Psalm 119:9-16 – How Can a Young Person Live a Pure Life?

How can a young person live a pure life?
    By obeying your word.
I try with all my heart to serve you.
    Help me obey your commands.
I study your teachings very carefully
    so that I will not sin against you.
Lord, you are worthy of praise!
    Teach me your laws.
I will repeat the laws we have heard from you.
I enjoy following your rules
    as much as others enjoy great riches.
I will study your instructions.
    I will give thought to your way of life.
I enjoy your laws.
    I will not forget your word. (ERV)

Pornography is a multi-billion-dollar a year industry and is steadily growing. The younger generation is particularly susceptible in this internet age of easy access and multiple porn websites.

  • 35% of all internet downloads worldwide are related to pornography.
  • Teen-aged boys are the largest consumers of pornographic internet sites. 

The following percentages of children report having seen pornography in some way:

  • 50% of 11-13-year-olds
  • 65% of 14-15-year-olds
  • 78% of 16-17-year-olds
  • 75% of parents believe their children have not seen pornography online.
  • 53% of the children said that they had seen pornography online.

Into this terrible muck of impurity an impropriety enters the biblical psalmist with his ancient, yet truly relevant question for us today: How can a young person live a pure life? 

The answer the psalmist gives is this: By guarding the heart through obedience to God’s Holy Word. The psalmist himself stored up the commands and teachings of Scripture in his heart so that he might not sin against God.

A solid tried-and-true activity parents can do for themselves (the statistics for adult use of porn are staggering) and for their kids in this area of purity is for the entire family to do some old school Bible memorization. Yes, I mean getting down to rote memory work. 

This is to be neither a legalistic practice nor some fetish that will keep evil away. Instead, memorizing verses and large sections of the Bible provides a solid foundation from which to construct of base of operations for the work of meditation. When temptation occurs, there will be something to stand upon in the heat of the moment.

Today’s lesson from Psalm 119 is a great place to begin. Expand to memorize the entire psalm, all 176 verses of it. When faced with the decision of viewing pornography or not, it would be wise to dedicate the time to memorizing Scripture so that there will be a delight in God’s statutes rather than a depressed guilt over another fall into impure thoughts and/or actions.

Now, I can feel the pushback from some folks. You might not have memorized anything your entire life, or so you think. One of the reasons many people can freely quote lines from movies is that they have watched their favorites repeatedly. Ah, so we are on to something, right!?

I have been reading the Holy Bible for over forty years, every day. I have large chunks of Scripture memorized – mostly because of all that reading. So far in my life I’ve read the entire Old Testament around 100 times and the New Testament about 300 times – not because I ever had the goal of doing all that reading but because I need God’s Word.

What’s more, I take the further step of spending some time in reflection and ongoing meditation on Scripture, especially at night before retiring. This might seem over the top to some. However, the reading and reflection of Scripture is about a 30-minute venture for me on most days. The goal is engrafting the message of the Bible into the heart and life. Memorization is simply the means of helping that to happen.

There are some memorization tips I use and have picked up along the way to aid in pressing Scripture firmly into my soul:

  • Sleep on it. Studies show that our brains process and store information while we sleep. Try to review some Scripture just before you go to sleep—even if it’s only for a few minutes—and see if it helps embed the information in your memory.
  • Repeat it. There is no substitute for consistent and repetitive reading or listening to Scripture being read to you. This one practice alone has been key to my own ability to memorize. 
  • Write it out. Writing helps deeply encode biblical truth we’re trying to learn because there is a direct connection between our hand and our brain. To increase recall, speak the Scripture out loud and visualize the concepts as well.
  • Sing it. Singing is what got my middle daughter through school. Songs or jingles use your brain’s right hemisphere, helping us to remember. There are already plenty of songs out there for all kinds of biblical passages. And, of course, you can always try making your own music.
  • Sense it. Use as many of the five senses as possible. Our senses enable us to use more parts of our brains and retain information better. For example, when I read Scripture, I use a physical Bible to hold and often use a pointer when reading (touch); have a cross in front of me (sight); read out loud, sometimes with worship music in the background (hearing); light a candle (smell); and, I always have a cup of coffee to sip while reading! (taste)

The biblical psalms are meant to be prayed. So, using them for that purpose has the effect of shaping our prayers and desires in a good direction, as well as helping us to live into the commands of God to “repeat the laws I have heard from you.” In a world of spiritual impurity, emotional assault, and mental adultery, we need the purifying work of God’s Word to wash our souls clean.

May it be so, to the glory of God.

