Meditations on Psalm 81 (or Skip the Asparagus)

This morning I’m meditating over Psalm 81, and I’m amazed at how some things seem to never change.  One of them is man’s inability to fully break out of the cycle of sin.  I shouldn’t be amazed at this.  Logically I understand that we are born into sin and sin is borne within us, thanks to the whole episode in the garden with the serpent and Adam and Eve and the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (not an apple, by the way – probably some more nefarious vegetation like asparagus which, I know, does not grow on trees but…). 

What is illogical to me is why we keep jumping on this merry-go-round of sin when we know the spinning makes us sick.  You know the routine: commit sin, feel guilty / ashamed / convicted / condemned (etc.), go to God, repent (or have the intention thereof), ask for God’s forgiveness, receive God’s forgiveness, thank God for His forgiveness, and love, and grace, and mercy, and provision, and wisdom…, feel better, get comfortable, somehow manage to forget all the wonderful things of the Lord, get tempted by sin (like a cat glaring at a shaking, shiny toy), pursue said shiny toy, commit sin, realize we just did it again, and round-and-round we go…

Shouldn’t we know better by now?

If you think you’re alone in this, you are not.  We all struggle.  We always have.  And, if you love God, you will continue to.  At least as long as you draw breath on this earth.  Why?  Because we all sin.  Its in our very being.  The curse is so pervasive that it is almost as if it is part of our DNA.  If we truly love Christ, we recognize and feel remorse for our sin.  If we do not love Him, we simply go about our merry way doing whatever without any real care about eternity.

In other words, we are all sinners.  If my sin bothers me, good.  It better bother me.  If it doesn’t… time for a major heart and head check / change.

The Israelites were caught up in this cycle.  Psalm 81 opens with the declaration that we are to praise God – noisily and joyously! – for He is “our strength.”  Then there is the reminder of what the Lord has done, directly saving His children from bondage in Egypt (“I relieved your shoulder of the burden; you hands were freed from the basket”).  Once enslaved in this godless place, the people of God are now walking in His freedom.  They cried out in their “distress,” and He came to their rescue.

And yet… “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel did not listen to me.  So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels” (Psalm 81:11-12, ESV).


As history has shown us time and again, this repeated pattern has resulted in repeated disastrous results.  But, if God’s people would only pursue Him, seek His will and His ways, “I would subdue their enemies and turn my hands against their foes” (Psalm 81: 14, ESV).  And that is one of those “thus sayeth the Lord” moments.

And, lest you think this merely applies to the Israelites… think again.  I find the wording of the concluding verse of Psalm 81 to be particularly interesting: “But he would feed you with the finest wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you” (Psalm 81:16, ESV, italics added for emphasis).  The immediate image that comes to my mind is of Peter (“the rock”) and the church.  The imperfect community of the absolutely perfect Jesus Christ, God incarnate.  These admonitions, warnings and blessings all apply to the body of Christ as much as it did to the Israelites.  We are God’s children, and He wants us to live in His light – to be salt and light, a light atop a hill, a beacon to the world. 

Understand where you are, and who you are, in Christ.  You are cleansed.  You are forgiven.  You are blessed and loved.  You are a child – an heir – of the Living God, Creator and Sustainer of All!  Remember where you have been, the sinful places where you batted at the shiny object, but only so you do not go back there – or even look back longingly.  You may desire – or even crave – “the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic” (Numbers 11:5, ESV).  But, trust me, it isn’t worth it.  It is all asparagus.  Nasty, mushy, stringy, bitter, sinful asparagus.


“Trust in the Lord and do good…” (Psalm 37:3).  “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you” (Matthew 6:33).  “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.  Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10, ESV).


Incontrovertible (or Don’t Be a Fool!)

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. – Psalm 14:1 (ESV)

I am blown away!

As part of a new believer’s project I’m working on, I’ve been studying about the accuracy and validity of the Bible.  And, wow… nearly 25,000 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament – some fragments, some entire books, some the entire NT – exist.  The oldest is a fragment of John’s gospel, dated to a mere 25-70 years after the original writing.  Compare that to Homer’s The Iliad, the second best preserved ancient writing.  There are 643 copies in existence – a far cry from 25,000 NT artifacts.  And we’re not considering the Old Testament manuscripts (Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.). 

And consider the canon of Scripture itself: 66 books, written by over 40 writers from vastly different walks of life (from mighty kings to humble fishermen), on three continents in three languages using several different, disparate genres, over the span of roughly 1500 years.  And still, despite all that, is incredibly homogenous, telling one continuous story from Genesis to Revelation.  It all fits and, even more amazing, does not contradict itself at any point.  No hoax goes on for 1500 years.  Clearly, despite the 40 writers, there is obviously only One Author: God Himself. 

Yet there are still people who want to disprove the validity – and value – of Scripture.  Doubts are cast (ex.: “how can the Bible be accurate after being translated sooooooo many times?”, etc… etc… etc…).  But the proof is there.  Look at the historical data and you will see that Scripture is real, accurate and alive.

Think about it… the disciples gave their lives to Christ, and died for Him.  The same fate befell many of the early church fathers who left written testimony of the accuracy and historicity of the Scriptures.  Now, ask yourself: how many people do you know who would die for a fraud or a hoax?  Which is more delusional: to accept the incontrovertible facts of the accuracy, authority and legitimacy of the Bible – the very living and active Word of God revealed through man to the world.  Or to refuse to look at the reality of the evidence about the Bible.

