Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Fear of the LORD

Psalm 119:120 
My flesh trembles for fear of You, And I am afraid of Your judgments.

I'm skipping around a lot as I write about this Psalm, just taking whatever verse strikes me particularly as the next theme. This week, I was influenced by the sermon I heard on Sunday, all about the fear of the Lord. As I listened, I wondered what Psalm 119 had to say about fearing the Lord, and sure enough, here is a whole verse devoted to the subject!

This fear is no casual thing: "my flesh trembles", says the Psalmist. A similar expression is used in Job 4:14-15: "Fear came upon me, and trembling,  Which made all my bones shake. Then a spirit passed before my face; The hair on my body stood up." Similar idioms we use today are "it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up" or "my skin crawl". The phrase I like to express this idea is "a shiver of awe", because this is not a "scared" fear, but a deep awe and reverence. 
Fear not with a slavish fear, but an awful fear, composed of reverence and love.
—Thomas Manton
The direction of this fear is crucial. It is directed towards God, the only proper object of such a profound emotion. We are not to fear man, the Bible tells us in Matthew 10:28: "And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Fear of men brings a snare, as Proverbs 29:25 states, but the fear of the Lord will drive out the fear of men. 

Is. 8:12-13 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.

As Christians, under the new covenant, do we still need to be afraid of God's judgments? There are many reasons why we ought to fear the Lord.

1. It is the beginning of wisdom.
Prov. 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Prov. 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Prov. 15:33 The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor. 

To live our lives skillfully, we need to fear the Lord. We see many examples of God's judgment throughout the Bible, and when we apply that knowledge to our own actions, we can structure our lives to be pleasing in God's eyes, rather than displeasing. 

2. It protects us in many ways.
To fear the Lord is to hate evil (Prov. 8:13), and by the fear of the Lord we can turn away from evil (Prov. 16:6). Just as young children are kept from doing bad or harmful things by fear of their parents, our fear of God's judgment makes it easier to walk away from sin. It also gives us "strong confidence", and is a refuge not only for the one who fears, but for his children as well (Prov. 14:26). Do not underestimate the power of fearing the Lord. It is a fountain of life (Prov. 14:27), and it prolongs our life (Prov. 10:27).

3. It gives us perspective.
When our focus is on God, it is easier to see what truly has value:
Prov. 15:16-17 Better is a little with the fear of the LORD,  Than great treasure with trouble.
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is,  Than a fatted calf with hatred.
Those things which have true value are our reward:
Prov. 22:4 By humility and the fear of the LORD  Are riches and honor and life.
1Tim. 6:6  Now godliness with contentment is great gain.
We are looking towards eternity:
Prov. 23:17-18  Do not let your heart envy sinners,  But be zealous for the fear of the LORD all the day; For surely there is a hereafter,  And your hope will not be cut off.

If we want the benefits that come with fearing the Lord—if we want wisdom, protection, and perspective as we live our lives—how do we get this fear? It comes from reading and studying the Bible:
Prov. 2:1-5 My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments within you...yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding...then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. (emphasis added)
This is a simple "if...then" statement; it's not complicated!

Ecclesiastes 12:13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Psalm 119:1

Blessed are the undefiled in the way,  Who walk in the law of the LORD!

Psalm 119 starts with the idea of blessedness. This is a significant pattern, found throughout Hebrew writing: it is the way the whole book of Psalms starts in Psalm 1, the way Jesus opens the Sermon on the Mount, and the way Paul begins many of his letters to the early church. It is an important idea, and one we need to understand.

Everyone wants to be blessed.1 Whether a person is a believer or not, all our lives are spent seeking contentment and satisfaction—one could call it "the pursuit of happiness"—and that is what the word "blessed" means in this passage. Unfortunately, without the grace of God it is impossible to find this blessedness. People try, of course, but they are either trying to make themselves happy in the wrong way, or they do not even recognize real happiness when they see it. God's way to blessedness is hard, yes, but the world's way simply doesn't work, as the Preacher points out many times in Ecclesiastes. 
Eccles. 1:14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind. 
Eccles. 2:1 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure”; but surely, this also was vanity.
The false happiness that the world offers will never truly satisfy a longing heart. "Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy?" Isaiah asks, and Paul reminds us  in 1 Timothy 6:9-10 that the pleasures of this life (specifically the pursuit of riches) will cause us to stray, and will drown us if we love them too much.