Merciful God, thank you for providing your Word to me so that I might read it, use it, memorize it, meditate upon it, and engraft it into my soul.  Fortify my spirit against the demons of impurity by the power of your Holy Spirit, to the glory of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Mark 1:14-20 – “Come, Follow Me”

Welcome, friends! The call of Jesus to his disciples two millennia ago remains the call for us, as well. Click the videos below and let us orient our lives around the gracious call of God…

I Will Follow by Chris Tomlin

May the Spirit of truth lead you into all truth, give you grace to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and strengthen you to proclaim the word and works of God; and may the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

Come, Follow Me

Come Follow Me by Argentine painter Jorge Cocco Santángelo

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:14-20, NIV)

This Gospel lesson is straightforward with two main points:

  • The call of Jesus on our lives.
  • The message Jesus gave us to proclaim.        

The call of Jesus is to pursue him, and he will develop us. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.”  The simple truth here is that this is neither a suggestion nor really an invitation but a command. Jesus did the same with James and John, and all the original disciples.  They listened to Jesus, dropped everything they were doing, and immediately followed him.

I am wondering what would make you drop everything to pursue an entirely new life. I am curious what could cause you to follow Jesus without any conditions attached. I am impressed that Peter and Andrew immediately obeyed Jesus. They did not question Jesus as to whether this was a short-term project or a long-term assignment.  They did not seek a contract with Jesus or ask how he would impact their stock portfolio. 

The first disciples simply dropped everything and left with Jesus. I suspect they followed Jesus for the same reason I originally decided to follow him – because Jesus is such a compelling person, so gracious, interesting, and loving that it was really no decision at all.  Everything else pales in comparison with Jesus.

Read all four Gospels and the book of Acts in the New Testament and you will find that believers in Jesus follow Jesus; and those who do not follow Jesus are not believers.  It really is that simple.  Followers follow, and those who do not follow are not Christ’s disciples.

Jesus calls us, commands us, to follow him and he will make us fishers of humanity. You might be concerned and retort, “I have no idea how to fish for people.” The good news is that Jesus said he would make us fishers of people. Jesus is not looking for people with skills he can use. Instead, Jesus calls people and develops them into fishers. Christ forms people with the ability to follow his call. 

Jesus will train us, which means we only need to answer the call to follow. When I was five years old my Dad took the training wheels off my bike and told me to ride it.  I told him I couldn’t.  He told me to get on the bike and he would run beside me.  I got on the bike and started to ride with him holding it.  When I began to panic approaching a tree I started talking to my Dad.  He didn’t answer… because he wasn’t beside me.  He dropped out from shagging me a long way back.  The same thing happened with learning to swim.  I insisted that I needed to be supported or I would drown for sure. Dad didn’t keep his hands underneath me. Yet, I’m still here – I didn’t drown.

We are not called to follow Jesus based on our skills, but on the lack of them so that Jesus will do in us a work of total allegiance and loyalty to the kingdom of God.  Jesus will make sure to develop the competence we need to do what he has called us to do. We only need to hear and answer the call of Jesus to follow and to make us fishers of people. 

The Fishermen by Cuban sculptor Rafael Consuegra, Petrozavodsk, Russia

The following is a parable about the church and being fishers of people:  “Now it came to pass that a group existed who called themselves fishermen.  Week after week those who called themselves fishermen met in meetings and talked about their call to fish, the abundance of fish, and how they might go about fishing.  They discussed the importance of fishing and that fishing is the task of every fisherman.  They listened to special speakers talk about fishing and they promoted fishing and looked at all the latest equipment for fishing.  They built large buildings called ‘Fishing Headquarters’ so that they could tell as many people as possible about fishing.  They organized boards of people to send out fishermen to other places.  They offered teaching and classes on how to fish and the best and latest fishing methods.  With much training a good many persons got their fishing licenses and became upstanding members of Fishing Headquarters.  There was just one thing that they did not do: they didn’t fish. When one person dared to suggest that those who do not catch fish are not really fishermen, the group became angry and kicked that crazy person out their group.”

The call is not for a few but for everyone to embody and proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. Therefore, we are to repent and believe this good news. Even though this is a simple straightforward message, it deserves some attention because we do not typically use this kind of language. Instead, we tend to say something like “Accept Jesus into your heart and someday you will go to heaven.”  That sort of language you will not find Jesus saying.  So, let’s stick with what he did say.

For Jesus, the word “kingdom” means God’s intentions and will for this world to come true. When Jesus said the kingdom is near, every pious Jew understood. They anticipated a coming Ruler (king) with themselves as the ruled (subjects) and a realm (land).  They thought beyond a mere spiritual kingdom and did not use kingdom as a synonym for heaven. Instead, Christ’s disciples considered Jesus as King, ruling his followers over the sacred space of the entire world. 

