The Rule of the Wicked

“The wicked will not rule the land of the godly,
    for then the godly might be tempted to do wrong.”
Psalm 125:3 NLT

This is an interesting verse with its thought about the wicked ruling a nation of Godly people. Back in the Old Testament days, the nation of Israel was at times a Godly nation, and ruled by Godly kings. But at other times it behaved in a wicked way, and from the Biblical accounts we see a succession of wicked kings taking the people into ever deepening levels of depravity. And there were times when the nation of Israel had a wicked king, but it contained Godly people. As I write this, I remember the story about Elijah who, after the Mount Carmel experience, was afflicted by depression, and he called out to God to take his life, saying he was the only Godly person left. And God later reminded him that there were 7,000 people in Israel who hadn’t bowed the knee to Baal. Godly people shining as beacons of God’s light in an otherwise wicked nation.

Britain used to be a Godly nation, in that it was through the influence of Christianity that many of our morals and laws were established. But recent global surveys have indicated that the UK is one of the most irreligious countries in the world, with less that 30% of the population claiming to be religious. And in addition to that, people claiming to be Christians in the UK make up less than 10% of the population. So perhaps it could be claimed that the sentiments expressed in this verse do not apply in the UK – perhaps we are already in a situation where the Godless rule a largely Godless nation. The wicked rule.

There is the story in the Bible, told in Genesis 18, of Abraham pleading with God over His proposed destruction of Sodom. It is a sobering thought, that God will not allow wickedness to continue for ever, though the glimmer of light was that He wouldn’t destroy Sodom if a very small minority of the people were righteous. We don’t know the population of Sodom at that time, so the percentage of righteous to unrighteous people can’t be calculated with any confidence. Jesus had something to say about the role of Christians in society and we read His teachings in Matthew 5. He said that we are “salt and light” in our communities. In our families. In our nations. What does that mean? It means we take every opportunity to propagate the goodness and Gospel of God wherever we are. But He also reminded us that if we don’t we are like salt that has lost its saltiness. A worthless commodity.

But back to today’s verse. Obviously, the Psalmist lived in an age when there were wicked leaders. And it is the same in the world today. The righteous leaders have always been greatly outnumbered by the unrighteous. So the verse must have a prophetic meaning. One day God will bring about His rule and reign in this world. The Ultimate Righteous Leader will rule and there will be no more temptation for His Godly people. The most popular prayer, the Lord’s prayer, petitions God to bring His Kingdom and will to this earth. And every year, every day, every minute, brings it a little closer. Come Lord Jesus!

Ferreting

“I will not allow deceivers to serve in my house, 
and liars will not stay in my presence. 
My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked 
and free the city of the Lord from their grip.
Psalms‬ ‭101:7-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Removing the wicked from amongst us is a wonderful idea. After all, we would all like to live in a Godly and sin-free environment. We would all like to eliminate anti-social behaviour in our communities. Or drugs, or drunkenness, or ….. But how do we do that? The statute book in our societies lists what we should and shouldn’t do. Misdemeanours are treated according to their severity, and some miscreants end up without their liberty. Police forces do their best to uphold the law of the land. But who are the wicked the Psalmist was writing about? If we read through this Psalm, we find words describing people, including “vile”, “vulgar”, “perverse”, “evil”, “slander”, “conceit”, “pride”, “deceivers”, “liars” and “wicked”. Hang on a minute, though, I can’t somehow see a policeman arresting someone with any of these qualities. They need to be translated into something tangible that the person can be arrested for. Some crime defined by our laws. But here’s the thing – only God can see the thoughts in a person’s mind and so only he knows how to “ferret out the wicked“. Only He has that right.

Jesus taught about wheat and weeds in a parable in which the farmer planted good seed but the enemy, the devil, came along and scattered weeds. When the wheat and weeds started growing, the farm workers suggested to the farmer that they go into the field and pull up the weeds, leaving the wheat. But the farmer stopped them, because of the potential for damaging the growing wheat. We then read in Matthew 13 that Jesus said, “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In other words Jesus was saying that there will come a time of judgement one day and the qualities of the “wicked”, the “weeds” in the parable, will be exposed and consequently dealt with then. 