So if the world cannot offer blessedness, what is the way to obtain it? The Psalmist tells us quite plainly: being undefiled in the way. He then further defines "way" as "walking in the law of the LORD. But what does it mean to be undefiled? The Bible states many times that no one is without sin, throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
Prov. 20:9 Who can say, “I have made my heart clean,  I am pure from my sin”? 
Psalm 130:3 If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand? 
Rom. 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 
1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 
Being undefiled does not mean we have never sinned. Our sin is covered by Christ's righteousness, and we are to guard our hearts, and keep ourselves pure, searching for sin and uprooting it when we find it, with the help of His Spirit. This purity of heart is not a one-time event, it is a day-by-day walk, and we have to be consistent. There is no room for picking and choosing with God's laws, either. If you accept His right to set the rules, you must accept them all, whether or not they are popular, the ones that are difficult to follow as well as those that are easy.

Now, whether you are looking at the Christian life from the inside or the outside, this may not feel like the best way to be happy. Following a bunch of rules? How does this lead to blessedness?

First, we are blessed because of our assured future eternal state: we will see God, as Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:8, and we cannot see Him without holiness, as the author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 12:14.

In addition, we will have certain blessings even in this flicker of a mortal life:
1. We know that we are no longer under God's wrath, which is an immense relief and freedom.
2. We are Jesus' friends. (John 15:14)
3. No matter what happens, we know that God is taking care of us. (Romans 8:28)
4. We are heirs to a great kingdom, and know that we will possess it one day. (1 Jn. 3:1) Just as heirs in the world have certain current privileges due to their future status, so it is with God's heirs.
5. We experience God's goodness toward us in this life. There are many moments where we see His hand at work, or simply enjoy His presence.
6. We have the great peace of God, which the world cannot understand. (Psalm 119:165; Gal. 6:16)

All these blessings are available to every saved person, but we only experience them when we are walking in His laws, keeping His commands, in sincere, constant, uniform obedience.

I know of no part of the holy Scriptures, where the nature and evidences of true and sincere godliness are so much of set purpose and so fully and largely insisted on and delineated, as the 119th Psalm. - Jonathan Edwards 

1 I am indebted to a great sermon by Thomas Manton, a Puritan preacher in the 1600s, for the main outline points of this post and most of the scripture references. You can read the whole sermon here:

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Large Family Idiosyncrasies #7: The Van

Once a family reaches a certain size, they can no longer ride together in a "normal" vehicle. The earliest car our family owned that I can really remember well was a dark green station wagon, which seated eight people. Since I was one of the oldest children, I had the dubious honour of sitting in the back, facing the rear. It made a strong impression on me, because we went house-hunting in that vehicle when I was five, so I spent many hours staring at road over which we had already traveled.

Soon, however, the station wagon was too small, and for a few years we rode in a rusty blue beast, a fifteen passenger van which had already been well-loved by another large family before us. We christened it Midnight, took out the back seat so we had room for groceries, and nursed it along through failing brakes and an overheating engine. Whenever we went over a speed bump, we had contests to see who could bounce the highest without hitting their head on the ceiling.

Eventually we upgraded to a new twelve passenger van, which we have now been using for more than twelve years. There are many interesting facts about riding in a big van, which all large families understand, but other people may never have considered...
- It is much easier to find your car in the grocery store parking lot. It sticks out like a sore thumb.
- Unless you go to a homeschool conference, where it is virtually impossible to relocate. In this situation, it is prudent to park next to one of your friends who has a small vehicle, so you can find it again.
- A lot of people are scared to drive it, because it is so big. However, it's really not that hard to steer. Be prepared to run over a few curbs though.
- Sitting in the back, it is impossible to follow the conversation going on in the front. There's too much background noise, and too much space. This can be rather frustrating, since everyone wants to know what's going on.
- The front row is most coveted, since you have more legroom, as well as being able to hear and talk to Dad and Mom. We have to rotate seating every once in a while, so everyone gets a chance. Misbehaving children also get moved to the front, however, so that it is easier for Mom or Dad to deal with them.
- A van rides quite a bit higher on the road than most cars, so we can see further, and look down into other people's cars.
- My siblings can ride for hours in the van, squished between two other kids, but put one of them in a small car, by themselves in the back seat, and they start feeling carsick. Somehow the motion is different, and we're not used to riding long distances in small cars.
- It is a useful distinguisher when giving directions to your house to people who have never been there before. "The driveway with the big white van" is impossible to miss.
- You can fit a harp in the back. I know this from personal experience, and there are not many vehicles conducive to carrying a harp!

