Happy is the Man Back to all sermons

Date: May 31, 2013

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Category: Psalms

Scripture: Psalm 1–1

Synopsis: During this service, we gave a Bible to each of the 6-year olds in the church. We also witnessed six couples (parents) dedicate themselves and their infants/ children to the Lord. What do these two events have in common? How does Psalm 1 tie them together? Find out in this message entitled Happy Is the Man and see if you have an “app-gap”.

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During this service, we are doing two special things. First, we have presented a Bible to each of the 6-year olds in our church. Then, at the end of the service, a number of our ECC couples will participate in a service of child dedication.

Now, you might ask, “What do these two events have to do with each other?” Apart from the fact that we are running out of Fridays before summer in a rather full church calendar, why put them on the same Friday and in the same service?

Actually there is a very strong connection. The connection is to be found in this book. (holding up the Bible) We have presented the 6-year old children with their own copy of this book. And part of the vow or pledge that the parents will be taking in the parent/child dedication contains these words:

“Do you dedicate yourselves with God’s help to do your best to set a godly example for your child, to teach him/her the Scriptures and to guide him/her according to Biblical principles?”

Why this emphasis? It is simple really. We love these little ones, don’t we? It’s built into our DNA. We love these babies and these little boys and girls. And because we love them, we want them to be happy.

This book actually contains a recipe for happiness. It is found in the Old Testament in the Book of Psalms. In fact it is in the very first psalm in the Book of Psalms.

Let’s read it together:

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;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 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.
 4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Blessed is the man. The word “blessed” is another way of saying “happy”. But it is not so much describing a person who feels happy, but a person whose life circumstances are favorable. Things are going well for him. He has cause for happiness. He is a person we would be willing to trade places with. If we had a different theology, we might translate this word “lucky, or fortunate”. But Biblically we recognize that all such true happiness comes as a blessing from the hands of God. It is a happiness we desire for ourselves and for these young ones that we are focusing on in our service today.

The psalmist goes on to describe this blessed or happy person, and he does so first in negative terms. He is happy and blessed because of what he does not do.

He walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

At first glance this verse seems to represent simply a good example of poetic repetition for emphasis with each line simply repeating the previous one but in different words. But a closer look reveals that there is a very definite sense of progression here. First we see it in the verbs: walk, stand and sit.

Then the second word in each phrase: counsel = advice, way = a well-beaten path, a habitual pattern of life, seat = dwelling place, a place of settled abode.

Then we look at the three different kinds of people mentioned. The wicked is translated in the KJV as ungodly. The general sense of the word is more one of what is lacking than in great wickedness. This person simply does not have God in his life. The sinners are those who by choice and life style are consistently sinning and living in violation of God’s standards. The scoffers or scornful are seen in the categories of Biblical Wisdom literature as almost beyond reform. These are the ones who have not only chosen a sinful lifestyle themselves, but actively recruit others to join them in this lifestyle, and mock and ridicule all who desire to do right.

Picture this progression in a modern setting, a mall here in Abu Dhabi. A young person is walking through the mall and he sees a group of other young people laughing and talking together. He walks past and listens to their conversation, their views on the world, and he begins to understand their world view, their passion for pleasure and the latest thrill. That is the first vignette. In the second one, this same young man is no longer walking past, listening. He is standing in the midst of the group. He is beginning to participate. He is becoming one of them. He is adding his own off-color jokes and comments to the mix. In the final scene, he is no longer standing. He is sitting down at the center of the group. He is more than a participant. He is a leader. He not only accepts their values, but he propagates them and actively mocks others who do not participate. This verse is a very definite picture of a progression of participation in evil.

But the blessed man, the happy man, woman, boy and girl is described as the one who avoids this downward spiral of sin. How does he do this?

The temptations and enticements of sin are all around us. The life style of the ungodly, his way of thinking and viewing the world, his philosophy, is everywhere. How can we avoid getting sucked in and deceived by it? How shall we aid these little ones to stand against the tide?

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

The word “delight” involves both mind and emotions. It has the idea of taking such pleasure in something that one thinks about it all the time. We all have those things in life that delight us. These are the things that draw our minds back again and again when we have time to ponder. And as we think about those things there is a deep sense of pleasure and joy.

This kind of joy and delight leads to meditation. The word “meditate” is an onomatopoeic word in Hebrew (a word whose sound is descriptive of its meaning). It is a word that describes a low, inarticulate murmuring like the cooing of doves. It conveys the picture of someone talking to himself. He is so intensely involved in his thoughts that he may actually be heard to speak them aloud.

And he does this day and night. Now this is not a burdensome thing to him. He is not doing this out of some grim sense of duty. God’s word is a source of delight to him. His mind and thoughts repeatedly return to the Word of God precisely because it gives him such delight and joy.

So, how does this verse relate to that first verse and the spiral of sin and evil? Where did the spiral of evil start? It began with the counsel of the ungodly; the advice, the ideas, the world view of the man without God. When this counsel reaches the blessed man, what is already in his mind? The word of God!

In the last 30 years, the world has been struck by an epidemic of a terrible disease called AIDS. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. As this terrible disease progresses, it renders the human body defenseless: unable to resist or fight off infection and illness.

