Don’t Get Blown Away (Psalm 1)

view out TSF windowI have some wonderful distractions that my ADD eyes can see out my office window. Looking across the fields I can see Martin’s Elevator, watch trains go by on the CSX line, and even see how the traffic is moving on Interstate 81.

And I can also check out the weather to see if my new #1 enemy is at work. That is the wind. There are few bushes in the foreground and a maple tree beyond the side parking lot. They give me a sense of the wind movement here on the knoll where the church sits – one of the windiest places anywhere. Actually the church is on some of the highest ground locally, which is not immediately obvious at first glance.

I say the wind is my enemy now because of all of the cycling miles that I do. Even the cold only stops me once it goes under about 40 degrees. The wind is the real problem that makes it a rough experience in any temperature.

And in Psalm 1 that we have been looking at this week, the wind represents trials and troubles and judgment.

Psalm 1:4 – Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Here we see the rooted life described in contrastive terms, comparing the strength of those rooted in righteousness like a tree with a strong foundation to the wicked who are like the chaff – all that extra stuff around the grain at the time of harvest.

While sitting in my office last week, I was able to look out my window at the wheat fields being harvested. I should have taken a picture at that time, as it was like a total dust storm with the chaff blowing away. Last year at the season of the harvest of this field (which we actually own and rent to the folks at Martin’s) I was biking back to the church from Cearfoss. And you could see it almost a mile away, it looked like a dark storm on the horizon.

Now, a week later, where is the grain that was harvested? It is saved in silos to be used. We can find it. But where is the chaff? It is gone … blown away … it cannot be found and is not wanted to be found.

These final verses look beyond even this life to the bigger picture of both this life and the next. There is a way of living that gives success in each, and a way of living that is the pathway to destruction.

The godly man’s roots are in God’s Word and connected to truth; the ungodly are rooted in what looks permanent – materialism and man’s philosophy – but proves to be weak in the end at the day of judgment.

The writer (likely David) brings back some of the verbs and nouns from the beginning, where the righteous stands, walks, sits…

Here, the wicked …

does not stand in the judgment. The righteous stands, though not in their own righteousness but rather in that of the Righteous One.

will not be seated in the assembly of the righteous. They don’t have a seat with God at the end of it all. So why would you want to regularly hang out with someone who doesn’t even have a ticket (other than to encourage them to receive the free ticket that is available for them)?

do not walk in the way of the righteous – a way that God oversees, guides and protects. They have their own way, described as a path to destruction. Jesus picked up this very theme of the two ways – of one that seems right to a man, while encouraging rather to choose the narrow path that leads to life.

So, be rooted!  Don’t get blown away by the wind.

There is a tendency I notice in ministry with every sermon, and that is to think or to say, “This today – this topic – this is the answer to it all.” Well, this Psalm 1 topic of rootedness is pretty close to being just that. There is a reason it is Psalm #1 and placed at the beginning of the Psalter, for it gives us the macro categories of life and of timeless truth. It’s not actually that complicated.

Where are Your Roots? (Psalm 1)

river treesAs we continue through the first of the Psalms, we have the seen the rooted life described in both negative and positive terms. Now we see it described pictorially, and it stands as the key verse to the Psalm.

Psalm 1:3 – That person 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.

Much of the Holy Land is rather arid. The picture of vast regions of stone with green swaths through which streams travelled, dotted with isolated trees, would be a common one.

And though we live in an area where it (this year) seems to rain every day whether it really needs to or not, it is not always that way. And we know as well that trees growing alongside streams have an easier time, especially in drought conditions. Think about the beautiful views we see of stately trees growing along the Potomac, the Antietam or the Conococheague.

The picture is one of constant nourishment and steady health. This sort of tree is not dependent upon intermittent showers, and is therefore not susceptible to dry times. The roots do not need to stay close to the surface, but are able to go deeply into the soil, providing a better foundation for the tree in perilous times – when the winds of adversity come.

trees knocked down

This second tree pictured is from west of Hancock on a mountain several hundred feet above the surface of the Potomac River.  Note how minimal is the roots system for the size of the tree. It could not withstand the storm, nor did quite a number of others nearby. They look like dominoes knocked over in a recent storm that spawned tornadoes.

Beyond simply standing and looking good, the tree by the water produces fruit at the right time, in season. It is regular and dependable.

