This truth was practically made known to me (as it probably was to you) when I was a new believer. When I started developing the discipline of having a quiet time and began memorizing Scripture, the darkness and fog that caused me so much fear and stress lifted regarding my life’s purpose and future. Almost suddenly, there was clarity and light! I remember thinking, “Why didn’t I see this a long time ago?” Because God’s word makes things clear.

I think the psalmist realized the same thing. You can see it in the verses following that most famous verse:

106I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
    to keep your righteous rules.
107I am severely afflicted;
    give me life, O Lord, according to your word!
108Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord,
    and teach me your rules.
109I hold my life in my hand continually,
    but I do not forget your law.
110The wicked have laid a snare for me,
    but I do not stray from your precepts.

No matter what life throws at us, the psalmist knows that God’s word puts everything in context, gives everything meaning, and is more valuable than anything. 

111Your testimonies are my heritage forever,
    for they are the joy of my heart.
112I incline my heart to perform your statutes
    forever, to the end.

God, give us the same determination to make your word our joy and light.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Quick Trip to Flower Gap

Dara had an idea. "Let's leave after church and go backpacking overnight for Labor Day." She called Drew who is always wanting an excuse to leave Georgia to get a dose of God's country (the mountains). So we packed our backpacks in the Wagoneer and left after church with the dogs for the Shining Rock Wilderness in North Carolina.
By the time we got there, the sun was near the horizon. Our goal was to make it to Flower Gap and set up camp before dark. If one is daring enough, one can attempt to navigate the extremely rough 4x4 trail (once a silver mine rail spur) to bypass Black Balsam Knob and Tennant Mountain.
Yep. You guessed it. We took the Wagoneer on the trail. The good news is it performed perfectly climbing rocks and forging creeks (worn street tires and all!). This is quite a feat. Even trail rigs struggle with parts of this two- or three-mile trail. Spotters are required frequently, and damage is likely. The trail is so narrow, there are only two or three spots where you can possibly turn around—in fact, the laurel, blueberry bushes, and other brush scrape both sides of the vehicle more often than not. Thankfully, the only damage that occurred was that I broke a weld that holds my tailpipe and muffler, and now it rattles (I need a new muffler anyway). That's it! If you knew what kind of obstacles we faced, you would not believe it would make it at all, let alone finish it unscathed! I'll probably not do that again!
There were some others who braved the 4x4 trail, true rednecks (I say with all affection) who were much more prepared, with their lifted old beater 4x4 Blazers, Jeeps, etc. who made it to Ivestor Gap where they set up Tarp City. There were a couple of vehicles that were a bit newer, and the sight of the fenders and rocker panels of those vehicles struck fear in my heart! They were scratched, dented, and beaten to death! It's a minor miracle I got out of there with only a bit of tailpipe damage. Thanks, Drew, for a great job spotting and plotting my route (and thank God for his grace)!

I must admit, it was fun.

We finally parked the Wag and started hiking. I should say we started "hoofing it" because we had to walk really fast in order to beat the sun which was quickly setting.
We got to Flower Gap on time...but there were three or four groups of college students that beat us there. Not cool. The secret of Flower Gap is no longer...well...secret. Like Max Patch and several other great places that I have gone to all my life and could count on being alone all day, the word is out. I will reserve comment on the college students we saw there, except to say that some were stocked up on pot, some had their music playing, and several left trash laying around. You can probably get the rest. Stinks. Literally. But I'm sounding like an old man.

The campsite in a hemlock grove. Sparky
is wiped out! Mo is still ready to go.
The fact that we were now not going to be camping at Flower Gap meant we needed to really hoof it to find another place in which we could set up camp. We ended up going to Shining Rock Gap, another mile or so past Flower Gap. Along the way we saw several other college students with their ENOs or tents set up. After much searching, with darkness closing in, Drew found a suitable place under some huge hemlock trees. There was a little slope so it really wasn't an optimum place to set up tents, but it was the best we could find, and it worked ok.

Sparky, Mo, & Drew while supper is being prepared.
It was actually cold that night! After eating a dinner of tuna pitas, Jambalaya, and sausage, we went to bed. Dara, Mo, and I in one tent; Sparky and Drew in the other. I slept like a rock.
A spider's web with morning dew-drops
over our tents.

The next morning we ate oatmeal, packed up and headed back toward the Wagoneer through Flower Gap. Awesome. We ate blueberries and hung out there with the college students (some of whom had organized themselves into a 6-person massage line to rub each other down. Just weird. I'll probably not go back there on a Labor Day weekend). I've been coming to this area for around 25 years and haven't ever seen this many people. Not even close. I've been here before and not seen a single person for days. The secret is out. I'm a little saddened about it—particularly about people who are not considerate of nature, laws, and other people. But I'm monologuing again. There were some great people we met on the trail, including some nice college students.

