Psalm 1: Blessed, 3 July 2022

Psalm 1: Blessed
Series—Restoring Your Soul: Psalms

Series Big Idea:
The Psalms are filled with passionate expressions of the soul.
Big Idea: True blessings are found in seeking and following the LORD.
Shortcuts. We all love short cuts. The modern expression is hacks. How can do have it our way…now? Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Everybody wants to be rich, but nobody wants to work. Everybody wants a fit spouse, but nobody wants to be the one going to the gym. Everybody wants a degree, but nobody wants to study. Everybody wants to play the piano, but nobody wants to practice.
I realize everybody and nobody are exaggerations, but it’s true, right? We all want hacks to make life easier. Here’s one for you:
Everybody wants to be blessed, but nobody wants to obey the LORD.
Today we’re beginning a summer series on the Psalms called “restoring your soul.” Psalms may be my favorite book of the Bible. It is the songbook of scripture, though we don’t have the original music, unfortunately. I recently learned of an Australian musical group called The Sons of Korah who are trying to put all 150 psalms to music! They have dozens completed thus far.
The Psalms are filled with passionate expressions of the soul from a number of different writers. It is my prayer that they will speak not only to your mind, but also your heart and soul
A blessing is literally “God’s favor and protection.” Who doesn’t want that?
Today we’re beginning our series with Psalm…one! Its first letter is the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. I learned in studying for this sermon the Psalms have five sections or books just like the Pentateuch, the first five books of Moses that begin the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible. Psalm one is something of an introduction to the entire songbook, but it’s a simple yet profound piece of wisdom. The big idea is
true blessings are found in seeking and following the LORD. Don’t look for shortcuts. You can pray for blessings—for yourself or others—but we can participate with our lives.
The New International Version of Psalm 1 begins
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, (Psalm 1:1, NIV)
That’s a mouthful. We’re going to use the
New Living Translation this morning, but I want you to catch the “blessed.” Some versions say “happy.” The original Hebrew word is “Asheri.” That doesn’t mean much to most of you, but the NLT translates it
Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. (Psalm 1:1, NLT)
I used to tell my kids, “You are your friends. Choose wisely.” Perhaps you’ve heard, “Birds of a feather, flock together.” Paul said,
“Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33). We are all influenced by others, whether it’s family, friends, or even social media. Who do you hang with? Are they wicked? Do they sin without regret or repentance? Do they mock others? Are they filled with pride? What comes out of their mouth? Would it be appropriate around children?
The very first sentence of the very first Psalm says one is blessed not when they ask God to bless them, but rather when they don’t let the wicked influence them. There is effort involved. There is self-control involved. It may mean thinking twice about how you spend your time…with whom you spend your time!
This does not mean we should never develop relationships with non-Christians. It does mean in doing so we need to shine light into the darkness, not let our light get snuffed out by the darkness. Notice the progression: walk/follow, stand, sit/join. The righteous don’t have time to stand around and mock and gossip because they’re delighting in the LORD.
The LORD said to Joshua,
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)
You’ll be blessed!
The psalmist continues the thought in verse two:
But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night. (Psalm 1:2, NLT)
This is what a blessed person does. If you want to experience joy, this is what you do. You fill your mind with truth. You meditate not on your navel, but on the scriptures! According to numerous studies, biblical illiteracy has been on the increase for decades. Even many so-called Christians don’t know what the Bible says…or act like they don’t! I’ve been amazed—especially in the past few years—at the ungodly attitudes of so-called Christians. I expect the world to act like the world, but the lack of love, peace, compassion, empathy, courage, sacrifice, patience, and goodness of many who claim to follow Christ is evidence many simply don’t meditate on the Word of God. They’ve been more influenced by political parties or trendy ideas than on the law of the LORD.
Family, we need to meditate on the Bible day and night. Just reading it isn’t sufficient. Thirty minutes on Sunday morning is not enough. Most people I know eat more than one meal a week…more than one meal a day! We need to not only feed our bodies, we need to feed our minds. We need to feast on God’s Word, especially when we’re exposed to countless lies every day on billboards, television, and the Internet.
The Hebrew word for meditate,
hagah, means to moan, growl, ponder. The same word is found in Isaiah 3:14 for a lion’s low growling and later for the cooing of a dove. Perhaps you’ve tried to memorize something, repeating it quietly out loud. Day and night the blessed, the happy, the joyful marinate their minds on God’s Word. It is their delight. By the way, the Hebrew word for “law,” Torah, is more than just rules. It’s all of the stories, prophecies, and instructions in the Bible, provided for us to know and understand God and reality.
It's no wonder our world is filled with so many opinions and perspectives. People are reading different books…literally! What is your basis for faith? For truth? For understanding life?
We’ve given you several tools to help you meditate on God’s Word. Let me remind you of some of them:
1.    Mission 119. This free app will guide you through the entire Bible over about 20 months. Alliance Pastor John Soper will give you scriptures and offer a daily audio commentary on the passage, which is especially helpful in those difficult texts. I’m doing it for the third time now and it’s one of the best habits I’ve ever done.
    Lectio 365. This is another free app which has both a morning and an evening meditation on God’s Word. It provides space for prayer and reflection as well as biblical content. Heather and I do it most every day together and it’s one of the best investments we’ve made in ourselves and our marriage.
    RightNow Media. First Alliance pays for you to have a free subscription to this huge library of videos, all available on your mobile device or streaming box. There are resources for children, small groups, and personal Bible study from some of the best teachers on the planet.
    YouVersion. This is so much more than a Bible app. It’s packed with Bible reading plans, videos, a verse of the day, and the “live” section has First Alliance Church each week!
    Life Groups. The heart of First Alliance is not actually Sunday morning in rows, but in circles with small groups. It’s difficult to interact with my preaching live (unless you’re online; chat away!), but doing life together with others is a terrific environment to not only feed on the Bible but also digest it into your soul.
Of course, there are many other ways to get God’s Word in your heart, letting it fill your mind. The best Bible translation is…the one you read! I like the New Living Translation and the New International Version, but if you prefer a different one, go for it! I like my
NIV Study Bible and my Life Application Bible.
One core value of our Alliance family states, “Knowing and obeying God’s Word is fundamental to all true success.”
One of this church’s core values says, “We are committed to prayer, the Word of God, and following Jesus.” Don’t miss that last part. It’s not enough to know it in your head. It needs to leak into your heart and hands, too!