Consider this:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:1-5, 14 (ESV)

Once you accept that Scripture is true and valid, you must accept all it says as such.  When Scripture makes audacious claims as being God breathed, then you must accept that this is God’s Word.  And, further still, when you realize the Word became flesh – Jesus Christ Who is God Incarnate – then denying the authority of Scripture is the same thing as saying there is no God. 

And only a fool would say there is no God.

Take Courage! Step Out!

“But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” – Matthew 14:27 (NIV)

Poor Peter.  The guy gets a bum rap.  The gospels are replete with examples of the fisherman-turned-apostle messing up.  He says the wrong things, does the wrong things, thinks the wrong thoughts. He zealously does what he thinks is right, only to find himself (sometimes withering) on the wrong end of Jesus’ rebuke.  I mean, when Jesus looks you in the eye and says, “Get thee behind me, Satan,” that cannot be a comfortable experience.

But, give Simon Peter this much: he has moxy.  Or at least a healthy does of machismo.  Far more importantly, he loves the Lord.  One cannot deny His devotion to Jesus.  (Excepting, of course, the thrice denial of Christ during His trial, but that’s for another time.)

As I prepare to teach a Bible study on the life of the Apostle Peter, I am reminded again of just how much Cephas is like all of us.  He is truly “flawed yet chosen,” as are we.  One of Peter’s finest moments comes on the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus has sent the apostles off in a boat – and straight into a storm.  The apostles are absolutely panicked.  They probably think their boat is going to capsize and they are going to drown. 

Suddenly, Jesus appears – standing on the swirling, churning waters.  OK… imagine that if you can.  It’s the middle of the night.  You’re tired.  You’re frightened out of your wits.  You are fearing for your very life!  And then… Jesus appears, walking on the water.  Not just walking on water.  Walking on swelling waves amidst a terrifying storm.  And what does Jesus say to them?  “Take courage!  It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”

And who is the first one to recognize Jesus (although he is having a tough time believing his eyes)?  Peter.  And who steps out onto the seas when beckoned by Christ?  Peter.  And who walks on the water toward the Lord?  Peter. 

And what happens when Peter takes his eyes off Jesus and looks at the storm that is raging around him?  He begins to drown.

The lessons to glean from these few verses in Matthew are many.  But here are three key points I want us all to take away from this:

1. John Ortberg was right.  If you want to walk on water, you have to step out of the boat.  You can sit in a fetal position and rock out of fear.  Or you can stand up and step out boldly – courageously – into the future God has planned for you.

2. Jesus Christ is your courage.  If you are relying solely on your abilities and strength, you may be bitterly disappointed.  But, if you follow God – seeking first and foremost His kingdom (His will, His ways) – you will find joy, peace, abundant life!  It will take courage.  There will be people who don’t understand you or what you’re doing; who will mock you; who, frankly, will not like Who you stand for.  Find your courage, strength and acceptance in Christ.  Nothing is impossible for God!  He will meet your needs.  He will light your path.  He will guide you along the way.  He will never leave you nor abandon you.  He is in control.  So trust Him.

3. Keep your eyes on Christ!  When shooting a bow-and-arrow, one must keep his eyes looking through the sight aimed at the bullseye ahead.  Turn your gaze and you will miss the target.  Do not focus on your circumstances.  Focus on God.  Focus on His promises.  Focus on His Word.  Focus on the love of Christ.  Focus on the Creator of All Who is also Truth Himself – Existence Himself. 

In short, fear not.  You may be facing a storm in life so daunting, so terrible, that the very thought of it makes your stomach queasy.  You can’t see a way through, can’t find a way out.  You don’t know how you’ll carry on.  Whatever you do, don’t give up.  Don’t quit.  Take your eyes off your situation and focus on God.  Seek the Lord and find the courage you need to get up and step out of your boat and into that stormy sea, knowing that Jesus is right there before you – right in the middle of the chaos – and He is saying to you, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

You are not alone.  You are greatly loved – more than you can ever measure.



Live life.

Live like there is no tomorrow.

Live life to the absolute limit.

Live with your eyes wide open, your heart wide open. your mind wide open.

Live like God is living within you (because He is).

Live for others.

Live lovingly.

Live creatively.

Live fruitfully.

Live life as you – the you God made you to be, not the “you” you think others expect you to be.

Live not seeking experiences but experiencing each moment.

Live to fill the lives of others with the love of Jesus.

Live to make your corner of the world a better place.

Live surrendered only to Jesus.

Live free, untethered by the junk of this world.

Live graciously.

Live humbly.

Live joyously.

Live led by faith, not circumstances.

Live seeking God first.

Live loving the people the LORD has placed in your life.

Live walking the path God has laid out before you.

Live strong.

Live wise.

Live investing your talents and gifts in others.

Live at peace with the LORD, with those around you, with yourself.

Live forgiving.

Live forgiven.

Live with the open curiosity of a child.

Live mercifully.

Live kindly.

Live abundantly – abundant in goodness.

Live in hope.

Live in peace.

Live in grace.

Live in the Light.

Live to give.

Live to love.