Notes in Blue
Just under a year ago, at our Adult Sunday School class, I led a session discussing how to study the Bible. I ended off that session by taking a few minutes to describe and explain my personal process when it comes to daily devotions—not to say that my way is “right” or “the best”, but just in case anyone was curious or wanted to try something new.
One of the methods I talked about is my “Three Colour System” (patent-not-pending) where I sit down with three different coloured pencils and highlight different verses as I read. Red is for the encouraging verses, the exciting ones, the ones with a special place in my heart; the John 3:16s, Romans 8:1, Ephesians 2:8–9, the entirety of Psalm 23. I use green when a verse seems particularly important with regards to the theme or thrust of that text, or when I notice repetition.
But it’s the notes in blue where things get really interesting—and I mean that literally! I use my blue pencil when I read something that I find intriguing or confusing, or perhaps something I haven’t really thought about before. As someone who has spent almost 30 years in the church at this point, it still never ceases to amaze me just how often I’m discovering new points of interest in this incredible book, and how often I catch myself saying “Wow! I’ve never noticed that before!”
So with the introduction of this incredible new website and it’s resource section, I thought I would take some time to start a blog series where I can regularly share with you some of my notes in blue—my “Well that’s interesting!” verses—and why they stand out to me. Maybe you’ll learn something new, or maybe you’ll be encouraged to see that you noticed something I didn’t a long time ago! Either way, I hope this series will be edifying for all of us. So with all that said, let’s get started!
Psalm 24 is attributed to David, and at it’s core, it’s about worshiping God (in fact, you can listen to a sermon on this passage from Pastor Josiah where he explains exactly what this chapter has to say about our worship here). But today I want to focus on just one interesting phrase that’s easy to miss. Here are the verses we’re going to focus on:
Who may climb the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies.Psalm 24:3–4 NLT
Did you catch it? Can you guess which part I coloured in blue? Never tell lies. Now, other translations may phrase it differently, referring to “swearing deceitfully” or “making false promises”; but whatever the translation, it’s clear the phrase is referring to dishonesty (and I find it interesting just how on-the-nose the NLT goes).
So here we have David, having described the wonder and majesty of God in the verses preceding, asking the question: who could be worthy to worship such a God? To enter into His presence? The conclusion he comes to is: “Only those whose hands and heart are pure”, in other words, those with right actions and right motives. Then to get specific, out of all the commandments of God—the 10 famous ones, or the 613 throughout the Pentateuch—he picks two. Those “who do not worship idols”, which makes sense given Israel’s history with idolatry (cf. the majority of the Old Testament); and those who “never tell lies.”
I don’t know about you, but when I think about sin, and all the actions that are evil and wrong, lying doesn’t often make the top of the list. Sure, we all know it’s not a good thing to be dishonest; we’re taught from a young age that honesty is the best policy, and the dangers of telling lies. Yet oftentimes, we don’t actually operate as if that’s the case. Many industries in our world thrive on deception, or at the very least, omitting the truth (if there’s a difference). We can often justify dishonesty in our mind as a victimless crime: “It’s better for them if they don’t know”, or “What they don’t know won’t hurt them”. We even have phrases like little, white lie which try to lessen the impact. In contrast, we don’t hear anyone talking about just a light, little murder. The result is that, if we’re being honest (see what I did there?) we can convince ourselves that telling a lie, omitting the truth, or just being dishonest in general is not that bad.
Yet here we have David, writing about the worship of God and entering His presence, calling out dishonesty as disqualifying. Out of all of the commandments he could’ve picked, this is one of the two he highlights. Isn’t that interesting? The sin that, more often than we’d like to admit, we might think of as not that big of a deal, is here explicitly called out as being separatory from God.
Why Does it Matter?
When I read a verse like this I’m reminded of just how perfect God is, and just how imperfect I am. Sure, I might not have killed anyone, or stolen, or cheated on my spouse. But my sin, no matter what it is or how unimpactful I might try to convince myself it is, has separated me from a holy and perfect God and has caused me to fall short of his glory. Its verses like these that remind me to be humble, and remind me of how doomed I would be if not for God reaching out and making a way.
If not for Jesus Christ, God in flesh, who came and lived a perfect life and died to pay the cost for our sin, the answer to David’s question of “Who may climb the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” would be a resounding “nobody!” None of us deserve it! Yet God’s love for us is so vast and so complete that He sent His Son, so that by believing in Him we can have everlasting life, and one day stand in the presence of that holy and perfect God, and worship Him in the way he demands and deserves to be worshiped!
What an incredible reminder from such a tiny, little phrase!