Staying in Step

When I was a growing up one of our family traditions was to vacation in South Lake Tahoe in the Summer. We would stay for a week or or two in a small two bedroom house that my parents would rent from a friend.

During our stay one of our favorite activities was to visit the beach. The beaches on South Shore at Lake Tahoe are beautiful, the coarse tan colored granite sand is warm and doesn’t blow in your eyes, and there are plenty of places for a kid to run and have fun.

The shoreline itself has a very gradual drop off which allowed us kids to wade and play with our inner-tubes and float toys in relative safety. Given it was a lake, we were also absent strong currents and large waves. Of course my parents always kept a watchful eye on us and didn’t allow us to wade out further than we could stand.

The snow pack fed water itself is cold and crystal clear. It remains cold even on the hottest of Summer days.

As a kid I remember that it was a process to initially get into the water and get comfortable with the cold.The warm sand would feel so nice and toasty on our feet and taking that first step in the water was a real eye opener. But we gradually would wade in, and and the longer we remained in the water the more we grew accustomed to its very cold nature. Soon we would find ourselves swimming, splashing, and snorkeling looking for whatever would catch our eye, completely oblivious to the cold water and the potential dangers of hypothermia.

Thankfully my parents recognized the importance for us to get out of the water and warm up periodically. Usually after about thirty minutes or so they would call us out of the water and have us sit on our beach towels in the warm sand and get warmed up again.

At times we would practically be blue and freezing and yet we would insist through our chattering teeth that we weren’t cold and “could we pleeeessse stay in the water a little bit longer? “

Like my parents, my Heavenly Father loves me and wants the very best for my life. He wants me to live my life in a way that will maximize my relationship with him and allow me to receive His many blessings and gifts. His Word is our guide and helps us to discern how to make wise choices and how to avoid poor or even dangerous choices in our lives.

I was thinking the other day about how easy it is to gradually fall into ways of thinking and living that God desires to protect us from. Thankfully, God has provided us with direction and guidelines in the scriptures for how we as believers should live out our lives in a way that is consistent with God’s nature while promoting health and well being.

In the end, life is a balancing act; on the one hand we are to live in this world and engage authentically as believers, but at the same time we must guard our spirit to live out our lives in ways that are pleasing to God.

The following passage from the Psalms caught my eye because it not only illustrated so well the ease by which we can get out of step with God, but it also prescribed the means by which we can stay in step with God and be sensitive to His direction in our everyday lives.

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2 ESV)

If we look carefully at this passage we can see a progression that the Psalmist is attempting to warn us about. In our pluralistic culture today, it’s easy to shift from viewing life through the lens of God to viewing life from the lens of those around us who may not even know or value God.

As we read this passage from the Psalms observe the progression of movement away from God as three steps:

1. “counsel of the wicked”
2. “stands in the way of sinners”
3. “sits in the seat of scoffers”

Lets take a look a the progression of each one of these steps.

“Counsel of the wicked”

Here the term “wicked” speaks directly to those that are ungodly. In other words those that either don’t know God or are actively opposed to God.

We are constantly bombarded with counsel from those who have no place for God in their lives. We receive such counsel through personal conversations with non-believers, magazines, social media, email, television shows, movies, news channels, schools and universities, and even well meaning but misguided or ignorant fellow believers.

How many of us have had the experience of receiving advice or accepting a perspective on a topic without having taken the time in our busy lives to test the validity of the idea being shared with us.

Many pop cultural ideas are simply caught and brought without a second thought. They seem to make sense of the surface, they fit our cultural norms and are politically correct. But perhaps they’re really not what they seem if we dig a bit further.

It’s amazing how group think can give validity to an idea, and once it gets going it takes on a life of its own. No one stops to think and say “hey…does this really make sense?”

To put this in real down to earth practical terms let me share with you the following true story.

I had an acquaintance of mine that was very well educated, a believer and a real all around nice guy. But he had one weakness…he loved the idea of getting rich quick and making a fast buck.

Some years ago he invested money in a financial organization that was making consistently above average returns. These were substantial returns, one that common sense should have sounded on as being suspicions.

But a combination of relying upon himself, pride, and failing to take a moment and really seek out God on the wisdom of this investment, all came back to haunt him a couple of years later when the investment went belly up. He lost most of his life savings. It turned out the investment was a classic Ponzi scheme.

By the way, none of us are immune to such things, that’s why it is so important to stick close to the Lord. We must be constantly alert and pay close attention to ideas and who they come from. Lets face it, many people in this world do not know the Lord, and in fact, many actively oppose God whenever they have an opportunity to do so. It’s really up to us as believers to take that extra step and seek out God’s wisdom.

Don’t just accept an idea or a proposal as true, no matter how popular the belief in this idea might be without first slowing down, praying about it, and asking God to show you if the idea or proposal makes good sense.

If you think this is a new issue, think again. There was a was a time in our world history where people universally believed that the Earth was flat and that if one sailed long enough they would simply sail off the end and fall into oblivion.

Popularity or social acceptance of an idea does not make and idea true. It’s got to be backed up by something. Ask the Lord to reveal to you through his word, through the Holy Spirit, and through the counsel of Godly men and women if an idea should be embraced as true.

“stands in the way of sinners”

The word “way” might be better translated from the Hebrew as “in the manner of” or “to be like” something or someone in our actions.

At this point the Psalmist moves us a little deeper into the water that takes us further from God.

It’s one thing to listen and act on advice that is in opposition to God, but yet another to adopt a way of life or follow a life pattern of someone other than our Lord Jesus.

I have always found it interesting that there are times I will encounter a person who claims to have a personal relationship with Jesus, but when I see their life choices, it’s clear that they’re not modeling them after the things that God desires for his children.