Back in Psalm 101, the Psalmist’s intentions of achieving purity among the inhabitants of God’s city was a noble one. One that at least superficially sounds like a good idea. But then the thought crosses our minds – do we suffer from any of the qualities of the wicked? Have we never had a proud thought? Have we never gossiped about a neighbour? Have we never …? And before we know it, the application of the Psalmist’s “daily task” would soon result in no-one left in God’s city. We wouldn’t be eligible for citizenship in God’s city either. 

But there’s a tremendous section of Scripture in Romans 3. We read, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. So there we have it. Although none of us can meet God’s standard of righteousness, we can nevertheless have the right to live in God’s presence, in His city, through the blood of Jesus. Through His grace and mercy. Too good to be true? Too good not to be true.

Thrills

“You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me! 
I sing for joy because of what you have done. 
O Lord, what great works you do! 
And how deep are your thoughts. 
Only a simpleton would not know, 
and only a fool would not understand this: 
Though the wicked sprout like weeds 
and evildoers flourish, 
they will be destroyed forever.”
Psalms‬ ‭92:4-7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

That’s a great word describing the impact God has on us – “thrill”. So I start by asking two questions this morning – what has God done for us, and has the impact thrilled us? Personally, I can remember life events that I refer back to time and time again, with a thankful heart. With a deep gratitude to God for His provision in a dire time of need. And I can remember, particularly after one event, an emotional surge of thankfulness that fell into the “thrill” category. But we can’t go through life looking for the thrills, sudden bursts of fairground-like emotions – day by day He constantly watches over us and the Holy Spirit nudges us when we need to change direction or change a decision. We cannot fail to be thrilled by a God, the Creator of everything, who so intimately cares for each one of us, even to the extent of counting and numbering all the hairs on our heads! And the Psalmist continues with a song of joy, spontaneously bursting out from a thrilling experience. It is a good exercise to sit down with a paper and pencil and list all the “great works” God has done, not just for us, but for our families and friends as well. And we can rejoice and be thrilled by them too. The Psalmist also refers to God’s thoughts – now there’s a whole new dimension. How can we know God’s thoughts? The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, finished the second chapter with this verse, “For, “Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?” But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.” So through our relationship with Jesus we can know His thoughts – not completely of course, but we can gain a glimpse  of what God is thinking, in the knowledge too that all His thoughts will line up with what He has said in His Word.

The Psalmist ends these verses today with a reference to a “simpleton” and a “fool”. Strong words describing someone who rejects God by behaving in an unacceptable way, not realising that one day, in spite of their apparent earthly successes, they will be destroyed. Sometimes that will happen in this life, but it will surely happen in the life to come. One day the “wicked” will stand before His throne of judgement.

So where do these verses leave us. I would say in the knowledge of the stark and even extreme dichotomy between God’s way and a godless way. There is no middle ground.

The Slippery Path

“Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure. 
But as for me, I almost lost my footing. 
My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. 
For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. 
Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? 
Did I keep myself innocent for no reason? 
I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain. 
Then I went into your sanctuary, O God,
and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.”
Psalms‬ ‭73:1-3, 13-14, 17‬ ‭NLT‬‬

A new Psalmist appears on the block – a guy called Asaph. And straight away he sets out his dilemma. In modern parlance, he lives his life God’s way, but experiences the same hassles and challenges in life as everyone else. But here was his rub – those he categorised as “wicked” were having a good time, better than his. They were prosperous and healthy. They didn’t seem to have the same difficulties in life that he did. You can almost imagine his thoughts behind the more measured tone of his writings. “Hey God! It’s not fair! I live a life Your way but all these people who don’t are better off than I am”. 

Two things strike me. Firstly it is his honesty. He wasn’t afraid of laying before God the apparent unfairness and injustices of life. Secondly, what he experienced hasn’t changed from his day. We look around us today and see the same quandary. The gap between the rich and poor seems to ever widen. The rich are having a good time, superficially at least. The poor are not.

