Going the Right Way in the New Year

Psalm 1:1-6

January 11, 2014 | Brian Bill

Wow, we’ve just come through some incredibly cold weather!  While many kids were happy about having classes cancelled, others had to deal with broken pipes and cars that wouldn’t start.  The conditions were actually dangerous and deadly for some.  

It was so cold in Chicago that the polar bear at Lincoln Park zoo was kept inside.  Niagara Falls even froze over.  I also heard about an escaped inmate in Kentucky who was so cold that he turned himself in so he could go back to a warm cell.

Some people made the most of it by throwing boiling water into the air to watch it turn to snow.  Unfortunately, emergency rooms reported at least 50 were scalded from these impromptu science experiments.  I must confess that I was one of those people…but I didn’t get burned.  One person tweeted, “So I did the thing where you make snow and not all the boiling water froze and now my head is burned.”

I enjoyed watching newscasters around the country come up with new names for winter storm Hercules, like “arctic blast.”  Al Roker called it a “polar hurricane.”  Newscasters in L.A. went crazy and referred to temperatures in the 50s as a “bitter blast of cold weather.”  I watched a clip of one California reporter who breathlessly added, “It might have snowed, had it been colder.”  Wow.  

My favorite term that was picked up by almost everyone was “polar vortex.”  I looked up what a vortex is and learned that it refers to something spinning or turbulent.  It strikes me that some of us are spinning spiritually.  Do you feel like your faith is in a vortex, where the turbulence of trials has brought an arctic blast into your soul?  

As we continue in our series called, “A Holy New You,” we’re going to learn how to go the right way in the New Year.  No matter how frigid it is around us we want the fires of our faith to be burning brightly.  As we were reminded last week, this won’t happen automatically.  We have to be intentional about it.  Since our time on earth is limited, let’s make the most of the time we have left.

Please turn to Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.  The ungodly are not so but are like the chaff which the wind drives away.  Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.  For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”

Here’s the main point of the psalm: Where you end up tomorrow depends on where you’re headed today.  

This psalm falls into two divisions of three verses each.  Verses 1-3 speak of the righteous who are commended and verses 4-6 addresses the unrighteous that are condemned.  The whole human race falls into two separate groups and is categorized with various biblical words: saints and sinners, saved and lost, godly and ungodly, believers and unbelievers, those who are blessed and those who are busted.  I’m going to follow Warren Wiersbe’s outline for the first three verses.

The Way of the Righteous

Let’s look at the first phrase: “Blessed is the man…” Unfortunately, the word “bless” is a bit bland in our language and has become a Christian cliché, which means we use the word but don’t really know what it means.  We could define it this way: “Oh, the happiness, many times over…”  It also carries with it the idea of congratulating someone for doing something positive.  Actually, the word “blessed” is in the plural, meaning “the blessednesses,” which can mean a high number of “happinesses” or it may refer to an intensity of God’s blessing.

One pastor writes that blessing is “an inner satisfaction and sufficiency that does not depend on outward circumstances for happiness.”  Those who are “blessed” have inner lives that are rightly aligned.  The root idea is “approval.”  When we bless God, we are approving and praising Him; when He blesses us, He is expressing approval of us.  In the sight of heaven, those who do or don’t do certain things are “superlatively blessed” because the Almighty is extending His endorsement.  

How much do you crave God clapping for you?  Do you want His smile more than your self-centered aspirations?  Do you desire the applause of heaven more than the approval of your friends?  How badly do you want His blessing?  If you want God’s blessing more than anything else, you can have it. 

Ray Pritchard points out that one does not find this happiness by seeking it but by doing certain things and not doing other things.  This blessing comes as a side benefit of the choices we make.  A wise man has said that happiness is like a cat.  Seek it and it will run from you.  But go about your business steadily day by day and soon it comes and curls up at your feet.

This psalm is a bit surprising because it starts not with the positive, but with the negative.   If you want to be blessed, then behave like this…

1. Separated From the World (1).


Blessings begin with what we do not do:  “Blessed is the man who walks not…”  If you want a holy new you, then start with separation.  Blessing comes as a side benefit of the choices we make and the things we choose to not do.  Bob Deffinbaugh writes: “Prohibitions are not punishment, but a divine protection.”  If you and I want to be blessed, then there are three things that we must not do – there is a way we will not walk, a trail we will not take, and a seat we will not sit in.

