Sunday, November 13, 2011

Psalm 119:33-40

"Dealing With Distractions"
MasterPiece Church
13 November 2011

Generous God, might it be that as your Word is read, expounded, and proclaimed this morning that it would be for us a light to illumine our paths. As we leave here in awhile we desire that we would be on track with you -- walking your path -- whether with baby steps or big steps -- on the path and taking our cues from you and your agenda rather than the world around us. Might it be so and might it be honoring of you. Amen.

We’re going through Psalm 119 which is an acrostic poem. In Hebrew, the language in which it was written, each stanza or section -- and each line in the stanza begins with the same Hebrew letter. Our stanza today, verses 33-40, is built around the Hebrew letter He.

Each stanza in Psalm 119 is a mini-sermon -- all on a common theme -- that is, the life giving power of God’s Word -- his message, his standard, his direction and guidance -- his self-revelation. It celebrates the fact that God has revealed his mind and in doing so has given us a new direction in life.

In verses 33-40 we have a series of 9 rapid fire requests of God, 2 points of rationale for those requests, and 4 promises to God.

The verse in this stanza which jumps out at me is verse 37 -- so that’s where I want to focus most of our attention this morning. “Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word.”

Even more literally: “Make my eyes pass by what is worthless.”

Well, what exactly are the worthless things of which he is speaking?

First of all, I want to suggest that the “worthless things” are THE TOYS AND TRINKETS OF LIFE. And Eugene Peterson in his translation, the Message, actually renders verse 37 as such. I was so pumped when I saw that his loose rendering was almost identical to mine. Here is verse 37 in the Message: “Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets, invigorate me on the pilgrim way.”

Now, of course, toys in and of themselves are not bad. They have their place. I mean, God made us to be playful creatures. And toys are a way of interacting with the creation.

When you’re out golfing you’re enjoying nature, dealing with the physics of creation, and fostering relationships with others. But at some point the toys become distractions. And even golf, which from a theological perspective is the most balanced game there is, can become a distraction. If the toys become the end themselves... Or if they start to get in the way of more primary things...

What would you think of someone who built his life around the toy box? The trinkets in my treasure basket? The farmer who doesn’t harvest his cotton because he is so much more interested in playing Angry Birds on his iPhone? I know -- silly illustration.

Now, I’m not going to tell you where the line is -- the line between distraction from life and healthy engagement with life. But I would challenge you to ask God to speak to you on this matter. Have the trinkets become an unhealthy distraction or even obsession in your life? Are they crowding out something else that God is calling you to do?

As you sort through this and listen for the leading of the Holy Spirit, I’d suggest that there are actually two other prompts in the passage that can provide perspective. These are two embedded -- implied -- questions that we need to ask of ourselves.

The first one is embedded in verse 36 -- “Give me an eagerness for your laws rather than a love for money!”


Money is great. I like money -- or more specifically what money can do. But, whether you have little of it or a lot of it, it is easy to cross the line with money.

If you look at the amount of ink in the gospels, Jesus warned more about the dangers of having and pursuing various forms of wealth than anything else. He didn’t say that you can’t have money but that it is dangerous -- and distracting. And when you do have it you need to use it for his agenda rather than your agenda. That’s well-rounded discipleship.

In Matthew 19:24 Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

I know that there is a myth floating around that Jesus was talking about the Eye of the Needle Gate in Jerusalem where camels had to bend to enter. And that changes the meaning of the parable. But in spite of the number of times that explanation has been used in sermons and Sunday School lessons there is no actual biblical or archaeological evidence that such a gate really existed. It’s like an urban myth.

In other words, don’t let that distract you from Jesus’ actual message here. Jesus is using powerful hyperbole -- or exaggeration to explain just how hard it is for us to get on board with his kingdom agenda when we’re wealthy.

When we’re rich, we’re easily distracted. So it is impossible, humanly speaking, for a rich man to be a part of what Jesus is about.

Then the apostle Paul adds in 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.”

So the psalmist, and Jesus, and the apostle Paul are all saying the same thing. The love of money can easily become a dangerous distracting obsession. It can happen to you!

And the psalmist is encouraging us to pour our energy into loving God’s Word instead instead of loving money. He says “Give me an eagerness for your laws rather than a love for money!”

For what are you the most eager in your life? How has that worked for you?

Then the second question or prompt, is found embedded in verse 39. “Help me abandon my shameful ways.”

And actually, the translators all seem to struggle with this passage. But the essence of it, as best I can piece it together, is, save me from being shamed by others.

