Sunday, July 21, 2019

"Winning In The Race of Life" [Matt's Messages]

“Winning in the Race of Life”
Family Bible Week 2019
July 21, 2019 :: Psalm 1  

I invite you to turn in your Bibles with me to the first Psalm. Psalm 1. You can find that on Pew Bible page #532. Pew Bible page #532. Psalm 1.

We’re going to take a short break from the Gospel of Matthew for Family Bible Week. This Sunday and next Sunday.

In case you can’t tell, this is Family Bible Week, and we’ve transformed our campus into a race track and a pit-stop garage because our theme this year is “Drive! Pressing on for the Prize.”

Family Bible Week officially starts tomorrow night at 6, but this morning, I wanted to tune up our engines to get us ready for the race set before us this week.

So we’re going to start with that racing theme this morning.

And we’re going to get a taste of what the adult class will be studying each evening.

And that is the “Songbook In Your Bibles.”

Right in the middle of your Bible, if you open it halfway, you’ll find 150 songs embedded right smack dab in the center of the Scriptures.

They are called the Psalms, and they are there for you and me to connect with God from the middle of us, right from the smack dab center of our hearts.

Each evening when we gather, our adult class will be learning how to study the Psalms (because they’re different from other kinds of writings in the Bible) and how to apply them directly to our lives today.

Most of you know that I have made 2019 a year of Psalms for me personally.

I’ve been reading and praying and singing from the Psalms each morning this year.

And it’s been really wonderful for me, stimulating for my mind and strengthening for my heart.

If you’ve been around me at all this year, the Psalms have been pouring out onto you. The Elders and Facilities Team started the year with a devotion on Psalm 1 with me. The guys I disciple regularly have found themselves being taken back to the Psalms again and again. I’ve preached 7 funerals, and I’ve read the Psalms at all of them.

On Sunday mornings, when we haven’t been in the Gospel of Matthew, we’ve been in the Psalms in 2019. I’ve preached Psalm 15, Psalm 41, Psalm 62, and Psalm 103.

Last week, I made reference to Psalm 118 in Matthew 21.

The Psalms are in the center of our Bibles, and they are linked to every other part of our Bibles, and they are eminently applicable to our lives today.

This morning, I want us to look at the first one.

The first psalm. Psalm one.

And we’re going to see that the psalmist lays out a major choice.

He lays out a major decision before his readers and requires them to choose.

I once preached Psalm One with the title, “Either/Or.”

It’s either this or it’s that.

Like all good wisdom literature in your Bible.

Psalm 1 says that there are basically two paths and two destinations in life.

Look at the last verse. Verse 6. “The LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

That word “way” there means a path. A road. A direction. A track.

He says that, fundamentally, there are 2 ways to go in life. And they are not BOTH/AND; they are “EITHER/OR.”

You and I are faced with a choice (or a series of choices). Will we go the way of the righteous or will we go the way of the wicked?

And each way (the way of the righteous or the way of the wicked) has a final destination. Each path points to certain destination.

If you get on Route 80 and you head East, and don’t stop, you will end up in Teaneck New Jersey.

If you get on Route 80 and you head West, and don’t stop, you will end up in San Francisco.

Each way has a certain destination.

And the beautiful thing about Psalm 1 is that those two destinations are painted in stark and vivid colors. You know where you will end up if you get on that path!

Now this is helpful because often in life the paths are not so clearly marked. Sometimes, it seems like the way of wickedness prospers. For example, that was Asaph’s problem in Psalm 73. “Why do the wicked prosper?”

But Psalm 1 makes it crystal clear where each path eventually and ultimately and most assuredly leads.

It’s either prospering or perishing.

It’s either flourishing or dying.

Or to carry on the racing metaphor of this week:

It’s either winning or losing in the race of life.

That’s what’s at stake in Psalm 1.

The stakes are very high. Much higher than the Indy 500.

Do you see why I use the word “winning?”

It’s because of that first word in verse 1, “Blessed.”

Does that word sound familiar?

Remember the Beatitudes?

The Hebrew word behind this word is ashre and it’s the equivalent of the makarios word group in Greek that is the word behind “blessed” in the Sermon on the Mount.

This is another of the connections between The Gospel of Matthew and the Psalms.

“Blessed.”