  • Walks not in the counsel of the ungodly.  The word “counsel” represents a viewpoint or way of thinking.  The word “ungodly” refers to that which is loose or unstable.  People like this promote principles that are morally unstable.  Most of us don’t even think about whether the advice we receive is anchored to God or not.  We’re prone to quote Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz or Oprah, consult our horoscope or listen to someone else’s opinions.
  • Nor stands in the path of sinners.  Standing has the idea of “standing with” not against; embracing, not opposing.  The word “column” is derived from this word “to stand.”  The word for “sinners” was an archery term and meant to miss the mark.  The word “path” refers to a direction that is taken by a lot of people as they move from wrong principles to wrong practices.  The righteous person keeps to the narrow way as Jesus said in Matthew 7:13: “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” 

I read a recent article in Christianity Today that mentioned how the views of alcohol are changing among evangelicals as it’s becoming more acceptable to drink.  I don’t drink and haven’t since the Lord saved me almost 35 years ago.  Let me just say that I think we’re going to have to be ready to help more people who will develop addictions because many can’t drink in moderation.  Some studies show that 30% of Americans will struggle with alcohol in some way.  And, with the loosening of laws in Colorado for marijuana use, we’re going to see even more problems.  I’m so glad we have Celebrate Recovery, aren’t you?  BTW, my advice is to abstain.

  • Nor sits in the seat of the scornful.  The word “sit” means, “to dwell, remain or abide” and refers to a settled state or condition.  It was also used of an assembly of people.  To be “scornful” is to express open dislike, disrespect and derision.  We all have a need to belong and if we don’t plug in with believers we’ll find our fellowship with fools.  Mockers love to criticize Christians and cast aspersions on God.  

By the way, Bill Nye, “the science guy,” who has stated that creationism is not appropriate for children, has agreed to a debate with Ken Ham, the founder of the Creation Museum, on Tuesday, February 4th.  That should be very interesting because we who are creationists are certainly scorned in our culture today.  Parents, let’s make sure our children are equipped to handle this in their classes.

Notice the downward progression in verse 1.  A person begins by walking down the road listening to popular advice and worldly wisdom.  Then he stops to hang out with sinners and begins to do the same things they do.  Finally, because he likes it so much he sits down and joins them in their mockery of the Almighty.  At this stage he blends in with unbelievers.   Sin’s natural direction is sequential, seductive and southward.

This individual walks around and then stands around and finally sits down right in the middle of the mess.  It begins as something casual, moves to compromise and ends in catastrophe.  Drifting can lead to disobedience, which can result in defiance.  

Catch this.  We never stand still spiritually.  If we try to coast, we’ll eventually compromise.  If you grow spiritually apathetic an arctic chill will settle in your soul.  I’m reminded of the words to the song: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love.”

That explains how someone who loved AWANA as a young child can end up unplugging from church as a teenager and then drop out completely as a young adult.  It’s normally a slow, but predictable downward progression where small steps and little compromises lead to a life of outright rebellion.  1 Corinthians 15:33 adds: “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” Spiritual erosion often happens because of the spiritual environment we choose to live in.  Here’s a question.  What kind of company are you keeping?

Where you end up tomorrow depends on where you’re headed today.  

There’s a powerful Old Testament illustration of the downward cycle of sin in the life of Lot, Abraham’s nephew.  After allowing Lot to choose the land that he wanted, we read about his slide to Sodom…

  • He walked toward Sodom in Genesis 13:11: “So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east.”
  • He stood with the Sodomites in Genesis 13:12: “Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.” 
  • He sat in the gate of Sodom in Genesis 19:1: “Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city.”  He no longer lived near Sodom, now he lived in and with the wicked.

We could put it like this.  What I believe affects how I behave which determines with whom I belong.  

Samson slid south in a similar way.  He saw a hot heathen woman and believed he could have her.  Then he behaved according to what he believed.  And then they belonged to each other.  It happens so quickly, doesn’t it?  I like this statement: Sow a thought, and you reap an act; sow an act, and you reap a habit; sow a habit, and you reap a character; sow a character, and you reap a destiny.  

Where are you walking?  Don’t believe like the ungodly.

Where are you standing? Don’t behave like sinners.

Where are you sitting?  Don’t belong with the scornful.

Friend, be careful about compromising in those areas that you think are minor.  To take the first step away can lead to sitting far away.  I like Proverbs 4:23 in the New Living Translation: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.”