The picture is a beautiful one and as obvious for application as any in Scripture. Is your life, your roots, deeply embedded in the Scriptures, or do you depend upon occasional “showers of blessing” for your spiritual sustenance? If you are depending only upon the occasional sermon for biblical enrichment, you are going to have your “leaves” wither and your “roots” be insufficient foundations for the inevitable sorrows of life.

Are you able to be described like the tree by the water in terms of your life and service to others?  If not, it may be that an examination of the roots is in order more than a reflection upon the nature of the storm systems.

And beyond standing alone, there is greater strength in standing together. What is better: a tree by itself (even well-rooted) or a tree growing near others around it? With others trees and roots systems intertwined, there is mutual support. And so it is in the body of Christ and your regular connection to it. If you do not connect deeply in the church family, you are essentially being an independent tree – be it in a field or along a stream.

So how are your roots?

Delighting in Meditating (Psalm 1)

We probably too much have a picture of meditating as sitting on the floor with legs cross and fingers curled (for some reason I cannot imagine) in a sort of “OK” sign. Weird. I think this is called the “lotus position.” At this stage of life, I also think I’m physiologically disqualified from that particular contortion.

But you don’t need to do something so “Eastern mystical” to be in a position of meditation. You simply need to have your spiritual roots sunk into the Word of God on a regular basis.

Today we look at the second of four descriptions of the truly rooted person, noting from Psalm 1:2 the positive description of a person who is well-resourced by the Scriptures …

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

Do you delight in meditating on God’s Word?  You find time for what you delight in and what you know you truly need. At some points of my life, I’ve delighted in the good benefit of an exercise program, but at other times I have not valued it highly enough. In both instances I have reaped the consequent gains and losses.

Speaking of both exercise and meditation, these have really come together for me over the past two years. As you hear me talk about cycling a lot, when I want to really think about things without the distraction of getting run over by a truck, I’ll go ride on a trail of some sort. And I have come off such rides with fully thought-out plans of action for various topics.

Your brain tends to meditate upon that which it has most recently been fed. The illustration I shared in the sermon Sunday about this relates to the classic book “Gone With the Wind.” I saw this past week that it was published 80 years ago. I read that in high school and have seen the movie a long time ago and remember parts of it. But if I re-read that book today, over the next week or two, when seeing certain sights, they would trigger something from my reading … like a large old mansion house, or an antique carriage, or a long formal dress, or any mention of the word “Scarlett” or “Rhett”.  Even the reason that this came to my mind illustratively is because it was already in my mind from the past week.

So also, if your mind is regularly being filled with Scripture – even reading a passage for the 50th time – it will be there when you see something that triggers your memory of it.  AND, it will be there for you in the time of crisis.

Recalling the story I opened with in the sermon and in yesterday’s devotional, the father of the girl said to me in the first moments after the incident, “You know, it hits me right now, you don’t have time to get ready for something like this, you either are ready or not.”

A few horrible and unexpected events are going to happen in all of our lives. One of them is rather permanent. The time to be ready is now.

Beyond that, for daily life, in the same way that we physically are what we eat – what we choose to nourish ourselves with, good or bad – we are spiritually what we feed upon for our thinking / our minds. What we think determines what we are and what we do and how we evaluate and live all of life. God designed us this way, and He has given us a resource to guide us into a life of success as we live in covenant relationship with him.

Consider this great passage given to Joshua as he took over leading the nation of Israel after the death of Moses …

7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

So how is your life of meditation? It doesn’t need to always be in a planned and quiet place. But you need to have a full tank of Scriptural resources to draw upon at the exact time it is needed. Most of the time the airbag in your dashboard is not very practical, though the day may come when you really appreciate that it is there as a resource in a moment of crisis. You get the idea.

The Rooted Life – There’s Just No Better Way to Go! (Psalm 1)

It is not our necessary intent each week to just give a review of the sermon as a sort of transcript of what was preached, though that would not be worthless, especially in the summer months when many are travelling. (And I gave you yesterday off because of the holiday). We regularly write here a mix of ideas verbally shared along with additional thoughts.

But today I will begin with the opening illustration from Sunday, since many people afterward asked about a detail that I failed to include in the end of the story (as it was not related to my main idea, but the omission left people hanging).