Asaph laid out before God the apparent inequity and injustice of a Godly life when compared with the life lived by godless people. He tried to get his mind around the reasons that would seem to favour the lives of those who denied the very relevance and existence of God. He felt his peers, fellow Godly people, were confused about the situation too. You see, his expectation was that God would zap these wicked people and get rid of them because of their arrogance and conduct. “Why, God, are You allowing them to get away with it!”, might have been his cry. Still perplexed, he wanders into the temple and all of a sudden, everything becomes clear. He gets God’s perspective and it breaks through his growing bitterness, bringing a new dawn of understanding and relief into his thinking. What had changed? He realised that people cannot get away with living in a wicked, anti-God, way for ever. There will come a time of reckoning. He finally understood there will be a time for God’s judgement, but for now it was a time for God’s grace.

It is the same today. Sadly, so many people live a life without any appreciation of their Creator God. And they don’t seem to suffer for it. But they have totally missed the reality that God exists and one day they will stand before Him. And claiming ignorance will not be a defence. God’s grace will have been available to them all their lives but they have rejected it and turned away into a Godless existence.

Asaph finally understands and in God’s warm embrace he writes, “Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” And I echo those words this morning. Please join me in praising and thanking our wonderful and glorious God.

Quakes

“God says, “At the time I have planned, 
I will bring justice against the wicked. 
When the earth quakes and its people live in turmoil, 
I am the one who keeps its foundations firm.”

Psalms‬ ‭75:2-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

God speaks. And the Psalmist records what He says. And it’s good news. God says that regardless of what is going on in the world He is keeping “its foundations firm”. 

In Glasgow we are about to hold the UN Climate Change Conference, “COP26”. And Scotland will be full of people who sincerely believe that mankind is destroying the world through carbon emissions. Trashing the planet with the excessive use of fossil fuels, that release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. And they claim that otherwise avoidable climate change will result. But we have a situation where nations are reluctant to reverse the juggernauts of their economies today, thereby reducing the standard of living for their people, all for the sake of the world in a few decades time. So there will be much talk, press releases, claim and counter claim, and, if previous such conferences are anything to go by, little or insufficient progress made towards the goal of significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions. And adding to the mix we have the climate change deniers who dispute the science being quoted in the first place.

But in this Psalm God is setting different priorities. First of all He has a plan. Regardless of all the planning mankind gets up to, God’s plan will prevail. It has to. After all He created the world in the first place. Secondly, He is more concerned about the morals of mankind than the nations are. At the appointed time, He is going to “bring justice against the wicked”. If I was a godless person on the planet today reading this Psalm, I think I would be getting worried and instead be wondering about my priorities in life. And thirdly, in a world experiencing earthquakes and social turmoil, instead of fretting around the edges, I should perhaps be getting close to the One who is holding all things together, keeping the “foundations firm”.

Imagine a world where everyone counted themselves among God’s People. I think the impact would have been such that the aims and goals of COP26 would have been realised a long time ago, in a world going God’s way rather than the way of the wicked. 

The Perfect Plan

Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked, 
from the plots of evildoers. 
They plot injustice and say, 
‘We have devised a perfect plan!’ 
Surely the human mind and heart are cunning. 
The righteous will rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him; 
all the upright in heart will glory in him!
Psalms‬ ‭64:2, 6, 10‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

David is having another rant about the wicked people in his day and draws a comparison with those who are righteous. This theme seems to have been almost constantly in his mind, and appears in many of his Psalms. But his description of the “wicked” applies just as well today as it did in his day. Sin pervades people’s minds and works out in increasingly despicable actions, generation by generation.

My thoughts immediately went back to the events of the Second World War, and, in particular, the Holocaust. That desperately sad time when so many of God’s people, the Jews, were annihilated by Hitler’s “Perfect Plan”. But there have been many times in history and right up to today, where evil men and women have come up with their own “Perfect Plan”, usually involving crimes against their fellow members of societies. I say it again, “Sin pervades people’s minds and works out in increasingly despicable actions.” 