Thus, Jesus was saying he is creating a new society, thoroughly biblical to the core – which meant Caesar was not Lord and that people’s loyalty was not ultimately to the Roman Empire.  It is the kingdom of heaven, God’s dream society, which will eventually spread across the entire earth so that the whole world is God’s sacred space, devoted to love, shaped by justice, living in peace, and abounding with wisdom. Jesus encouraged us to pray consistent with this idea by encouraging us to pray, “May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

If we find ourselves not really working toward Christ’s idea of kingdom, then we need to repent and believe the good news that God is working toward restoring all things to their original beauty and luster. “Repent” means a change of mind which leads to a change of behavior. “Believe” means to put all our eggs in God’s kingdom basket.

None of this is a suggestion.  It is a forthright call to follow Jesus in his kingdom building enterprise on this earth. And so, it would be a travesty to just think about the message for a while and follow Jesus if we feel like it or get around to it whenever.

We are being called to live for Jesus continually each day by fishing for people – and to make this our life’s work. Wherever you are, Jesus wants to make you a fisher in your family, workplace, neighborhood, and all the places within your normal sphere of living:

  1. Go where the fish are. Fishing would be easy if we could put a basket by the water and have the fish jump into them! But that is not how it works. Rather, we need to intentionally choose activities that put us in contact with people in our communities.
  2. Cast the nets. Peter and Andrew did more than take their boat out to the middle of the lake. To catch fish, they threw their nets into the water. Here is what I believe this means for us: We do what is fair and just to our neighbors. We extend compassion to them and are steadfast in our love, even when others are unlovely. And we do not take ourselves too seriously—we take God seriously, instead.
  3. Obey Jesus and walk with him. After Christ’s resurrection, Jesus came to some of the disciples, who had fished unsuccessfully all night. He told them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat – which seemed like nonsense, but they did it anyway. It brought a great catch (John 21:1-14). During the three years of Christ’s earthly ministry, the disciples did everything with him – they walked, talked, and ate with Jesus. And when he ascended to heaven, they acted on the Great Commission given to them by Jesus to make other disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).

May God cleanse our lips and our lives so that we might proclaim the good news of Christ’s kingdom with glad and sincere hearts to the glory of Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.

1 Samuel 15:10-31 – Rationalizing Disobedience

King Saul by William Wetmore Story (1819-1895) at the North Carolina Museum of Art

Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.

Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.”

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest. “Enough!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”

“Tell me,” Saul replied.

Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?”

“But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

But Samuel replied:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
    and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has rejected you as king.”

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.”

But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!”

As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”

Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.” So, Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshiped the Lord. (NIV)

“You cannot compensate by sacrifice what you lose through disobedience.”

edwin louis cole

God had given Saul explicit instructions on how to handle a group of people called the Amalekites (the first nation to attack the Jewish people after the Exodus from Egypt, and viewed as the archetypal enemy of the Jews). Saul obeyed only some of the instructions, but not all of them. King Saul rationalized his behavior as worship. But God would have none of it. The Lord rejected Saul as king. God wants no monkey business when it comes to obedience.

Whenever I come across biblical characters like Saul, I find myself trying to distance from them. Yet, oftentimes, when I take the time to sit a bit with the Scriptures, I realize I can have some of the same propensities as their behavior. In today’s Old Testament lesson, I am like Saul whenever:

  • I say I will do something and then get busy and not do it. I sometimes rationalize my lack of follow through by explaining what good things I was doing with my time instead.
  • I justify a purchase of something I do not really need but want with the excuse that I put a lot of money in the offering plate for God.
  • I slander another person, even though it is forbidden by God, with the knucklehead notion that I am protecting and helping others from that person’s evil ways.
  • I keep quiet in the face of a bad situation when I should be speaking up. I dismiss the lack of engagement and involvement with needing to save my energy for people who want it….

I could have kept going with this little exercise, but I got too convicted to keep thinking about it anymore. So, before we get too uppity about saying we are not like Saul and would never be like him, perhaps we ought to sit with the story for a while, being mindful and aware of any unacknowledged disobedience.

Rationalization is the way of sinners.  Repentance is the path of saints.  Which road will you choose today?

Holy God, you expect obedience to clear instructions.  I am sorry for all those times I found creative ways to circumvent your teaching.  Help me not to avoid your good commands, but to own them with vigor and vitality through Jesus Christ my Lord in the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.