It was 34 years ago, the actual date being June 13, 1982. Having just graduated from Dallas Seminary, I was still working as the minister of music in a church in Dallas. Our morning services had ended and probably about 80-90% of the people had already gone home. My oldest son Nathan was a two-month old baby, and I had seen Diana hand him to one of the sweet teenage girls in our church – who wanted to hold him.

I went around the corner and down the hall toward my church office to gather my things, when there was a sudden, horrible crashing sound of broken glass … then people screaming and running toward the area around the corner of the hallway from which I had been only a moment ago.

Before I could also run to see what was happening, someone yelled to me as I was standing in the office doorway near the only phones in the building, to call 911 and get an ambulance – saying that a car had crashed into the church and hit Jane (the girl who I had just seen holding Nathan). Hesitating a second due to that thought, I collected myself and made the call … then going down the hall to the scene.

A car went out of control when pulling up to the door, hitting two of our teen girls exiting the church, shoving them both back through the double glass doors. One of them, however, had her leg pinned against the brick doorframe. Both were quite bloody from the sheets of glass that had fallen on them, and at the scene, things looked very bad for Jane in particular.

The ambulance took her to the hospital, and I spent some moments with her father – one of our best church servants and leaders – helping him gather things and get ready to go to the hospital as well. He was amazingly calm in the storm. As I was a young man then just beginning in ministry, this fellow who was about 12-15 years older had been very kind and encouraging to me personally. And he took several moments even then to reflect upon Scriptural truths that were sustaining him in the crisis, as he did throughout the day at the hospital.

The experience was a rude introduction to “official” ministry. That evening was the occasion of my ordination by the church into the gospel ministry. The theme of the day – both for the family and for the ordination – was that we do not know what a day may bring or what calamity may come into our lives or the lives of others close to us, or in our flock as shepherds. But in any event, we need to be rooted in the Lord and in his Word for the strength and resource to meet the challenge.

(As an additional note – the girl survived with only some minimal permanent damage to her ankle. And the driver of the car was the teenage son of the Senior Pastor of the church. Several years later, in the course of time and human affairs, he married the girl he almost killed!)

(And here is the additional note that I failed to include: the girl held Nathan briefly before handing him back to Diana and then immediately walking out the door. There was some flying glass around them, but the door frame stopped the car.)

In dozens and dozens of situations of church ministry over the intervening years – including even this past week, I have visited with people in the most dire and heart-breaking of situations – at the very scenes of tragedy and death and pain and loss – and seen an unnatural strength that undergirds people of faith and trust.

However, in more than a few other circumstances and situations, I have seen the pain overwhelm people – short-term and long-term – as others are unable to endure and move on from difficulties. Sometimes it results in a sort of depression, others with anger – perhaps even at God for not doing enough. Some others react with a sort of escapism and detachment, disappearing from connection with God and his people in the church family.

What makes the difference? Those with deep roots into God’s Word and interconnection with God’s people find their way through tragedy and pain over time through the strength and nourishment their roots provide. Those who do not make it cleanly to the other side demonstrate that the few roots they had were very shallow and insufficient.

In this series we are asking you to consider your own personal roots, and looking beyond that to how you can help others be rooted and nourished (watered) in the truth.

This week we look at one of the great passages that talk about roots – Psalm 1. We all want success in life, or stated in the words of this week’s title, a “Yield.”  But that can only come if we stay rooted, even through the winds and trials of life.

The Psalm begins by talking about the blessed life … “Blessed in the one…”  This term is one that speaks of a concept of happiness, related to contentment and peacefulness – a quiet pleasure that comes from deep perspective and satisfaction.

In the past I have preached on this sermon as describing the “truly happy person.”  But this week, let us in the theme of this series make the subject of this Psalm be called “the truly rooted person.”  We are describing the fruit, the yield, of a rooted life.

We will see these six verses describe the rooted person in four ways …

  • In negative terms (1)
  • In positive terms (2)
  • In pictorial terms (3)
  • In contrastive terms (4-6)

The rooted life described in negative terms … verse 1 …

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night

Let’s break down the first verse with these three categories …

3 Verbs… 3 Nouns … 3 People …
Walk Counsel (in step) Wicked
Stand Way Sinners
Sit Company (seat) Mockers (scoffers)

Verbs … There is an increasing involvement and commitment, from walking in a certain place to sitting down in a specific place.