First, we must be separated from the world.  But it’s more than that.  We must replace the negative with something positive.  Second, we must be saturated with the Word.

2. Saturated With the Word (2).


The believer who wants to be blessed knows that he or she cannot walk or stand or sit according to the ways of the world but instead walks according to the Word.  

Verse 1 gives some prohibitions and verse 2 gives us God’s provision.   The word “But” introduces some sharp contrasts.  If we want to be blessed in the New Year, we must not do some things and then we must do some others.  The believer who wants to be blessed knows that he or she cannot walk or stand or sit according to the ways of the world but instead walks according to the Word.  

Someone has said, “All the water of the ocean cannot sink even the smallest ship unless it gets inside.”  The key to keeping the world out of your boat is by keeping yourself in the Word.  Someone else has said, “The Christian is not ruined by living in the world, but by the world living in him.”  We must not only stay away from the things that are bad but we must do that which is the best. 

  • Find pleasure in the Word – “But his delight is in the law of the Lord…”  To “delight” means to desire, take pleasure in, and place value on.  What brings you the most delight?  What gets you excited?  What gets your motor running?  The answers to those questions reveal what is most important to you.  Warren Wiersbe says, “Whatever delights us directs us.”  Psalm 119:103: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”  Do you find God’s Word delightful or dull?  I love this quote: “We can make the most of our walk with God by making much of His Word.”  Jeremiah 15:16 says: “Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart.”
  • Ponder the promises of the Word – “…and in His law he meditates day and night.”  In eastern meditation, the goal is to empty the mind but biblical meditation involves filling the mind with the Word of God.  This word was used of a cow chewing its cud.  Did you see the picture of the cow that had climbed on the hood of a car to keep warm during the recent freezing temperatures?  This was the caption: “REMINDER: Cold season is here and cows seek heat on car hoods.  Do not forget to tap on the hood to give the cow enough time to get off before you drive away!”

The word meditate was also used of chattering like birds, of mulling it over; or literally, “muttering about it to ourselves.”  I love Psalm 119:11: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”  Joshua 1:8: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.” 

When Beth and I went to Israel a year and a half ago, we saw many Orthodox Jews standing in front of the Western Wall, chanting the words of the Old Testament they had memorized as they rocked back and forth.  They were so intent that they hardly seemed to notice passersby.

And so we’re to be separated from the world and saturated with the Word.  That leads to us being situated by the water.

3. Situated by the Water (3). 

“He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water.” Scientists tell us that when you see a large tree that has been growing for many years, you can be certain that it has a vast unseen root system.  Many times the root system will equal or exceed the part of the tree above ground.

Notice that this tree is planted or transplanted and is under the care and cultivation of its owner.  In the Middle East, trees were often planted on purpose in an area that already had a lot of water or if there was no water available, an irrigation system was set up.  We’ve been taken out of Adam and transplanted into Jesus Christ and nourished by the water of the Word.  Friends, you and I have been planted for at least three purposes. 

  • To be fruitful.  “…that brings forth its fruit in its season…”  God wants His followers to be fruitful.  Fruit takes time to develop which means we should be patient with ourselves and patient with others.  We’re all different kinds of trees with different kinds of fruit (see Romans 12:3-8).   I’m reminded of the Fruit of the Spirit that matures as we stay filled with the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
  • To flourish“…whose leaf also shall not wither…” A tree with good roots can withstand bad conditions.  It can endure times of drought, despair and discouragement. We will still go through tough times but we won’t wither.  You and I can maintain freshness in our faith provided we have roots that go down deep.
  • To experience His favor“…and whatever he does shall prosper.”  God wants to give us the victorious life, or as Jesus said in John 10:10, a life that is filled with abundance.

I received a call on Wednesday from Edgewood missionary George King, who has served in Japan for over 50 years.  Amazingly, God has used him to start over 50 churches!  Now in his 80s, I asked George how he’s feeling and he said, “I’m getting gooder and gooder.  God keeps opening up opportunities.”  Just recently he received an invitation to preach at a Buddhist temple!  He is being fruitful, he’s flourishing and he’s enjoying God’s favor.  Why?  Because he’s separated from the world, he’s saturated with the Word, and he’s situated by the water.

The Way of the Wicked 

If you haven’t chosen forgiveness then you’ve chosen wickedness. 