Remember our contemporary word to try to get at the idea?

“Flourishing.”

Full of life. To be congratulated. To be in state which is worthy of congratulations.

If you are blessed, you are winning.

Not that at the expense of others, just on your own.

You are winning.

The person on this path is being recognized (by GOD!) as being in a place worthy of celebration.

How would you like God to open up the heavens right now, look down on you, and say, “Way to go! You are in the right spot now! Congratulations on your recent choices! Good job!”

That’s what this verse does. “Blessed is the man [or woman or child]” who is on this path...].

You are winning.

Wow!

How do you get to be that person?

I picked up at least three things in this Psalm.

And they are themes that run through the rest of the Psalms, and they also fit with what we learning about Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

Here’s number one. I’ve put them in racing terms.

(Keep in mind I don’t know a thing about racing. So if I get that wrong, you can let me know afterwards. I don’t think I’ve got the Psalm wrong.)

#1. STAY OUT OF THE WRONG PACK.

Listen to the whole of verse 1.

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.”

Do you see how this guy avoids associating with the wrong crowd?

He doesn’t just run with the pack. He runs out of the pack.

I’ve heard that it’s easy to race with NASCAR, you just start going forward then you make a bunch of left turns.

I almost titled this message, “Keep Turning Right.”

If the world goes left, then we go right.

Photo by snoopy-alien.com from Pexels
Of course, that means that there will be some danger, doesn’t it?

I mean look at this picture, I wouldn’t want to be in any of those cars with this one going the opposite direction.  (And yes, I know it’s not NASCAR.)

But the point is to not just go with the flow.

Don’t just go where the world goes.

Notice the progression: walking, standing, sitting. It’s a downward spiral of giving in to the crowd.  Walking in the counsel of the wicked means listening to the advice of the world. What the world says about what matters: money, sex, possessions, success, popularity, power, external beauty, and so on. The blessed person does not listen to that counsel and just believe it. They learn to tune it out.

We don’t just think what the world thinks.

We don’t get our cues from social media. Or what is popular.

Not standing in the way of sinners means not choosing to go along with the crowd and do the self-seeking sinful things that our unbelieving friends and family want us to do. The NIV here ind of makes it sound like we’re stopping sinners by standing in their way, but it really means that we won’t go with them in their direction. We won’t identify with them or what they want us to do. We are not on their path, their way.

Did you know that peer pressure is not a teenage thing? It’s a human thing. It is a sinner thing. It affects all ages. The way of blessing says no to peer pressure for sin.

The godly man or woman does not stand in the path that sinners stand in.

Let me ask you:

Do you stand out amongst your friends because you don’t do all of the things that they do?

Refusing to sit in the seat of mockers means valuing godly things instead of scorning and ridiculing them. It’s an attitude thing. In our culture today, there is a cynicism and disdain for spiritual things.

And high value on snark.

Mocking is cool right now.

But the road of blessing does not go through that town! It maintains reverence and respect for God and the things of God.

Are you running with the crowd? Are you just going with the flow? The way of blessing says no to the press of the crowd and goes it own way.

Stay out of the wrong pack.

Number Two. And this is really important.

#2. STAY FUELED UP WITH GOD’S WORD. Look at v.2.

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

The one who lives a winning life not only doesn’t go with the pack, but he slows down and drinks up the word of God.

To use the racing metaphor, he regularly heads in for a pit-stop.

And the pit-stop is focused on filling yourself God’s word.

It says here the “law of LORD.” What is that?

It’s more than just the commandments.

It’s the “Torah” or the “teaching.”

How much of God’s Word did King David have?

Well, we know for certain that he had the first five book of the Bible.

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

Also called “The Pentateuch.”

And also called “The Law,” “The Torah,” “The Teaching.”

The King was supposed to write out freehand his own copy of the law.

And David did that, and he loved it.

And the psalmist says that the blessed man will fill himself up with the Law of the LORD and meditate on it day and night.

This is why we have Family Bible Week.

Because we want “winners.”

The blessed man or woman loves the Bible.

Loves. V.2 “His DELIGHT is in the law of the LORD.” ‘

Delight! Not just that he reads the Scriptures. Not just that he is disciplined in reading the his devotional book. The blessed person delights in the Scriptures because they bring him close to God.

