Pure Gold!

Psalm 119:72 – “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.”

One of my college professors had the most extraordinary home I’ve ever been in. The home was designed to look like a miniature European castle. It had a mote, a dungeon, a great hall with coats of armor, weapons, and more. It was kind of a spooky place.

In his dungeon was a treasure chest. The chest was overflowing with coins. It had the appearance of being full of gold and silver. I’ll never forget that treasure chest. When I asked him where all the coins came from he told me, “When I go to another country, I always visit the bank. I ask the bank if they have any coins that are no longer in use. (In the 1980s many countries changed their currency and were left with worthless coins.) I’ll give them $10 US and they will give me a bag full of coins.”

So, the coins, were worthless. But, the picture, was priceless. And, priceless is exactly how David would describe the the Word of God. It is more valuable to David than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. The average reader of David’s writing would have never seen that much wealth in his or her lifetime. So, the image that David is giving in Psalm 119:72, is that God’s Word trumps all. It is worth more than anything that the world will ever see.

Do you treat it that way? Tonight Heather Flies and I will be speaking to our volunteer youth staff. We’re talking about the heart of the youth worker. In preparation for tonight I looked on my bookshelf for one of the books in youth ministry that encouraged and developed my thinking on youth ministry back when I began. It’s called Back to the Heart of Youth Work, by Dewey Bertolini, and has long since gone out of print. I couldn’t find the book on my shelf, so I bought it for .99 on Amazon.com from a used book dealer. It was fun to reopen the pages of a book that meant so much to me early in my ministry. I love Bertolini’s book because of the first two chapters. These chapters deal with the personal spiritual condition of the youth worker’s heart.

In Chapter One, Bertolini talks about Psalm 119. While writing about Knowing God, Bertolini says, “Three clearly defined qualities characterize one who has a heart of knowing God. Each of these must develop in our own lives if we are to take the first step towards being good servants.

1. Constantly nourish yourself on the Word of God (1 Timothy 4:6).

Effective youth ministry must begin here. To attempt to lead a person spiritually while at the same time neglecting one’s own spiritual life would be a travesty. Any leader who fails to take nourishment daily from the Word of God will most certainly degenerate into a voice from a vacuum. It is much too easy and tragically too common to become so busy doing ministry that we forfeit the greatest privilege and most essential priority of all: our own personal walk with God.

Scan Psalm 119. It’s 176 verses express in the clearest of terms the psamist’s heartfelt commitment to the truth of the Word of God. Does your heart echo these same thoughts? ‘How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart. They also do no unrighteousness; they walk in His ways’ (vs. 2-3). God’s ways, as expressed in His Word, are:

– to be kept diligently (v. 4);
– to be rejoiced in and delighted in (vv. 14, 16)
– filled with wondrous things (v. 18)
– our counselors (v. 24)
– a reviving force and strengthening power (vv. 25, 28)
– to be cleaved to and trusted in (vv. 31, 42)
– to be kept continually forever and ever (v. 44)
– to be proclaimed without any shame (v. 46)
– to be loved (v. 48)
– our comfort (v. 50)
– the songs in the house of our pilgrimage (v. 54)
– righteous judgments (v. 62)
– better than thousands of gold pieces (v. 72) – TODAY’S VERSE!
– faithful and forever settled (v. 86, 89)
– never to be forgotten (v. 93)
– making us wiser than our enemies (v. 98)
– giving us more insight than our teachers (v. 99)
– giving us more understanding than the aged (v. 100)
– sweeter than honey to our mouths (v. 103)
– a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths (v. 105)
– the rejoicing of our hearts (v. 111)
– our hope (v. 114)
– wonderful and longed for (vv. 129, 131)
– pure (v. 140)
– truth (v. 151)
– founded by God forever (v. 152)
– awesome (v. 161)
– the songs of our tongues (v. 172).

Let’s be honest. Does Psalm 119 accurately express our consistent attitude toward the Bible? Or do we tragically neglect God’s Word? In a world permeated by seducing spirits disseminating doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1), we servants of Jesus Christ must daily saturate ourselves with the truth of the Word of God. To do anything less renders us poor servants, having committed a sin of omission of gargantuan proportions.”

May all of us love God and His Word like this. May we recognize how awesome is the treasure that we have in it. May we become treasure hunters, never being content with less than knowing and loving God and His Word.

Dear God,

Thank You for the treasure of Your Word. You are more precious than all the gold, silver and wealth of this earth and all of the universe. Help us to love You like You long to be loved. Help us to grow to love Your Word more and more, every day.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

The Hard Times

Psalm 119:71 – “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

Several years ago I went through some of the darkest days of my life. No matter how hard I tried to get things right, it seemed like everything around me was falling apart. I questioned God. I wondered why He would allow me to go through such difficult times. (As if I was any more worthy to go through less suffering than anyone else. Talk about arrogance!) I wondered if the difficult days would let up. I wondered if it could get any worse.