Arguably the best chapter in the Bible about the Bible is Psalm 119. It’s the longest chapter in the Bible (176 verses!). If you want a great place to start meditating on God’s Word, read it slowly. Those who delight in God’s Word, those who meditate on it…
They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. (Psalm 1:3, NLT)
Have you ever slowed down long enough to observe trees? God designed them to get nourishment through their roots and the results can be seen in the leaves. It seems like trees near water have an advantage! Even when the weather is dry, a tree near water is able to drink. They are able to bear fruit. I love fruit, especially fresh fruit!
But have you ever had bad fruit? Moldy fruit? Those who feed on God’s Word, those who meditate on the LORD, will produce good fruit, the fruit of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a, NIV)
This is the fruit of doing life with God, filling our minds with truth and righteousness. Note trees don’t eat their own fruit, but produce it to benefit others. That’s true for the righteous.
But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. (Psalm 1:4, NLT)
I’m no gardener, but I know the wheat and chaff are separated. One has value, the other is worthless trash. The kernel falls to the threshing floor and saved while the chaff blows away. Imagine a watermelon. You eat the fruit and throw away the rind, right? This is how God describes the wicked, those who ignore God and His wisdom. It gets worse.
They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. (Psalm 1:5, NLT)
Judgment Day is coming…for all humans. Are you ready? I know our culture is filled with gray, but scripture repeatedly talks about the sheep and the goats, the wide and narrow road, heaven and hell. There are two paths. Which have you taken? It’s never too late to repent, turn, and follow Jesus.
For the LORD watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction. (Psalm 1:6, NLT)
Which path are you choosing?
Jesus once said,
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28, NIV)
It’s not enough to hear it. It’s not enough to read it. We must live it!
Do you want to be blessed? There’s something you can do about it! To experience God’s favor, you need to seek and follow Him. It’s not enough to say, “Bless me, LORD!” There are no shortcuts. You need to spend time with Him, meditate on His Word, surround yourselves with others who will speak the truth in love and model a Jesus lifestyle. Garbage in, garbage out. Good stuff in, good stuff out!
The message today is quite simple, yet we’re so easily enticed by the lies of this world and miss the pathway to blessings. It’s ultimately about seeking and following the LORD. It’s about building your life around Jesus. It’s about Christ being our cornerstone…our life!
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance. (Psalm 33:12, NIV)
May God bless the United States of America this week as we celebrate our freedom…and may He bless every nation on earth!

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Hope in God’s Promise, 29 March 2020

Joyfully Hope in God’s Promise
Series—Jeremiah: Called to Faithfulness
Jeremiah 31

Series Big Idea: Jeremiah was faithful despite his difficult prophetic task.

Big Idea: God has promised a wonderful future for those who follow and obey Him.

I did it! It took a while, but I finally did it. I know I was given an extension, but seeing those two letters from the federal government for days—weeks?—led me to just do it. I went online and did the US Census!