Now, get that. This is not describing someone who loves Bible Trivia but not the Author of the Bible. This is someone who realizes that God has spoken and feeds off of His words. Eats’em up.

Jeremiah 15:16 says, “Your words came, I ate them. They were my joy and my delight. For I bear your name or LORD God Almighty.”

This is the person that says, “What did God say? O, I want to know! I want to know!  Tell me. Tell me what God says!”

And when he gets that information he doesn’t let it go. V.2 again.

“On his law [on God’s Word] he meditates day and night.”

The word “meditates” here means to mutter, to mumble, to repeat. It means to chew on a word like a cow chews its cud. Over and over again, the words of God are rehearsed and turned over on the tongue.

Day and night. That means all the time, focusing on the Word of God. Thinking about, chewing on, soaking in God’s Word.

That’s the key to the blessed life according to Psalm 1. Not giving in to the pressure of the sinful crowd but making your own way through loving the word of God.

If you love the word of God, you will not choose to walk, stand, or sit with the world.

The Word of God re-adjusts your priorities and your values. It becomes the lens through which you view the world, the grid that you make all your choices through, the yardstick that you measure the worth of everything by.

Does this describe you?

Many years ago, I was sitting in chapel at Moody Bible Institute, and the guest preacher that day was D.A. Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. And Dr. Carson  spoke on the blessedness of this path in Psalm 1. And that day, I wrote in my Bible (it’s still there today), “Father, Give me a hunger for the meat of your word. Make me a Psalm 1 man.”

And I believe that God has been answering that prayer.

I want this blessing.

This is what I’ve been pursuing as a “Bible guy” all of these years.

And I want this blessing for you, too. I want it for all of the families attached to our church. I want this blessing for Family Bible Week.

This is the gas that fuels our engines and keeps us on the road to blessedness.

Let me ask you:

What kind of time do you spend in the pit getting fueled up by the Word of God?

I’m amazed at Christians who say they want to live the Christian life, but they want to do it on fumes.

Are you becoming a Psalm 1 man or a Psalm 1 woman, a Psalm 1 teen, a Psalm 1 boy, a Psalm 1 girl–enthralled by, delighted in, enraptured by the words of God?  That is the road to blessing.

That’s how to be winning in the race of life.

The Psalmist describes that blessing in v.3. I love the imagery here.

It’s garden imagery. Not racetrack. V.3

“[This blessed man] is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

"Like a Tree" by Heather Joy Mitchell
Let’s take down the picture of the car, and put up a picture of a tree.

Anybody whose been in my office has seen this painting by my wife. For many years it hung in our boys’ room, and now it hangs in my office.

The idea is a strong tree.

A vibrant tree.

A flourishing tree standing tall and firm against the elements.

The picture here is of a stable life. A life that does not fall when the wind of adversity blows. A tree planted by streams of water doesn’t run out of nourishment because the words of God are more satisfying than bread or honey from the comb.

A tree which yields its fruit in season is a life that is productive and effective in the Lord’s service. A tree whose leaf does not wither is a person who does not fall apart when the hard times come.

Now, this phrase, “whatever he does prospers” could lead somebody to think that the God-blessed life is one where there are no problems.

There is a grave error out in the world called “The Prosperity Gospel” and many have fallen for it.

But this isn’t teaching the prosperity gospel of health, wealth, and constant happiness.

This is talking about the power of an unshakable life.

This is talking about vibrancy and joy in the midst of sorrow and pain.

This is talking about hope even in hopeless times.

This is talking about fruit bearing even when there is no rain.

Eventually and ultimately, God works everything for the prosperity and good of those who love Him and love His words like this!

I want to be this tree.

And I want you to be this tree, as well.

And I want the kids who come to our church this week to be this tree.

Flourishing, prospering, growing, bearing fruit.

Because of our love for God’s word.

Because the opposite is also true. Verse 4.

“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.”

The wicked are those who do not love the words of God. The wicked are those who go with the flow of the crowd. Listening to their counsel.  Choosing their sinful paths.  Mocking the holiness of God. And ignoring the word of God.

Vv.4 and 5 are a warning sign at the head of track, cautioning us to stay far from it.  Because at the end of this road is destruction.

The Psalmist says, “Not so the wicked!”  No blessing here. There may be a temporary prosperity for those who thumb their noses at God. But not for long. God’s justice will triumph. And they will be destroyed.