There are many logistics involved in getting everyone in the family to a certain place at a certain time, and having a vehicle big enough to seat us all at the same time is a major piece of that puzzle. In a big family, that is not something to be taken for granted!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Heritage Forever

Psalm 119:111
Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever,
For they are the rejoicing of my heart

The word "heritage" is a bit old-fashioned, but I think most people still understand the concept: it simply means "an object or quality passed down from previous generations, an inheritance." It also contains the idea of being a special or individual possession—no two families will have exactly the same inheritance. 

What better foundation for living life could a parent give their child than a knowledge of God's testimonies? In Philippians 3:8, Paul says that all other things he counts as loss in comparison with the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus. Unlike material inheritances, it will never be used up, or crumble to dust, for Peter tells us that the word of God lives and abides forever (1 Peter 1:23). The world can never take it from us, because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4).

I am incredibly blessed to have the Word of God as my heritage. Growing up, I was saturated with the Bible—not just Sundays and Wednesdays, but in the home as well: reading and memorizing it together as a family, and each member individually. Not only was I surrounded by God's testimonies, I also saw that they were held in the highest esteem by everyone I respected. It was the standard by which behavior was judged: when we were corrected, it was not because our actions had been inconvenient to our parents, but because they had been contrary to God's commands. With this background, it was easy and natural for me to learn to love and revere Scripture.

Many people do not grow up in a home like mine, but they can still choose to take God's testimonies as a heritage. This is an inheritance that has to be personally accepted before it is legitimate; just following the letter of the law because everyone around you does is not enough—it must be a conscious choice to embrace this most excellent knowledge and let it shape your life. Having this heritage, we must guard it—do not let people take anything away from it—nurture it, by making sure our life matches up with our beliefs, and pass it on to those who come after us.
"If we might have our desire, we would desire to keep the commands of God perfectly. To know the doctrine, to enjoy the promise, to practice the command — be this a kingdom large enough for us."
- Charles Spurgeon

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Large Family Idiosyncrasy #6: Sticks and Stones

One of the things that is different about a large family is The Rules.

Every family, large or small, has their own set of Rules, and many of these rules are roughly the same across the board: no hitting, look both ways before crossing the street, don't eat things off the matter the number of children, the same rules apply. Big families, however, tend to have some quirky rules that would not be needed otherwise.

Several of the "idiosyncrasies" in this blog series will be related to our own family Rules, and this is the first one: No Common Rocks in the House. I'm not talking about this kind of rock:
—although we do have to limit the number. I'm talking about common rocks. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Gravel. 
- Rocks from the woods.
- Rocks faintly shaped like arrowheads. 
- Rocks with pretty sparkles. 
- Rocks which may look cool when submerged in water. 
- Rocks with a stripe in them.

The "reasons" advanced for their specialness are endless, but they are simply not allowed in the house. I believe that this "rule" was first added into our official codified system when Rebekah (when she was much younger) filled her entire top drawer with rocks, almost breaking her dresser. 

It has since been amended to "No Common Rocks Or Sticks in the House." Children are allowed, sometimes encouraged, to play with sticks and rocks outside in the yard, but if those sticks and stones cross the threshold of our home, they are liable to seizure, and may be thrown as far into the woods as possible (if a rock), or incinerated (if a stick). 

A love of common rocks and sticks seems to be born into children, and I have personally never known a boy who did not have a special stick, whether it was a "spear", a "sword", an "arrow", or a "gun". They will carry them everywhere if allowed, often heedless of where the ends are, presenting a danger to themselves, those around them, and any fragile items in the vicinity. For our family, the balancing point between safety and fun was to ban them from the house, but allow them outside.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Seven Ways to Praise

Psalm 119:164 Seven times a day I praise You, Because of Your righteous judgments.