Verse 4 makes a startling contrast: “The ungodly are not so but are like the chaff which the wind drives away.”  It takes three verses to describe the secret to the blessed life; and only two words to describe the life of the wicked: “Not so…”  What follows is the reverse of the righteous.  The word “wicked” is the Hebrew word “raw-shaw” (it even sounds bad, doesn’t it?) and refers to one who has chosen the way of wickedness.  The Bible is very clear.  If you haven’t chosen forgiveness then you’ve chosen wickedness.  If you’re not saved then you’re still in your sins.

In the ancient world part of the wheat harvesting process involved winnowing.  They would often go up on hill and stomp on the wheat and then throw it up into the air.  The kernels would fall to the ground while the chaff would blow away. 

Have you ever been to the Texas Roadhouse and seen all the peanut shells on the floor?  That’s what the unrighteous are like.  Like chaff or discarded shells they’ll blow away and ultimately be swept away. 

Verse 5: “Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.”  Unconverted sinners will have nothing to stand on when judgment comes and will be separated from the righteous.  Verse 6 says that there are two kinds of people and only two possible destinations: “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”   Every person walks one way or another.  Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”  

It’s time to get out of the spiritual vortex because where you end up tomorrow depends on where you’re headed today.  Let me suggest four questions to help make sure we’re going the right way in the new year.


  1. What attitude, action, or activity do you need to stop doing?  Stop flirting with sin.  If you play with boiling water you’re going to get burned.
  2. What person or people do you need to stop hanging around with?  Psalm 26:4: “I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites.”  Do you need to change up your friends?  Is there a place you need to avoid like the plague?
  3. How will you saturate yourself with the Word of God?  If you don’t have a plan get one.  Dive into the Scriptures daily and meditate on them day and night.  We have some extra plans available at the Welcome Center or jump online at edgewoodbaptist.net.  I talked to a couple on Thursday who told me that they like the plan so much that they’re actually reading ahead.  John Piper suggests a prayer before reading your Bible: “Father, hold my mind’s attention and wake my heart’s affection.”
  4. What will you do to start flourishing spiritually?  If you want 2014 to be different, then decide to go deep. If you don’t know Jesus yet, it’s time to get saved.  Some of you are saved but not surrendered.  Others of you are born again but you’ve not been baptized.  What are you waiting for?  Join the church if you’re ready.  Determine to start tithing.  There are some offering envelopes on the shelf in the lobby.  Sign up for Financial Peace University – the class begins on Wednesday, January 22nd.  Make this a year of serving like you’ve never served before.

A courthouse in Ohio stands in a unique location.  Raindrops that fall on the north side of the building go into Lake Ontario and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, while those falling on the south side go into the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.  At precisely the point of the peak of the roof, just a gentle puff of wind can determine the destiny of many raindrops.  It will make a difference of more than 2,000 miles as to their final destination.  The spiritual application is clear.  The smallest deed or choice of words can set in motion influences that can change the course of our lives and also affect the eternal destiny of others.

One of the headlines that came out of the bad weather this past week was this: “Hell has frozen over!”  Well, that was true for Hell, Michigan, which actually is a good name for that state located on the wrong side of Lake Michigan.  Even though that town froze over, Hell is as hot as ever, my friends.  Listen to these words from Oscar Eliason, written from the perspective of someone in Hell.  I’m thankful to Jim Craig for passing this along.

A Voice From Hell

“Oh, why am I here in this place of unrest

When others have entered the land of the blest?

God’s way of salvation was preached unto men;

I heard it and heard it, again and again.

Why did I not listen and turn from my sin

And open my heart and let Jesus come in?

For vain earthly pleasures my soul did I sell–

The way I had chosen has brought me to hell.

I wish I were dreaming, but ah, it is true.

The way to be saved I had heard and I knew;

My time on the earth, oh, so quickly fled by,

How little I thought of the day I would die.

When God’s Holy Spirit was pleading with me,

I hardened my heart and I turned from His plea.

The way that was sinful, the path that was wide,

I chose and I walked till the time that I died.

God’s refuge is Jesus, the One that I spurned;

He offered salvation, but from Him I turned.

My brothers and sisters I wish I could warn.

Far better ‘twould be if I had not been born.

The price I must pay is too horrid to tell–

My life without God led directly to Hell.”

Oh, soul without Christ, will these words be your cry?

God’s Word so declares it that all men must die.

From hell and its terrors, Oh, flee while you may!

So, come to the Savior; He’ll save you today!

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?