Blueberries were still abundant at Flower Gap. The elevation is approximately 5800 feet there. Nearby Black Balsam Knob is 6214 feet and there are even more blueberries there in places.

After hanging out at Flower Gap and getting our fill of blueberries, we headed back. Drew had to get back to Berry (College). It was a beautiful day. Awesome scenes all around as we walked.

This is Dara at Ivestor Gap. 

Drew reminded us that there was an apple tree on the side of the trail when we were hiking in, but in our haste to beat the fleeting daylight, we missed it somehow. We found it on the way out and the apples were great. I think I could survive on just the food the Appalachians provide for those who look! 

 At Ivestor Gap, we realized that the rednecks (I say with all respect) were firing up their 4x4s to head out together. I was hoping to be in front of them so that we could get out in time not to stress Drew, AND because I was a little afraid that something could happen to my Wag (and that's when you really need rednecks, who are usually quite willing to lend a helping hand). So we had to hoof it again and stayed with the Jeepers (not an easy task) until we got back to the trusty Wag. No worries, it started and we followed the rednecks out. I must say, the Wagoneer is an impressive vehicle. What else can you take downtown to a symphony concert, and take to the mountains four-wheeling and be right at home at both?! The rednecks were impressed, too! It seems everybody loves the Wagoneer.

Sidebar: You must understand, rednecks don't consider that label a pejorative! Especially when the one using it is a redneck (me, as my kids frequently remind me. But I'm the good kind! There are two kinds, you know! Maybe that'll be another post.)!

Scenes along the hike. Click on them to see them larger.

Wagoneers are beautiful anyway, but never so much as they are after an adventure! After loading up the Wag, we followed our new friends out (they really were! They honked and waved at us when we parted ways down the road!). 
After a beautiful ride down the mountain to the hamlet of Bethel, we ate at Jukebox Junction, our favorite sit-down burgers-and-shakes place! We've been coming to this restaurant since 1999.  

What a great, quick adventure with two fantastic people (who happen to be my kids). I'm so thankful. God was everywhere one might care to look—in the beauty of creation all around us, in the conversations on the trail, and even in the small good things (pets, food, ride, people we met) along the way—reminding me of his grace and goodness. It was exactly what I needed!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Devotional from Psalm 119:65-72

In continuing our devotional walk through the longest chapter in the Bible, it was my turn again to write thoughts in response to the following stanza:

65You have dealt well with your servant,
    O Lord, according to your word.
66Teach me good judgment and knowledge,
    for I believe in your commandments.
67Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I keep your word.
68You are good and do good;
    teach me your statutes.
69The insolent smear me with lies,
    but with my whole heart I keep your precepts;
70their heart is unfeeling like fat,
    but I delight in your law.
71It is good for me that I was afflicted,
    that I might learn your statutes.
72The law of your mouth is better to me
    than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

The first verse that jumped out to me when I read today’s stanza of Psalm 119 (vv. 65-72), is the last one:

72The law of your mouth is better to me
    than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

It reminds me of Psalm 19:10 that tells us that God’s words are to be desired more than much fine gold and are sweeter than honey. Here the psalmist doesn’t suggest that they should be desired, here he says that he actually considers God’s word to be better than thousands of gold and silver pieces. 

The Bible is better than money?

As I think about that, I wonder if I really feel that way. 

Although it is hard to know the worth of a single “gold piece” when Psalm 119 was written in today’s dollars, a solid-gold coin can be worth $500-2500. Just think what “thousands” of them would be worth! We’re talking at least $1 million!

Hmmm. Think of what you could do with that kind of money. Pay off your house, buy another house…or two, cars, vacations…or manage it well and you could be set for life! Early retirement! Or (if I want to think more spiritually) if God gave me that kind of wealth, I could bless so many people. I could help our church accomplish her mission. I could do so much!!

I can start day-dreaming about this pretty easily. Can you? Have you?

But the psalmist says that God’s word is better.

In the preceding verses of this stanza, he explains why: 

God deals well with me (v. 65).
He teaches me good judgment and knowledge (v. 66).
He keeps me from going astray (v. 67).
He shows me his goodness and does good to me (v. 68).
And even when people treat me wrongly, I understand the good in it and grow (v. 69-71).

All this happens when I believe, keep, delight in, and learn from God’s word.

I think I understand now. These are things that money really can’t buy. Things much more valuable.