I have been meditating on Psalm 119 over the last several months, and have read this verse over 200 times during that period, but I only truly noticed it yesterday. Is God’s Word not amazing? No matter how many times we reach into it, it never runs dry! Since this verse gripped me and won’t let go, I figured I’d better try it out. Naturally, I started by doing a bit of math: 

Between 6:30 in the morning and 11:00 at night there are sixteen and a half hours. Divide that into seven equal sections, and each one is two hours and forty-five minutes. With an iPhone timer set, I’m in less danger of losing track of time. 

Praise is an important part of prayer, and one that is often neglected. The Hebrew word for praise in this verse is the one from which we get “Hallelujah” (praise the Lord). It means to boast or exult, so basically just telling God (and others) how wonderful we think He is. There are many ways to incorporate praise into prayer, and I’ve made a list of some I use:
1. Praise God for Who He is. Obvious, and all over the Bible. Think about God’s attributes: mercy, love, strength, righteousness. How can we not boast about our incredible God?
Psalm 7:17  I will praise the LORD according to His righteousness,  And will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.

2. Praise God for what He has done in your own life. He saved you, keeps you, and gives you everything you need each day.
Psalm 71:6  By You I have been upheld from birth;  You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb.  My praise shall be continually of You.

3. Praise God for what He has done throughout history. Creating the heavens and the earth, sending His Son as a sufficient sacrifice for all the world, sustaining life and withholding His wrath.
Psalm 148:1-5 Praise the LORD!  
Praise the LORD from the heavens;  Praise Him in the heights! 
Praise Him, all His angels;  Praise Him, all His hosts!
Praise Him, sun and moon;  Praise Him, all you stars of light!
Praise Him, you heavens of heavens,  And you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD,  For He commanded and they were created.

4. Praise God to other people. Whether in a blog post (cough), on FaceBook, through a text message, but most especially in real life, face-to-face conversations, tell your friends why you think God is so awesome.
Psalm 108:3  I will praise You, O LORD, among the peoples,  And I will sing praises to You among the nations.

5. Praise the Lord using songs and psalms. We have many hymns which express praise to God, and the psalms are also full of verses of praise. If you are struggling to come up with your own words of praise, use the words of these faithful men as a starting point.
  • Psalm 145: A Praise of David
  • O Worship the King
  • How Great Thou Art
  • I Sing the Mighty Power of God
Psalm 47:6  Sing praises to God, sing praises!  Sing praises to our King, sing praises!

6. Praise the Lord over and over for the same thing. Repetition is a powerful tool, if used with focus and purpose. 
Psalm 34:1    I will bless the LORD at all times;  His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

7. Praise the Bible, the Word of God. 
Psalm 56:10  In God (I will praise His word),  
In the LORD (I will praise His word),
11  In God I have put my trust; 

See, with a list like that it's not so hard to praise the Lord seven times in one day. Just a couple minutes to focus on God is all it takes. I found it to be a fun exercise, something different from my usual Bible time routine. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Large Family Idiosyncrasies #5: Saved by the Bell

When there are twelve people living on ten acres, one does not want to always be shouting to get the attention of children who might be playing in the field, on the volleyball court, basketball court, all the way out in the woods, or picking apples or blackberries in the orchard. We did not get quite as creative as the Von Trapp family, but we have come up with a system to communicate without damaging our vocal chords.

An old Navy bell hangs on our back porch, and we ring it to send certain messages to any within earshot:

One ring. If we need a certain child, ring the bell once and then call out the name of whoever is needed. The bell gets everyone's attention so that they can hear the shouted name, rather than it being drowned out by other shouting that might (possibly) be going on at the time.

Two rings. There is fresh coffee in the house available to the first comers.

Three rings. Mom and Dad need to come back to the house. They often walk up and down the road in the afternoon, and often a conflict comes up back at the house that requires their attention before their walk is finished.

Four rings. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. We also call this "All hands on deck". Everyone is to come back to the house as quickly as they can. Usually used for lunch/dinner calls, as well as picking up the house, and time for church/getting ready for church.

Frenetic ringing of any number over four: major emergency, imminent danger, or (if Mom and Dad are absent) catastrophic personality clash.

There are two drawbacks to this generally excellent system: if friends and relations are standing nearby we try to warn them before ringing, as it is quite startling if heard unexpectedly at close quarters, and sometimes when visitors come to the house for the first time they are confused, and try to use it as a doorbell.