I couldn’t remember what questions would be asked. It’s been ten years! I expected to answer my name and address. I wasn’t surprised by the race question. I marked the “White” box. But then it asked me for more detail. The Census website says,

The category “White” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. These groups include, but are not limited to, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Polish, French, Iranian, Slavic, Cajun, and Chaldean.

There was a blank under “White” and it wanted more detail. German? Yes. Irish? I don’t think so. Of course, many have been surprised by their results. I’ve never taken one of those tests, but I’m fairly confident of the ethnic heritage of both of my parents.

What is your ethnicity? Do you know much about your family of origin, your nationality?

By the way, I believe there’s only one “race…” the human race!

Few people groups on the planet have endured more hardship and persecution than the Jews. They’ve had and lost land. They’ve had and lost their temple. Thousands of years after God’s covenant with Abraham, the Jews continue to follow and break that covenant. Fortunately, there’s a new covenant…and Jews and Gentiles alike are invited to participate in it.

This month we’ve been looking at the book of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah was called by God to speak some uncomfortable truths to the Jewish people. After Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, God led the people of Israel to the Promised Land. The Jewish nation divided and became the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah (1 Kings 11-12). Even worse than their relationship with one another was their relationship with God. It seemed to change like the weather. There were moments when they worshipped God and moments when they turned to worship idols…sometimes even in God’s temple! There were times when they were repentant of their sins—ashamed of their behavior—and other times when they were proud of their rebellion and evil. Like a roller coaster, their righteousness went up and down, and along with it, their relationship with God.

The remarkable thing about God is grace. He is a God of second-chances. He is a God of mercy and forgiveness. But we must repent. We must turn away from our sin and return to God. When we repent and return, He will restore us into a right relationship with Him. That’s where we find true joy—not in circumstances, but in a relationship with God.

Some people flippantly say God loves everyone. While that’s true—for God so loved the world—a relationship requires two parties. I may love you, but if you reject me, we won’t have fellowship. We’re all on God’s “bad list” until we repent and obey.

God and the Israelites have had a complicated history, a relationship that is sometimes hot, but usually cold. Quite simply, the people were usually more concerned about being like their neighbors than living a radical, counter-cultural lifestyle devoted to the LORD.

This might sound familiar. This might describe our nation. Whether or not we were ever a “Christian nation,” we seem to trust the money which bears the slogan “In God We Trust” more than God. That was, at least, until COVID-19. Is God getting our attention? Is God getting your attention?

He has a way of doing that! He gives us freedom. We weren’t created to be robots. Every day we choose whether to follow God or the world. Every hour we make such decisions.

Our text today is from the book of Jeremiah, chapter 31. God has expressed His displeasure with the people and begins to cast a vision for the future, for a time when the people will return to Him, trust Him, make Him LORD, and obey.

“At that time,” declares the LORD, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:1)

He declares they will be a united people. The sins of King Solomon and his foolish son Rehoboam which divided the Jewish nation will be reunited. The land will be restored. People will accept responsibility for their sins.

The next nineteen verses speak of a restored Israel. In the end times, God will restore the Jews to their land (Ephraim is a reference to the northern kingdom of Israel). Verses 21-26 talk about a restored Judah. People will experience the blessing of the LORD as people come together in harmony despite their past differences.

Are you with me? It’s about to get good!

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 31:31-32)

God had made a covenant with the Jews, but they repeatedly broke it. Unlike a contract, a covenant is a solemn commitment. In biblical times, it usually involved the sacrifice of an animal, the shedding of blood. God made such a covenant with Abraham. Abraham and his descendants would be God’s people, and through the Jewish people, all nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). The old covenant was made with Abraham, but now God describes a new covenant, a future relationship.

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

This was God’s plan from the beginning, to be LORD, to be their guide. In the old covenant, people would receive temporary blessings as they turned back to God (as they did under Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Hezekiah and Josiah). They had moments of revival, but they didn’t last.

The great evangelist Billy Sunday was once told revivals weren’t necessary because they didn’t last. He replied, “A bath doesn’t last, but it’s good to have one occasionally.”

This new covenant is more than just renewal or revival. It’s not just something for the people to obey, but something in both their minds and hearts, not on stone tablets. It’s personal. Instead of focusing on conduct, the new covenant changes character. God is saying in the future, a beautiful relationship will emerge.

The new covenant is internalized in minds and hearts.

No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

All the people will know God…not just about God, but actually know God, be in a relationship with God. The Hebrew word here for “know” is “yada,” implying a relationship more than just facts. Within that relationship, God will forgive—and forget—their sins. That’s good news! That’s great news!
The new covenant involves the forgiveness of sin.

I need to pause and say these words were not written to us, but they were written for us. Remember, God is speaking to the Jewish people.

This is what the LORD says,

he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the LORD Almighty is his name:

“Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,” declares the LORD, “will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.” (Jeremiah 31:35-36)

If you know the story of the Prodigal Son, you know God is a loving Father who never gives up on His children, even when they walk away and break His heart.

