Sunday, January 19, 2014

Meditations on Psalm 26

Psalm 26 Read it yourself

Integrity - whole, complete, soundness of moral character. Antonym: dishonesty

I remember hearing someone once saying, "Character is what you are, reputation is what people think you are." That statement has always stuck with me. Character is what God sees, others can only know your actions. I have always wanted to be a person of character. I remember hearing the stories of George Washington and the cherry tree ("I cannot tell a lie") and Abraham Lincoln walking a long way to reconcile the change of a customer he shorted when he was a store clerk. Yes, I am old enough to remember hearing those stories in school.

Today's culture is quick to reject such stories as a false historical facts. I don't know if they are facts or not, but I do know that I found, and still find, them inspiring. They are ideals that are humanly possible. They were told to us to inspire us to yearn for moral rectitude. It seems to me that today's culture not only doesn't value integrity, it suspects it. Anyone who appears to have integrity probably doesn't, and somewhere in the closet is a skeleton of moral failure waiting for an inopportune moment to pop out and prove the case.

I make no claim to moral perfection and there are actions from my past for which I am ashamed. I would be even more ashamed if my thoughts were to be exposed to other people, and thank God they are not. God knows my thoughts, and that thought causes me to feel trepidation. I find that I have to be constantly on guard against wayward thoughts. I can be quick to judge and criticize others in my thoughts and never say a word. That may play well to the people around me, but God is not fooled. In the mind, with our thoughts, this is where the battle between good and evil has to be fought.

I tell myself that it doesn't matter what people think. Yet when I observe my feelings I find that what people think matters to me way more than I want it to.The struggle for integrity is a struggle between reputation and character. Will I be true to myself and let who I really am be seen by others, or will I hide behind my reputation?

I think these thoughts are reflective of the thoughts of the Psalmist as he wrote Psalm 26.

He asks for vindication, claiming to have walked with integrity. To make that claim demands that you are truthful with God and that requires you to be honest with yourself. This is not an easy thing, especially when you are caught up in a web of sin. Sin, moral failure, results in delusion and deceit. You become blind to the truth and to reality and believe lies and falsehoods.

The Psalmist asks God to:
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
    test my heart and my mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
    and I walk in your faithfulness.

The Psalmist knows and trusts in the character of God. God is the author of truth and can be relied upon to always "speak the truth in love." Friends, acquaintances, and therapists do not have the same integrity as God when it comes to speaking the truth. At best they can only speak to the reputation that you have with them. Thus they may in fact actually validate the lies with which you have wrapped yourself. God, on the other hand, speaks directly to who you are. This is one of my greatest comforts and joys in my Christian faith. To know that those things that I am willing to confess to God will be revealed in their ugliness and purged from my soul. To know that the past does not define my present nor control my future is one of the best benefits of a faith in Christ.

The Psalmist then makes some bold observations of his own actions and decisions.
I do not sit with men of falsehood,
    nor do I consort with hypocrites.
I hate the assembly of evildoers,
    and I will not sit with the wicked.

Your friends define who you become. Who you hang around with shows the type of behavior, actions, and attitudes that you will eventually adopt as your own. To leave these 'friends' behind is sometimes a difficult thing to do. There is often a lot of common history that makes maintaining the status quo so much easier than leaving it behind and following God. I believe this was something Abram probably had to deal with when he left Haran and set out "to the land that I will show you." in Genesis 12:1. This is certainly something that I have had to do a number of times in my life. It is always accompanied by a feeling of loss and disconnectedness. These are times when life is in a time of transition.

The Psalmist then states what he wants deep within his heart.
O Lord, I love the habitation of your house
    and the place where your glory dwells.
Do not sweep my soul away with sinners,
    nor my life with bloodthirsty men,
in whose hands are evil devices,
    and whose right hands are full of bribes

I want to be with you Oh God, I want to be where you are. Don't send me off away from your presence, don't leave me in darkness with those who practice evil. My past is enough to condemn me. I can't escape the fact of what I once was. God has every right to sweep me up with the rest of them, yet I pray that He does not.