In this Psalm, and others, David calls on God to deal with such people. And if we are honest we do as well today, in our thoughts, in our prayers, and in our conversations. We look around us at world events, at things going on in our own countries, in our own societies and communities. When we see the evil acts that are taking place, we are faced with the reality that the pervasiveness of sin works out in many ways, from genocide to low level anti-social behaviour. Why doesn’t God deal with sin, and sinful and wicked people, once and for all and give us all peace? A good question for those taking the moral high ground, until they realise, as it says in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. We must therefore leave room for the grace of God.

Jesus taught the people of His day in parables, and one of them is entitled, “The Wheat and the Tares”, which we can read in Matthew 13. It refers to the fact that although righteous and wicked people live together, one day they will be separated. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to explain the parable, He said, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” So we have the picture of the wicked and righteous being dealt with “at the end of the age“, when there will be a time of judgement. But thankfully, there is a place for the righteous in the Kingdom of God.

So what can we all learn from these few verses? Firstly, we must keep away from making plans that do not conform to God’s principles. Proverbs 19:21 states, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” If we read and apply what we find in God’s planning manual we won’t go far wrong. Secondly, we must ensure that we are numbered with the righteous, not the wicked. And the only way we can accomplish that is through Jesus. Only He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. That is the real, and ultimate, “Perfect Plan”.

I’m a Tree

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, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers. Psalm 1:1-3 NIVUK

Have you ever attended or watched a military parade, particularly of those nations who favour the “goose-step” mode of marching? Hand picked men and women march flawlessly, totally synchronised in their steps. Their polished boots, identical uniforms, marchers all in line, make an impressive spectacle. To someone like me, never good at keeping in step with anything, such a sight I can only watch in amazement. But the Psalmist, right at the start of the first Psalm of the Book of Psalms, straight away declares a counter-cultural way of life. One in which personal blessings can be found only by avoiding the temptation to march in step with the society around us. You see, most of the Western world system in this age is anti-God. Our society and culture is becoming increasingly secular and adopting the Psalmist’s description of being “sinners and mockers”, and keeping in step with such a way of life, doing the same things, thinking the same thoughts, neglecting God and His ways, leads to destruction, as the Psalmist writes in the last verse of this Psalm.

The Psalmist encourages us spend our time in God’s presence, reading His Scriptures, hearing His voice, aligning our thoughts to His thoughts, whenever we have the opportunity. And by doing so we will be “blessed”. God’s blessings are priceless, and they lead to a prosperous and healthy life. The psalmist uses the analogy of the blessed person being like a tree planted next to a stream of water. In his society, desert regions and parched land with stunted tree growth would have been common. But the fortunate tree planted next to a stream never failed to provide all that a tree should – imagine the fruit in season – possibly figs or something similar. The blessed person also produces fruit in the seasons that God has for him or her. Fruit appropriate for God’s Kingdom.

What is this fruit? In the early days of the Charismatic Renewal I once heard a message in a Christian Conference from an international speaker warning against the dangers of being caught up in the excitement of what God was doing in His church, but failing to produce the fruit of a renewed life in God. What is this fruit? What is the spiritual equivalent of a fat, juicy fig? We read about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” But there is also the fruit of fulfilling Jesus’ command in Matthew 28, of making disciples. So we can see that today’s equivalent of meditating on the Law of the Lord will involve personal renewal, a personal orientation towards the Kingdom of God in a way of life appropriate to being a spiritual tree next to His streams of living water.

This year the Elim Movement in the UK is encouraging people and congregations to do a spiritual reset, where they evaluate their lives to see if they are growing fruit or just a few leaves. But we don’t have to be an Elim member to re-evaluate our spiritual lives, checking out how we measure up against God’s demands. In my morning prayer walk today I observed a dead tree, no longer producing fruit as it decayed to join the detritus on the forest floor, helping fungi to grow as it did so. Around it is a thicket of saplings, growing tall and strong. And I said to God in my prayers that I don’t want to be a dead tree amongst such evidence of God’s grace.