I bet you’ve been there too. We all go through difficult times. Sometimes it takes years, but when we are able to get far enough removed from a situation to look back with a different perspective we can see that the ordeal didn’t leave us permanently scarred. In fact, sometimes those toughest ordeals can teach us the most valuable lessons in life.

I didn’t like the trials that I went through years ago. But, I rejoice that I went through them. I rejoice that God chose to work in the hardship to bring about His glory. David rejoiced when God took him through his own difficult times. Because, David recognized that those hardships brought about more intimacy in his walk with Christ.

Rejoice in the hardships! Rejoice in the good times. Rejoice!

Dear God,

You are good even in our darkest days. Help us to remember that. Thank You for your Word. Thank You for the comfort that it brings. Thank You for working through the fire.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Calloused Blasphemy

Psalm 119:70 – “Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law.”

This afternoon I spent time with the Student Leadership Team for Wooddale Senior High. This is a group of 10th-12th graders who have chosen to be peer leaders. They lead our Area Bible Studies, and our taking peers from their high school and neighborhoods through the book of Mark. The groups have already met twice, so today we prepared for their third meeting, in which they’ll discuss Mark 3.

In Mark 3, Jesus confronts his critics; religious leaders who have accused Jesus of being possessed by the spirit of the Devil. Jesus responds to their criticism by addressing the unpardonable sin, saying, “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29).

What a sobering verse. Earlier this morning, I had read our verse for today, Psalm 119:70. Remember, David is talking about the people who were smearing him with lies in verse 69. Now, in verse 70, David refers to these people as being those with calloused hearts. They are unfealing people who reject and make fun of those who follow God.

Today, the world is full of people whose hearts have become calloused towards God. The world is full of people whose hearts have grown so cold towards God that unless things change, they will spend eternity in hell. That truth should bring a tear to our eyes. To be a Christian and speak of hell, without having an urgency to be about God’s work of rescue souls from hell, is to be someone who is not very different than those whose hearts have grown calloused towards God. Jesus was always about interacting with those who needed God most.

David loved God’s law. We should too. But, we need to do more than love it. We need to live it. We need to live out the Great Commandment to love God first and our neighbors second. We need to live out the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. And, we need to do it today.

Dear God,

Give us an urgency for your Gospel. Help us to be about your work of making disciples among all people groups. Help us to be passionate about our friends and neighbors who don’t know you. Help us to not be afraid to share the truth of your word. Use us in your great work.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

I Want The Truth

Psalm 119:69 – “Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep your precepts with all my heart.”

What would it take to get you to stop following Christ? Can you imagine any circumstance or series of circumstances that would shake your faith in Christ so much that you would stop following Him? I hope not. But, sometimes, following Christ can be hard. We go through difficult seasons in our walk with Christ when we have followed Him for any significant length of time.

One of the characteristics of true faith is a heart that is fully devoted to Christ, no matter what the circumstances. That’s the kind of heart that you see David expressing in Psalm 119:69. He is being lied about, but instead of blaming Christ, he goes to The Truth, and finds relief. God is our Truth. He is our Protector. He is there even in the worst of days. I don’t know about you, but I want THE TRUTH!

Dear God,

Thank You that we can depend upon You even in our darkest days. Help us to follow You with a heart that is fully devoted to You. We love you! We love that you are THE TRUTH!

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.

Do As I AM . . .

Psalm 119:68 – “You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.”

I wonder if a quote similar to the quote, “Do as I say, not as I do,” existed during the time of David. I’m sure there had to be something similar. After all, every generation has had its share of hypocritical teachers. And, I think most of us would say that we don’t enjoy listening to that type of teacher.

That’s what is so refreshing about the truth that David expresses in verse 68 of Psalm 119. God is good, and God does what is good. Pretty revolutionary, huh? No, really; think about it! God is good, and God does what is good.

Wouldn’t it be great if that could be said of everyone? Wouldn’t it be great if Christ followers could say, “I am a Christ follower, and I live like a Christ follower!” It’s what we should strive for.

In their book, The Big Idea, Dave Ferguson, Eric Bramlett, and Jon Ferguson suggest that we no longer use the word Christian. Does that make you a little bit uneasy? It does me. The reason that they give is because over 80% of Americans call themselves Christian, and there is relatively no difference between the way those who call themselves Christians live their lives and the way that non-Christians live their lives. That is a tragedy. I understand the authors’ reticence to use the word. But, rather than give up a precious word, how about living it? How about if we call ourselves Christians, that we agree to live like Christians? It’s not revolutionary. It’s expected that we will. And, it’s God and the world who are looking for it to happen. Lead the way in your generation. Let’s live like God intended us to.