Nouns … counsel = thinking / way = behaving / seat = belonging (note the progression).

People … wicked = no room for God / sinner = openly break God’s law / scoffer = mocker of God’s word and people.

So there is the progression from interest, to doing, to being fully at home in the fellowship of those who ridicule God.

A drift away from God and truth is not something that happens immediately, but is progressive over time. And a self-examination from time to time is a healthy discipline.

In any event, people who are away from God, be it from drifting or perhaps because they never really were connected, are simply not able to be truly blessed with a contented happiness even in the inevitable sorrows of life.

So, how are your roots? Where are your roots? Like the car commercial from that dealership in Frederick says about the “Fitz-Way” … there’s just no better way to go. That’s true of faith and life; there is no successful way other than being rooted in the Lord.

How to be Truly Happy – Psalm 1

Everyone wants to be happy. I’m not sure the Bible guarantees that happiness is to be the common experience of the Lord’s people, as certain measures of sadness are inevitable in a sad and sinful world.

There are some other words that more appropriately describe the gift or promised blessings of God for his people who trust him. The first that comes to mind is “contented” – a peaceful state of rest and confidence in the Father through all things.

So, we need to find the happy condition of a sufficient, trusting state of contentment by steady faith in the Lord’s care of us. But how do we get there? What does this happy person look like?

Here are four descriptions …

Negatively Stated – There is a certain way the happy person does not behave. Look at verse one and especially follow the verbs …

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,

Notice how the verbs show a growing trend of comfort with the pathways of those who don’t follow God – from walking, to standing, to sitting. We are much affected by whom we choose to spend our time. Even as we need friendship relationships with people who don’t know the Lord, toward the goal of bringing them to Christ, our bulk of energy and commitment needs to be with God’s people.

Positively Stated – So the flip side is to describe what a contended person does do to get to this blessed state…

but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

Rather than spending his down time hanging out with the scoffing element and being negatively impacted by useless values and attitudes, the happy person is steadily and frequently delighting and meditating on God’s Word. This does not mean that all free time is given over to it, but it means that there is a pattern and plan to learn and grow. As well, there is a steady commitment to look for God and truth in all the situations of life. This takes some commitment, work, and time; it does not come as an automatic add-on with the membership card and welcome envelope.

Illustratively Stated – The writer gives us one of the great pictures in all of Scripture to help us understand how a peaceful person maintains his or her faith …

That person 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.

I think of this Psalm every time I ride Maryland Route 66 (Mapleville Road) as it goes north from the interchange at I70 and on up to Smithsburg. The route is through the valley of Beaver Creek. All along that stream are gigantic trees, many of them sycamores. They obviously thrive because it is readily apparent that their roots are in the water and a steady supply of moisture. And not far away, there are trees in the middle of fields and on hillsides. These trees are generally not so large or healthy, as their nourishment has to come from the storms which come and go with irregular patterns. The fruitful tree by the stream is the picture of success.

Stated as a Contrast – Once more, the writer gives an opposite picture, again from the arena of agriculture …

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. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Growing up next to my grandfather’s gristmill, it was always obvious which days the farmers brought in their grain crops to be sold and stored in his large bins. There was a shaking process of metal grates moving in opposite directions with the kernels falling through hole after hole, while the surrounding worthless chaff materials were blow out of the mill by fans – where the wind would catch this cloud of dust and blow it away from the building. It looked as if the mill was caught in a fire cloud of dust.

So the wicked are not being fruitful, they have no roots into anything that will last for eternity, and sadly their end is destruction. If you are following Christ, don’t be stupid and be like that!

Final Thought – It is again evident why we chose this passage as illustrative of our second theme – the centrality of knowing God’s Word. So are you prospering with contentment? What kind of tree are you? Fruitful? Are your roots into a stream of Scripture other than dependence upon the Sunday morning teaching and classes? Though we have many people bearing fruit on large trees by the streams of a faithful life, too many at TSF don’t choose to appropriate the vast array of resources we present. Neither do they take initiative on other days of the week to have their roots in the right place.

It is the leadership’s vision to see a church family that is truly hungry for and dependent upon the Scriptures, for it is the only way to succeed … to find happy contentment.