Lord, Please help me always to have my roots deeply embedded in the life-giving streams of Your Spirit, this day and forever. Amen.

Trust In The Lord

Don’t worry about the wicked or envy those who do wrong. For like grass, they soon fade away. Like spring flowers, they soon wither.
Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭37:1-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In Psalm 37, David picks up again his thoughts about wicked people, and in the process he contrasts their behaviour with that of God’s people. Again and again in this Psalm he points out what “the wicked” are doing wrong and how their lives will end, and then provides a contrast of how Godly people live their lives, adding in words of advice where appropriate. The dichotomy between the two types of people is stark and extreme and it is clear that Godless lives will not end well.

The instruction, “Trust in the Lord and do good” acts as a doorway into a gold mine of instructions, thoughts and behaviours. Just reading this inscription above the door knocker will be ineffective on its own; the door has to be opened and the nuggets within removed, consumed, and acted upon, to provide all that is necessary for life in communion with our Heavenly Father. And a relationship develops with God, so close that “Trust” becomes second nature.

The Psalmist also encourages God’s people to “do good”. Two words almost hidden and overlooked after the impact and boldness of “Trust in the Lord”. But nevertheless an important part of life as a Christian is to do good deeds to and for those around us in our communities and families. Galatians 6:10 reads, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone…”. And there are many other similar encouragements spattered throughout Holy Scriptures.

The end result of living our lives God’s way though, is clear. Safety and prosperity will result. There is always a tendency to interpret the word “prosperity” from a financial perspective. But it’s so much more than that. Think about the riches of being healthy – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Think about being blessed by the richness of having a loving family. And of course we mustn’t overlook the prosperity God’s people will find in their ultimate spiritual home.

We can’t leave these verses without considering the last few words. As we delight ourselves in the Lord, and align our hearts, our thoughts, with those of Him, we will find that any worldly materialistic desires will be eclipsed by what really matters. God-values such as love, compassion, mercy, grace, righteousness and so on will infuse our ways of life and waking thoughts. And we don’t worship a stingy God – He will pour out bountifully all we need. 

Psalm 37. Essential reading for everyone. We ignore or disregard these verses at our peril.

Positive Thinking

“Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts. They have no fear of God at all. In their blind conceit, they cannot see how wicked they really are.
Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, Your justice like the ocean depths. You care for people and animals alike, O Lord.”
Psalms‬ ‭36:1-2, 5-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Psalm 36 starts with a reflection on the attitudes of the wicked and their sin, but then quickly turns to these wonderful verses about God’s love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice. It’s almost as though the Psalmist, David, suddenly pulled himself back from thinking about sin and wicked people, to reflect instead on our wonderful Creator God. These wonderful words in verses 5 and 6 have been used as the basis for several songs; they capture so expressively the boundless limits of God’s wonder.

It is a common human trait, to allow thoughts to dwell on the negative. It is so easy to get focused on what’s wrong in life rather than what is right and good and beneficial. And once thoughts are in a negative groove, they will soon be followed by a downward mood swing, bringing depression or an emotional “low”.

On my morning prayer walks through Dean Woods close by to where I live, I often find that just looking at the wonders of God’s creation around me is sufficient to lift my spirits out of any negative groove. At this time of year I see the wild strawberries and flowers. The trees in a profusion of leafy growth. The birdsong dominating the audio realm. And David in his Psalm did likewise, by looking at the wonders and scale of God’s creation. In his world without light pollution the heavens would be a wonderful sight, full of little bright dots, so many in number that they merge into a canopy of light. And he relates the wonders of creation to God’s character, bringing out His love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice, and probably many more similar thoughts as he dwells on his wonderful God and the world around him.

Paul encouraged the Philippian church with the advice, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:8‬ ‭NLT‬‬). Sound advice that we would do well to obey. David realised it. So must we.