If the blessed righteous are like sturdy trees, the wicked (according to Psalm 1) are like chaff that the wind drives away.

You know what chaff is, right?

“Chaff is the leftover dust and plant refuse that comes with the harvest. In modern farming...the chaff would be all of the junk that spits out the back end of the combine as it makes its way through the fields. It is the chopped up parts of the plant that are no good to anybody.

In ancient farming...there were no machines for separating the good grain from the chaff.  What would happen at harvest is that the heads of grain would all be gathered and then left to dry.  The good seeds of wheat and barley  would be all mixed together with the husks and shells and stems.

And so, the farmer–in order to clean his crop–would have to thresh.  On a windy day he would...take his dried heads of grain and toss them up into the air, over and over again.  As he did this the heavier, valuable seeds of grain would fall back to the ground around his feet while the lighter, worthless pieces of chaff would be caught by the wind and carried away....

The life of the wicked, the Psalmist is saying, is like that chaff.  The literal reality this image is picturing for us is a life of instability as the wicked float from one whim to the next. ... ‘All they are is dust in the wind.’ [Russell J. Muilenburg, “The Costs of Living a Life  Without God” morning sermon, January 9, 2000].

What do you want to be: a mighty tree or chaff in the wind?

V.5 says more. “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.”

Judgment day is coming; and those who have not come into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ by feasting on the words of God in the Scriptures will not live through the judgment. When the “church of the firstborn” joins in heaven to sing the praises of Christ our Savior, these people will not be present.

Like chaff from grain, there will be a separation of the righteous and the wicked.  Those that love God’s words and those who do not.

The two paths will diverge and their destinations will be very different. V.6 makes this plain. It is either/or.

“For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

#3. STAY ON THE RIGHT TRACK.

Stay on the right path.

Choose the path, the way of the righteous.

Because it’s either/or.

It’s either flourishing or dying.
It’s either prospering or perishing.
It’s either winning or losing.

It often doesn’t seem like it!

The world will lie to you about the path you are on.

But God’s Word makes it clear.

The wicked will die in the judgment. If you choose that path, it ends in perishing.

But the other path, the path of delight in God through His Word, ends in being “watched over,” guided, directed by God Himself in personal relationship.

“The LORD watches over the way of the righteous.”

Never out of His sight.  Never out of His watch-care.

God doesn’t rest in caring for the travelers of the righteous road.

So stay on that track.

And you do that by faith.

This is not saying, “Stay a good little boy. Or stay a good little girl. Keep your nose clean.”

This is saying trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all of your ways know Him, and He will make straight your paths.

Let me ask you.

Which track are you on?

Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior and your Lord and are following Him by faith?

That’s another way of talking about the way of the righteous.

Is that the road you’re on?

That’s the road to winning. That’s the road to the good life.

That’s the road to blessing.

Or maybe you’ve been walking the path of the wicked.

Or flirting with it.

Listening the world, standing with the world, mocking with the world.

If so, today, I want to challenge you to take a detour. To repent.

That’s what repent means–to take a detour, to change direction, to jump paths.

To pull a U-turn in the middle of the road!

I challenge you to turn off of the way of the wicked and place your trust in Jesus Christ and what He did on the Cross. Because on the Cross, He took the punishment for sin and He paid the penalty that sin had accrued.

Catch this: Jesus took the penalty for the way of the wicked. And He perished!

But death could not hold Him down.

He came back to life in victory!

And He gives us the power of His righteousness.

Jesus lived Psalm 1 perfectly.

Nobody avoided compromise with the crowd like Jesus.

Nobody delighted in the Law of the LORD like Jesus did.

Nobody was embodied that tree of verse 3 like Jesus did!

Everything He does prospers.

And He gives us His perfect record, His fulfilling Psalm 1 with His perfect life when we trust in Him.

And then He helps us to stay on that right track.

To keep turning right on the way of the righteous.

Until we come to the finish line, victory in Jesus, our savior forever!


***

[Readers with simply amazing memories might recognize that this message incorporates many words from "What's At Stake At Family Bible Week?" a sermon on Psalm One preached 13 years ago (which was also dependent on an even earlier message "Either/Or" preached long before blogging was a thing).]

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