Dear God,

There is no sense of hypocrisy in You. Every time we sin, we prove ourselves to be hypocrites. Help us to live our lives in a way that brings You pleasure. Help us to live our lives with passion and without surrender for You. Thank you that you have given us your Holy Spirit. We can do this, with you.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

All We Like Sheep

Psalm 119:67 – “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.”

I don’t know what David was afflicted with, but whatever it is caused him to stop straying and come back to God. In Psalm 119:67, David talks about straying from the Lord, and now coming back. And, he intimates that obedience to God’s Word is the cure to a wandering heart.

Have you ever gone astray? It’s all too easy to find ourselves in a spot in life where we want to say, “No!” when God wants us to say, “Yes!”

God’s will for us in no secret. He has revealed to us His desires for us in His word. He has very specific mandates for our life. If we can get the first mandate down, the rest come easy. God’s most passionate desire for His children is that we love Him. And, He wants us to love him with everything that we are.

Have you ever been so in love with someone that you found that you couldn’t imagine living life without them? That’s what God wants from us. And, when we do, the desire to stay close to Him will be there.

Dear God,

You have made it very clear that you are the Great Shepherd. We are the sheep of Your pasture. Help us not to be dumb sheep, thinking that we know better than You. We want to follow you. We want to know You. We want to love You. And, we want to know what it is like to be Your friend. Help us to follow Your commands. Help us to live as light in our generation. Help us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Today’s Students Are Crying Out For Knowledge

Psalm 119:66 – “Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands.”

I just returned from spending 90 minutes with a group of teenagers at an event that we call Pizza and God Talk. It’s a bi-monthly gathering of students who are committed to talking about spiritual things. These students come from a wide variety of perspectives. Some of the students are more committed to talking about God than others, but each night we meet I am amazed at their questions and insight.

Tonight’s questions began with, “Is it ever okay to lie?” A spirited discussion was had by those in attendance. There was passion on both sides of the issue. Then the question, “Do the ends ever justify the means?” was asked. Another great discussion.

Tonight as I reflect on Psalm 119:66, I thank the Lord that David’s prayer for being taught knowledge and good judgment is still be prayed by people today. God promises us that if we ask for wisdom that he will give it. Many people think that this generation of students is walking away from God. While there are many who have strayed, and while church attendance figures for people in the twenties is abysmal, I am blown away by the commitment of those students who do choose to walk with God. To walk with God in their generation is tough. And, yet, I see students doing it and shining as stars in their generation.

May God raise up a generation of students who call out to Him for knowledge and discernment. May these students, like David, change their world for Christ.

Dear God,

Today, we ask you for wisdom. We need your knowledge and discernment as we walk in our world. Thank you that you love us and have promised to give wisdom to those who ask.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

God is Good All the Time

Psalm 119:65 – “Do good to your servant according to your word, O LORD.”

When I lived in the south, preachers loved to bound up to the pulpit, put on a cheesy grin, and pronounce, “God is good, all the time, and all the time . . .” and the expected response from the congregation was for them to shout back, “God is good!”

I hated this exercise. I just thought it looked so dumb. It wasn’t that I hated the message. I just hated the way that the message was usually given.

As much as I hated that exercise, the truth of those words remains. God is good all of the time. It’s one of His attributes. God is a good God. He’s good when I’m not feeling happy. He’s good when I can’t sleep. He’s good when I wonder how I’m going to pay the bills. He’s good when I am stressed. God’s gooddness never ceases.

That’s why David’s plea for God to do to him according to his Word puzzles me. God had been so good to David. This guy had been spared from giants, lions, bears, enemies. He had ascended to the throne of Israel. He was rich. He had prestige. What could he have been lacking?

David’s plea for God’s gooddness reveals the truth that no matter where we are at in our stage of life we can sometimes forget God’s goodnness to us. Maybe it wasn’t that David forgot God’s gooddness as much as it was that David didn’t want God’s gooddness to stop. Maybe God wants us to pray in such a way. But, maybe God just wants us to trust that He is who He is. God is good. He has never been anything but good to us. So, let us celebrate the truth of God’s gooddness and extend that gooddness to others.

Dear God,

You are good. Thank you that we can know that and trust in that. Help us to remember that when we feel like life shoudl revolve around us. Help us to live for you when we don’t feel like doing it. Help us to trust that you are who you say that you are, and to remember those times that you have proved yourself to be who you are.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Props to Assembly of God Youth Ministries

One of the heartbreaking experiences that every youth pastor goes through is when you graduate a group of students and know that many of them will graduate from church. So many of our brand new college students get sucked into a lifestyle that eventually brings them signicant pain and lifelong baggage. The Assembly of God Denomination is doing something about it. Check out this video:

Well done! I can’t wait to see similar ministries start all over the country.