When we look at the first two verses of Psalm 1, I think we can look at it in the context of a spiritual immune system. Too many Christians today are suffering from an Immune Deficiency. We are vulnerable to all the infections of the sinful world around us. The only way to counteract this vulnerability is by building up our immune system by regular meditation on God’s truth as found in the Scriptures.

In verse 3, the psalmist goes on to give us a word picture to describe the blessedness or happy state of the man who meditates on the word of God.

3 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 image here is clearly rooted in the Middle East, this region in which we live. This is not a picture of a wild tree, growing naturally in a verdant forest. The picture is that of a carefully tended tree in an oasis.

First of all, this tree is planted. The word here is not the common word for planting a seed. It is closer to our word for transplanting. It represents a tree deliberately placed and cared for.

The phrase “streams of water” is also an interesting choice of word in the original. It is not the word for a natural stream. Rather it is the word for a man-made channel; an irrigation canal; in Middle Eastern terms, a “falaj”. This stream is not subject to passing whims of weather, but planted close by a dependable source of nourishment. For the man and woman of God, that source of nourishment is the truth of God in the Scriptures.

This tree yields fruit in season. This is an important part of the picture. It takes patience for the fruit to grow and ripen. Have you looked at the date palms here in Abu Dhabi recently. The dates are forming in great clusters. But the dates are all green and quite small. In the next couple months they will grow larger and turn yellow until they hang heavy in great golden clusters in August and September. In its season, the tree bears its fruit. We are a generation raised on instant everything. But there is no such thing as instant fruit heavy with fruit. The fruit in our spiritual lives is a product of faithful feasting and meditating on God’s word.

Its leaf does not wither. A plant with withered leaves is a plant that lacks water or nutrients. The believer who meditates on Scripture will lack neither. Through mediation on the Scriptures, he has a constant supply of spiritual nourishment that enables him to flourish, no matter what is happening in the world around him.

This kind of stability and blessing is compared to the ungodly in the rest of the Psalm:

4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

There is a striking contrast here between the chaff and the tree. One is useful and valuable. The other is useless. One remains and is stable, the other is blown away by a small puff of wind.

When you think about the life ahead for ourselves and also for these little 6-year olds �" and for the little babies that will be dedicated at the close of the service, which of these images would we choose for our lives and theirs? Chaff or a deeply rooted and flourishing fruit tree? At the end of the day, the choice will be up to us. We must choose our priorities and our companions, both as individuals and as families. We must decide whether to indulge in the junk food of the world or the solid nourishment of God’s Word.

We can do that by having regular times of private reading and meditation on God’s Word. We can also do it as families. There is another passage of Scripture which paints this picture in Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

I love that description of a family that makes the words of God a central part of their daily conversation. Teach them diligently to your children. But we can only do that if these words are part of our own lives as parents.

While we were on vacation in South Africa, we had the opportunity to visit with Hermias and Anne-Mi Hendrikse who were long time members here at ECC. In the course of one of our conversations, Anne-Mi told us a humorous story of a conversation she had with a young mother about computers, ipads and other devices and the various “apps” (or application programs) available for these devices. The mother was feeling compelled to buy her 6-year old an ipad because she did not want her child to experience what she referred to as an “app-gap”.

As members of an older generation that is sometimes reluctant to embrace the latest electronic technology, we managed to get quite a bit of mileage out of that phrase and our own burgeoning “app-gaps”. But then it struck me. Isn’t this an accurate diagnosis of what is often wrong in our Christian lives, in our families and in our churches? We are suffering from a serious “app-gap”. We know what God promises. We believe in the life-changing power of God’s Word. But if we are honest, all too often there is an “app-gap”; a gap between what we say and what we do.

We have given these 6-year old children a Bible. But will this prove to be just an empty symbol? Parents, you will pledge to teach your children the Scriptures. But will these prove to simply be empty words? We all know that our children will not do as we say. They will do as we do. Do they see this book and its truth as central in our lives as parents, as adults? What conclusions will they draw from our actions? Will they see an “app-gap”?

Do we want this happiness, this blessing of God upon ourselves and our families? The recipe begins by hearing and doing the Word of God.

Then and only then will we prepare and equip ourselves and our children to stand against the temptations and enticements of the world around us. Then and only then will we be truly happy in the blessed happiness that comes from the hand of God.

QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION

  1. Read Psalm 1 together.
  2. Discuss the progression (or regression) described in verse 1. Share examples from real life. What are some everyday examples of “the counsel of the wicked” and how is it spread?
  3. How does the “blessed” or “happy” man/woman/young person avoid this downward spiral of evil?
  4. Discuss your own personal strategies for meditating (feeding your mind) on God’s truth? What do you find especially helpful? What new strategies would you like to try?
  5. What truths can we learn from the metaphor of the fruitful tree in verse 3?
  6. Contrast the fruitful tree and the “chaff” in verse 4. Which image do you want to represent your life? How can you make that a reality in your life?
  7. Discuss the implications of Psalm 1 for your family in light of Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Are there some “app-gaps” that need to be addressed?