This is what the LORD says:

“Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 31:37)

The imagery is beautiful. God will never break His promises to Israel.

The new covenant involves a new city, a new Jerusalem.

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah. The whole valley where dead bodies and ashes are thrown, and all the terraces out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far as the corner of the Horse Gate, will be holy to the LORD. The city will never again be uprooted or demolished.” (Jeremiah 31:38-40)

When I visited South Korea many years ago, I was surprised to learn the small peninsula had been invaded many times throughout history, some saying as many as 2000 times! While many historians disagree, South Koreans live with an awareness of both past invasions and the potential for a future disruption, demolition, uprooting.

The Jewish people were well-aware of such upheaval throughout their history. This prophecy is wonderful, the promise of God filled with hope.

So What?

The book of Jeremiah was written around 600 BC, so it’s about 2600 years old. Did God keep His promises to the Jews?

Yes…and not yet.

One of the challenges with biblical prophecy is discerning what has been fulfilled and what remains to be fulfilled. The story of humanity is not complete, as I hope you know! There are many events described in the Bible which remain in the future.

The great marker in history was Jesus. He ushered in the new covenant on the cross (Matthew 26:27-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20). Gentiles have been grafted in with the Jews to participate in the new covenant (Romans 11:12-32; Ephesians 3:1-6), which is why these ancient words have relevance for non-Jews today. All followers of Jesus share in the new covenant (Hebrews 8:6-13; 10:14-18). They are born again, made new, alive in Christ, new creations, regenerated into the family of God (John 3:1-21; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:11; Ephesians 2:13).

I mentioned biblical covenants involved blood. Jesus’ death on the cross involved blood. He was the perfect sacrifice. I often say First Alliance Church is not about religion, but a relationship…with Jesus. It’s all about Jesus.

Do you know Jesus? I don’t mean do you know about Jesus, but do you know him? He came to connect us to our heavenly Father. He showed us what it means to be human. He taught timeless truths which have literally changed the world. His death and resurrection conquered sin and shame, making it possible for all of our failures to be forgotten, all of our mistakes erased, all of our brokenness mended.

Jesus is the Messiah the Jews were anticipating. He’s the one prophesied in the Old Testament. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He’s seated now at the right hand of the Father (Luke 22:69; Ephesians 1:20), awaiting the moment when he is instructed to return to earth, not as a baby in a manger, but a triumphant king to rule and reign forever.

Some treat the gospel—the good news—as going to heaven when you die. If that’s the case, what do we do in the meantime? The gospel—the good news—is Jesus is LORD, and we get to go to heaven before we die. We get to experience joy, peace, meaning, satisfaction, and love now. Heaven is where God is, and He wants to do life with us now! He wants to lead us now! He wants to be with us now! When you follow Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit, too, God the Spirit living inside you to fill you with gifts and fruit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Many of the things described in Jeremiah have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, yet some things remain.

It might be simplistic to say, but the Old Testament was about the old covenant, given to Moses. The New Testament was about the new covenant, rooted in Jesus.

One thing that remains is God has promised a wonderful future for those who follow and obey Him. I’m glad—especially as a Gentile—that I’m living on this side of the cross, a participant in the new covenant. I love grace—unmerited favor—and need a lot of it! I’m grateful for the cross and empty tomb and the forgiveness and freedom it offers.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ friend John who said,

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:8-9)

This pandemic will eventually be over, but the greater enemy in our world is sin. The good news is there is a cure that can wipe away all of our sins…Jesus. He is inviting you and me today into a relationship with him that will last for eternity, both now and in the life to come.

Tragically, many people have rejected God. They did it in Jeremiah’s day and they do it in ours. They think they’re wiser and smarter than God, or they simply want to do things their way. I urge you, don’t be like the fools in the Bible who rejected God. Repent and receive the abundant life Jesus offers. Choose today, tomorrow, and every day to surrender to Jesus.

I don’t understand why COVID-19 is ravaging our planet, but I know who does. I think God might be trying to get our attention, reminding us of the things that really matter, and inviting us into a deeper relationship with Him.

The vision God paints for Jeremiah is beautiful…unity, righteous living, forgiven sins, a new city, and most of all a relationship with Him. Our scripture today is packed with hope for those who follow Jesus, the Messiah who ushered in the new covenant available to every man, woman and child on earth.

Today can be your day to begin your spiritual journey…or get back on the path. Don’t wait another moment to get right with God. He knows you, He loves you, He’s inviting you to do life with Him. God has promised a wonderful future for those who follow and obey Him. The best is yet to come.

Credits: some ideas from D6, Warren Wiersbe

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • You can watch this online worship experience here.
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