Sunday, February 5, 2017

Blessed

I return today to my crusade to redeem church words. And to do that I’m going to read what I am sure is a very familiar psalm. And if you’ve read the title of the sermon, you know what word I’ve decided to rescue.

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. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1


So, let’s consider that first word, blessed. All too often it is simply passed by without much thought. That’s because, all too often, it’s just some vague, religious word about something or other that really doesn’t make much of a difference. But that’s just not true. This is an important word, and to those who understand it, it will, in fact, make a large difference.

So, what does it mean that God blesses someone? It’s not at all complicated. It means that God will do some good to that person. The question to ask at this point is obvious. What is this good that’s supposed to make so much difference?

We do not have far to go for an answer. Just look at the psalm. It uses the metaphor of a thriving tree.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.

How lush and fruitful. This is quite a picture. And it’s the picture of the person whom God is blessing.

However, that doesn’t do enough to answer our question. What exactly is this metaphor picturing? What is this supposed to look like in someone’s life? And again, we’re not stuck for an answer. The psalm tells us, and that in rather literal terms.
         
In all that he does, he prospers.

Well, that’s pretty clear - as long as you understand what the psalmist means by ‘prosper’. Dictionaries can help - sometimes. Here’s one dictionary’s definition of ‘prosper’:

To be successful or fortunate, especially in financial respects; thrive; flourish.

Does that help? Well, maybe. Isn’t it interesting that the stress is on wealth? To prosper, according to the first part of this definition, is mostly about money. Is that what God is promising? Is that what His blessing is about? Sadly, there are some who would respond with a hearty ‘Yes’. But they would be wrong. The part of the definition that fits our psalm is at the end of the definition. It’s where it uses the words ‘thrive’ and ‘flourish’. When God blesses someone, that person thrives. He flourishes just like a tree planted by streams of water.

We’re getting closer to a good understanding. But we still need to do a little more work here. So, what might that thriving include? It’s actually not all about flourishing financially. Our finances are only a part of who we are. No, thriving is actually about flourishing as a person. It is about all of who we are, not just this or that part.

The Scriptures have a lot to say about flourishing as people. Here are some examples of what’s included.

Flourishing as a person is about having a sense of yourself that is so rooted in God’s acceptance and approval that what others might think of you doesn’t trip you up. Or even better, it’s about having a sense of yourself that is so rooted in God’s acceptance and approval that what you think about yourself doesn’t trip you up.

Flourishing as a person is about not stressing and becoming anxious when life gets a little crazy or even a lot crazy.

Flourishing as a person is about having a good plan for your life, one that seems to be working pretty well.

Flourishing as a person is about having good friends and being a good friend.

And flourishing as a person is about being content with what God is doing with your life, warts and all. And that’s just a sampling.

When God blesses someone, these are the kinds of good things that He creates in that person’s life. And I think that you can see that God doing good to us in these sorts of ways really does make a difference. It makes a very large difference. God blessing us is about His making us whole people.

Well, now we have a better definition for our church word. Let’s explore a little further by asking a question. Does God bless indiscriminately? Is this something that happens to Christians just because they’re Christians? I think that it’s fair to say that this is a common understanding of God’s blessing. But it would be wrong. God doesn’t just bless. He has conditions. He has established requirements that need to be met if He is to bless. As a result, there are Christians who are being greatly blessed by God, people who are making serious progress when it comes to becoming whole. They are meeting the conditions. And then, there are all the other Christians. God’s blessing is not automatic.

The next question is obvious. What are these conditions? What is it that a Christian is supposed to do so that he can be blessed and thus flourish as a person? Well, again, the psalm tells us.

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;

These are things that the man who is blessed avoids.

But then, there are also things that this believer pursues.

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

The blessed Christian is someone who meditates on the Scriptures, and he does that lots. 

So, how does this work? Is it a matter of spending a certain number of hours pondering some Scripture so that God will bless with a level one blessing? And then, adding more hours to that for a level two blessing? Is that it? That sounds terrible, like some business transaction. It sounds like buying God’s blessings, using time instead of money. Is that how this works? No.

Consider. What happens when someone meditates on some bit of Scripture? Here’s one big thing that happens. He sees reality more clearly. He sees what real life actually is about, in contrast with the myths and lies about life that he has been told. He gets to know God a bit better, understanding something more of what He is up to. He gets to understand people better, and that includes understanding himself better. Or to say all of this in a different way, he gets to see more clearly what flourishing as a whole person is all about.

Meditating on the Scriptures clarifies reality. And seeing that reality more clearly, this person wants more of what is real. He wants to get rid of those myths and lies. Now that he sees a bit more clearly what it means to be whole, he wants it. Seeing these good things, he wants God to bless him with those good things that he sees. And that’s exactly what God does. As a result, meditation that might have started out as something that person feels obligated to do becomes something he relishes. Or to use the language of the psalm again,

but his delight is in the Law of the Lord.

Now, meditating on the Scriptures doesn’t mean that you have to become a Bible scholar with all the books and spending tons of time researching what you read. It’s simply thinking about some bit of Scripture. In fact, one way to begin the habit might be to simply take something from a sermon and think about it. After all, what’s a sermon? It’s the result of my meditating on some Scripture. So, as a way to start, you might let me do the first steps of taking a text apart and then build on that. And if you do that sort of thing, in time you won’t need me to take those first steps. You’ll want to do that yourself.

The point I want to make is simply this. Meditating doesn’t have to be some burden. Take five minutes to think about a sentence you’ve read, maybe even during your drive to or from work. Now, I do think that in time you will want to invest more than five minutes. But it won’t be because you’re obligated. You’re going to be seeing things in the Scriptures that you will find so helpful that you’re going to want to spend the time looking for more. As you find some of the treasures of the Scriptures as a result of your meditations, you’ll be encouraged to dig for more.

So, let me summarize the main point of the sermon. God blesses His people. He will do good to them so that they will flourish as people. Now, the question to ask at this point is simply this. Do you want that? Do you want to flourish as a person? If you do, then you will meditate on the Scriptures.

And for my last thought I return, again, to the question I usually ask. Why is this important? What I’ve said this morning is important not primarily because of the benefits that can come your way, though there are many benefits for you to enjoy. It’s important for reasons that go beyond your welfare. It seems to me that we have an abundance of what I’m going to call ‘meh Christians’. I suppose they believe the Gospel, but there isn’t much about their Christianity that is very attractive. I’m not saying that ‘real Christians’ are these extroverted people who are always excited by what they’ve just read in their Bibles, and all they do is talk with great emotion about Jesus. Clearly, the introvertedme wouldn’t want to present that as normal. And that’s good because it isn’t how the Bible defines normal. But it does seem to me that each Christian, according to his or her personality and situation and calling, is to live in such a way that it says something good about what it means to follow Jesus. This can become a blessing of God to other Christians who will be encouraged by what they see. This can also become a blessing of God to people who aren’t Christians, people whose lives aren’t working, people who aren’t flourishing and who are beginning to see that. Your flourishing as a person can become the tool that the Spirit uses to bring them to Jesus. Your meditating on the Bible, with the resultant blessings, can become some very powerful evangelism.

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