In fact I have met a number of people for which I would never have known they attended church or had any affiliation with God had they not said so directly to me. There was nothing in their actions or views that suggested to me of an existing relationship with God.

I once knew a salesman who worked for a company that sold equipment to a variety of customers. I personally had a very hard time relating to him because he was rather offensive, often making inappropriate and off-color jokes and comments about others. He frequently would use God’s name in vain in his conversations as though he where just talking about the weather. Nonetheless I would live out my life as authentically as possible doing my best to represent the Lord. One day the Lord opened up an opportunity to share about spiritual matters. You can imagine the shock I had when he shared at one point in our conversation that he was a member of a particular church and considered himself as someone who believed in Christ.

His lifestyle would never have testified to me in supporting his claim to be a follower of Jesus. We can’t live in both worlds; either we love the Lord or we don’t. Jesus said that if we love Him we would keep his commandments.  (John 14:15)

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, ESV)
The only model we should ever rely upon for our lives is Jesus. We should never look to others to modeling our lives after.

“sits in the seat of scoffers”

A scoffer is one who derides or mocks another for what they believe or value.

When we look at the term “scoffer” we see a person that has become proud in themselves and in their way of thinking.

To “sit in the seat” suggests a person that has now fully and intentionally aligned, adopted, and is prepared to defend a life that in is opposition to what God values. Even to the extent of mocking fellow believers.

This person has been “taken captive” by the values of the world around us. Paul, in a letter to the church in Colossi, which was directed to believers and followers of Christ, said the following:

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, ESV)

Here he’s warning us that even as believers we are susceptible to being taken captive. We must always be on guard.

Paul reminds us that as we live out our lives, that we remember we are in effect a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. When we live in this way we are actually expressing our love and worship for our Heavenly Father.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  (Romans 12:1, ESV)

In what way can we learn how to live our lives in a manner that is acceptable to God?

The Psalmist gives is a couple of clues:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”  (Psalm 1:1-2 ESV)

1. Delight in the Law of the Lord

2. Meditates day and night

Delight in the Law of the Lord:

The “Law of the Lord” speaks of the teachings or instructions from God. Psalm 119 makes it clear that the Law refers to the whole truth of God and is not limited to just the literal ten commandments.

The scriptures are not so much a book of rules, rather they teach the principles of God’s word. We see some of these principles expressed in many of the parables that Jesus shared to the early believers.

For example, Luke recorded that Jesus taught the principle of prayer and the relational nature of prayer and the importance of our attitude when we pray. He concluded this parable in Luke 18:1-14, ESV.

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14, ESV)

The principle being taught here is one of humility before God when we pray. We can apply this in our own lives as we approach God in prayer.

When you and I are seeking advice and counsel on any matter, our backdrop needs to be the scriptures and God’s teachings. It doesn’t mean that we should never consider advice from non-believers, but when faced with a decision as to whether to follow such advice, we should consider whether or not we are acting consistently with God’s character in mind.

I deal with many different professionals in my life as many of you may as well. Contractors, doctors, car mechanics, CPA’s, lawyers etc. These folks are very competent in their area of expertise and yet they’re not necessarily all believers. My goal in this life is not to isolate myself from people in our world, after all Jesus certainly didn’t, but to engage the world around us in Truth. God’s Truth. In the process of obtaining professional advice, we’re not to adopt or follow such advice if it is inconsistent with the principles taught in the scriptures.

For example, suppose my CPA advised me to do something a little on the grey side on my taxes so that I could save some money, like pad my donations to make them slightly larger than they really were. If the dollar amount was small, the likelihood would be that if I fudged this a little no one would ever really find out. But in light of the scriptures I would know that in effect I’m stealing.

The Lord knows our hearts. We might be able to hide something from others, but not from the Lord.

“O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.”  (Psalm 69:5 ESV)

Violating God’s principles have an extended impact on those around us. By ignoring God’s counsel we compromise the integrity of our witness to others.

What will my CPA think of me now? How will he see me as being anything different than the ungodly? In fact, my refusal to “pad my donations” would itself offer a point of conversation about Jesus. All of that would be missed if I allowed myself to violate God’s principles on stealing by taking the advice to pad my donations.

“Delight”

But we’re to do more than simply learn about God’s teachings, the scripture says we should actually “delight” in the teachings of God.  God’s word should be something we actively seek and want to read and learn from.

It’s like being in love. When we’re in love we want to know about the other person; their dreams, what they think, we want know everything about them, and we want to be with them all the time. That’s the intent of this word “delight” in this passage.

It seems then that if we delight or take pleasure in God’s instruction from the scriptures, that we would also desire to think about them all the time. They should never far from our mind and heart.

“Meditating Day and Night”

The second element of wisdom that the psalmist provides us with is this idea of meditating on God’s word day and night. In other words, we are to constantly keep God’s principles and his word in mind as we go throughout our day. There’s never a time when we shouldn’t think about how life’s choices play in terms of God’s word.

Personally, I enjoy reading and studying God’s word. It’s a joy for which I can find no equal. I am no scholar for sure, but God has provided me with wisdom in many challenging situations in my life. Sometimes I have wondered off the path and taken advice without testing it against God’s word, and when I do I’m quickly corrected.

I trust the Lord, but I’m also a weak human and capable of making poor choices. I’m certainly not above having made my share of mistakes and I know I will make many more before this life is done. But by the grace of God I pray that I will always take the time to seek His face when making choices. I pray that I seek His word and guidance so that all that I say, think, and do will honor His name.

I pray the same for each of you today.

4 thoughts on “Staying in Step

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