One of greatest things about my faith in Christ is the reality of his redeeming me from who I once was. I am not even talking about some great evil of my distant past. I am referring to the lapse of judgment I participated in yesterday when I spoke an unkind word, or the unforgiveness I held on to when that person cut me off on the freeway. Those are just as much a moral failing as the 'big' sins that we read about in the news. What I am thankful for is that each day becomes a new day to practice integrity as though the past never happened.

But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity;
    redeem me, and be gracious to me.
My foot stands on level ground;
    in the great assembly I will bless the Lord..

The Psalmist captures that sentiment when he speaks of his future actions, "I shall walk in my integrity." Even though his past is in his thoughts he knows God's character, "redeem me, and be gracious to me" reveals his awareness that he needs redemption, he needs God's grace. The Psalmist's integrity is not based on a life of moral perfection rather it is based on the redemption and grace of a God that "makes all things new." This reality has a powerful impact on my future actions. I can live with integrity, honesty, graciousness because what I once was, I no longer am.

I stand on level ground, I am confident and sure footed in my integrity as I stand before others because I am confident in God's judgment. Regardless of the judgments and accusations of others, I am confident in my integrity because God has pronounced me righteous and upright. I can rejoice and bless him as He is the source of my integrity.

All biblical quotations in this post are from
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Adventures in permit reservation land.

One of the things that I enjoy about backpacking is planning the trip. In the present case, it is the plan I am putting together for my John Muir Trail trip this summer. One of the helpful planning tools I use is Excel. I use it to put together my itinerary and schedule.

A plan should always have a clear mission statement. To hike the John Muir Trail in ten days this summer. Technically though I will be hiking eleven days. I am not at all sure that this is even possible so I am doing everything I can do to make it possible. At two hundred and twenty three miles in length, my average miles per day will need to be over twenty miles. I am hoping to keep my pace above three miles per hour, assuming I can keep up that pace I will be hiking around seven hours per day. On the positive side, there are over fourteen hours of daylight during the time I am planning. I think it would be cool to summit Mt Whitney in time to see the sun rise. I also think it would be cool to hike under a full moon in the pre-dawn darkness. My plan is to summit on Saturday, July 12, 2014.

In order to turn my plan into reality I needed to submit a reservation for a permit. These can be made up to one hundred and sixty eight days in advance. Since I know that Yosemite Valley is one of the prime vacation destinations for people looking for a wilderness experience, I expected that people would be eager to get their permit reserved. I just didn't realize how eager.

I was filled with anticipation when I faxed my Wilderness Permit Application. I filled it out weeks ago in eager excitement for this day. I envision the trip, I picture myself getting the permit. I can see myself starting on my hike. My application was faxed within fifteen minutes of the official moment when you can request an application. The official moment is five pm on the day before the day that is one hundred and sixty eight days before the day you want to start your trip. At five fifteen the Wilderness Center had my application and I had butterflies in my stomach.The application instructions make it clear that they will reply back via your supplied email address within one or two days.

The next day at ten am I checked my email. My heart leaped within when I saw an email from Yosemite with a subject of Yosemite Wilderness Permit Reservation. "This is it!," I thought. "Thank you for your reservation request. We are sorry to inform you..." Sorry for what?? How can this be? "...has been rejected..." Ouch, such strong words. Do they not like me? Have they confused me with some dangerous felon? "Your requested trailhead is full..." Full? Within fifteen minutes of five pm on the day before the day one hundred and sixty eight days before the day I want to start, which so happens to be a Wednesday, in the middle of the week, probably the slowest day of the week? And I have been told that it is FULL. I had visions of stacks of hikers crowding the trailhead. Standing room only!

"...we do not have space for a group your size..." for one? Really? "...rejected  due to insufficient space..." for ONE PERSON??? "

"...if you requested a reservation for two or more people and there is only space for one, you were rejected." Ouch again, 'rejected' is such a strong emotionally-charged word! Did they even read my application?? It was clear that I was requesting a permit for ONE person. This is obviously a form letter. Did a human being even look at my application? Could they read? What am I to do? "You may wish to apply again..." Really? what are my chances? Do I really want to go through the process of REJECTION again?

