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Will You Stand Among the Righteous?- August 5, 2018

Psalm 1

Psalm 1 tells us "Blessed are those who don't stand among the wicked, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on [God's] law day and night." We are encouraged to choose God and God's law over lawlessness and sinfulness. Not shocking, right? Fairly straightforward. And most of us don't choose wickedness as some pre-meditated plan. "Ha, ha, ha, today I'm going to be evil! Whahahaha". That's not who we are. That's not why we're here. Generally, we mostly consider ourselves decent people who try to do right by God and neighbor. And yet, we know we're not perfect. We have our

failings. We don't always get it right. So then how can we be so well-intentioned and yet so fallible? The easy answer is we're human.
Rev. James Howell puts it this way, "Once the choice is framed this way, [will you rejoice with the wicked, or delight in God?] it's no choice at all, is it? I mean, you would never knowingly choose evil or destruction. Will I jump off a cliff? Or sit down to a sumptuous dinner with those I love? Will I ruin my life? Or fulfill my destiny? But if the choice is so easy, why then do we find our ears perking up to the whispering of wickedness? And why would our attitude toward "the law of the Lord" not be fairly characterized as "delight?"The "counsel of the wicked" is sneaky, isn't it? The devil doesn't jump out in a red suit, breathing fire, and wielding a blazing pitchfork. No, the devil dresses up like an angel of light, promising you the moon."
I'm always a little amused when I read scriptures that separate people into only two groups...wicked or righteous, sheep or goats....because we're so much more complicated than that. Where are the sheep with goat like tendencies? or the goats who show glimmers of sheep-like ness? Where is the category for people who weren't raised to choose God or righteousness but instead the complete opposite; except once they are shown there's a different way of really wanting that...though struggle with life-long habits? Where's that group of people? Or the righteous ones who still deal with temptation? It's not quite so black and white....not so strictly one or the other. Life is messy, and, often, so is our path to righteousness.
But that doesn't mean we shrug our shoulders and say, "Yeah, I'm not ever going to really get it all right, so I'll stick with where I am now." We aren't meant to submit to temptation or wickedness. We're invited to plant ourselves near life-giving waters....the living water of God.
I sort of think about it this way. At the beginning of the summer, I had a brilliant plan. We were going to play a game as a family at least once a week, maybe that Ruth would choose and one that Rick or I would choose. And Ruth could work on a girl scout badge once a week when she was would give her something to do, and help her learn, while also earning badges, which could be exciting. And then she asked to help cook each week. Technically she recommended cooking with me every night of the week and I suggested once a week might be more feasible. These are all fairly easy things, nothing too challenging and all of them, more or less, are already a part of our week anyway. That was the plan.
And then, this weekend, 8 weeks into summer with just four left. I realized we haven't played any games as a family. We've gone out and explored and done stuff, but no card games or board games. No girl scout badges worked on, let alone earned, and Ruth has helped make one meal.
I have failed at the summer plan. And I started to beat myself up a bit and then thought, "Debbie, of course, you failed! You didn't have a plan, you had an idea. There's a difference." An idea is a thought. A dream. A possibility. A plan is what helps us make things happen. It's the schedule, the shopping list, the things that hold us accountable to do what we set out to do.
It seems a lot of us have great ideas when it comes to our discipleship with Jesus and our relationship with God. I'm going to study the Bible! I'm going to pray every day! I'm going to give money to the church missions! I'm going to join a small group! We have these ideas....that is good and worthy and part of being faithful. But all too often we look back and think, "I didn't do any of those things."
Why is that?
Most often, I would venture, it's because we stop at the idea. We have an idea in our head to read scripture every day—to have a daily devotional time, but then, we stop there. Ok, maybe we put our Bible next to the bed, or near our favorite chair. But we don't set a specific time to make it happen or a reminder on our watch, or we make our devotional time, early or late, at a time we're more likely to be sleeping.
The founder of the Methodist Movement, John Wesley, used to get up at 4:00 am every day for time for study, prayer, and worship. They used to tell us that a lot in seminary. "Well, John Wesley used to get up at 4 for his devotional time." As if that would motivate us to get up at 4. I have to tell you, I wasn't then nor am I now, a 4:00 am kind of person. I can do 4:00 am if it's absolutely necessary, but if it's not, I will not willingly rise before the sun is up. And even in glorious northern Idaho where the sun pops up at 4:30 in the Spring...mostly I just curse the sun instead of starting my day at that time.
Now, there's nothing wrong with being a 4 am kind of person. Some of you are. All I'm saying is that if you're not a 4 am person, or 5, or 6, or 7, then don't schedule your devotional time for the early morning. That's an idea. Not a plan. Definitely not a plan for success!
When we look at how we come to live among the righteous or the's not a one time, easy decision...because if it were we wouldn't need the church for reminders, accountability, strength, or encouragement. We'd have it all the in the bag. But living among the righteous or the wicked is about 1000 small decisions that we make each day. Are we creating time and space to hang out with God? Are we setting ourselves up for success for making a plan for faithfulness? Or are we loving the idea of faithfulness without ever really seeing it through?
Psalm 1 tells us that those who delight in the Lord are "like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers." When we stay deeply connected to God—we're tied to our life source and we're promised the nourishment we need to be fruitful. Now, I would imagine, if we surveyed the church, most of us would say we want that. Why wouldn't we want to be nourished and fruitful? But our place by the water isn't determined by one decision, one's based on the little things that happen daily that draw us closer to God or pushes us away.
Think about where you are relative to the water. Realistically, how often are you spending intentional time with God? How often are you studying the Word of God? How often are you giving of yourself in humble service? Have you placed yourself close to the source of life? And are you staying there consistently or are you thinking of God more like the base camp where you visit from time to time when you need God?
I know when I ask questions like that most of us feel guilty and you assume that since I'm the preacher that I am spending hours studying the Bible and in prayer during the week since I only really work on Sundays. But you're wrong...both about the part where I only work on Sundays and the part about spending hours and hours in Word and prayer every day. I'm human, just like you, and a crazy mix of righteous and wicked, faithful and selfish, and I need to be reminded that if I want to be nourished and fruitful I need to choose God each day, in big and little ways. Clint McCann put it well: "For Psalm 1, happiness involves not enjoying oneself but delight in the teaching of God. The goal of life is to be found not in self-fulfillment but in praising God. Prosperity does not involve getting what one wants; rather, it comes from being connected to the source of life." If any of us hear this statement...." the goal of life is found in praising God and property comes from being connected to the source of life" and we think...ugh...that holier than though stuff again, then we might not be planted by the water. I know I have some reluctance.
So I see I need to make a plan for a better relationship with God...more time reading the scriptures, less time scrolling Facebook. Time worshipping God outside of Sunday morning. And more time in prayer...listening for God's direction and instruction. More time developing patience and compassion and generosity. I even consider myself a "good Christian" and a pretty decent human being. But that doesn't mean I don't have room for improvement. After all, I'm not a solid sheep....I'm a sheep with goat-like temptations and habits.

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The First United Methodist Church of Moscow, Idaho takes as our mission to be the body of Jesus Christ, ministering to a community which draws strength from its diversity. Our mission centers on the worship of God, expressed through varied forms of prayer, preaching, music, and ritual.  See more...

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