The NIV is pretty good here, “Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good.”

Perhaps you remember that the same idea was expressed by in verse 31, “I cling to your laws. Lord, don’t let me be put to shame!”

So, in terms of questions let me frame it this way, and this is the second question -- AM I TRYING TO KEEP UP WITH THE BOYDSTONS?

We used to talk about trying to keep up with the Jones’ but that got kind of old and boring. So I decided that we should improve the idiom.


That is, am I enduring shame because I can’t keep up with them? I can’t dress as snazzy or live in as big of a house or drive as cool of a mini-van.

I know, I know... It’s kind of rough to be you -- with the bar so high. And I’m sure the pressure is strong. We all used to call it peer pressure when we were in school. Where you knew that if you got too far out of step with the crowd that you’d suffer terminal disgrace.

Well, the reality is that not everyone gets over it -- at least in their heads. The British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances is built around that theme. Mrs. Bucket is obsessed with trying to mingle with nobility.

And we may not have it as bad as she does but the neighbors do seem to influence what we drive and how we vacation and what we do in our non-working hours.

And the psalmist is saying that if we let those voices speak too loudly into our lives -- if we listen to the shaming that is directed at those who march to the beat of God’s drum we’ll be eternally distracted from God’s eternal purposes.

Of course, as in the other stanzas, obsession with God’s Word is seen as the remedy for eternal distraction with toys and trinkets. Verse 37 -- “Give me life through your word.”

Or check out verse 40 -- “I long to obey your commandments! Renew my life with your goodness.”

So, we have a choice. We can look to toys and trinkets and get sucked into the eternal spiral of keeping up with everyone else and trying to get more and more of it. Or we can look to God’s Word -- where we’ll find renewal and life.

The good news is that we not only have God’s message recorded in scripture -- in the book -- in the law -- but that God’s plan became flesh and blood and came to set up camp in our midst. The living word of God is Jesus Christ -- “and the Word became flesh and lived among us.” And so we look to him and find our value in him. His kingdom -- his agenda and his mission lived out together has become the source of all that is important for us. So we still look to the Word rather than the toys and trinkets of the world to define our lives.

You see, value is about context. What is valuable in one setting will not be so important in another.

You’ve certainly heard about the rich man who showed up at the gates of heaven dragging behind him a huge bag of gold bricks. For he had invested in gold and as you know, gold as done well recently. So, when he died he had trouble parting with the treasure he had worked so hard to accumulate.

And as he was about to enter the gates of heaven St Peter stopped him and told him that he needed to leave the bag behind. But the man begged and begged. He explained how hard he had worked to earn it all.

And well, finally Peter relented and let him in -- bag of gold and all.

Well, one of the assistant sentries at the gate asked St Peter why he’d let him in with the gold bricks.

And Peter explained, “Well, I felt sorry for him. He’s obviously missing a few marbles. I mean, if a man wants to walk around town dragging a big bag of street pavers why should I stop him. He’ll figure it out soon enough.”

One of my students gave me this neck piece on behalf of his family. It is a symbol of respect and leadership. If I went to his outer island in Chuuk in the FSM and I was wearing this, everyone would know that I’m a pretty important dude -- at least in the minds of one clan. And if I wore this on his island I would be expected to act consistently with the message I’m sending by wearing it. And I’m sure that they’d expect me to come bearing lots of gifts -- which is what leaders do.

On the other hand, if I wear this as I’m walking around in the mall, my trinket would just draw some strange looks. And that’s because the value is culturally foreign to the Chandler Fashion Center.

I wonder, though, if this isn’t a good illustration of how the Word of God works. When we look to fasten the Word around our necks we’re looking to something that is going to be as foreign to most people as this neck decoration.

The reason that the trinkets, the toys, the money, the shame of this culture -- this world -- are seen as irrelevant by the psalmist is that when we are walking on God’s path we are walking in foreign territory. And we are taking our cues from a foreign place -- from a foreign culture -- God’s culture.

God’s island -- where the rules and the way of doing things is mostly different. That is, we are living by the transforming message of God’s W O R L D rather than the distracting chatter of this world.

And God, speaking from his all-seeing, all-knowing divine perch, thinks that the important things in life are different than what most people think are important. And that’s why if you want to have a new life -- a life transformed by his way of doing things -- then you’ll need to focus on his Word -- written and alive among us.

Let’s joining together in affirming our faith as we read 2 Timothy 3:16

There's nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16 (The Message)

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