The whole process was a very deflating, spirit sapping, experience. No matter what other good things happened, I had an underlying feeling of loss and confusion. There was a phone number on the bottom of the email that you could call, that I tried to call. Every time I called, the line was busy. What is the problem? Why is the phone busy? I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I have spent a lot of time planning this trip.

I went back to the web site and found a page called Trailhead Information. It lists all of the trailheads and the reservable quota for each. The trailhead I selected only had six open reservable spots. I imagine the guy who put in a reservation for a six person trip is pretty happy with his email.

Late in the day I thought I would give the phone number one more try... It's ringing! Who was I calling? Did I call the wrong number? "Yosemite Conservancy, can I help you?" I was so flustered by the fact that the phone rang. That I didn't even know what to say. I felt like Ralphie in A Christmas Story. "Ho, Ho, Ho, and what do you want for Christmas little boy?" I couldn't think, I stuttered, I tried to remember why I was calling.

I have to say, Martin was so patient and helpful. He explained to me that it really doesn't matter if you fax your application at 5:00 pm the night before or 6:50 am the day of. All of the applications are collected and randomly shuffled. I asked him if there were any days or trail-heads that were not full. He said, "Oh sure, there are lots of openings, are you flexible on your start day?" Why, sure I am, but what day is open, do I have to guess? Martin helpfully looked for openings, he recommended alternate trail-heads and provided customer service par excellence. It became obvious to me why the phone was busy all day. 

By the end of the call, I had my reservation completed. I understood the process a whole lot better and I am back to preparing for an epic trip through some really cool country. Bottom line, I now have my permit reserved. I will have to modify my plan slightly, but the extra miles will be spectacular. Did I mention that Yosemite is a prime vacation destination for those wanting a wilderness experience? It is and I am.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Meditations on Psalm 36

Psalm 36 Read it yourself

The wicked: listen to transgression, have no fear of God before his eyes

The psalmist is showing the reader what defines someone as wicked. These are attributes that come from a wicked heart. They are attributes of a rebellious heart.

He listens to transgression deep in his heart: Temptation comes to you not just through the five senses. There is a seat of rebellion in your heart that listens to sin, that contemplates it, that imagines rebellion without consequences.

There is no fear of God before his eyes: His eyes are blind, or shut, you decided to listen to sin and have become blind to the truth. Oswald Chambers said, "Sin blunts feeling" not only so, it also blinds eyes and deafens ears. You are easily distracted from the truth and begin to live a fantasy of falsehood.

You imagine that the sin you imagine within cannot be seen or known by anyone. you can hold on to it without consequence. You pretend that God doesn't really hate sin, especially that one within your heart. The one you imagine and fantasize about.

However, sin does not remain within. Jesus said, "From within, out of a mans heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery. Mark 7:21. All sin first begins in your wicked heart. A contemplation and meditation on sin or transgression results in blindness and deafness followed by deceit and trouble.

You begin to speak from and through the sin within. You say foolish things, lies and deceitfulness. The lies are lies to yourself mostly.  You don't consciously know that you are lying. Perhaps you have a little trepidation at first. But when your lie remains unchallenged you become bolder, and blinder.

The sin progresses to the point of plotting trouble, making a plan,and finally you begin to pursue a path of destruction. This is the result of a fallen nature. Without God's redemption you will eventually destroy yourself.

The Psalmist's solution? Meditate on God.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens...

Love, faithfulness, righteousness, justice; these are God's character, they define who He is.

Precious refuge, feasting abundance, delightful drinking, a fountain of life and light are all poetic images of life lived in God's presence.

What is God like, how well can you articulate his attributes? As you contemplate Him, you become aware of the sin with which you have been deluding yourself. You see what you have been blind to.

The upright of heart see God and trust in his goodness.

The wicked become arrogant and driven. Hard hearted, they are thrust down unable to rise. Like a rock they sink into sin, enslaved and enmeshed in a prison.

Oh Lord, reveal my sin, let me walk in the light of your truth. Let me embrace repentance and humility as a way of life. Let me see the beauty and joy that are the essence of your being.